Toolpath tricks

4 mins read

Delcam's PartMaker CAM software and Open Mind's hyperMILL are both helping aerospace subcontracting companies boost their productivity, as Andrew Allcock discovers

Since implementing Delcam's PartMaker CAM software in 2002, US-based C&A Tool has not only been able to cope with the increased complexity of the aerospace parts made on the company's sliding-head machines, it has also become more productive. Founder and president Richard Conrow began his company 40 years ago in a garage in rural Indiana and grew it into a 530-employee organisation with 750,000 ft2 of manufacturing space. The company has a bank of 27 state-of-the-art, multi-axis Star CNC sliding-head lathes. The key to success in manufacturing highly complex, highly precise components on these machines is in developing NC programs for them quickly and efficiently. To this end, C&A Tool adopted PartMaker to automate its programming. "We can take a complex part and have it programmed in a couple of hours. There is no way this could be done on the shopfloor any more," says Mark Simpson, supervisor of C&A Tool's sliding-head machining area. Image: Atlantic Precision Engineering has been won over by Delcam's PartMaker CADCAM software An important factor is the Full Machine Simulation function that allows C&A Tool's programmers to simulate the machining of a part in a 'virtual reality' environment on their PC, away from the shopfloor. The software allows personnel to see exactly how the part will look on an exact machine model, detecting any errors on the part or any collisions that may occur in the machine's working envelope, before setting up a job. "With PartMaker, we can do more with less. The more time you take with the software, running the collision detection, the less time you spend in set-up," comments Nathan Esslinger, manufacturing engineer. "An extra 20 minutes on PartMaker can save eight hours in set-up during the middle of the night when no-one is here to help. "The best way to evaluate the improvement is to look at programming time. We have cut programming time in half, easily. Now we're doing parts that we would have turned away previously, because the programming would have been too difficult or time-consuming." C&A Tool must not only be ultra-efficient in its programming, but in its quoting process as well. By using PartMaker and by requesting solid models from customers rather than just part drawings, time cycles and quotations can be generated very quickly. In the current tight economic environment, C&A Tool has seen a big increase in quoting, as customers look to shop for the most competitive prices available for engineered aerospace components. "Especially in this economy, a lot of people are passing parts around to get quotes. When we get a solid model, with PartMaker, instead of taking hours, quoting takes minutes," says Mr Esslinger. This means C&A Tool can quote on more jobs and win more as well. As an established aerospace subcontractor with a prestigious customer list that boasts names such as Airbus UK, BAe Systems, GKN Aerospace, GE Aerostructures, Bombardier and Goodrich, plus a number of F1 teams, Yateley-based Atlantic Precision Engineering is at the cutting edge of technology and demands extremely high standards from its suppliers. So, when the company realised its CADCAM package was incapable of processing complex surface work for its carbon composite parts, a switch was necessary. "Back in 1999, our workload was growing in complexity and we were spending up to two to three days programming individual parts," explains senior programmer Colin Druett. "We were even taking work home to get the programming done – it was a ridiculous situation. All of a sudden, we had a particular F1 job that our CAM package just couldn't produce. "Hurco, one of machine tool suppliers, recommended Open Mind. We were so desperate, we quickly reviewed the package and acquired it within a matter of weeks. It immediately resolved our problems and enabled us to spend more time on the shopfloor, as opposed to being in an office, programming." After four years of successful production, Atlantic witnessed a further increase in its workload and the respective level of component complexity. This complexity changed the situation in 2004, when Atlantic had an aluminium aerospace side rail component it found both time consuming to program and it didn't have the programming capacity. Open Mind supported Atlantic by lending the Hampshire-based business an additional seat of hyperMILL for the processing of the job. Following a review of the whole CADCAM market, at MACH 2004, the 32-employee business concluded it already had the best package on the market and acquired its second seat in 2005. The company installed a Matsuura MC800 5-axis machining centre and, with programming advice from Open Mind's managing director, Adrian Smith, processing times were further improved. As the company ramped up its 5-axis machining, a third hyperMILL seat followed in January 2008 and this was to put to work supporting the company's second Matsuura, a MAM72-63V 5-axis machine with twin pallet facility that arrived shortly after. The Matsuura was soon followed by a fourth hyperMILL seat with full 5-axis machining elements, in May 2009. "We went through a couple of years of exceptional growth and development, and Open Mind has played a major supporting role during this period," Mr Druett underlines. "We only produce small batches of up to 20 parts, which are increasingly complex, so our CAM package is a vital component in our success. "The hyperMILL package has saved us a staggering amount of time from day one; whether it's the programming times or the improved cycle times on the shop floor, it has been remarkable. The numerous elements within the package take a phenomenal amount of time and effort out of programming." Box item Forging tool maker gains benefits with NCG CAM Established in 1970, Dynamic Die & Steel (Sheffield) provides a complete subcontract solution, specialising in medium to heavy machining of large forge tooling for a variety of industries, including aerospace, mining and transportation. The company was looking for a shopfloor CAM system suitable for their high speed machining centres that would address the rapid turn-around required when producing very large forging die tools. After evaluating various CAM software packages, the company opted for NCG CAM (01353 699840). Image: Mirror finishes like this achieved with NCG CAM eliminate benchwork Since installing NCG CAM, Dynamic Die & Steel has seen a number of benefits. These include: machining lead times significantly reduced from eight weeks down to just two days; operators can make modifications straight away, by using the software on the shopfloor, saving time; the amount of benchworking has been minimised, as the smooth cutter paths produced give excellent surface finish; training of additional staff is no longer an issue, as the software is easy to use. "NCG CAM is a very powerful 3D programming system," says Andy Farmer, managing director, Dynamic Die & Steel. "The speed with which we create the very large cutter paths required in the production of 2 m die impressions is incredible and has enabled us to operate lights-out machining on our high speed machine tools. "Most of all, our customers have been astounded by how quickly we can turn round a suite of tools, which allows us to keep our pricing very competitive." A demonstration version of NCG CAM software, is available to download - The demonstration version has unlimited usage and, while there are restrictions to the machining output, it can also be used in its basic form as a FREE IGES viewer. First published in Machinery, July 2010