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Progressive Tool and Manufacturing, Inc.

Uncompromising Quality for Custom Parts

Since 1984, Greensboro, NC-based Progressive Tool & Manufacturing, Inc., has made custom tooling and gauges for the medical industry, defense contractors, and aerospace companies that conduct prototype testing. The company’s ability to make parts with extremely tight tolerances has kept one customer in particular – a contract manufacturer of over-the-counter nutritional and pharmaceutical soft-gel products – coming back for over a decade to help design and make parts for their metering pumps and other production equipment.

Quick Facts

  • Product Used: Mill, Lathe, Multiaxis, Mill-Turn, Wire
  • Industry: Aerospace & Defense, Medical

Project Details

  • The Challenge: To generate machine tool programs that can achieve extremely tight tolerances required for making custom tooling and gauges for the medical, aerospace, and defense industries.
  • The Solution: Dynamic Motion, Wire, Lathe, Mill, Multiaxis, Mill-Turn
  • Benefits:
    • 3D modeling software allows designers to choose configurations, design parameters and finishes for complex parts.
    • Dynamic high-speed toolpaths dramatically cut machining time, reduce tooling costs and minimize machine wear and tear.
    • Verify solid model cut verification/machine simulation feature enables verification of the machining process before cutting begins.
    • Wire EDM capabilities.

Since 1984, Greensboro, NC-based Progressive Tool & Manufacturing, Inc., has made custom tooling and gauges for the medical industry, defense contractors, and aerospace companies that conduct prototype testing.

“All of our six shop employees are skilled toolmakers,” Progressive Tool founder Richard “Dick” Thompson said. “Even if they’re apprentices, they’re toolmaker apprentices. Everyone can do everything – from setting up the material and squaring up the parts, to running the CNC machines, to making the programs, to doing their own set-ups and making their own fixtures.”

The company has 4-axis CNC milling machines, multiaxis CNC lathes, CNC sinker, and wire EDM machines, all controlled by Mastercam®, allowing them to generate machine tool programs that can achieve extremely tight tolerances. Calling it “an essential link,” Dick Thompson noted that his company’s toolmakers don’t do any programming at the machine tool. “We do everything through the software.”

For most jobs, Progressive Tool starts with a solid model given to them by the customer or they design something in-house. “We prefer to have solid models,” Dick said, “because, then, everything is there.” They take the files into Mastercam, create the toolpaths, and use the original design geometry from the model to run the toolpaths. “Basically, everything we do is custom,” he said. “I’m writing 10 to 20 different programs a day in Mastercam and running them one or two times.”

Progressive Tool had been using Mastercam software with SOLIDWORKS® for nearly 20 years. When the company purchased new equipment – the CNC lathe with a sub spindle, C and Y-axis, and live tooling – they upgraded to Mastercam 2017. The new equipment and software upgrade came with some powerful new capabilities that really wowed the company’s toolmakers. One feature was Dynamic milling (or Dynamic Motion technology) which uses proprietary algorithms programmed into the software to automatically detect changes in the material as the tool cuts through. The tool remains constantly engaged with the material, minimizing air cuts, and allowing the machines to be pushed to their full capacity.

“It’s not for every part,” said Ryan Thompson, Dick’s son and the company’s design engineer. “But, with the right application, it works amazingly well.” Run times have been reduced dramatically.  “For example, one part we made in 304 stainless that used to take about an hour to rough and finish, now takes about 18 minutes –– easily three or four times faster than the way we used to do things using multiple tools. In addition to that,” Ryan said, “we’re getting much more life out of our tools.”

Progressive Tool’s ability to make parts with extremely tight tolerances have kept one customer in particular – a contract manufacturer of over-the-counter nutritional and pharmaceutical soft-gel products – coming back for over a decade to help design and make parts for their metering pumps and other production equipment.

“The dosage that fills each gel cap has got to be precise,” said Ryan Thompson. “Obviously, the system for metering the amount of formulation demands the same level of precision. The custom-designed machinery must always be operating accurately and reliably, pumping the medicine at very specific rates.”

Today, the company maintains a reputation as being one of the highest quality shops in the area for custom parts. Earned, Dick Thompson added, by not compromising on accuracy.