A Toronto-based machine shop with a unique approach to CAM

Until 2006, the manufacturing workflow at A-Line Precision Tool, a Toronto defense and aerospace machine shop, was organized along traditional lines.

One skilled “master programmer” per cell wrote all of the CNC manufacturing programs in Mastercam and exported to the CNC equipment where operators with little CAM experience would run them as per instructions set out for them.

With only one person doing the programming, there is a clear chain of command and a pretty good control of the process, particularly the sophisticated 5-axis work. It also seemed like the most cost effective solution to programming requirements — one seat of software, one computer, and one programmer.

It seemed reasonable, the logical way to set up a shop, and looking around, the way most shops appeared to be operating. But there is a down side to that philosophy. When there is one programmer, he usually doesn’t want to show anyone else. It becomes a turf issue more than a programming function.

As a case in point, about six years ago, one of A-Line’s cell programmers had a request for the shop’s owner, Rob Muru. He wanted Muru to tell its largest military customer to space out work more evenly so he could keep up.

The programming and set-up work arrived in up and down cycles. Unfortunately the idea of teaching someone, even simple programming on “his” computer and set-up to do the simpler jobs, was categorically rejected as a way of helping solve the issue. Of course, the employee’s request was ridiculous.

“We had the wrong environment and the wrong organizational structure,” said Muru. “The system we had ran its course and the time had come to go in a different direction. Guys wanted to learn. I wanted to teach them. I wanted to speed thngs up. The current system we had for programming/setup/organization was showing itself daily to be obsolete. It was almost on the verge of costing us business.”

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