CAD/CAM Software is the Key to Automating Custom Composite Component Shop

As the economy takes an upswing it’s tough for shops to take the time to evaluate their manufacturing processes to ensure that everything is running as efficient as possible. But investing time can yield great results. Tomball, Texas-based APS Plastics & Manufacturing, a manufacturer of custom composite components since 2006 was acquired in 2016, by Framework Capital Partners. Led by CEO Mushahid (Mush) Khan, APS specializes in small high-precision components made of thermoset plastic composites, glass films, and other plastics measuring from 0.030″ to 25″ in diameter for the energy, medical device, and electronic device industries.

Khan (who is an engineer) and his team took a good look at their operations. He began working with consultant Rob Burton, who is experienced with Mastercam® CAD/CAM software, to ensure they had optimized the processes as much as possible. “This is part of a bigger strategy to digitize our business and look for ways to gather data on what we’re doing and then to use that data to optimize our business, not just in machining but in our QC processes,” said Khan

When Burton evaluated the APS shop, he first looked at programming and then manufacturing and found that the software was not being used to its full potential,” said Burton who is now APS’ General Manager.

Burton was charged with training the manufacturing team to use the software. He credited its user-friendly interface with helping the team get up to speed quickly and alleviate fears of new technologies. “You have the ability to build templates inside of Mastercam so, if you have a family of parts that you’re programming, you can program one, export all of that out, save it, and re-import all of that information to reapply to a similarly styled part, re-associate your geometry, and your program is done,” said Burton.

He added: “We have taken the more powerful tools that are available in Mastercam and directly applied them to our programming strategies in our toolpaths to reduce cycle times and increase through put.” They recently purchased SOLIDWORKS® which works seamlessly with Mastercam. When they change a part in SOLIDWORKS, Mastercam recognizes the changes and prompts the programmers to accept or reject the new toolpath eliminating the need to reprogram the model entirely. When fixturing is the same across all equipment they can send that part to any machine and process it quickly. Set up times have been reduced from one to two hours down to about 10 minutes.

The shop’s 7-axis Swiss and bar feed machine reduces set up time by about 70% and increases throughput by roughly 40%. They can switch from a Swiss-style chucker lathe to a fully automated bar feed lathe for short runs and high-volume runs. The machine does all milling and turning, including complex parts, in one operation, freeing up the shop’s five mills and five lathes for other work. According to Burton, all of their spindles are “maxed out” at 10,000 RPMs and are run “wide open”. Plastics are run at the maximum feed rates possible – between 400 to 1200 inches-per-minute. On steel, the carbon-based material is cut around 600 inches-per-minute with high-performance end mills on the high speed machine. The software’s Dynamic Motion technology permits the tool to be constantly engaged with the material, significantly reducing air cuts and material damage. The tool plows through the material, making the faster speeds possible.

With the technology on the shop floor running optimally, APS is currently working on a project to automate Mastercam so that all the VB and SQL databases are tied into their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. A visual GUI running Mastercam will automate all programming, tying the databases to the quick change fixtures and standard tooling on all the machines, tying all systems together for seamless manufacturing.