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Shop Solutions: Marine Final Inspection Gets CMM Thrust


Thrustmaster of Texas Inc. (Houston), a leading manufacturer of marine application thrusters, develops all of its products in-house. Almost every order is unique to the customer. Thrustmaster manufactures heavy-duty commercial marine-propulsion equipment, including deck-mounted propulsion units, thru-hull azimuthing thrusters, retractable thrusters, tunnel thrusters, Z and L drives, and the patented Portable Dynamic Positioning System.

Thrustmaster’s product lines include fixed-pitch propeller hydraulic and mechanical thrusters with direct engine drive, electric drive or hydraulic drive, and underwater mountable thrusters for the largest marine applications. Heavy-duty thrusters for marine applications are rated from 35 to 10,750 hp (26-8000 kW).

Thrusters are used for main propulsion, slow-speed maneuvering, and dynamic positioning of barges or displacement hulls. The propulsion units can also be fixed or azimuthing and close fitted to the hull such as with Z or L drive propulsion. Or they can be stem-mounted and tiltable with lengths up 35' (10 m) for the 2000-hp (1500-kW) hydraulic thrusters.

All products are developed in-house by a complete engineering department for mechanical, hydraulic, electrical, and electronic design. Tooling includes state-of-the-art computer equipment with software packages for CAD, vessel resistance and propulsion, 3-D mathematical modeling, and ANSYS Finite Element Analysis (FEA). Applications like modal analysis, stress and strain analysis, as well as rotor dynamic analysis of drive trains and transmissions, are major fundamentals required to ensure the reliability and quality of Thrustmaster’s products. Zeiss Gantry CMM

When it came to final inspection of the lower and upper outdrive housing components used in the thrusters, measurement was done manually on the CNC machines themselves, using a portable measuring arm. With a recent increase in engineering and manufacturing capacity, one challenge for Thrustmaster was the need to free up the CNC machines for manufacturing instead of measuring. Machines could be occupied for hours measuring, delaying production of other parts and increasing costs. To achieve a leaner quality inspection process, the company began a search for a dedicated CMM to handle final inspection.

Because of the size of the parts, a large CMM would be needed, and the best way to find the right solution was to have one of its parts measured on the system as part of a demo. Thrustmaster sent one of its parts to be inspected at the Carl Zeiss IMT Corp. facility for a remote live demonstration on a large gantry CMM. Impressed with the inspection reports and quality of information received, Thrustmaster purchased a large gantry MMZ-B 25/60/20 CMM. "A Zeiss CMM was our first choice based on performance, price, and availability," says Paul Martin, Thrustmaster of Texas quality manager. The large gantry system has the 2.5-m Z axis they wanted and was also available in a short lead time.

The Zeiss CMM is used mostly for final inspection of thruster components, including lower and upper outdrive housings, used in large marine vessels. The lower outdrive housing boards are about 170" (4.3-m) long, and are very difficult to measure with tolerances of about 0.001" (0.03 mm) on geometric features. Large upper outdrive housings, over 100" (2.5-m) long, have numerous feature tolerances where motor and gear drives are located that interface with planetary gear systems and have very tight position tolerances of less than +0.002" (0.05 mm). Geared rings with a 90" (2.3-m) diameter also have tolerances of +0.002". "With the new Zeiss gantry CMM, inspection time of a lower outdrive housing was reduced from three days to three hours," Martin says.

The Zeiss gantry system doesn’t need a climate-controlled room; however, its manufacturing and inspection area of the building, about 250,000 ft² (23,225 m²), is climate controlled. Thrustmaster’s MMZ-B is located right on the shop floor and has been performing flawlessly. Because management has confidence in part accuracy and reliability with the Zeiss MMZ-B, it’s no longer necessary to perform numerous Gage R&R studies with all of its different manual tools and operators. In the past, they often questioned the validity of its measurement data with the large hand gages that have a wide range of error for accuracy. "The MMZ-B system now gives us a solid representation of what we’re producing," Martin says.



"Tours of the Thrustmaster facility
occur almost daily, and customers
are always in awe of the size and
performance of this machine."



