“However,” says Lillibridge, “with certain parts five-axis cutting performs better due to the complex shapes of the parts. Therefore, equipment-related decisions based on quantity and complexity are made on a part-by-part basis. For example, with a stamping you can start with a developed blank and form it into a completed part if the trim-line tolerance can tolerate the possible variances from forming a developed blank. Nevertheless, if you need to form a part into a complex shape, and trimming calls for multiple dies/stations or possibly cam trimming, that can become a complex situation. A five-axis laser that can trim from all directions accomplishes the trimming in a single operation. This ability to simplify complexity makes it an effective option.”
Currently, Competition Engineering’s laser cutting machine serves a dual role, although that could change. “The system is fully utilized,” says Leasure, “with 50 percent of the work requiring five-axis capability and the other half being two-dimensional blanks. As our need for greater five-axis capacity increases, we may add an additional flat-bed laser and use the five-axis exclusively for jobs requiring that capability.”
Software Helps Overcome Learning Curve
Typically, new equipment comes with some sort of learning curve and the addition of the five-axis laser cutting system offered no exception for Competition Engineering. “Although we understood CNC and five-axis machining, we did not know anything about laser cutting,” says Leasure. “It took two or three months for us to become proficient and another four to six months to become really efficient.”
The system’s CAM software, from Tebis America, Troy, MI, helped, says Leasure, noting that its features and capabilities enable fast, accurate programming. “With the prototypes we are producing, part editing plays a key role. With the five-axis software, the program measures the part and makes adjustments to bring the trim line within tolerance. This software’s ability to make edits is valuable. In addition, the Tebis team understands the challenges associated with prototype and sheet metal dies. This enabled them to help us with the learning curve.”
The Tebis learning curve is ongoing, according to Lillibridge. “We’re using a small portion of its capabilities right now as we don’t use its complete design capabilities, but that will come,” he says.
In the meantime, Leasure explains that improved on-time performance continues to offset the cost of the equipment. “We’ve reduced lead times by two weeks on six- to eight-week projects, resulting in a 25 to 33-percent reduction,” he says. “Now that we’re seeing what the equipment can do for us, we wish we would have purchased one a few years earlier.” MF
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms
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