Software improves the efficiency of two firms

Posted on 20 Oct 2017 and read 416 times
Software improves the efficiency of two firmsIt was ‘an open and shut case’ when Leicester-based Trifibre Ltd was looking for CAD/CAM software to drive a new CNC router some five years ago.

The company chose Alphacam (www.alphacam.com), which is now being used to program a Biesse Rover, a Morbidelli and a Pacer.

Established in 1981, Trifibre is a leading designer and manufacturer of specialist cases for a wide range of industry sectors (including aerospace, surgical and medical, motor-sport and automotive — plus clothing).

Sales manager Trishanth Parari says the company works with major ‘blue chip’ organisations, making flight cases that meet military specifications, bespoke polypropylene cases, complex bespoke metal containers, made-to-measure metal fabrications, wooden packing crates, and custom-made wooden and plastic presentation cases.

Trifibre bought the Alphacam software when it bought the Morbidelli to supplement the Pacer. “Previously, everything was routed manually, but as the company grew, we needed to reduce the time taken to produce drawings and prepare the machines.

"Our staff were manually routing the panels every day, and it was becoming increasingly inefficient to machine the foam inserts on the single-head Pacer, so we bought the twin-head Morbidelli — and Alphacam software to program it.”

Project manager Martin Clarke says the next step was to expand Trifibre’s CNC capacity. “Complementing the single-head Pacer with the twin-head Morbidelli improved efficiency in terms of speed and accuracy when cutting the inserts,which were now passing through the factory faster than the associated panels, so we purchased the Biesse Rover for routing these.”

Mr Clarke says that once a prototype has been approved, all three machines are programmed with Alphacam. Trifibre uses specific software for designing its flight cases, and the DXF file containing all the panel sizes, handle cut-outs and catch holes is imported into Alphacam for the tool-paths to be added.

“The program then goes to the shopfloor, where the CNC machine operators create the nests that get the best yield from every sheet — even if we are producing one-offs. For example, we can create a ‘jigsaw’ of 20 one-off cases on the same nest.

"On widely used materials, such as Hexaboard, our yield is about 90%, which means Alphacam is directly contributing to our bottom line and profitability.”

Mr Parari says another aspect of Alphacam that plays a vital part in Trifibre’s production is simulation. “We are able to see what the end product is going to look like before we start to cut material. It’s also important to ensure that there aren’t going to be any collisions during the manufacturing process.”

He also says that having one software package to drive the routers from three machine tool manufacturers makes life considerably easier.

“With Alphacam, we have post-processors set up for each CNC machine, so we can send the program to the shopfloor knowing it will be absolutely right.

"Moreover, Alphacam allows us to offer a maximum turn-round time of 14 working days on all orders, whether it’s for one case or 100.”

Meanwhile, Edgecam software (www.edgecam.com) is helping a “toys for boys” manufacturer to offer an important new service for model-making companies and private enthusiasts.

The company — 17d Miniatures — produces a range of scale working models of locomotives, carriages and wagons for three miniature-railway gauge systems: 5in, 71/4in and 101/4in.

The company’s locomotives for the 5in gauge are about 6ft long, while those for the 101/4in gauge are about 12ft long.

The family-run business is based in 2,500ft2 premises at a converted mill near Matlock in the Derbyshire Peak District.

Partner Tristan Dengate says that its customers range from private collectors to commercial operations. The company switched to Edgecam in early 2017, and it is now looking to apply the techniques it uses for producing railway-related models to the manufacture of components for model cars, boats, lorries and aircraft.

This will be a natural progression for the business, as it already offers a general sub-contract machining service. Mr Dengate said: “Currently, around 60% of our time is spent on machining components for our own products, with the balance for producing items for other companies.”

He also says that Edgecam has been the ‘springboard’ for 17d Miniatures promoting itself as the ‘go to’ company for individual enthusiasts wanting machined parts.

“A large number of hobbyists have spent 20 or 30 years making working steam engines in their sheds but find time is against them, as they get older.

"As a result, they are now looking for as many components as possible to be machined for them — and Edgecam allows us to say: ‘Yes, we can machine that for you at a sensible cost’.”

Mr Dengate also says that Edgecam is changing how they make certain parts.“We use a lot of resin cast units for bearing carriers, but they aren’t as precise as they could be.

"However, programming with Edgecam is so quick — and the results so accurate — that we now machine these carriers from solid blocks. The ability to move away from castings is really going to change how we work.

"The market is used to having castings for many components, but we’re now showing that it is easier and quicker to machine parts from billet — even though there is more material to remove.

"Contributing to this speed of machining is the software’s Waveform roughing strategy, which has allowed us to triple feed rates while having the cutter going in considerably deeper than we could with traditional roughing.”

The mild-steel and aluminium components that Mr Dengate mills with Edgecam include wheels, counter-balance weights, cylinder blocks, valve-gear components, chimney fitments and brake calipers.

Indeed, everything the company mills goes through Edgecam and is machined on a Bridgeport three-axis CNC milling machine. “About 80% of our components need to be highly precise.

For example, valve gear and cylinders have to be absolutely perfect, but we know that with Edgecam’s NC code, they always will.”

The company began using CNC machining several years ago and initially programmed its Bridgeport both manually and with a “light-weight” CAM software that was geared more towards hobbyists using small bench-top mills.

“I was having to work out the best way of machining, and then generating perhaps 10 different cycles to achieve what I’m now achieving in one cycle with Edgecam.

"I am not a time-served machinist and have not even had any formal training on Edgecam. However, I have come a long way in a very short time and can now produce reasonably complex parts swiftly and accurately — and we have even more-complex components planned for the future, which will put us in good stead for increasing sub-contract model-making.”

Mr Dengate says that, since a considerable amount of work is carried out in a chuck mounted on the bed of the Bridgeport, it is simple to load a customer’s 3-D CAD file and select the appropriate fixture from Edgecam’s library.

“For instance, the ability to simply hit a button to put a 10in chuck on the virtual machine is invaluable for tool-collision detection.

"This gives me confidence in the code and allows me to load the material and hit ‘cycle start’ without a dry run.”

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