Green Engine Prototype Manufacturer Moves Quickly with Mastercam

Achates Power in San Diego, California, has made a name for itself as a forward-looking design company that makes engine development advances in leaps and bounds. They work with almost every passenger and commercial OEM (original equipment manufacturer) in the industry to put green engines on the roads. Achates has been recognized by lists such as GoingGreen Top 100, Business Week’s “25 Companies to Watch in Energy Tech,” and Global Cleantech Top 100. They won the CONNECT Most Innovative New Product award in the Sustainability category and were first runner up for Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) “Energy Security Prize.”

Shop manager Sergio Ramirez attributes some of the company’s rapid progress to how quickly his programming team can move, thanks to the intuitive software features of Mastercam. The prototype engine components that Achates produces in house are machined, tested, redesigned, and machined again in quick succession, until each has been perfected. Once the part has been thoroughly tested, the licenses to manufacture are sold to engine manufacturers for wide-scale production.

Sergio Ramirez Programing
Sergio Ramirez programs the toolpaths for the piston using Mastercam Port Expert.
Piston Toolpath in Mastercam
Port Expert add-on, initially made to CNC program engine cylinder head porting toolpaths, has other uses.
Port Expert example on part on machine
Port Expert being used.

The simulating capabilities of the Verify feature allow Achates to program toolpaths offline while machines are cutting other parts. Ramirez explained, “It allows us to model in fixtures and tooling on the fly. It helps us as programmers to be able to follow what we’re going to see in the machine, and to make it as representative of that. It definitely helps us out with avoiding crashes, and it makes programming offline a breeze.”

A machine can immediately run the new program after finishing its previous task, because all the toolpaths have already been proven out. The software has already ensured that the tool will not hit anything in error, drastically reducing the time each part takes to program and machine, and basically eliminating downtime.

Piston being machined
Piston being machined.
Manny Rodriguez working on efficient, performance engine prototype.
Manny Rodriguez working on efficient, performance engine prototype.

Ramirez appreciates how the software models each and every phase of the machining process. Traditionally, just the end product has been modeled. “Mastercam provides a really good way of seeing your parent stock or the stuff that you’re cutting, so we are able to follow the process of a piston or liner or other parts, because we have updated models for each step of the process, and that has been really helpful for us when programming,” he said.

With these comprehensive analyses, Ramirez’s team has better control now of how much material is being removed with each cut. Ramirez shared, “It just allows us to know what’s there so we don’t hit something thinking that material’s gone or we’re not cutting enough or whatever the case may be.” Achates uses material like 4140 and 4340 steel, Inconel, and titanium, so reducing waste is important.

Achates’ current, most celebrated design, an opposed-piston engine for full-size pickup trucks, is in this prototyping stage. Within the year, however, the eco-friendly engine will begin on-road testing. The design has already been the object of significant public interest, but Achates isn’t stopping there. Ramirez hinted that the team is already looking to future projects. One thing is for certain: Achates will not be slowing down anytime soon.

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