Implementing five-axis machining can be an excellent strategy for efficiently producing accurate, complex parts. However, it takes more than the right machine tool to realize the full potential of a five-axis process. In addition to the right machine, tooling and fixturing options, CAM software must be selected carefully.
When Western Precision Products Inc. (WPP), Tualatin, Ore., made the decision to reinvent some machining processes by incorporating five-axis machining, it started planning and carefully considering the “big picture” over a six-month period. During this time, the shop concluded that only the leading solutions would suffice for its five-axis setup.
WPP has been a precision machining manufacturer for more than 30 years. WPP and its 85 employees handle projects from prototype through production in a high-tech, 48,000 ft2 (4,459 m2) production facility in the Portland, Ore. metro area. Aerospace and electronics make up the majority of WPP’s industries served, in addition to hydraulics, power supply equipment, recreational equipment, semiconductor processing and testing and measurement equipment.
WPP deploys a variety of machining technology, including lathes, mill-turns and Swiss-style machines as well as horizontal milling and vertical milling centers. The types of parts manufactured range from small, intricate components to large structural parts. An AS9100 Rev D-certified company, WPP’s jobs include manufacturing structural and complex parts for the aerospace industry, which often have tight part tolerances and short lead times. Also, aerospace materials can be valued at thousands of dollars per part, so mistakes can be costly. It is essential to make parts right the first time.
During the planning period for adopting five-axis technology, WPP wanted to answer key questions, including how to reduce or eliminate machine setup times, how to at least partially automate the programming of complex five-axis parts, and how to utilize the latest in Industry 4.0 initiatives to provide a competitive advantage over high-end machine shops.
Tyler Bureau, senior manufacturing engineer at WPP, said “Our vice president Jerry Mullins and I carefully considered our options by using strategies including value stream mapping and examining potential failure modes for this new department. At the end of this analysis, we realized only the leading solutions in each category would be an option for us because they drastically reduced or eliminated failure points.”
This included selecting hyperMILL CAM software from Open Mind Technologies USA Inc., Needham, Mass. “The first thing you need in a CAM package is trust that it can do the job without limiting your abilities, and trust that it can do it in a safe, fast and efficient manner,” said Bureau. “We purchased hyperMILL to allow us to program and run our five-axis machines to their full potential.”
According to Open Mind, The hyperMILL CAM software suite enables a wide range of five-axis strategies for machining challenging geometries, free-form surfaces and deep cavities at maximum efficiency levels. Depending on the geometry and machine kinematics, a user can choose between five-axis machining with a fixed tool angle, automatic indexing or true simultaneous machining. All toolpaths are generated fully automatically with collision checking and avoidance.
Since the implementation of five-axis machining, WPP has realized an overall 65 percent reduction in setup time and a 30 percent reduction in the amount of setup parts, saving thousands of dollars, much of which they credit to using hyperMILL. This has allowed WPP to pass along savings and deliver parts faster to its customers.
In one example, WPP went from machining a UAV wing spar part on a horizontal machining center to producing the same part on a new DMG Mori five-axis machining center. It also transitioned from its existing CAM software to using advanced five-axis strategies in hyperMILL, and were able to create a better quality part in about half the amount of cycle time than the prior method. Machining strategies now include five-axis rework, five-axis profile finishing and tangent machining using barrel cutters. “Now the part surface is phenomenal,” said Bureau.
Since implementing hyperMILL, WPP has taken advantage of its automated setup and programming abilities. For example, it is no longer necessary to program drilled and tapped holes anymore because hyperMILL takes care of it. “We accomplished this by creating a macro database with set rules that look for common characteristics such as hole color, diameter, depth and hole bottom condition, and then make a determination on whether the hole is tapped or not,” said Bureau. “The macro then pulls the correct tools from the intelligent tool database and automatically programs the holes.”
WPP can also take it a step further and have hyperMILL rough, finish and chamfer pockets as well. And, because all the strategies, speeds and feeds, and depth of cuts for a given tool are saved by material type in the tool database, hyperMILL has allowed WPP to bridge the gap between its experienced and newly hired programmers.
“We have a saying in our five-axis department—if you can’t do it conventionally then use the imagination cycle that has become our nickname for the hyperMILL five-axis Rework cycle,” Bureau said. This cycle is a “try-out” strategy that determines and displays the exact toolpath, then adds collision avoidance and control adjustments to achieve it. “It works beautifully,” said Bureau.In addition, “hyperMILL helped us improve our Industry 4.0 initiative by allowing us to program the digital twin. We sent Open Mind our serialized solid models that match our machine tools exactly, measured our travel limits, and now what we see on our screen is what we see at our machine,” he continued.
Bureau has been in the machining/manufacturing industry for more than 20 years and has extensive programming experience. He said he has come to this conclusion: “Our industry is addicted to bad CAM. We have come to expect our CAM software to fall short and that is simply not okay.” Instead, WPP chose hyperMILL. “When other CAM software companies hear they are competing with hyperMILL, they pay attention,” noted Bureau.
WPP currently has four hyperMILL work stations, which have set the stage for growing its five-axis business. “The days of not trusting our posted code are far behind us because of hyperMILL,” said Bureau said. “Today we program a part, walk up to our machines, hit the cycle/start and walk away. I have a hunch not many shops can say they believe in their CAM package enough to do that.”
For more information from Open Mind Technologies USA Inc., go to www.openmind-tech.com or phone 888-516-1232. For more information from Western Precision Products, go to www.westernprec.com or phone 503-786-8923.
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