Not only has the Pathtrace EdgeCAM off-line programming software slashed machine programming times by 30% at the Morris Group UK Ltd., but its seamless integration with SolidWorks CAD is also proving an invaluable sales tool and is playing a critical role in the reduction of customers'product development cycle times.
"Customers are always impressed when they can see their workpieces on the screen, in colour, and being manipulated in three dimensions," says Tony Dyer, Production Manager at the Plymouth-based precision engineering group.
"It demonstrates our capabilities as an up-to-date manufacturing partner and imparts a level of confidence in the product at the earliest stage of what could be a very expensive development cycle," he said. This was certainly the case with the first product to which Morris applied its new CAD/CAM capability - a complex mould tool for an automotive pump cover, as Tony Dyer explains. "Once we received the customer's file, we used SolidWorks to create a solid model of the part. The customer was then able to see and effectively 'feel' the prototype tool before any metal was cut. We were then able to carry on with confidence to encapsulate the tool within a bolster then proceed with the CNC programming.
"In total, it took us three weeks to program that job but without EdgeCAM
it would have taken at least twice as long and, of course, extended the
time to market," he said.
The Morris Group's philosophy of using technology to gain productivity benefits both on and off the shopfloor as well as to improve its customer service has, says managing director, Roger Morris, stood the company in good stead since it was established in 1982.
He explains: "My policy has always been to invest in equipment and a high skills base." At any one time there are always two apprenticeships underway at the 40-employee company, which has helped with the continuous expansion.
He said: "Every year we've re-invested profits to both improve existing business and to attract new customers, and we are always re-assessing our machining processes and manufacturing routines which is where both SolidWorks and EdgeCAM came in to improve both our capabilities and levels of customer service."
This philosophy has led to the creation of an impressive portfolio of modern CNC machining centres and CNC lathes as well as the latest wire and CNC solid sink electro-discharge machining (EDM) capability that complements the dedicated toolmaking area.
Toolmaking and precision engineering were, until the early 1990s, the core
businesses for the BS EN ISO 9002 accredited Morris Engineering division. Then expansion into the design and manufacture of special-purpose machinery and automated production/assembly equipment led to the formation of Morris Automation. Here, the talents of designers and systems integrators combined with mechanical and electrical engineers to enable the company to excel at end-to-end manufacturing solutions for the pharmaceutical, electronic component and automotive industries, for example.
Measures of the continued growth of both companies was their move last year to a refurbished 26,000 (square feet) site with a further extension planned for later in 2002. This move gave the Morris team the opportunity to re-organise the shopfloor and create dedicated flowline production cells.
Tony Dyer explains how the move to the new site also represented the ideal opportunity to assimilate the off-line programming and CAM technology.
"Realising that our outdated programming system - which embraced only milling and wire erosion - was incapable of handling customers' files and
solid models, we looked at the options for updating our CAM with best-in-class functionality while also adding seats for turning as well as capability for CAD solid modelling," he said.
A number of customers were already using EdgeCAM in conjunction with SolidWorks and, after trials with one customer in particular, the company ordered three seats of EdgeCAM from Pathtrace of Reading - one each for turning, milling and wire erosion. All were DNC-linked to the machines.
"Apart from appreciating the user-friendliness and powerful functionality on offer, the price tags for both sets of software suited our budget," adds Tony Dyer. "Indeed, even with the new hardware, the total cost was less than the price of competitor software alone!"
With SolidWorks proving its worth in the receipt of design files via email or disc, the new set-up immediately eliminated the time-consuming burden of having to electronically re-draw customers' drawings. He also points out how when using a SolidWorks model, it is quick and easy to alter, for instance, a dimension and, in the case of a mould tool, simplify the positioning of shut lines, air bleed vents, feeders and risers.
The integration of EdgeCAM has also eliminated the laborious need to delete and redraw lines if a certain change was wanted. Today, changes can be made easily and quickly and the effect is instantaneous throughout the complete program.
EdgeCAM's toolpath creation functionality is particularly highlighted as one of the system's time-saving characteristics. Because EdgeCAM stores its current work activity in a cache memory, the system can automatically select only those areas of the component that have changed and then automatically regenerate the associated toolpath. This not only saves entire toolpath recalculation but also minimises the risk of error.
In addition, since EdgeCAM creates the cutter path directly on the SolidWorks model, no features, layers or component data are lost through the use of translators - and programming errors are eliminated.
"Also," continues Tony Dyer, "while the system's pencil milling and verification routines are very useful, we're finding that the rest milling and island facing cycles greatly reduce die and mould finishing routines. And when hogging out stock material, we have appreciated how the programmed plunge roughing cycles allow the tool to be driven deep into a cavity without any vibration or chatter."
While Morris continues to program all simple parts on the shopfloor, it is gaining clear benefits from applying EdgeCAM to the complex jobs with contoured features.
"Overall," concludes Roger Morris, "EdgeCAM is generally reducing programming times by an average of 30 per cent, while also making program alteration easy and fast. Also, of course, its pairing with SolidWorks has streamlined our customer interface.
"Crucially, the technology is not only saving our time but it is also reducing customers' product development cycles. Everyone is looking for shorter lead times - because a shorter supply chain means reduced working capital and faster time to market. And that's the best way for a sub-contractor to serve his customers!"