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Die Shop Slashes Lead Time via Automation

By: Brad Kuvin

Tuesday, July 01, 2008
 
Die-detail machining at RCM Tool runs on CNC equipment
Die-detail machining at RCM Tool runs on CNC equipment, supported by custom inhouse-developed CAM software. The software automates all of the time a designer spends detailing die designs, whereas with an off-the-shelf CAM system an operator could spend more time programming than machining. At RCM, the time required to set up die blocks for machining, including squaring, machining, chamfering and deburring, has been reduced by 95 percent.
Told that CNC machining would not work for the manufacture of metalforming tool and die details, Bob Quinn and his team at RCM Tool, Romeo, MI, knew better. And so, a little more than 10 years ago, Quinn, RCM president, went to work developing a CAM system designed specifically for the low-volume environment die shops work in. Where well-known and respected CAM systems perform extremely well in high-volume production machining operations, Quinn’s CAM software —Revcam—automates all of the time a designer spends detailing die designs, whereas with an off-the-shelf CAM system an operator could spend more time programming than machining.

“Used in our die shop,” says Quinn, “Revcam has eliminated as much as 95 percent of the setup time required to prepare blocks for machining, including squaring, chamfering and deburring.” The software, also used at stamper Modified Technologies, Inc. (MTI), Fair Haven, MI, is programmed inside of AutoCad, and recognizes automatically all of the features within AutoCad. It looks at each feature and automatically develops the CNC machining programs required to make them, using best-practice techniques programmed into Revcam. MTI, which builds all of its own tools as well as those for its parent company, prototype stamper PTM Corp., also of Fair Haven, has used Revcam for five years.

“Revcam helped us revolutionize our toolroom,” sales MTI general manager Jim Boelstler. “It’s helped get everyone on the same page in terms of lean thinking, and paved the way for a lean design and build process.”

Automatic Feature Recognition

Quinn dubs the best-practices milling and grinding cycles developed for Revcam Smart Cycles. These program routines include automatic feature recognition, which applies to the top and bottom of a die detail and automatically matches all of the machining routines required to machine top and bottom block faces. Revcam’s Smart Cycles include a software routine called Smart Drilling, which, since it automatically supports drilling from top and bottom, doubles the effective length of each drill tool.

The Revcam-generated CNC programming—which includes automatic feed, speed and depth-of-cut calculations, and algorithms to support chip thinning, automatic squaring and chamfering—therefore minimizes operator intervention and setups, resulting in a streamlined shop flow and little chance for errors. Using the software, RCM Tool and Modified Technologies have experienced, on average, a reduction in die-design time of as much as 20 percent, due to automatic feature recognition that eliminates nearly all manual detailing tasks such as dimensioning and standard feature specifying. CNC die construction also has reduced die-assembly time by as much as 75 percent—from a week to as little as one or two days thanks to the ability to hold tighter tolerances, as tight as 0.0002 in.

The automate die-detail manufacturing, RCM's Quinn and his team developed this gantry-style robotic system
To automate die-detail manufacturing, RCM’s Quinn and his team developed this gantry-style robotic system that transfers pallet-loaded die details among a CNC grinder and wire-EDM machines. An RCM diemaker sets a detail into a pallet (inset photo), specially designed and built by RCM to be carried by the gantry robot from machine to machine. The robot carries the pallet to a grinder for grinding on top and bottom, and then moves it to wire-EDM machining without the need for another setup.

Adds Boelstler: “The software and the ability to employ CNC die-detail machining combine to triple to quadruple the speed of our die-detail manufacturing process—it’s the equivalent of about four die makers.”

One RCM customer, Donald Frattaroli, president of Ultraform Industries, Romeo, MI, notes “fantastic turnaround from design to delivery, in as little as four to six weeks, from RCM Tool.” Ultraform supplies wire forms, fourslide stampings and small- to medium-sized progressive stampings to the automotive industry. “RCM builds 70 percent of our tools,” adds Frattaroli.

The Next Step: Automated Die Manufacturing

…and that’s exactly what Quinn and his team have done, by developing a gantry-style robotic system that transfers pallet-loaded die details among a CNC grinder and wire-EDM machine. When a machined detail comes back from heattreating, an RCM diemaker sets the detail into a pallet, specially designed and built by RCM to be carried by the gantry robot from machine to machine. The robot carries the pallet to a grinder for grinding on top and bottom, and then automatically moves it to wire-EDM machining without the need for another setup.

The line includes a Chevalier grinder updated with a new CNC control, and a pair of Fanuc Robocut wire-EDM machines. Mounted overhead within the gantry robot setup is storage and indexing capacity for 24 pallets. With a die detail fixtured into a pallet, the pallet indexes to position over the machine of choice and the two-axis robotic arm positions the pallet onto the machine bed.

Quinn calls his automated die-manufacturing line a Coordinated Manufacturing Concept, and hopes to construct several of the lines by attracting stamping companies as investors in the base equipment and robotic system. The investing companies then would attain priority access to the lines when they need dies built. Each integrated line would likely comprise a CNC machining center, grinder and two wire-EDM machines, to balance production flow. Quinn predicts one line should be able to generate tooling components worth $2 to 3 million per year.

“If we can find two or three stampers where the volume of new dies being developed is high enough, we can justify investing as a group in a few of these lines, to run side by side,” says Quinn. “This creates an integrated die-build process—a stamping-die assembly line. Labor content is dramatically reduced, by a factor of at least four, and overhead becomes almost insignificant. The result is dramatically reduced pricing for new dies, maybe 25 to 30 percent less than today’s prices. And at the same time, lead time might be slashed to as little as four to six weeks.” MF

 

See also: FANUC Robotics America, Inc.

Related Enterprise Zones: Other Processes, Software, Tool & Die

 


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