Thrustmaster has two sets of Calypso software—one for its portable arm from FARO Technologies (Lake Mary, FL) and one for its gantry system. The company looks forward to using the software to its full capacity, with all of the various output options, by continuing with software training from Carl Zeiss.

"The installation and preparation process were incredible," says Martin. The installation took about two weeks and was preceded with thorough communication to ensure all processes went smoothly and all of Thrustmaster’s expectations were met. "The team from Carl Zeiss was very professional and did a great job."

The Zeiss gantry system has also been a great sales tool for Thrustmaster, allowing the company to acquire a large contract because of the MMZ-B gantry system. "Tours of the Thrustmaster facility occur almost daily and customers are always in awe of the size and performance of this machine," remarks Martin. Visitors can watch parts being inspected on the machine and view the graphical interface with Calypso metrology software. "Once they see the Zeiss CMM they know we’ll deliver the kind of quality they’re expecting." ME


For more information on Carl Zeiss IMT, go to, or phone 763-744-2400.




CAM Organizes Chaos for Growth


Putting powerful tools in the hands of the guys on the front lines of production has become a way of life at Astro Machine Works (Ephrata, PA) where the machinists who work in the CNC mill and lathe departments are all trained CAD programmers. Because they are also adept at conversational programming on its CNC equipment, it’s up to them to decide the fastest way to keep parts moving through the shop to the next phase of production.

Eric Blow, company president, explains: "Psychologically, it has been good to empower our team with these tools, rather than just relegate them to a single individual in a programming office on mahogany row. Many shops do not give operators access to these tools, because they consider operators expendable. We don’t have operators; our CNC departments consist of fully functioning CNC machinists."

Recently, because of a number of productivity enhancements to the CAD software in Mastercam X5 Mill and Lathe from CNC Software Inc. (Tolland, CT), the machinist/programmers had found themselves making numerous trips to the remotely located Mastercam programming workstations. To resolve this issue and keep parts moving, Astro invested in additional laptops, so machinists could create CNC programs right at their machines. CNC Programmers Neal Ziemer and Bill Lighter

During the past five years, the company has taken advantage of Section 179 tax incentives for purchasing new equipment and software. Blow doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that these have also been consecutive years of substantial growth. While Astro gives its team members the best tools, the machinists themselves are challenged to innovate new and better ways to use them.

Astro Machine Works specializes in custom machinery manufacturing while also offering a broad spectrum of specialized manufacturing services, including machinery rebuilding, welding, fabrication, panel wiring, reverse engineering, and extensive parts manufacturing. Industries served include medical, pharmaceutical, energy, food processing, government, aerospace, packaging, material handling, electronics, telecommunications, and general manufacturing.

The ability to perform a wide range of services under one roof allows Astro to maintain greater control over all phases of its machine-building projects and to shorten lead times for its customers. It also gives the company a portfolio of individual services it can sell to customers in addition to large capital projects. This has kept the shop busy even during recessionary years when many industries weren’t investing heavily in capital equipment.

Astro Machine Works isn’t a production manufacturing shop. "For short runs we are prepared to take on just about anything our customers throw at us," says CNC department manager Eric Tanger. "A maintenance person for a local company will pick up a $70 sprocket we fabricated on short notice. At the same time, we’re anticipating a contract for a new machine that will cost more than $1.5 million. Whatever the customer needs, our goal is to make the path to our doorstep the path of least resistance. We make ourselves very user-friendly."

Astro is continually looking at technologies it can bring in-house to better serve its customers. For example, the past two years the company has acquired 13 additional machine tools. These include a large capacity CNC turning center, a five-axis CNC mill, and a wire EDM. "Expanding our CNC departments has allowed us to take advantage of opportunities that were previously outside of our capabilities, as well as provide additional capacity. In essence, this has allowed us to pick the low hanging fruit from the opportunities previously deemed untouchable," Blow says.

Since Astro isn’t a production facility, they frequently use CNC equipment in ways opposite to its intended conventional use on higher-volume lots. Astro utilizes Mastercam when parts are very complex, they require a lot of 3-D surfacing, or for reverse engineering. The latter is used frequently when Astro is called to rebuild older equipment.

