CAM Automation Increases Mold Production, Quality
Machining Technology | Brooklyn Park, MN, USA
What would compel you to replace software that has been a working solution for over twenty years? Following a particular process for this length of time provides a sense of security with known expectations each day. However, it does not always mean it is the optimal process, especially as it relates to manufacturing technology which is continually advancing to offer more innovations and options.
For the programmers at Machining Technology (Brooklyn Park, MN) mold department, who had been adeptly using a CAM software package for a couple of decades, some novel programming strategies would prove to be too beneficial to ignore.
Machining Technology is a 75,000 sq. ft. machine shop offering design, manufacturing, and repair of die-cast and plastic injection molds, milling, swiss turning, and EDM applications. In 2013, Machining Technology’s owner Laurent Deconinck bought a machine shop called Main-Tool (Fridley, MN) that had over thirty-five years of industrial machining experience. Over the next year, the company was enhanced by acquiring new CNC machinery, adding experienced operators, and receiving ISO 9001 certification. Then in 2020, Machining Technology acquired the assets of Tooling Science (Maple Grove, MN). including its employees, capabilities and nearly fifty years of experience. This acquisition comprises the Mold Department at Machining Technology which offers a wide range of mold-related services such as plastic injection molds, die cast molds, and mold design and engineering. Machining Technology has approximately seventy employees with twelve, including three programmers, in its mold department. Committed to providing the highest quality machined products and services, Machining Technology’s experienced quality assurance team supports their skilled operators with strict control protocols.
“There is one CAM package that separated itself from the rest.
In my experience, hyperMILL® from OPEN MIND Technologies is a game changer.”
Miguel Aponte, Vice President
When Miguel Aponte joined Machining Technology in 2021 as Vice President, he was asked to take an objective look at the mold department. The mold department builds molds and mold plates and inserts to the company’s rigid quality standards using a combination of 5-axis and 3-axis machining centers which they strive to optimize with the very best tooling, CAM software and cutting tools, along with having the most efficient processes.
“There were several areas that I wanted to focus on including processing and delivery times, tool life, and part quality,” said Aponte. “I thought that evaluating a change in CAM software would be a logical place to start.” Before joining Machining Technology, Aponte had gained hands on experience with several CAM packages, and it was that firsthand knowledge that led to his recommendation for trying new software in the mold department an easy one. “There is one CAM package that separated itself from the rest,” said Aponte. “In my experience, hyperMILL® from OPEN MIND Technologies is a game changer.”
However, it was not without skepticism that Aponte’s team was asked to embrace hyperMILL®. “I understand that it can take more than a leap of faith to be willing to change programming habits that have been established for such a long time,” said Aponte. Fortunately, the advantages of switching to new CAM software did not require a leap of faith after all the benefits were revealed.
Proof in Productivity, Quality
Aponte said, “OPEN MIND understood that my team would need to see for themselves that the software was not only more capable, but also easy to learn.” So OPEN MIND provided Machining Technology with a trial run in order that they could try the software before committing to it. OPEN MIND also provided its applications expertise every step of the way.
OPEN MIND Technologies' hyperMILL® software is a modular and flexible CAM solution for 2D, 3D and 5-Axis milling, mill turning and high-performance machining strategies with everything integrated in a single interface. This complete integration enables fast, easy programming using the latest operating concepts, reduced machining times and tool wear, improved process reliability and accurate, high quality surface finishes.
After OPEN MIND and Aponte reviewed the application requirements, they selected the hyperMILL® automation capability as a key strategy to drastically reduce processing times. However, this choice was not a simple one because it required the Machining Technology engineering team to change the manufacturing processes that were in place which they had been following and were comfortable using. The new automation strategy had to show big productivity advantages and be easy to learn for it to have value in implementing.
The hyperMILL® automation strategy automates CAM programming for parts with similar geometries such as component families and variants, recurring shape elements, features such as holes or pockets, and repetitive processes to help reduce programming times, standardize processes, eliminate human error and improve overall throughput.
