A manufacturer might have any number of reasons to look for outside programming help; the engineering department is overloaded. A new five-axis machining centre or multitasking lathe just hit the floor and the shop’s programming team is now scratching their heads, wondering where to start. Or perhaps, the workpiece is worth tens of thousands of dollars and some expert advice is needed on how to most efficiently process it. This last situation is a common one for many aerospace shops, especially when combined with the second scenario—the increasing prevalence of highly sophisticated CNC machine tools, equipment that many programmers are still struggling to master.
Dale Fry knows all about it. Three years ago, he decided he’d had enough of the daily machine shop grind and opened Southern Programming Application Contract Engineering (SPACE). He’s been busy ever since. “I’ve been in the business for 30 years now,” he said. “When I first started, I moved from company to company across the United States, learning all I could from each one. And when I came here to Alabama, I decided it was time to start programming for myself,” he continued.
Most of Fry’s work is from clients in the aerospace industry, and most of that is the programming of five-axis machining centres. Despite this common theme, he’s noticed one thing, both as an independent programmer and before, every shop does things differently. Different brands and styles of cutting tools, different toolholders and workholding methods and especially different approaches to metal removal, all of which require that Fry work closely with his customers to understand each one’s unique manufacturing processes.
Yet there’s one tool that has consistently levelled the playing field, assuring Fry and his clients that a programming error won’t inadvertently crash a costly machine tool: the Vericut toolpath simulation and optimisation software from CGTech Inc in Irvine, California. “I’ve used Vericut over the past twenty years or so at different companies, so when I opened my own business and my first customer sent me a Vericut file, I knew it would continue to play an important role in my work,” Fry said. “In fact, I’ve turned down jobs from potential clients just because they don’t use Vericut,” he added.
In addition to his previous shop experience, Fry now works with dozens of manufacturers; he’s seen the good, the bad and the just plain ugly. When asked about the common mistakes and what advice he would give to shops hoping to improve their operations, his response was hardly surprising: get Vericut. “I have a well-known, very high-end CAM system, but it’s not all that great at toolpath simulation,” he said and continued, “For one thing, it’s too cumbersome, but more importantly, it does not provide all of the critical information that Vericut has to offer. The stakes are just too high for me not to use Vericut.”
Bruce Roth of Clearwater, Kansas, has had a similar experience, albeit for far longer. Like Fry, he’s been a Vericut user since opening the doors of his contract programming firm, Superior Programming, but that was 25 years ago. Roth has since done work for numerous consulting firms and direct customers, most of it in the aerospace field and, again, most of it was/is five-axis programming. He and Fry even use the same brand of CAM software, although Roth’s biggest complaint is that it doesn’t offer the same level of technical data as the Vericut.
“I’ve been working full-time with Advanced Plastics and Machining in Owasso, Oklahoma, over the past year-and-a-half and was actually brought on to help them implement that CAM software, along with Vericut,” he said. “Both are excellent systems, but we’re cutting a lot of titanium here, and it’s critical to maintain constant cutter loads, something that Vericut does quite well. It lets one know, for example, when he/she ploughed into a corner, which would either cause a bunch of chatter or even break the cutter. By watching the load graphs, it’s pretty easy to catch stuff like that.”
Despite his extensive programming experience, Roth admittedly makes mistakes. The Vericut finds them. Aside from the overload situation just described, there are collisions, over-travels and post-processing errors to be concerned with, all of which are clearly visible in CGTech’s simulation & optimisation software. This allows Roth and the others at Advanced to correct such problems before they hit the production floor.
Aside from agreeing with Fry’s advice to use Vericut, Roth had several additional recommendations to anyone interested in continuous improvement, starting with re-evaluating their current methodology. “If one is one of those people who says ‘Well, we’ve been doing it this way for the last 30 years and it’s been working,’ you need to break out of that rut,” he said. “There have been so many advances in manufacturing technology over the past decade or so, from workholding and cutting tools to advanced toolpaths and machine simulation. The cost and productivity benefits of each are pretty dramatic. Grabbing hold of them is just a matter of setting aside the status quo and taking the next step forward,” he signed off.
Courtesy: CGTECH India