CAM Software Keeps Spindles Turning at Hightown Engineering

To keep pace with incoming orders, the owners of Hightown Engineering (Ringwood, Hampshire, UK) acquired Mastercam® CAD/CAM software to accompany their investment in more powerful machinery and developed proficiencies to keep equipment fully utilized.

To meet the stringent requirements of the aerospace, defense, medical, and commercial sectors, owners Terry Smith and Steve Browning purchased 11 CNCs and two fully loaded seats of Mastercam Mill Level 3, 5-axis Drill/Curve, Solids, and Lathe CAM software. Since the purchase, Mastercam has significantly improved Hightown’s manufacturing process workflows. The first area of improvement: posting code to CNC machines.

“You can have the best CAM system in the world, but if your postprocessor isn’t right, you are just going to get junk code out, make bad parts, and potentially crash a machine,” he said. “The post is so customizable with Mastercam that, if you have the knowledge, you can get the code posted just the way you want it, so nothing has to be adjusted at the machine.”

Smith and Browning negotiated with their dealer, 4D Engineering, for the inclusion of post modifications in their original license agreement. When manually generating CNC code, they spent hours with every first piece: standing over the machine, air cutting the part to confirm the code, then running the part at half speed to prevent programming mistakes and crashes. Today, they use computer simulation (Mastercam’s Verify and Backplot features) to weed out human error. The result? Safe toolpaths and material removal that is within specifications.

Smith remains impressed with Mastercam’s Dynamic high-speed toolpaths, namely OptiRough and Peel Mill, because of their speed and ability to reduce tooling costs and machine wear.

“Years ago, using Mastercam X5, we ran a thin sidewall stainless steel part on the 4th axis, which wasn’t a very rigid set-up,” he said. “But because the high-speed machining toolpaths produce light cutting forces, we could run at dramatically increased feeds and speeds. What would have been nearly a three-hour cycle time ‘conventionally’ programmed, took ¾ of an hour thanks to the Peel Mill and Dynamic Mill roughing toolpaths.”

These paths dramatically reduce cycle times on Hightown’s high-speed machine cell. Once programmers choose an effective toolpath strategy, Mastercam automatically replicates that strategy for similar parts. Smith calls these features hidden gems. Transform Toolpath is one of them.

“If you want to make multiple parts, program just the one from start to finish, then select Transform toolpath,” he said. “Mastercam then steps and repeats your part as many times as you have set.”

Another of these gems is Import Operations. “If you have a tool that’s really flying on a part, a real nice flowing toolpath, you can save that operation—the feeds, speed, depth of cut, everything—and use it over again on similar jobs,” Smith added.

When Hightown Engineering opened its doors, its business was geared toward high production numbers with limited complexity. Typical runs were 1000 to 5000 pieces and required minimal programming. The work that eventually replaced these runs is geometrically complex with production quantities of 25 to 50, developmental quantities of 5 to 10, and frequent one-off prototypes.

“Mastercam has allowed us to keep up with a geometrically higher engineering workload so our company can be productive and profitable, making parts with much higher value,” Smith said.