EdgeCAM Brings a Fast Response to Alcon

When high performance brake specialist Alcon Components of Tamworth
installed an Hitachi Seiki HiCELL mill-turn centre the idea was to bring
in-house previous sub-contract components. Due to the complexity and high
productive capability of the machine, Alcon's engineers decided to
thoroughly research all the off-line programming systems that were
available, to ensure they obtained the most effective solution for C and
Y-axis combination machining when using driven tooling.

The decision to purchase EdgeCAM computer aided programming from Pathtrace
of Reading has been rewarded with a claimed 99 per cent confidence factor
that any program run directly on the HiCELL will be free of major errors.
In addition, certain programming routines that previously took hours are
now produced in well under an hour and previous sub-contract costs have
been reduced by half, due to the high technology CAM and machine tool

Alcon Components prides itself on a high-class, fast response philosophy to
customer care. It is a policy that has been very successful, lifting the
company to be one of the top three manufacturers of caliper brake systems
for race and high performance cars.

Formed by John Moore in 1984 when he was Managing Director of Alexander
Controls, Alcon Components supplies brakes, clutches and associated
equipment to the motor sport industry in North America, Europe and the Far
East. Its brake systems are used by many top race teams such as those in
NASCAR and Formula Renault as well as by leading rally teams, including
Skoda, Subaru and Hyundai. Alcon brakes also feature in several limited
edition high performance road cars such as the Brabus Mercedes, the
Prodrive Subaru Impreza P1 and Ford Racing Pumas.

When Alcon split from Alexander Controls in 1991 it had just 14 employees.
Today, over 60 people are based at its Tamworth headquarters plus eight in
the USA and three on mainland Europe. Production is totally concentrated in
the UK and virtually all components are produced at Tamworth.

John Moore maintains that: "Keeping production in-house rather than sub-
contracting gives us maximum control and enables us to quickly deal with
any 'panic' requests from customers. Our philosophy is to provide a fast
response, which is not easy when batches can be just a single part. We
spend a lot of effort to reduce lead times and EdgeCAM has proven to be a
powerful tool for this."

It was the desire for in-house high quality production that led Alcon to
invest in the HiCELL. Previously, parts such as disc bells, master
cylinders and brake pistons, which have radially milled and similar
features, were sub-contracted. However, programming such complex multi-axis
machined components presents its own problems and this led Alcon to scout
for a suitable off-line system.

Programming Manager, Rob Taylor takes up the story, "We thoroughly examined
off-line programming systems from all the leading players. The Pathtrace
software was the only one that would give us total support in programming
turned components that extensively use C-axis spindle combined with Y-axis
turret crossfeed for off-centre feature machining in a single hit cycle.
The bonus was that EdgeCAM came with a built-in post processor for the
HiCELL, although EdgeCAM's Code Wizard is able to write post processors for
any new CNC equipment."

He continues: "It is simple to program with EdgeCAM. I input the drawing of
the part and surround it with the billet or casting material, which then
allows me to view it on screen in fully textured solid. EdgeCAM then
automatically calculates the cutter paths and delivers the most efficient
program. For particularly 'nasty' profiles I can call up PathComp that
automatically compensates for tool tip radii."

He follows on to describe how the program can then be fully simulated and
verified on a tool-by-tool basis with any collisions detected. "This is
supported by on-screen viewing as a full solid and at any angle we require.
With this, I can be 99 per cent certain that when I run the program on the
HiCELL there will be no major errors," he maintains.

Programs that would have taken hours to produce manually are now prepared
with EdgeCAM in a fraction of the time. Here, Rob Taylor cites a disc bell
that took half an hour compared to several hours previously. Machining
times are also shorter thanks to both the HiCELL and EdgeCAM.

One example is a heat barrier insert that fits on the end of a brake piston
to act as a heat shield between the hot brake pad and the brake fluid. It
has a series of radial holes on its periphery, has recently been programmed
with EdgeCAM and is just about to go into production on the HiCELL at a
cost estimated to be half that of the sub-contractor.

While such cost savings are important, it is the fast response through
in-house production and EdgeCAM programming at the front end that is the
real benefit to Alcon. John Moore paints a particular scenario: "A part can
be drawn up in the morning, Rob Taylor will then program it with EdgeCAM so
that it is ready to run by the evening. Come next morning, the batch has
been machined overnight ready to be shipped for heat treatment with
delivery to the customer scheduled for the next day. Such a 48 hour
turnaround would never be possible with a sub-contractor," he insists.

"EdgeCAM has also broadened the scope of our design engineering," continues
John Moore. "We can now machine desirable features that we were reluctant
to handle before. EdgeCAM has given us the confidence to tackle virtually
any job," he states proudly.

Another feature of EdgeCAM admired by Rob Taylor is radial milling which
allows slots and holes to be programmed 'on the flat' after which, the
envelope is wrapped around the part's circumference. This feature was used
to such good effect on the heat barrier insert to program the drilling and
profile chamfering of the radial holes.

There are several versions of the insert which retain the same basic form
but differ in size and number of radial holes. Here, the PCI parametric
programming function in EdgeCAM has proven ideal for rapidly developing
family of part type programs. It enables the 'family' profile to be
programmed and a dialogue box created. Entering the specific geometry into
the dialogue box then enables each part program to be created.
Alcon have been using EdgeCAM for some 18 months to which John Moore
concludes: "I can't describe our use of EdgeCAM as anything but a
cost-effective success. Driven by Rob Taylor, the HiCELL has proved to be a
very versatile machine, fully complemented by the tool path creation from
the Pathtrace software. Together, they are powerful tools that will help as
we continue to exploit our full potential in the ever-more competitive
motor sport sector and high performance niche car markets."

For more information, please visit our website at www.edgecam.com or email Email Contact.

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