Laser scanners expand Toolmaker's service and profits

When a die-casting tool breaks in the middle of production, it obviously needs to be repaired as soon as possible. RAM Tool – a manufacturer of aluminum die casting tools, injection molds, and prototype tooling – devotes part of its business to emergency work and turns repair jobs around quickly. Using Metris laser scanning technology, RAM Tool is able to finish rush jobs multiple times faster than before. RAM Tool is a 100 employee and 60,000 square feet tool-and-die shop situated in Grafton, Wisconsin, USA. Because rapid turnarounds are the bread and butter of the business, Roy Kannenberg, the company’s Founder and President, has invested millions of dollars in high technology to shave hours – and sometime even days – from each step of the process. Besides CAD/CAM systems in the engineering department, dozens of CNC machine tools fill a shop that expanded twice over the last decade to fit them all. Among his most recent acquisitions are two LC50 laser scanners from Metris USA Inc., Rochester Hills, Michigan, one for each of his two coordinate measuring machines (CMMs). The Metris scanners and the vendor’s supporting Focus software suite have become an important part of the mix of services that RAM has been able to offer its customers. “Laser scanning has brought in more work,” explains Kannenberg. The technology has allowed RAM to expand the number of services it offers customers, and in the process, become more competitive. In the case of the tool repair from Massachusetts, laser scanning played a central role in helping the customer to find and repair the problem. RAM’s engineering staff compared the scanned data to the CAD model to figure out where the problem was. After getting approval to execute their recommended solution, the craftsmen on the shop floor made the repairs and shipped a better tool back to the customer. Scanning expedites this and other rush jobs by eliminating most of the programming that would otherwise be necessary. When collecting data by touch probe, the programmer would have to develop the CMM program point by point. “It’s very difficult, especially for jobs without a CAD model,” says Tim Nichols, CMM programmer. “It would take two to three days to collect the points with a touch trigger probe.” Then he would need another day or so to generate the surfaces that the CAD department needs to begin its work. A laser scanner eliminates most of that programming and measuring time because it collects hundreds of points at a time as the CMM moves it in a smooth, continuous path over the workpiece. The CMM stops only to change direction. “We can scan a whole cavity in a matter of two to three hours,” says Nichols. “In another 10 hours or so, we have surfaces for the CAD department.” Moreover, the quality of those surfaces is much better because they contain orders of magnitude more data. Scanning also saves time by streamlining report generation. Nichols estimates that generating inspection reports would add a day on top of the two or three days that it would take to program the CMM and let it make the measurements. “Reporting bogged everything down,” he says. “Now, it’s a small part of the whole project.” On a job that took 30 hours with a touch trigger probe, he reports that laser scanning took only eight hours. Not only did the Metris scanner and Focus Inspection software help him to do the job in nearly a quarter of the time, but the software also organized the measurements into an intuitive, easy-to-read color map that puts each measurement into the context of the entire surface. The scanners streamline another value-added service. When working with Focus Reverse Engineering, another module in Metris’ software suite, they give RAM’s staff the ability to generate CAD models quickly for tools that don’t already have one. “When you’re working on prototypes, you’re working on something so new that there often isn’t data for it,” explains Mike Kannenberg, Roy’s son and Vice President of Manufacturing Operations. Scanning also helps RAM to generate accurate CAD files for tools that were either made too long ago to have a CAD file or tweaked without the modifications also being recorded in the original file. Mike Kannenberg estimates that laser scanning eliminates two-thirds of the time for generating an up-to-date file. Besides being tools for helping customers to troubleshoot their problems, the Metris scanners and Focus Inspection software also give the shop the feedback that it needs to control its operations and ensure quality. For example, a toolmaker might request that the quality laboratory scans a freshly hardened cavity if he suspects that the heat treatment caused twisting or some other problem. “We’ve been able to scan the semi-finished product, compare it to the CAD model, and ensure that we have enough material in an area in question before there’s a problem,” says Mike Kannenberg. In other cases, scanning is required, rather than an option. A scanner, for example, checks all of the electrodes before they are released to the electrical discharge machines. It also inspects each of the components that go into the finished tools. “No die component goes out of the shop without being inspected,” says Roy Kannenberg. “Not a single one.” Besides streamlining the manufacture of new tools and the repair of old ones, laser scanning also has allowed RAM to expand its services to include contract inspection. Various manufacturers are sending RAM final articles from their production processes for first article inspection and capability studies. They even send RAM their molds and dies periodically to check for wear. “Sometimes, we can perform that service within a shift,” says Mike Kannenberg. “Within 10 hours, they’ve the data that they need.” Not only has laser scanning boosted revenues by increasing the number of services that RAM can offer its current customer base, but it also have given other companies not yet doing business with RAM a reason to give the toolmaker a try. It gives them a reason to see just how fast that they can get their tools made or serviced. “There’s is nobody going to beat us, not even come close,” says Mike Kannenberg.

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