If, like Canadian company Hyphen, you are setting up a workshop providing prototype parts, you simply cannot ignore the desirability of or the demand for the mechanical qualities of milled and turned metal.
When most people hear the term rapid prototyping (RP), they naturally think of 3D printing and additive manufacturing, which has, over the past few years, captured the imagination of the public and the press worldwide. Although 3D printing technology develops at a rapid clip, so do CNC machine tools, which means anyone aspiring to offer a comprehensive RP service needs to understand and provide both processes.
Based in Kitchener, ON, Hyphen is a full-service, rapid prototyping and environmental testing centre with the country’s “. . . widest range of prototyping and environmental testing capabilities under one roof,” claims the company.
Originally created to serve Christie Digital Systems Inc., a manufacturer of sophisticated visual display systems, Hyphen has evolved to become an autonomous business, allowing other companies access to its state-of-the-art technology, which its parent company has invested in and built-up over a decade. Hyphen managing director Mark Barfoot explains how the company came to be.
“Christie began by setting up an in-house prototyping and testing facility,” he says. “We saw the benefit of being able to do this part of the product-development cycle ourselves; to be able to prototype a new part today, test it tomorrow, then do it all over again two or three days later. In October 2012, we launched Hyphen, essentially doing the same type of prototyping and testing we’ve been doing for Christie, but providing those services for anyone outside of the company. We’ve had a lot of people asking to have access to our capabilities; now we can offer them to those people, too.
“What makes Hyphen unique is that we have successfully combined top-of-the-line prototyping and environmental testing capabilities to allow for optimization of design concept, reduction in overall development time, improvement in quality, or a combination of all of the above. “
Joe Holland is the Rapid Prototyping Centre supervisor for Hyphen. “As well as the additive manufacturing machines, we have a number of Haas CNC machines tools,” he says. “In fact, they’re the only brand of CNC machine tool we own.
“In the main row, we have three vertical machining centres: one is 3 axis, one is 4 axis, and one is 5 axis. We also have a Haas ST-20 lathe with live tooling. Between them, we have all the tools in the toolbox that we need to produce the mechanical prototypes and short run batches of production parts that we need for both Christie, and also for other customers.
“The first machine we bought was a Haas TM-1 Toolroom Mill. We then added a VF-3 vertical machining centre, which we later upgraded to 5 axis. We also have a VF-6, for doing larger parts. We can machine aluminium, stainless steel, copper, titanium, magnesium parts, and we can also machine plastics. Typically, we make one-offs, but sometimes we make as many as ten units.
“A very good example of a component we made recently using the Haas machines is a three-part assembly created to simulate a die-cast component. Firstly, we cut from billets each of the three parts on the Haas 5-axis machine. Then, when they were assembled, we sand- and bead-blasted them to give them the simulated appearance and feel of a die-cast component. Taking this approach meant we were able to give Christie’s engineers the experience of having a finished, high-accuracy die-cast part, but without incurring the time and cost of going straight to tooling at the prototype stage.”
Hyphen also uses its Haas CNC machine tools to make prototype parts for Christie products where the heat generated by, for example, high-powered lamps and electronics would make the use of resin-based components impossible.
“Parts such as lamp housings need to withstand very high temperatures,” says Holland. “So we need prototype parts with mechanical properties similar to the final parts, that are able to withstand not just the heat, but any other loads they are subject to. That rules out using the plastic additive processes, but CNC machined parts are usually ideal, until the product is eventually ready for production.”
“Obviously, we’ve made a significant investment in the Haas machines over the years,” adds Barfoot. “And we’ve been pretty happy with our choice. We’ve had very few issues with them, and they’ve proved to be very easy to use. We’ll keep adding more Haas machines, because they are affordable and seem to be the right fit for our type of business.”
A particular advantage of having just one make of CNC machine is that Hyphen can switch tooling between them, and operators can run more than one configuration of machine. The department employs a small team, so everyone is flexible. Operators move freely between the lathes and the mills.
“Our Haas machines have been reliable for us,” says Mr. Barfoot. “Yes, we’ve had the odd couple of issues, which you typically would have with a machine that is run every day of the week. However, they’ve been very minor, little issues. Preventive maintenance means we have very few surprises, and the Haas service reps from the local Haas Factory Outlet, Sirco Machinery, always get our machines up and running again very quickly.
“From Christie’s point of view, having the in-house capability to make high-accuracy parts, with useful mechanical qualities, for products still in the prototyping stage is invaluable. We can test parts, make design alterations and re-make the parts very quickly and easily. What we have learned as part of Christie, we can also offer to other companies, especially those developing high-end, high-value products where reducing product development costs and reducing time to market are priorities. Employing the Haas CNC machine tools as part of our rapid prototyping (RP) and testing services means there’s very little we can’t offer our customers. Offering a full suite of rapid prototyping, machining, and environmental testing under one roof makes Hyphen the most comprehensive facility in Canada.”