by Kip Hanson
Why smart shops need to get their data-driven manufacturing house in order
If you’re a machinist, programmer, or manufacturing engineer, stop for a minute and think about all of the data needed to do your job. There’s cutting tool related information, such as tool nose radii and cutter diameters, carbide grades, helix angles, and insert geometry. Workpiece data is also necessary, including the dimensions of the raw stock and the finished part, and the recommended speeds, feeds, and depths of cut for each material.
Toolholder and workholding dimensions are required, as well as the kinematics of the machine tool. Tool crib people need to know what inserts and spare parts to stock, programmers need to know what tools are available and which toolpaths are appropriate for them, and machinists have to know what tool goes where and what operation it will perform. It’s a lot of stuff to keep track of.
De-duplicate or die
To remain competitive, smart shops must learn to manage this information, leveraging it to achieve better part quality, reduced tooling costs and setup times, and greater efficiency on the production floor. The problem here is that, quite often, each of these data groups reside in completely different areas. Tooling catalogs, Excel spreadsheets, note cards, and disparate software systems—sometimes these islands of information talk to one another, but many times they don’t, in which case duplicate and often conflicting data exists.
One company specializing in accurate manufacturing information is MachiningCloud GmbH. Since 2013, the Swiss company has collaborated with a network of tooling providers to publish cloud-based dimensional data for use in CAD/CAM, tool management, and machining simulation software systems. Managing director Chuck Mathews says the company is on the verge of launching a completely new venture: adding application advice to its already extensive database of dimensional tooling data.
“The CAD model problem has largely been solved,” he says. “But with literally millions of constantly evolving cutting tool products, grades, and geometries to choose from, it’s not easy to know what works best in any given situation—which tool to use, how fast to run it, the proper grade for a given material. Shop people tend to bounce around from website to website until they find what they need. It’s pretty hit and miss.”
According to Mathews, hit and miss will be a thing of the past come September, when MachiningCloud officially launches its new metadata services at IMTS. He says, however, there are already 20,000 early adopters using the product. “We want to have one central location where manufacturing folks can click the mouse a few times and download all of the information needed to do their jobs. Not only the cutter assemblies and stick tools, but also the usage information, with recommended cut depths, feeds and speeds, radial engagement amounts, and so on. It saves a lot of time.”
Up until now, MachiningCloud has been free of charge to subscribers. That is likely to change with the rollout. Mathews is unable to share actual figures, but says the fee will be nominal, and will be easily offset by the estimated 75 per cent reduction in programming time, based on a job with 20 tools.
Most in the industry would agree that shops need to manage their data effectively, but not everyone concurs on the best way to do it. Daniel Remenak, product manager for GibbsCAM at 3D Systems Inc., Rock Hill, SC, says the company has developed its own network of industry partnerships. “We distribute the Sandvik Adveon catalog product with our software, and we’re also partners with Zoller, which manufactures tool presetting machines and has its own onboard software. And TDM Systems, of course, is a leader in tool management systems (TMS).”
With all these software systems, the question becomes which is the master? According to Remenak, it’s all of them “When you’re talking about tooling data, the TMS will always be the master. For programming data, the CAM system is the master. And for part data, the CAD system is in charge.”
For those shops that have neither TMS software nor a tool presetter, the CAM system is often tasked with housing everything. As Remenak points out, however, that’s not its primary function. “CAM systems are mostly concerned with tool geometry and the specific metadata associated with how that tool is loaded in a particular machine, the tool ID and offset numbers, that sort of thing. It can be a challenge to cram everything needed for manufacturing into most CAM packages.”
Much of the industry remains behind the data-driven manufacturing curve, Remenak says. “What we see is that people have specific problems and then they look for solutions that solve those problems. If you have a problem with tool offsets, maybe you’ll look into presetters. If you have a problem with crashes, you’ll look into simulation. A lot of shops that don’t run into those problems or don’t realize there are better ways of doing things, which is maybe even worse, will never invest in those technologies.”
