There is a fear that the shutdown of Australia’s passenger vehicle production will erode the advanced manufacturing capabilities developed through manufacturing for the automotive sector. However, one Australian manufacturer is proving that these capabilities will continue to thrive in other industries such as the defence and aerospace manufacturing sectors.

Axiom Precision Manufacturing is a family-owned company founded by Neville Grose in 1979 in Edwardstown, South Australia. Axiom originally started by manufacturing plastic injection moulds for the automotive industry, working for Ford, Holden and Toyota. They continued to work for Ford and Toyota until their respective shutdowns.

It was about 10 years ago when Axiom identified the need to transition away from automotive manufacturing. They were finding it harder to meet the demands of the automakers and remain profitable. At the same time a lot of tooling projects were going to China forcing a serious re-think about the company’s source of work in the future.

Axiom specialised in the manufacture of “A”-class injection moulds, lighting, interior and exterior moulds. These were manufactured in hard steels and usually quite complex to machine. The company felt these machining capabilities would give them an advantage in the manufacturing of complex defence and aerospace components.

Axiom embarked on a strategy to establish a reputation for high quality, reliability and affordability in the aerospace, defence, medical and electronic hardware industries. Today many companies around the world rely on Axiom to deliver products and projects on time. Key clients in the defence and aerospace industry include ASC Pty Ltd, BAE Systems, Raytheon and the DST Group.

Axiom’s purpose-built manufacturing facilities deliver precision machined components and assemblies, precision tooling and moulding, plus a range of surface treatments. The company’s high-quality CMM (co-ordinate measuring machine) inspection and assembly departments allow Axiom to provide assemblies and sub-assemblies to the exacting standards required by their defence and aerospace clients.

Axiom’s machining facility occupies approximately 2,200 square metres and is equipped with 26 CNC machining centres and six CNC lathes. The company also has two vertical five-axis machines; the remainder are three-axis machines, some with fourth-axis tables. Axiom also has a few manual machines, which are used for the training of apprentices.

Upgrading capability

In 2016 the company upgraded its capabilities with the purchase of two new Mazak Variaxis five-axis machines. Both Mazaks were purchased to machine titanium components for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, and the new capability that the machines have brought has enabled Axiom to win orders for four additional components from an existing customer.

One Mazak Variaxis is used to machine one of the most complex components in the vertical tail of the F-35. This part is machined in two operations, and Axiom says it wouldn’t be able to do this without the machine’s five-axis capability.

Every F-35 built contains parts and components manufactured in Australia. Axiom is one of a number of local companies realising the industrial benefits of the JSF program. Australian industry has already secured more than $800m in production contracts to date through the global F-35 program, with an additional $6 9bn of production and sustainment work being forecast through to 2050.

The team at Axiom has found all their Mazaks to be strong, accurate and reliable machines. These features are very important when using the machines to manufacture titanium aerospace components. Additionally, the price of a Mazak is very attractive when compared with other machine brands in the same category.

One of the big concerns of aerospace customers is how machine breakdowns and lost machine time are dealt with. Having local support from John Hart for its machines is another of the main reasons Axiom selected Mazak. Axiom says the support it receives from John Hart is first class. If it has a breakdown or a machine issue, the company can rely on someone from John Hart coming out to their facility within hours to get them back to production very promptly.

At John Hart, staff have a thorough understanding of the importance of providing timely, reliable and skilled support. That is why they boast an Australia-wide service network with a team of highly experienced and qualified application, mechanical and electrical engineers. In addition, they have an in-house Electronic Repair Facility and a comprehensively stocked Spare Parts Department, enabling them to provide the best overall support of any machine tool company in Australia.

John Hart engineers have a thorough understanding of the unique applications of machine tools and technologies required to process various aircraft components out of titanium, heat resistant super alloys, aluminium or stainless steels. They are available to discuss specific part challenges and how the Mazak technologies make machining these complex parts easier and more efficient.