Grinding Custom Optics With Standard CNC Machine Tools

During the past decade Optimax (Ontario, NY), the largest producer of prototype optical components in the United States, has experienced exceptional growth. There has been a tremendous demand for the specialized optics and lenses that it manufactures for a wide range of applications including: aerospace, defense and medical devices, lithography, and biomedical.

As a result, the company’s staff has expanded from approximately 100 to 200 people; shifts have risen from 2 to 3 (five days a week) and manufacturing equipment has grown from 10 to approximately 50 pieces of CNC equipment. These are primarily standard 3-, 4- and 5-axis machining centers used for grinding, polishing and shaping the lenses with diamond tooling.

Even though there is five times more equipment operating over three shifts (a nearly 10x increase in spindle hours), the manpower required to write programs for and operate this advanced CNC equipment has barely doubled. Being able to output ten times the work with only double the manpower translates into roughly a five-fold increase in manufacturing productivity. Of course, the actual productivity increase is significantly greater than that because 4- and 5-axis equipment allows many of the more complex operations to be performed at high speeds with a single setup.

Al Gould, Mechanical Engineer for Optimax, said his company’s ever-improving manufacturing agility and productivity has occurred in tandem with the rapidly expanding feature set of Mastercam. The company has three seats of Mastercam with a maintenance license that entitles it to free annual upgrades. Working closely with its nearby reseller, Optipro Systems, the company routinely implements new toolpaths and features that will enhance programming productivity and reduce machine cycles.

He said: “We use Mastercam to program 3- 4- and 5-axis machining centers to grind sophisticated custom lenses using diamond-cutting tools. Over the past decade our optics have become increasingly more complex and our production volumes have grown significantly. Mastercam’s continuous development of features that support our requirements for precision and productivity have allowed us to extend this growth with only minimal increases in manpower to operate and program our increasingly advanced CNC equipment.”

“Working through Optipro, our local reseller, Mastercam meets our everyday needs for support and provides us with upgrades that address critical issues specific to optics manufacturing. We have investigated other high-end CAM software alternatives and have concluded that for all the value they provide us, Mastercam is, in fact, inexpensive.”

OptiMax is also the special guest judge for our next Innovator of the Future contest. Check it out!

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