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Smart manufacturing with linked Hexagon solutions

Petford Tools particularly attracted by G-Code simulation to prevent expensive five-axis crashes

Posted on 05 Jan 2021 and read 1361 times
Smart manufacturing with linked Hexagon solutionsWith the ongoing demands to reduce lead times and costs from initial design concept to final production components coming off tooling, Petford Tools Ltd, a large toolmaking firm, needed to look at fresh opportunities to streamline its processes.

The company looked around the marketplace, and was particularly attracted to Hexagon’s renowned Smart Manufacturing solutions, as a few years earlier the company had received demonstrations from VISI. In particular, Petford Tools was impressed at being able to verify collision-free toolpaths with NCSIMUL, creating an identical digital twin of the machine tool to simulate the actual G-code.

Even though the company’s previous system was fully integrated into its factory processes and it was a major upheaval to replace it, managing director Adrian Lloyd said having a fully connected workflow now, with four of Hexagon’s seamlessly connected solutions, was “well worth it”.

Petford 1Those four software packages: WORKXPLORE, used by the sales team; VISI for the mould designers; WORKNC for programming their 11 five-axis and 3+2-axis machine tools; and NCSIMUL to accurately simulate the toolpaths.

Petford Tools is one half of the Petford Group, designing and producing moulds for Petford Moulding, which uses them on its own injection moulding machines to produce millions of piece parts every year for a range of industries.

Products include interior and exterior automotive trim; interior aerospace trim, along with aero-engine parts; and a wide variety of products for construction, industrial, rail and marine industry sectors, along with commercial trucks, garden-ware, and Formula One racing teams.

Design director Ian Foy said it is important that their mould tools are high precision due to the complexity of the tooling, with many moving components. Also many of the moulded products need a high-quality surface finish. “

“So we have to ensure that the mould cavity finishes are high quality, too. Some of the mould tool tolerances need to be +/-0.01mm.”

Many of the 114 staff across the group, use at least one of Hexagon’s solutions, and tooling operations director Dave Parr said incorporating the Smart Manufacturing ethos across their processes contributes both to their vision: “Engineering Solutions for Tomorrow’s Challenges,” and their strategy: “One-stop-shop for our customers needs, offering multiple services to our customer base.”

Petford 2Before a project reaches his tooling team, it has already seamlessly passed through WORKXPLORE and VISI. When the sales team receive an enquiry, often in the form of a CAD model, the file is imported into WORKXPLORE for an initial design and feasibility review, enabling them to provide an accurate costing of the job for a customer quote.

Mr Foy said: “WORXPLORE is particularly effective at reading different CAD formats extremely quickly, so we can import large CAD files and assess them immediately. This is a major benefit for us, as our previous CAD package was quite lethargic with larger size files.”

Any additional index modifications are done in VISI, but the software really comes into its own once the order has been placed. He continued: “We use it to work closely with the customer on creating a final, feasible cost-effective product for robust tooling. Then we proceed with full tool design in VISI.”

Once the mould tools have been signed off, the files are imported into WORKNC where the toolpaths are created for the company’s 3+2 and five-axis machining strategies.

This software solution provides automated, efficient toolpaths which deliver dramatic productivity gains through shorter machining times, longer tool life, the improved surface finish which Petford Tools need for many of their moulds, and better machine utilisation. But before starting to cut metal, they need to know that the toolpaths are 100% accurate.

Petford Tools works director Dave Parr said: “With five-axis machining, collisions would be very expensive, both in terms of money and wasted time, so we run a full simulation of the G-code in NCSIMUL.”

This is achieved by virtually building up a digital twin of the real-life machining environment, which also shows tool wear and tool load. When the tools are ready, they move to Petford Moulding to start running off products on 11 Krauss-Maffei and Engle injection moulding machines ranging from 160 tons to 1,700 tons lock, equipped with pick and place robotics. Moulding services include trial support (APQP quality validation) with full dimensional analysis, and 24/5 volume support.

Petford 3Overall, seamlessly integrating Hexagon’s four solutions to create a single, connected workflow, enhances the dedicated one-stop-shop services that Petford provides for its customers, including tooling modifications, tooling texture, and 24/7 breakdown/repairs, along with full CAD technical support and project management.

For customers wanting a lower cost product, a team of technical engineers are based in Shenzhen, providing Petford’s ‘Low Cost Far East option.’

Mr Lloyd concluded: “WORKNC and VISI handle the full data of large models much better than our previous system, meaning we can import and work on it faster. This allows us to be more proficient throughout the workshop. We can react more quickly with WORKXPLORE at the start of a project; and NCSIMUL ensures that there are no hold-ups during the machining process.”