The feature technology of hyperMILL® automation makes it possible to read design properties of a component that are relevant for the machining job. Geometry features such as holes and pockets are recognized automatically, and information relevant to the machining task is applied automatically. A macro stores a sequence of machining steps that contains all the tool and technology data of a characteristic geometry – the recognized features. Macros therefore permit NC programming with just a few clicks of a mouse, greatly reducing programming efforts.
For example, a macro can be created for drilling operations that includes a sequence of machining jobs such as centering, drilling and countersinking. This can then be used to program a wide variety of hole types with a single click.
Machining Technology’s engineering team worked closely with OPEN MIND’s engineers to make the implementation a success. They determined that by applying the automation capabilities to part families, toolpaths could be replicated to speed up processes. “Using the hyperMILL® automation capability on molds and mold plates and inserts, we were able to save NC programs for holes and pockets in a feature-based macro database, and apply and run the script in an easily understood routine,” Aponte commented.
This worked very well because even though the applications are custom, the parts always have the same types of holes and threads, albeit with different diameters. “First, we select the hole types and operations needing to be performed by following the color coding system, and then we save the toolpath strategy so that we can automatically repeat it for the next job. Programming times were instantly reduced by 50% or even more, and we were amazed at how good the part quality was,” continued Aponte.
Machining Technology’s programmers were impressed with the productivity improvements, and felt comfortable with the learning curve which was further simplified with the ease of being able to simply press a button to run an automated routine. So, the decision was made to switch over to hyperMILL®.
Time & Cost Saved
On a monthly basis, the mold department generally produces approximately three to four molds along with eight mold plates per mold totaling up to thirty-two plates. Most of the parts are tool steel, beginning at 24-34 Rockwell and hardened to 52-56 Rockwell in their final state. Processes that include reamers, boring heads, and engravers are performed on the parts. Aponte said, “We are taking advantage of the tool database in hyperMILL® to significantly speed up operations.” The powerful tool database supports tooling from leading tool manufacturers, and special tools can also be mapped in the tool database. Having the ability to select suitable tools and cutting parameters for programming toolpaths with 2.D, 3D, or 5-axis strategies increases productivity. Before hyperMILL® was implemented at Machining Technology, it was taking about four hours to program and setup a plate. Now the same process is taking approximately forty-five minutes.
In addition to the programming and setup time reduction, the machining time was decreased. Aponte said, “The toolpaths we generate now are smooth and streamlined which improves part quality, increases the life of our tools and cuts down on machining time.” One plate is now machined in one and a half hours compared with previously taking 8 hours.
Since Machining Technology typically needs to hold dimensional tolerances ranging from +/- 0.0002 to +/- 0.001 for die cast molds, it was critical that hyperMILL® be capable of generating toolpaths consistently and accurately. Simulation checks will also use the generated NC code to simulate movement sequences precisely to ensure the greatest degree of safety during manufacturing. “We needed a CAM package that we could trust and we have that with hyperMILL®.” Now when machining cavities with the 3D strategies, we are able to reduce polishing and eliminate EDM burning that was previously required.
What sets OPEN MIND Technologies apart from other software vendors is the way they approached Machining Technology and its applications. “OPEN MIND really went out of their way to adapt a solution to our needs – the software’s modular configuration and options mean we can configure the software the way we want to use it,” said Aponte. “Not only is my team pleased with hyperMILL® because of its ease-of-use and reliability, company executives are fully onboard because it has improved job profitability.” Aponte also says the support he receives from OPEN MIND is stellar stating, “they are always there for us”.
As Machining Technology looks to the future and adding new 5-axis machining technology, it is clear they have the CAM software to move them forward, maintaining the company’s commitment for keeping the highest quality products and services.
See Related Article that explores CAD/CAM Automation Advances and explains how feature-, attribute- and script-based CAD/CAM automation can ease programming and skilled labor challenges – CAM Automation Increases Mold Production, Quality | MoldMaking Technology.