A FARO arm from FARO Technologies (Lake Mary, FL) in the QC lab is used to obtain part data creating an electronic file that can be imported directly into Mastercam to create toolpaths. With this approach, Astro can quickly supply parts for older equipment on very short lead times. Now customers who are repairing or rebuilding their own equipment come to Astro for reverse-engineered parts. It is a new profit center for the company.



"Expanding our CNC departments
has allowed us to take advantage
of opportunities that were previously outside of our capabilities."



Astro Machine Works' CAD/CAM capabilities are supported by Prism Engineering (Horsham, PA), which is its reseller for both Mastercam and SolidWorks. As part of its maintenance agreement Astro gets phone support as needed. Prism is frequently called to deliver reliable customized postprocessors for new equipment or special applications. In one case, this called for getting a four-axis system to behave like a five-axis machine. With the addition of its five-axis machine, they have been using a standard post to create single-setup programs for five-sided parts. As simultaneous five-axis requirements are processed, Prism Engineering will jump in to provide a postprocessor on short notice.

There is a steady stream of work coming into Tanger’s department. Sometimes, these are families of parts that need to be delivered internally just in time for making assemblies and subassemblies. Some are reverse-engineered parts for prototypes and rebuild work. Some are one and two-offs that customers need in a hurry.

The wave of work coming in the front door is diverted into streams that find its way to different machines and machinists depending on the expertise they have developed. "It’s like organized chaos," says Blow. "The remarkable thing is that, even though the jobs are diverse with short runs and short lead times, our machinists have found a way to drive down the cycle times on our CNC equipment."

Each new job a machinist undertakes offers an opportunity to employ something they have learned during Mastercam training, or from each other to reduce cycle time. This can include something as mundane as laying out the fixture table so that more parts can be machined at one time. Sometimes, a machinist will start doing the initial operations via conversational programming at the machine. While the current program is running, he will be at the machine with a laptop, looking at strategies for saving time with subsequent operations using Mastercam’s latest high-speed toolpaths including Dynamic Mill, Peel Mill, and Opti-Rough.

Recently, these paths were introduced to a job similar to one that was done previously with conventional toolpaths. They saved 20 hours of spindle time. Because the high-speed toolpaths engage the tools minimally but at full depth, tool life has increased substantially while there is less wear on spindles and bearings and, therefore, less unanticipated downtime for repairs. That’s very important for equipment that is being used 20 hours a day.

Machinists can be confident that what they are doing will result in precise material removal and crash-free operation, because they rely on Mastercam’s computer simulation functions, Back Plot and Verify, prior to sending the program over to the machine. For very complex parts, they can achieve an even higher degree of certainty by generating an STL file from a SolidWorks model, comparing the toolpaths against it. This allows them to quickly detect and visualize even the smallest areas of concern.

"Looking back over the past five years, our CNC machining departments are like night and day in terms of capabilities, productivity, and lead times. We have customers turn to Astro for precision machining because we provide a better solution," Blow concludes. During these years, the head count at Astro Machine has increased by 50% to more than 70 while sales have more than doubled. ME


For more information from Mastercam/CNC Software Inc., go to, or phone 860-875-5006.




Shop Goes Digital with HMC, ERP


Given the fast pace of modern manufacturing, literally every second saved in a cycle means money in the pocket of a shop. D&S Manufacturing (Black River Falls, WI) has benefitted from the creativity of its employees and their ability to get the most out of their equipment. D&S Manufacturing is an ISO 9001:2008-certified manufacturer of large-scale components, assemblies, and complete weldments made from carbon steel plate, as well as aluminum and stainless steel. Machining and welding capabilities are complemented by an integrated lineup of value-added services, including liquid spray painting, shot blasting, assembly and testing, that enable the company to produce quality parts efficiently and economically.

When D&S management decided to add an FH1250SX HMC from Toyoda Machinery (Arlington Heights, IL) to its horizontal machine lineup, it knew production would increase. Combined with the company’s advanced shop setup, the machine gave operators the ability to double their output in a given shift. "We were kind of amazed by the plant’s newfound capability," says Rob Bucek, production control manager.

The shop decided to invest in the new machine last fall, after maximizing the envelope on a smaller horizontal machine. The FH1250SX had the work envelope and pure horizontal capacity D&S needed for the job. But deciding to add the 1250-mm size machine to the floor was just part of the process of increasing accessibility at the plant.

