(Above) While the core focus of the vintage car side of Belcher Engineering is on 1909 to 1952 Fords, the company will restore any vintage car.
For a company that started life in 1970 as the Wonder Mixer Company, manufacturing 60 cement mixers a month, the modern-day Belcher Engineering has had an interesting journey that has seen it develop into a precision engineering sub-contract business and also become a world renowned name for the manufacture of parts for, and restoration of, vintage motor cars.
Formed in 1970 the Wonder Mixer Company became the brand of choice for cement mixers, but like many businesses it was hit by the recession in the mid-1970s. This resulted in a review of how the business was to move forward, and company founder Brian Belcher’s love of old cars, particularly vintage Fords from the 1909 to 1952 era, was to play an important role in those changes. The company moved into the restoration and service of vintage vehicles and its ‘claim to fame’ in this respect was when it was approached by Hollywood to scratch-build four Ford pick-up trucks that were used in the multi Oscar winning movie, The English Patient.
Once ProtoTRAK had been demonstrated to us all of our concerns were overcome and we placed an order for an XYZ SMX4000 bed mill.
While vehicle restoration remains a major part of Belcher’s business, a further change came when Brian’s son-in-law, Gary Miller, joined the business from a background in precision engineering. This saw Belcher Engineering develop a strong sub-contract business specialising in one-off and low volume production, working mainly for the agricultural sector in East Anglia. At the same time it developed a long-term partnership with a local food processing business, for which it provides a 24/7 machining capability to assist with any breakdowns, manufacturing parts to print and also from samples where prints don’t exist. As an additional element of that contract Belcher also has parts available on a call-off basis to ensure minimal downtime for its customer.
In order to provide the machining service that it does, Belcher Engineering has a diverse range of machine tools, including a Spur Gear cutter dating from pre-World War 2. However, Belcher Engineering can also call on some more modern machinery. “For our bed milling capacity we had always favoured one particular brand of machine, but due to maintenance and spare part availability issues, we knew it was time to look around for an alternative,” says Gary Miller. “A visit from Colin Thomson, our local XYZ Machine Tools salesman gave us the reassurances we needed in terms of customer support and availability of spares, should we ever need them. The next bridge to cross was that of the control. As we were very familiar with our previous control, we were concerned that the XYZ ProtoTRAK system wouldn’t have the same capability. Once ProtoTRAK had been demonstrated to us all of our concerns were overcome and we placed an order for an XYZ SMX4000 bed mill.”
In fact, the accuracy of the machine has been superb and the machine achieves everything that we expected.
One of the key features of the ProtoTRAK control that convinced Gary Miller that it was the system for him was the TRAKING capability, which allows the operator to manually feed through the program. Pressing the TRAKing softkey on the control allows the program to be executed by turning the electronic handwheels. Moving the X or Y axis handwheel in the clockwise direction moves forward through the program; moving counter-clockwise moves backward through the program. This can be done at different speeds of TRAKing, with the Y-axis handwheel offering slow progression through the program and the X-axis handwheel providing a higher speed variation. “For what we produce the ProtoTRAK control does everything we need and the TRAKing system gives the confidence that we need, especially given the one-off and low volume parts that we produce.”
The XYZ SMX4000 is the second largest machine in the range and features a 1000mm X-axis travel along with travel of 596mm and 540mm in the Y- and Z-axes. The standard 7.5hp/5000rpm variable programmable speed, ISO 40 spindle, along with a table size of 1470mm by 356mm means that it is a cost-effective and capable machine for producing a wide variety of components.
I wouldn’t consider buying a machine from anywhere else.
The success of the XYZ SMX 4000 along with the support in terms of training and advice given, which is available on an ongoing basis from XYZ prompted the purchase of a second ProtoTRAK controlled machine. This time an XYZ ProTURN SLX 1630 lathe was purchased with a 400mm swing over the bed, 760mm between centre distance, 54mm spindle bore and 7.5hp/2500 rpm spindle. “The ProTURN SLX 1630 lathe has been a superb machine, delivering on all of the promises made during the demonstration we had at XYZ’s Waltham Abbey showroom. In fact, the accuracy of the machine has been superb and the machine achieves everything that we expected. When you consider the quality of the machines supplied by XYZ Machine Tools and the level of service that they provide, which is a rare thing nowadays, I wouldn’t consider buying a machine from anywhere else. The support we received after we took delivery of both machines was over and above what was laid out as standard training and the applications team at XYZ has been fully supportive, putting us right when we weren’t sure about certain programmes.”
(Above) The XYZ SMX 4000 was a snug fit in the machine shop at Belcher Engineering. The lack of height prevented the larger SMX 5000 being ordered.
(Above) A new cylinder head for a Lancia Lambda 13.5 degree, four cylinder engine, being machined on the XYZ SMX 4000.