In the words of the Meatloaf song, “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.” But when it comes to the complete picture for ensuring the absolute optimum use of CNC machines and cutting tools, only all three pieces of the jigsaw will suffice.
Investing in the right combination of machine and cutting tools along with the latest CNC software to drive them is only two-thirds of the story, according to Seco Tools (UK). Technical Centre Technician Ian Dawson says they now use MCS DNC Pro to transfer all CNC programs to their three machines for cutter trials and testing strategies.
“If a customer needs advice on cutting certain types of material, about inserts wearing out prematurely, or any other issue with machining, the Technical Centre carries out extensive trialling to find the best strategies and tooling.” The 5-axis Agie Mikron HPM 600U, 5-axis Mazak Integrex 200 and 3-axis Mori Seiki are all programmed by Edgecam CNC software, ensuring that the toolpaths are generated swiftly and accurately to get optimum performance from the machines.
But transferring that code from the computer into the machines used to be time consuming. “Previously we’d download it to a USB memory stick or flash drive. That had to be put into a stand-alone computer at the machine tools, which in turn was connected to the machines with an RS232 lead; then we had to set up the machine to communicate with the laptop. Once the machine was talking to the laptop we called up the correct file and transfer it into the machine control.”
And he says they often found the need to edit the code and adjust data items, such as depth of cut, when they got to the machine. “Rather than go back to the CAM system we’d make those changes on the machine console, but then we had to copy it back to the USB stick, over-write the program that was already there, and take the USB stick back to the main computer to ensure we kept an up to date copy.”
He describes it as “long winded” compared to how MCS, from Vero Software, transfers code now. “Those daily frustrations of using the old, seemingly archaic way, have gone. Now, once the NC code has been generated, it is simply dropped into the Automatic import folder, and because of the way we name the files it automatically knows which machine it is for. When I get to the machine I simply request the NC file directly at the machine control. The MCS system immediately finds the very latest version of the file and loads it into the control in a very easy, straightforward, way.”
MCS manager Phil Gill says ensuring accurate, fully traceable, CNC code is transmitted to machine tools is often overlooked by manufacturers in the CAD/CAM equation. And yet fast, reliable data transfer is an essential aspect of an efficient production line in making every second count. “If manufacturers have optimised CNC code to produce a component in the shortest cycle time, it makes sense to use the most efficient way of getting that code to the machine.”
Says Ian Dawson. “MCS has certainly made our system foolproof. Whenever humans are involved there’s the capacity for mistakes to be made. But with MCS everything is automatic. The system automatically updates the latest program, so we only ever use the newest – there’s no chance of loading an old program and breaking a tool or scrapping a part by cutting it incorrectly.”
But fast reliable data transfer is only part of the story. As soon as the code goes from the network into the machine tool MCS is functioning in the background, logging everything, ensuring full traceability of every line of code throughout its lifecycle. This includes when the code was first produced, when it was made available, when it went to a machine for the first time, and if and when it was modified. This means specific information about any part of any version of the code is readily available.
Seco’s Aerospace Business Development Manager David Pearson says MCS provides Seco with many wider benefits beyond the direct ones for the technical centre. “We are a full solutions provider rather than just a cutting tools supplier. Customers look to us to help them utilise their machine tools, cutting tools and CNC programming to ensure a completely seamless and efficient manufacturing operation. We say to the customer, here’s the complete solution but to get there you need to utilise all these different aspects.”
Ian Dawson says being able to advise them on MCS completes the picture:
• Good machine and cutting tools
• Good CNC software
• Good DNC software for effective transfer and easy file management.”
He says being able to trace every line of code produced for parts can be absolutely vital for some of their customers for compliance audits and check, especially on rotating parts for aero engines, and for medical components. “They may be called on to provide information about where changes were made, and MCS shows that the right piece of code has been produced at the right time for the right machine. As their cutting tool supplier we work with them on all aspects of their machining, including fixtures, CNC software and high pressure coolants, so being able to advise them on code transfer, management and traceability is another part of that overall service we provide and helps differentiate us when customers ask why they should use Seco Tools instead of other brands.”