Toyoda FH1250SX HMCOne of the D&S’s main considerations is the fatigue factor. "Part of the implementation layout is all about getting information and making sure the operators have everything at their fingertips," Bucek says. By looking at how often operators were leaving the machine to grab products and running up and down stairs, D&S could see where it could eliminate wasted movement. "If everything isn’t organized properly, it could degrade efficiency of the workcenter," Bucek adds.

To maximize the plant’s resources, D&S implemented an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Machine controls and forklift laptops are connected to the ERP system. To call a forklift to bring unfinished parts to the machine, operators simply flip a switch. The forklift driver receives the request, and collects the products the machine needs. This system gives operators the ability to cut on the FH1250SX continuously, without having to leave the workstation to find materials.

To maximize efficiency, D&S dedicated plenty of space to the new system. Located in front of the work envelope, D&S added a rail structure for the control panel. Made in-house, the rail allows the computer to slide along the entire length of the machine. This innovation gives more mobility and flexibility to operators—a seemingly minor improvement that has led to increased efficiency and improved ease of use.

One side of the FH1250SX became the fourth wall to a gated application area and tool closet. The application area acts as an office for programmers. All programs for the machine have been prepared in advance to eliminate unnecessary downtime. The other side of the gated area houses any tools the machine may need during cutting. This increased accessibility gives operators essential resources without having to leave the machine.

D&S also added a deck structure—complete with three hydraulic-lift tables with rollers—to the pallet loading area of the FH1250SX. The left and right lifts are for products that will be loaded onto the machine’s two pallets. After a product is cut, it returns to the lift table where it originated. The table then spins 360° to put the part back down on the center roller, which is reserved for completed products. When the rollers become filled, the operator uses the machine’s lights to call a forklift to carry the products to their next operation. Not to leave any FH1250SX-dedicated space unfilled, the shop even uses the area under the deck for storage.



"We were kind of amazed
by the plant’s newfound capability."



Bucek admits that making floor space for the FH1250SX was a challenge. However, after moving older equipment to make room for the new machine and its auxiliary parts, the shop found that it came out with more space and a better overall floor plan in the end.

D&S attributes the success of the new layout to the communication throughout the process, conceptualizing the new layout as a team. The FH1250SX HMC lent itself well to these changes because of its flexibility; additional components could easily be added onto the unit without disrupting the cutting process. Bucek talked to operators to see what worked well in the past and how to incorporate successful changes into the shop’s final layout. One of these suggestions was for the sliding computer station. After understanding how this feature could increase the shop’s productivity, D&S pieced together the necessary parts to build the rail.

Bucek says operators now have a sense of ownership in the products they are making. The workstations are set up in a way that operators are confident with and that are also conducive to productivity. As new suggestions come along, Bucek says the shop will make modifications accordingly. He adds: "Everyone’s pretty amped up."

And they have a good reason for that excitement: D&S is looking to make the FH1250SX area a 100% digital workcenter. Using in-house software, the company hopes to eventually be able to have online setup sheets using the sliding computer on the machine’s workstation. With success, D&S will implement it throughout the shop.

In the meantime, D&S is taking what it has learned from other operations and incorporating those modifications into the FH1250SX area. Bucek adds, "Productivity has surpassed expectation." ME


For more information from Toyoda Machinery, go to, or telephone 847-253-0340.



Dutch Firm Programs for Success


With globalization, Mom and Pop shops are becoming nostalgic memories of the past. Keeping production local is a challenge to small European companies that want to keep the work at home. These are companies that embrace change to ride the wave of technological evolution that prevents them from being pulled under.

Such is the case with Netherlands-based Doeko, a company that produces complex parts for industries that require high-precision manufacturing. Unlike so many of its counterparts, Doeko hasn’t gone the way of overseas production. Instead, it has maintained its competitive edge by matching the right CAM software and machine tools.

Doeko began producing molds and dies in 1964, but its repertoire quickly expanded beyond the conception and production of complete injection molds and precision mechanical parts. As the team and its equipment grew, it evolved into another entity entirely. Today it counts more than ten CNC machine tools, including those made by Mori Seiki, Toyoda, Okuma, Fanuc, Nakamura, and Sodick, among the machining muscle that makes the precision job shop tick.

