thumbnail group

Connect With Us:

ME Channels / Controls & Software

Winning the Race Before the Race


Ultra-lean CAM strategies get critical Indy race components to the track on time

Early one Monday morning in late July, Allen Chase, manager of the machine shop for Honda Performance Development (HPD, a subsidiary of Honda North America), received a call in his Valencia, CA, office from the facilities design group. Modifications to the aerodynamic package for the Honda Indy racer chassis were good to go. STEP files for the billet parts had already been generated from the CATIA model and were posted on the server. Twelve installation sets and twelve backup sets of three different part numbers needed to be manufactured and shipped to a race track in Ohio within three days at the latest. This would give racing crews time to install, test drive and adjust them prior to Saturday’s qualifying round and Sunday’s big race. Another fire bell had just rung.
HPD Senior Technician III Martin Estrada finds “Mastercam Machine Simulation to be very helpful to prove out the toolpath with every shape that we make. It has prevented many crashes.”
Specific assignments for this project were given to a number of HPD’s manufacturing associates at the Monday morning meeting. (Priorities change frequently, so there is a meeting every morning.) Brian Barron, the team leader of the horizontal machining cell, took on programming the critical billet parts using Mastercam CAD/CAM software (from CNC Software Inc., Tolland, CT).

He programmed on hyper-speed all day long. Before the day was over multiple pallets had been set up so that machining could proceed on a lights-out basis. On Tuesday, the machine shop had completed that first leg of a relay race that would ultimately involve part validation, assembly, additional testing and simulation of the new aerodynamic package performance characteristics so that racing vehicle ECU (engine control units) could be optimized for conditions gleaned from an electronic map of the next course on which to be raced.

This was far from the only deadline the machine shop had to meet that week.

Multiple Manufacturing Streams

Chase said, “Honda manufactures a variety of engines including generators, power equipment, lawn equipment, motorcycles, ATVs and automobiles. At HPD we refine and performance-tune some of these engine designs and adapt them to various types of racing platforms. In essence, we are creating a ladder that allows motorsports enthusiasts to use Honda engines all the way up their racing career and then ideally for pinnacle activities like Indy circuit racing.”
Brian Barron (foreground) removes finished parts off one of Honda Performance Development’s modular fixtures that ran lights-out on a horizontal five-axis tombstone. Meanwhile, Allen Chase (background) works with a flexible manufacturing cell controller to coordinate the production schedule.
Considering the number of racing vehicle performance development projects underway and racing venues supported, the fire drill that kicked off Monday’s meeting was far from unusual. “It’s like a fire station here,” Chase said. “You have to be ready to go whenever the bell rings. On the other hand, it’s not cost effective to overstaff a fire station. It doesn’t make sense to have excessive resources waiting around for an emergency. Our strategy is to run a very lean operation and rely on advanced machining centers, CAM software and talented people to keep development moving.”

To get good parts out the door as quickly as possible, HPD’s machine shop has developed a team of manufacturing associates who serve as CAM programmers, machinists and project owners. Once assigned a project they stay with it from start to finish until the parts are shipped. The only requirement they have to meet during their 10 to 12 hours in the shop is to use any of the tools at their disposal to get their job done as accurately and quickly as possible.

Lights-out manufacturing allows them to capture an extra 10 to 12 hours of spindle time every day for critical parts. That is HPD’s most valuable time compression strategy. The associates have also learned to use a number of advanced CAM capabilities to reduce programming and manufacturing time.

Flexible Manufacturing Cells

At HPD, the machining cells refurbish existing parts and make tooling for assembly and machining operations. Most of these cells have large capacity tool holders. Mastercam is used for programming all of this equipment.

The billet parts for the aerodynamic package were produced in the horizontal cell. Chase said, “The benefit of having modular fixtures available, on ‘standby’ pallets, is being able to react quickly. By utilizing a standardized raw billet-to-modular fixture interface, we establish a material holding method in minutes. Our toolpath programmers now have access to five of the six sides of the raw billet. Most parts are completely machined in only two holdings. Another benefit achieved with the 32-station pallet stocker is when the rush comes we can take the less urgent job, move it out of the machine and let it idle in the pallet stocker rack until the time comes to go back to it.

“We don’t have to tear down a proven job, both cutting tools and fixture, to make way for the urgent job.”

If multiple holdings are required for a complicated part, Chase can assign the programming of the second operation to a different programmer. When the first operation is completed on the night shift, it can be quickly shifted over to the second fixture so the process can continue with almost no time lost.


Tool Libraries

Mastercam’s tool libraries are used to manage all of the tools in the various cells. HPD always keeps the same tool and holder in the same position and all of the information associated with the tool and holder can be quickly and efficiently pulled into the program. The vertical machining team, lead by Robert DeShields, does mostly fast-turn refurbishing work. “The advantage of having such a big tool capacity,” said DeShields, “is knowing I have a tool built and it will stay built. The same tools are always in the same position and Mastercam maintains the relationship between the tool and holder. It’s one less thing I have to think about. I pull the part in, find its orientation and grab a toolpath, pull in the tool and start cutting. This saves me a great deal of time.”
Robert DeShields proofs his setup on a multiaxis modular fixture.
Simulation gives the associates confidence that they can run a program quickly and at high material removal rates even when untended. While creating their programs associates use Mastercam’s built-in simulation capabilities to verify material removal along with tool and holder clearances. The programmers have access to a G-code simulation package, but in most cases they use Mastercam’s machine simulationbefore putting parts on the machine.

