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Dynamic Programming Optimizes Material Removal Rate


Reducing lead times is nothing new to job shops but figuring out which method works best for each shop is a never-ending challenge. According to Curt Shatz, general manager of Planet Tool and Engineering (O’Fallon, MO), his company’s approach has been to train each machinist on the shop floor to use Mastercam CAD/CAM software from CNC Software Inc. (Tolland, CT), even if their knowledge of its functionality is just at the basic level.

Planet Tool & Engineering, owned by the Grassmuck family since 1965, is a job shop specializing in custom equipment, tooling and parts for customers in a variety of industries, most notably automotive and aerospace.Mastercam’s Dynamic Motion technology adjusts cutting motions on the fly based on material conditions ahead of the tool, making it possible to cut with shallow stepovers along the full flute length of

“We have one programmer who does off-line programming and we have four programming stations on the shop floor. Pretty much everyone who runs a CNC is qualified to create their own 2D programs from a CAD model,” said Shatz. This strategy reduces the need for the “middle man” and empowers the machine operators to solve problems as they arise rather than wait for help. The shop has eight four-axis systems and approximately 14 vertical-axis systems that are all Mastercam-capable.

By distributing programming responsibilities to programmer/machinists throughout the shop, the company has seen lead times shrink from a typical six to eight weeks five years ago to sometimes four weeks or less. Because so much of the work is custom, a four-week turnaround can be tough at times because a project can go through many different departments—including plating or painting—each requiring its own amount of time to complete the task. “The difference between the work and a typical job shop is that what we do is not just one part,” said full-time programmer Chris Branco. “Sometimes it is just one part, but a lot of the time it is multiple parts or an entire assembly.”

Using Mastercam’s Dynamic Motion technology to minimize tool wear is an integral part of Planet Tool’s strategy for reducing lead times and manufacturing costs. Toolpaths incorporating this technology adjust cutting motions on the fly based on material conditions ahead of the tool. “This makes it possible to cut with shallow stepovers along the full flute length of an end mill, spreading wear evenly over the tool while removing material as fast as the tool manufacturer’s chip load recommendations will allow,” Branco said.

On average, there are about 400 different jobs moving through Planet Tool at any given time. The five people who comprise Planet Tool’s engineering department define the scope of work and deliver it to six to eight project managers who allocate manufacturing tasks to those who program and operate various CNC mills, lathes, and waterjet machines, as well as perform welding, fabrication, and painting operations. With all the steps involved in these diverse manufacturing processes, there are numerous opportunities to use flexible tools within the CAM software to identify and eliminate inefficiencies.

For example, during the past two years, the company has shifted from conventional G-code to conversational programming of lathes. These programs are faster and easier to write with CAM software and they allow the programmer/operators to create unique contours that would have otherwise required the commitment of hours of time from an experienced programmer. These programs are faster and more accurate because algorithms in the software maintain continuously smooth engagement of the tool. The Mastercam CAD engine makes it easy to design and align workholding solutions while the part is being programmed. Branco said that the enhanced model rendering in the latest version of Mastercam allows him to create softer or sharper edges on solid models for increased flexibility in fixture design.Programmer Chris Branco has reduced roughing cycles at Planet Tool by as much as 70% using Mastercam’s Dynamic Motion technology, challenging conventional chip-handling systems to keep up.

Planet Tool’s Mastercam-resident tooling library plays a significant role in reducing spindle time by organizing cutting tools and making them readily available when needed. Working with its Mastercam Reseller, QTE Manufacturing Solutions (Weldon Spring, MO), the company designed its library so that each tool is sorted according to job number and part number. The toolcrib attendant receives a setup sheet generated using Mastercam that matches the tooling. “It will probably save the operator about 15 minutes per part. What we really gain is spindle time because the operator doesn’t have to go out searching for the tools every time he changes over to an new part.” said Branco. “He can go directly from one job to the next with little machine downtime.”

Mastercam has been playing such a vital role in reducing lead times that the Grassmucks did not hesitate when approached with the idea of providing Mastercam training for all of the employees on the shop floor. Thus far eight employees have attended training sessions at Rankin Technical College in Westville, MO, to learn the ins-and-outs of Mastercam.

“Our guys on the floor are not at the same level but we wanted everyone to have at least the basic level completed to maximize our resources,” said Shatz. The goal, though, is to get everyone to the point where they can make changes on the floor in no more than five minutes. “We are a job shop not a production shop. We don’t have the luxury of running off a job and fine-tuning it before we turn it loose. We have one shot to make it right,” said Shatz, “and these guys are learning to fine-tune stuff as we go.”

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

This article was first published in the May 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Read “Dynamic Programming Optimizes Material Removal Rate” as a PDF

Published Date : 5/1/2016

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