The roots of Five-Axis Industries are in racing, and the company is driven to win. This breeds performance, focus, drive and quality, which is what makes the company the “best in the world” at what they do, according to Erick Ellstrom, president and CEO, Five-Axis Industries, Arlington, Wash.
Five-Axis Industries and its sister company, Ellstrom Racing, also based in Arlington, trace their roots back to 1960 as part of the Ellstrom Manufacturing Co. Started by Sven Ellstrom, Erick’s father, the company established a legacy of innovation, performance and a winning attitude that is apparent today.
Ellstrom Racing came on scene in the early 1990s and soon dominated the highly competitive and high-risk sport of unlimited hydroplane racing. These 30' (9.14-m) power boats, weighing over 7,000 lb (3,175 kg) are more like airplanes than boats; most of the time the propeller is the only part of the boat in the water.
As with everything the Ellstroms do, they came to compete and win—and win they did. Today, Ellstrom Racing is the winningest team ever in the unlimited hydroplane class, capturing three season high-point honors and setting single-lap speed records, yet to be broken, at every race venue on the circuit. Ellstrom Racing clocked the fastest single-lap speed average ever recorded during a race in Nashville, topping 171 mph, with straightaway speeds over 200 mph.
The success of the unlimited hydroplane campaign can be attributed to focus, drive, innovation and a commitment to excellence. “In our minds, second place is the first loser; we are always out to win,” said Ellstrom.
When it came to raising the bar on the status quo in unlimited hydroplanes, Ellstrom Racing knew it needed to innovate and improve on the design and manufacturing of high-quality components that withstand the demands of the sport. So, they started Five-Axis Industries, which in the beginning was essentially a hobby shop specializing in five-axis machining to make difficult-to-manufacture parts from hard metals, including titanium and stainless alloys.
However, it was not long before Five-Axis started making specialty performance parts for other teams and today it builds props for most of the unlimited hydroplanes racing.
“We cut our teeth in the high-performance marine industry, producing hard-to-manufacture parts, and gained a reputation as the ones that can get it done when no one else can,” Ellstrom said. “This propelled us into producing parts for other demanding applications, like aerospace. We now produce large-structure parts as well as high-performance components, including propellers, blowers, gas turbine engine parts, thrust cones for rockets, air turbine assemblies and more.”
Five-Axis Industries has grown from its humble but high-performance beginnings to a full-size manufacturing facility. “We are not always the first choice, but we are the best choice,” Ellstrom asserted. “Difficult parts can be expensive to manufacture, and our high-performance mindset does not allow for cost-cutting shortcuts.”
The design, build and quality-verification processes at Five-Axis Industries are strategically linked to provide a consistent digital thread throughout. This allows the company to comply with preferences, and in many instances requirements, of prime contractors they work with. More importantly, it supports the company’s mission of delivering high-performance, high-quality components.
Designers, manufacturing engineers and machinists at Five-Axis Industries have been using Mastercam exclusively to program parts for machining since 1982, well before Five-Axis emerged from Ellstrom Manufacturing. Most of its design work, especially high-performance engine components, is also done using Mastercam integrated with SOLIDWORKS. It is also capable of working with other CAD formats, such as CATIA, Siemens NX, PTC Creo and others.
Computer Aided Inspection (CAI) is provided by Verisurf Software. Being model-based and built on top of the Mastercam platform, Verisurf allows the team at Five-Axis Industries to open and work with any CAD file, including intelligent models with associative GD&T to support the development of automated inspection plans. The net result is efficient quality verification, regardless of CMM type, capable of producing first-article inspections within minutes. The Verisurf Device Interface (VDI) lets operators choose from any of their portable arms or CNC CMMs (three-, four- or five-axis) to conduct quality inspections, reverse engineering, tool building or assembly guidance using the Verisurf software.
Verisurf says this is the only measurement and inspection software dedicated to MBD and built on a CAD/CAM platform. This enables greater compatibility, workflow integration and more complete end-to-end solutions.
Verisurf software serves as a common measurement and inspection platform across Five-Axis Industries’ manufacturing enterprise. Whether for inspection, reverse engineering, tool building or assembly guidance, the entire design/build team is trained to use Verisurf. This increases productivity, reduces bottlenecks, standardizes reporting and lowers overall software and training costs. Regardless of measurement hardware device, everyone uses the same software.
“Verisurf is so easy to use; we all picked it up quickly, and now the software is indispensable to us,” Ellstrom said. “I consider myself CMM stupid, and even I can use it.”
Given its name, it should be no surprise to learn the company has been using five-axis machining capabilities for more than 20 years. Complex shapes and features such as propellers and other helical-shaped parts are more easily and accurately machined using five-axis technology. Continuous five-axis movement produces better results on contoured or curved shapes. Five-axis machines are also easier to set up, with fewer clamp changes. Five sides of a part can typically be accessed with a single setup. These and other benefits of five-axis machining are clear and have pushed adoption of the technology among shops at a rate of seven percent compounded annual growth in recent years.
“For us, five-axis capabilities are all about moving the part less and articulating the machine to move around the part,” said Ellstrom. “We were an early adopter of five-axis machining. CMMs have finally caught up and can offer the same productivity gains in measurement and inspection. Five-axis workflow from machining through quality verification just makes common sense. We realize up to 50 percent reduction in cycle time, and added flexibility, using five-axis machining, and the savings are comparable when it comes to inspection using our five-axis CNC.”
Verisurf software increases overall measurement and inspection productivity, from CMM plan creation through execution. Users have the unique ability to use Verisurf to create a single inspection plan and execute that plan on any measurement device across the manufacturing enterprise, including five-axis CMMs. The team at Five-Axis Industries uses the Renishaw PH20 five-axis touch-trigger probe and is considering upgrading its primary CMM to the Renishaw REVO five-axis scanning probe, which will enable them to perform continuous scanning of complex surfaces for enhanced inspection and reverse engineering purposes. Verisurf software seamlessly supports the entire line of Renishaw probe heads and Five-Axis is one of only a few companies that can program and run the REVO five-axis head, including two exclusive scan patterns developed by Verisurf.
Change is the only constant in manufacturing, and this applies directly to Five-Axis Industries. As the business expands and shifts over time, the design-build process remains constant. The company is dedicated to a model-based environment that maintains digital continuity from beginning to end, with the CAD model serving as the design, manufacturing and quality-inspection authority.
“While Mastercam is our preferred CAD/CAM platform, Verisurf software verifies every part we build and is our final say on quality,” Ellstrom concluded.
For information on Five-Axis Industries, call 360-657-4302. For information on Ellstrom Racing, visit ellstromracing.com or call 360-657-4302. For information on Verisurf Software, visit verisurf.com or call 714-970-1683.
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