Swansea-based engineering sub-contractor I & G Precision Engineering recently moved all of its CAM programming across to Edgecam software — supplied by Gloucester-based Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence (www.hexagonmi.com
) — after Seco Tooling provided it with support solutions to specific issues on complex components.
The company had used Edgecam to drive an Emco lathe operated by its ‘hands-on’ managing director Andrew Evans since investing in CNC machinery in 1992, but as it expanded with further machine tools and more shopfloor staff, other CAM packages were brought in.
He said: “Originally, we used Edgecam for both milling and turning on those new machines, but when I took a step back from machining, we decided to try other systems, and it was eventually only used on the lathe.”
Operating out of an 11,000ft2
facility, with 11 employees, the company mainly manufactures parts out of aluminium, stainless and tool steels for sectors including aerospace, food, beverage, medical and defence, as well as the Royal Mint.
It makes a number of components for aerospace ground support systems such as jigs and fixtures for removing engines and wing parts, along with bakery equipment (including rollers for production machines and castings for dough-rollers) and electronics housings for the defence sector.
I & G has also received commendations from the NHS for its work in devising breathing apparatus for new-born babies to inhale Xenon gas (as part of their medical treatment).
Mr Evans’ son, Mike, who is engineering director and workshop manager, said the company works closely with Seco Tooling, which recently provided it with tooling and programming support to improve the production process on a specific job.
He said: “We saw immediate benefits, as the job used to take us around three hours — including two hours for just one operation. Using Edgecam, the full process was completed in an hour.
“When we looked at how Edgecam machining strategies could improve our cycle times, it became a no-brainer that we should go back to it on our full range of Haas CNC machine tools and our new Mazak vertical machining centre.
“All new components now go through Edgecam, and production runs of older parts are all being re-programmed with the software.
“We’re saving up to 40% on cutting cycles, which has a tremendous impact on the bottom line.
“It improves our margins — making us more profitable — and frees up the machines, giving us additional capacity to take on more work.
“Edgecam is now a vital part of our manufacturing process now and runs the entire production process.”
He said the software’s milling and turning modules ensure that I & G can ship between 600 and 700 components each month, normally on a three- to four-week lead time.
“Edgecam is so simple to use. The customer sends us a STEP or IGES file, or any other CAD file, which we import into Edgecam and create the fixtures and fittings, identify the CNC machine we’ll be using, and the stock.
“Then we run Feature Finder to identify all the features of the parts and generate tool-paths.”
He added that machining processes are considerably more stable now than under their previous CAD/CAM package.
“With our old software, when the cutter was coming into a corner, you could see the machine loads spiking, which we don’t get with Edgecam.
“We can run programs overnight, rein the step-overs back and know that the tooling will last for the entire production run.”
Mike describes Edgecam’s Waveform Roughing capability as “massive” for I & G’s growth plans, in terms of driving down cycle times and increasing capacity, enabling the company to take on additional work.
“We do a lot of 3-D milling of features such as pockets, and we used to machine the roughing cycles in the traditional way, often just stepping down 1mm at a time, but Edgecam allows us to step down up to 10 or 15mm at a time.
“Then, as we pocket out to those depths, we can profile back and come out of the pockets, so it saves considerable time.
“At first, when those programs were coming in from Seco Tooling, we were concerned that the increased feeds and speeds would break the tools.
“But then we saw how well they worked, and it now gives us the opportunity to push the machines to their limits.”
He cited a project where Waveform slashed the roughing cycle from 30min to 10min and helped to halve the overall machining time.
“We manufacture a particular component for the atomising industry, which is used to turn metal into a powder for hard surfacing materials.
“It was traditionally a turning job, but Waveform means we can now mill the grooves. This was a huge revelation, and it made us think of doing jobs in a completely different way.”
The company is planning more investment in the coming 12 months, including Edgecam Inspect, which creates measurement cycles on the machine tools.
The intuitive user interface and work-flow give a seamless transition from programming CAM cycles to measurement cycles by incorporating metrology technology from Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence.
Andrew said: “This means we’ll be able to inspect every part on the machine if necessary, after each operation, and provide a customer report.”
In conclusion, Andrew said: “We’ve currently got three apprentices at various stages of their training, and they’ve all taken to Edgecam like a duck to water.
“The skill set is changing; a lot of the old traditional craftsmen’s skills are dying out, and engineers need to embrace computer-led skills to produce the components properly.
“Edgecam helps engineers deliver what’s needed by having several ways of achieving the same result.”