Doeko serves multiple industries, among them the food and medical sectors, minting institutions, and the semiconductor industry. Parts include prototypes for lamps, tiny and complex medical parts, LED lights and automobile molds, among many others.

Harry Hendriks, production manager, emphasizes that, at Doeko, "All of our parts are different, and we have to produce quickly." The primary goal is to deliver rapid-fire and excellent service to the company’s existing roster of customers while keeping an eye on exporting not only to Germany and France, but also to Brazil and Hong Kong.

"We have more than 100 customers, including Philips, NXP, KTM Motorcycles, Honeywell and RPC-Packaging, all who appreciate our quality work and the finishing of our parts," says Serge Vijverberg, production assistant. "The huge quantities machined do not affect precision, though we complete some orders of 4000 LED lights, or we produce 500 parts per month for air suspensions for vans. At the moment, we are finalizing a hinge for the semiconductor industry. This component will be first created in a small quantity, and then, if results are good, we will make 300 or 400 items."

A typical day in the life for Doeko’s eight programmers includes working with Siemens Unigraphics computer-aided-design (CAD) software for part design and with ESPRIT computer-aided-manufacturing (CAM) for part programming.

In 1998, Doeko’s managers decided that to remain competitive the company had to adopt CAM software. After checking out all the CAM players on the field, the company chose Esprit from DP Technology for its ability to program parts for every industry and every machining discipline. This was essential because Doeko’s talent lies with its adaptability and knowledge in making a number of different types of complex parts.

"We are a very flexible company that must be able to quickly change from one application to another, and with Esprit we can," Hendriks says. "We don’t need to buy several types of software. When you’re on deadline and accurate CNC code is a must, there is no replacement for reliable, high-performance CAM," Hendriks explains. Esprit is highly customizable for milling, turning, mill-turn, and wire EDM. Multitasking and high-speed machining, as well as piloting B-axis machine tools, are easily manageable with the software and, with top-notch postprocessors, compatible with various machine tools right out of the box. Programmer at Doeko

In order to achieve the best possible result the first time around, it’s also vital that Esprit be compatible with Unigraphics. Esprit’s seamless CAD-to-CAM interface directly imports any native part model from any source, fully intact, with no need for programmers to edit or rebuild geometry. Esprit also directly machines from any combination of geometries, including solids, surfaces, wireframe, or STL files.

Installation of the new CAM technology was arranged by the Esprit reseller in the Netherlands, Greenock CAD Service, based in Ede. After their first training, Doeko’s programmers quickly became familiar with the software and, not long after, were able to work completely independently with Esprit. Doeko credits the responsive team at Greenock CAD Service for its rapid success with Esprit. 
Doeko, which was up and running in 1998 with four seats of Esprit for wire EDM and milling, today has eight licenses with FreeForm and four-five axis milling, with which 75% of its parts are programmed. Vijverberg recalls a part that the company was tasked with programming before it acquired CAM software. The part, which would become part of a lawn mower, required a whole day of programming.

"From my experience, we now need only one hour to launch the machining of this kind of mold thanks to the CAM system and the memory capacities of our machines." When asked which parts they are able to produce today without Esprit, Hendriks and Vijverberg say, "None, in particular molds and dies."

Employees who’ve worked at Doeko for at least ten years have seen its production increase by 40–50%. "We have many more customers from new sectors, and they are more and more demanding," Hendriks says. "They can easily compare and put us in competition with other companies, so we have to be the best. The products have changed, too, certainly due to the technical advances. They are more complex, as well as the machines, and our job now is to make everything work perfectly." In fact, this Dutch company is getting ready to face the future. From its beginning, Doeko has diversified and developed production, making the hard decisions, taking risks, and investing in complex machines and software. The current demand is such that Doeko enlarged its shop floor in 2012, invested in four new multitasking machines and five-axis machines, and is currently recruiting new engineers. Greenock will train them in the turning and mill-turn functionalities of Esprit and new postprocessors. ME


For more information on DP Technology Corp. go to, or telephone 805-388-6000.


This article was first published in the July 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF






Published Date : 7/1/2012

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