Let’s shake hands
Like most CAD/CAM packages today, there are interfaces between GibbsCAM and a number of complementary software systems, including Vericut, a CNC machining simulation software from California-based CGTech Inc. Vericut reads program data directly from GibbsCAM and similar systems, simulating the toolpaths found there and checking for collisions, part gouging, and other problem areas.
As with any simulation package, it is heavily dependent on accurate data. Vericut product specialist Tom Benedetti says each machine tool, together with the associated cutting tools, workholding, and part geometries, must be accurately modeled if simulations are to be accurate. These models are often supplied by the machine tool builder, can be downloaded from the MachiningCloud or the tooling provider’s website, and are sometimes built the hard way, with a tape measure. Vericut also integrates with tool presetters, pulling in the tool profile from a laser scan to give an ultra accurate simulation.
It wasn’t always this easy. “Not too many years ago, we implemented Vericut at a customer with 7000 tools in their crib,” says Benedetti. “They brought in some local college students, gave them measuring equipment, and within a few weeks they had everything modeled. Nowadays, they could just download it all from the Internet.”
Benedetti is excited about MachiningCloud’s augmentation of cloud-based tooling files with application metadata. That’s because CGTech’s latest software module, Force, can use that metadata for automatic NC program optimization. “The technology is still young, but is evolving quite rapidly. When we can pull out information like ‘what kind of chip load can I take,’ or ‘what’s the rake angle of the tool,’ then it will be much simpler to build intelligence into the simulation. For now, at least, there’s still some manual data entry to get the desired results.”
Drinking their own Kool-Aid
One of GibbsCAM’s other partners is CAMplete Solutions Inc., Kitchener, ON. The sister company to five axis machining specialists Miltera Machining Research Corp. (https://shopmetaltech.com/machining-technology/from-coding-to-chipmaking.html) CAMplete offers a universal post processing and simulation platform that integrates with a number of different CAM systems.
VP of sales and marketing Jeff Fritsch agrees there’s not always a definite data gatekeeper in most machine shops. “It’s kind of looking at your tool box and kind of picking the tools that fit best what you actually need to do. From our perspective, accurate tooling data is what’s most important.” That being said, Fritsch recognizes the importance of avoiding data duplication, which is why the company has developed plug-ins able to extract this data directly from their partners’ native CAM environments.
Another integration point is with the machine builders themselves. Fritsch and CAMplete management have partnered with five axis machine builders such as Hermle, GF Machining Solutions, and Matsuura to develop a tight interface between the hardware and the software that drives it.
“We get all the engineering data directly from the manufacturer. From that point on we work together with the factory to test the post processor and the simulation environment—by the time it gets to a customer, we know it’s going to work.”
Pulling it all together
Post processors, G-code, and machining simulation are all important parts of the manufacturing data puzzle. But perhaps one of the biggest pieces is how the data management solution comes together. As mentioned previously, CAM systems can pinch hit for some of a small company’s data storage needs, but nothing really beats a dedicated TMS solution. Commodity and Tool Management Services (CTMS), a division of the IMC Group and sister company of Iscar, provides one such solution with its Matrix series tool management system.
“There’s an awful lot of information out there and much of it is essentially duplicated. Our goal is to link up those
islands and get each piece talking to one another,” says Tim Marlatt, system implementation expert for the Matrix unit in Canada.
Despite dedicated solutions such as these, Marlatt agrees that smaller shops especially often struggle with a system implementation. “Unfortunately, it’s no small job organizing everything. A lot of times the folks working for job shops and smaller manufacturers are wearing six different hats, and it ends up being the same person running the crib, doing the purchasing, presetting, and everything else. For them to build a library and get that information lined up is something they don’t necessarily have time for.”
In these situations, shop management has little choice but to bring in external support. This might range from a highly paid software consultant to the owner’s nephew, but organizing your shop’s manufacturing data is a task that won’t get any easier by procrastinating.
Reach out to tooling and software system providers, bring in some college kids over summer break, dish out some overtime pay, whatever it takes. Just get it done. The data driven manufacturing revolution is here. SMT