Martin Estrada, who manages the mill turn team, said, “I find Mastercam Machine Simulation to be very helpful to prove out the toolpath with every shape that we make. It has prevented many crashes. Because machine simulation is part of the CAM software, you can make the adjustments right there versus having to come back from another software package. Occasionally HPD programmers do use G-code simulation to make sure the code is correct when they have fine-tuned a particular critical toolpath. However, they agreed that it does not make sense to spend a lot of time using it to trim a few minutes off the machine cycle when the goal is to get the part out the door.”


Dynamic Material Removal

High speed roughing with Mastercam’s Dynamic Motion technology allows associates to get as much material off the part as quickly as possible. The bulk of the work done is 3+2 high speed machining of components. Brian Barron says his go-to toolpath for rapid material removal is Core Dynamic Rough. Minimal stepovers and deep engagement make it possible to remove material as fast as the tool vendors recommend chip load will allow.

Algorithms in the software look at material ahead of the tool and adjust motions to avoid burying the tool, so there is little concern that the tool will be broken in the middle of the night and precious production time lost. Deep engagement of the cutter spreads wear over the full flute length of the tool. This is important at HPD, not so much because it reduces tool costs, but because it results in a more consistently accurate cut. Dimensional integrity of these components is vitally important both for vehicle operator safety and weight reduction. Every Indy race team is allowed the same amount of fuel so engine performance is balanced against fuel economy.
Mastercam’s machine simulation is used extensively to make sure there is no interference between the part, the tool and the holder.
Because the material aware Dynamic Motion technology places less stress on the tool, the programmers can use smaller tools without compromising material removal rates. This reduces tooling costs but the primary concern in this shop is reducing cycles. Roughing and finishing operations can often be completed with the same tool, reducing tool changes.

Barron said that there have been significant improvements in the CAM software’s 3D Rest Roughing Toolpath. This toolpath typically generates a large number of trochoidal moves that get tools into tight spaces without overloading it. He has noticed that Mastercam has streamlined the code generated by this toolpath to reduce his computer’s memory overhead and provide a much cleaner code representation of the path during simulation.

“It just runs faster because it doesn’t have to retract as much,” he said. “This has been very beneficial for reducing our programming time. The toolpath is also easier on the machine. Not a herky jerky, rapid here, a rapid there. It’s more smooth and continuous. It also gives us better finishes, which is something we take pride in.”


Process Documentation

“We have two scenarios going on here simultaneously,” said Chase. “One is getting ‘panic Monday’ components out the door as fast as we can. We are also producing some very complicated components for ongoing development programs. It is critical for us to document the process sequence of both scenarios to use for future reference. It is expected of our group to run a job the second time with greater efficiency than the first run. Without proper notetaking and documenting, we will likely fumble around trying to figure out what we did the first run. Our process engineer rides along with the job to capture all relevant images and text for each of the jobs. He then compiles and creates a process manual which is stored in a HPD machine shop shared server. The next time the job comes around, we know exactly what we did before and we can do the next iteration even faster.”

Honda Performance Development has a maintenance license of Mastercam so that they can call upon its reseller (CAD/CAM Consulting Services) on an as-needed basis for support. CCC engineers answer questions by phone and email and visit the plant when asked to consult on more specialized requests. In one instance the reseller helped expedite a project by digitizing a component for which there was no electronic model. HPD also relies on its reseller to provide training and to show associates how they might benefit from new or improved features in the latest version of the software. “Based on the deadlines we deal with everyday, this service is invaluable,” Chase said.

No part is allowed to leave the facility until it has been inspected to assure that it will fit on the chassis when it gets to the track. Quality Assurance, however, must not be a bottleneck in the manufacturing process. To prevent this, daily meetings are held with the Quality team so that they understand when a critical part will be completed and be ready to measure it immediately.


Off To The Races

Needless to say, the new Aerodynamic Package got shipped to the Ohio track to be used by the 12 racecars equipped with Honda engines. Those cars also posted the highest point totals that week. Was it the aerodynamic package that made the winning difference? “There are a thousand things that can happen between what we do and the guys crossing the finish line, but as far as team effort, we put in a strong team link at this side to be able to get them what they need and have it delivered on time,” Chase said.

What the HPD team can take credit for is improving its own on-time delivery performance. With typical lead times for critical parts of two to three days, this team has improved its performance metric from 89% to 95%. Chase believes there is more that his team can and will do to drive that metric even closer to 99+%.

Edited by Yearbook Editor James D. Sawyer from material provided by CNC Software Inc. 


This article was first published in the 2015 edition of the Motorized Vehicle Manufacturing Yearbook.

Published Date : 4/8/2016

Editor's Picks

Advanced Manufacturing Media - SME
U.S. Office  |  One SME Drive, Dearborn, MI 48128  |  Customer Care: 800.733.4763  |  313.425.3000
Canadian Office  |  7100 Woodbine Avenue, Suite 312, Markham, ON, L3R 5J2  888.322.7333
Tooling U  |   3615 Superior Avenue East, Building 44, 6th Floor, Cleveland, OH 44114  |  866.706.8665