Aerospace manufacturer combines strength of CAD/CAM software and machines
In 1890, August Kaspar moved to Gonzales County, Texas, to work as a ranch hand. He soon found himself making wire horse and mule muzzles in his spare time with his hands and a pair of pliers. Fourteen years later, Kaspar invested in a hand-cranked wire straightening and cutting machine and struck out on his own. In 2015, fifth generation Colter Kaspar acquired the assets of a job shop and founded Kormachine. A programmer himself, Kaspar surrounded himself with 10 machine operators, who bring a wealth of experience machining all types of metals, and a production manager, Bob Bassett, who has 30 years of CAD/CAM software experience.
Waco, TX-based Kormachine’s work is focused on roughly seven different industries. Said Colter, “You have to be diverse enough so that when orders in one industry go down, the others are strong enough to carry on.” Turnaround times also vary by industry—from three to four weeks for aerospace, railroad, heat exchange, and similar industries—to six to eight weeks for oil and gas. For rapid prototypes, even faster turnaround times are possible.
About 25% of Kormachine’s work consists of machining or prototyping custom and batch parts for the aerospace industry. Examples include the bolts that hold a helicopter prop together and box casings for aircraft. Quick turnaround times are critical to attracting and retaining customers. Orders range from a one-off custom part to a mini roll out of 1500 parts per month, which are cut 400 to 500 pieces at a time and then shipped out in bulk. Space X relies on the company to test non-critical parts in short periods of time.
The red tape often associated with aerospace orders can take up valuable manufacturing and approval time, causing what started out as a routine job to become a rush job once approvals have been issued. One thing Kormachine has in its back pocket is the ability of its CAD/CAM software, Mastercam (CNC Software, Inc., Tolland, CT) to read CATIA, CATPART, and CATPRODUCT files with all relevant machining planes and axes via a translator module. Programmers can import the CATIA V5 tree with notes in the file and read in certain CATIA files directly and write out MODEL files from Mastercam among other tasks.
“I really don’t run into a lot of snag on the machine floor. We’re pretty capable ourselves,” Colter said. “For example, through our Mastercam translator, we can accept and machine off the CATIA program. There are aerospace companies that will only work with you if you have the CATIA program and others that will only let you work on certain projects. We can operate and run off it, no problem.”
Mastercam’s Verify module helps the shop slash lead times by nearly half because they can simulate the machining process before it actually runs.
“We can verify the cut pre-posting, make the post, and read the post before sending it to the machine,” Colter said. “And our post-processors have been the greatest weapon as well. We have service technicians close to home and that’s been very instrumental. We’ve seen real results.”
Kaspar noted that oftentimes aircraft engineers send solid model drawings of parts requiring programmers to analyze the solid’s surface curvature to identify undercuts and minimum radius if necessary in a Mastercam for SOLIDWORKS file.
“We analyze the part, because we often don’t have a print to work off of, so we usually engineer off a solid model. Being able to build a wire frame on top of a solid has been very helpful as well. And because you can draw, we build our own solids. One of my programmers is a full-time drawer so he works in SOLIDWORKS all the time,” Colter said. The user-friendly, intuitive interface makes transitioning between programs quick and easy.
The CAM software’s multiaxis toolpath capabilities provide Kormachine options when choosing high-speed toolpaths. For traditional contouring and drilling, toolpaths employing Dynamic Motion technology are used. Dynamic Motion allows the tool to remain constantly engaged with the material, using proprietary algorithms programmed into the software to detect changes in the material automatically, minimizing air cuts and tool breakage. Tools can move as fast as the machine allows, reducing time by up to 75%. For more complex geometries and pocket cutting, Colter programs the software’s OptiRough toolpaths which use Dynamic Motion, but in a more precise way. The cut uses the entire flute length of the tool, but a small percentage of the tool’s diameter on the first cut, followed by several successive shorter cuts that bring the part into the net shape desired. Swarf cutting is also performed.
Colter recalled the time 15 people from one aerospace company delivered a part that needed to be reverse engineered. No print. No solid model. The customer wanted to take an extension off the part and then build a new one from scratch. “It was very much one of those ‘run it now, bill us later’ kind of scenarios, which we’re not opposed to ever,” Kaspar said. The Kormachine team worked together to reverse the dimensions, pulling them off as best they could because the original part was warped and cracked; bent and distressed in some places. They built the part from the ground up, drafting a new solid model, verifying it, and sending it out for approvals.
“The nice thing about creating a solid model in SOLIDWORKS and linking it in Mastercam is we know how we want it so we can build it again,” Kaspar said. “We build the structure as a wireframe and then extract the solid from that. We actually have hard edges to route from the machine path or the toolpath. It was pretty instrumental. It may cost a little more in time up front, but in the end it saves us a bundle of time because we can program it much faster; we know which parts are ours.”
In order to get this part to the customer in two weeks, they performed a lot of model drafting using the software’s Model Prep function, printing, and then running the actual toolpath itself. According to Kaspar, they broke the toolpaths into pieces and parts and put them back together again to see the whole. “We can build our stock models from raw materials and then we can take stuff off or add it as needed.”
The proprietary part measured 3′ x 3′ x 1′, consisting of a combination of Inconel, aluminum, stainless, and some copper brazing. Tolerances were a tight +/- 0.005.”
About the time savings, Kaspar said, “The quicker cuts get the job done faster. Generally, depending on a number of things—materials being one of them and the amount of time needed with a particular tool—the right cut can save you a tremendous amount of time as well as tool life. We can plunge with the pocket and use the other three quarters length of the end mill instead of one quarter length which is essentially getting to the bottom. Time saving is the number one reason for us diving into the trickier cuts. Time is one of our most important assets and that is what these cuts will do.”
The result of being able to cut so deeply is the ability to push the machines as far as they can go. At times, Kaspar and Basset can run the machines at 11,000 RPM spindle speed.
The ability of the tool to stay engaged with the material saves the end mills from breaking during high-speed milling or turning operations, and helps reduce scrap rates, a significant cost savings especially when working with high-end materials, such as Inconel, Hastelloy, titanium, copper, stainless, and alloys.
“We don’t like scrap when we run the first time, Kaspar said. “Our scrap rates are fantastic in the sense that we don’t have much of it.”
Mastercam’s Backplot feature also helps the company estimate the amount of time it will take to create a toolpath for a complex part. They create a few toolpaths, check the back plots, and can gather a pretty good time and size estimate. This is especially valuable when quoting jobs to customers who like their estimates delivered within 24 to 48 hours.
Kaspar and Basset have two shifts, running the machines for hours at a time. Their machines include a true 5-axis universal milling machine, a number of vertical machining centers, and a few multiaxis lathes with live tooling. Because the jobs are program-driven and the software links directly to the machines, machinists can leave them unattended and help others with additional projects.
“Not having this program would have us making multiple trips from machine to computer between posts,” Kaspar said.
There are times when even the most well-oiled machines need some help, and Kaspar relies on his Mastercam Reseller, MLC CAD Systems (Austin, TX) for training, post issues, and other questions.
“Just a few weeks ago, our rep popped in as we were tackling a very difficult, complex part. It was great to have him visit, and he ended up spending four hours with us. Our posts are generally corrected within 24 to 48 hours, which is huge because there’s no stopping as far as yield,” he said.
The ability to collaborate as a team and take full advantage of their manufacturing tools has helped Kormachine achieve AS9100D certification and deliver complex parts and prototypes quickly and flawlessly. As a result, they continue to build a reputation in the aerospace industry for good business and good product.
Edited by SME Media, using informatioin provided by CNC Software.