Mastercam’s Segue Into Swiss Machining
Article From: 8/19/2011 Production Machining, Gary Hargreaves, VP, Business Development
For a company to enter a new market segment, develop a product from scratch and establish the infrastructure to sell and support it, takes a lot of resources. Even in the best economic times, a new venture is carefully scrutinized, let alone during a downturn. The company has to be ultra confident that the risk will result in a sustainable return. That’s how we feel about the precision machining industry, which is hopefully a good sign for all of us.
Our journey to the Columbus Convention Center last April actually began several years ago. Many of our existing customers doing conventional CNC milling and turning have added Swiss-type machines in their shops over the last decade. They found that the CNC Swiss machines were evolving to become easier to program, allowing the shop to use them for smaller part runs, as productive as the labor intensive, cam-driven machines and certainly more flexible. These shops also found they could attract new work and markets with these machines.
Eager for one-stop CAD/CAM shopping, they encouraged us to develop toolpaths and simulations for these sliding headstock machines. The market analysis we conducted looked positive, well into the future for these types of small, complex parts, particularly for medical, electronic and automotive applications.
We committed ourselves; however, we couldn’t simply migrate and tweak what we already had. This market needed software developed from the ground up. For the last few years, we’ve had an engineering team dedicated to enhancing our offering for multitasking, culminating with a solution for the Swiss market. The software development progressed very well, but it was also extraordinarily complex and painstaking.
Learning how to program these machines, some with 12 axes moving simultaneously, was a new and exciting frontier for us. We installed a CNC Swiss-turn in our machine shop to assist with R&D, and about 15 months ago we purchased SylvieXpert—a CAM software product well known in Europe for programming Swiss-type sliding headstock machine tools.
It was the acquisition of Sylvie that put the development of Swiss Expert on a much faster track. Sylvie was created in Switzerland, in the heart of where the Swiss-type machine was invented in the 1700s to serve the precision watch-making industry. The company was known for its support of an unlimited number of axes and channels and full machine simulation of the machining process.
The company was shaped for today’s Swiss machines with an eye toward the even more complex machines that will emerge on the market. For example, the B axis is trending toward more motion with more live tools available to it. We predict that the lines between a Swiss-type and a true multitasking machine, such as the Integrex, will continue to get fuzzier over the next decade. Mastercam already has proven toolpaths for complex multi-axis surfacing that we can move over into Swiss Expert as the machines catch up to these capabilities.
Our Swiss Expert is currently being sold in Switzerland and parts of France as we have a knowledgeable reseller and an experienced team there—people who have a thorough understanding of the former Sylvie product. Several customers in that part of the world have renewed their maintenance agreements, which underscore strong confidence in the product.
In the U.S., we must take a slower, more cautious approach. Over the last few months, we have trained several groups of resellers in sections of the country where there are the most Swiss machines installed, and they are working with two beta customers each. Both customers and resellers are navigating the learning curve. They are getting comfortable with the program, the machines, and the parts, which is an absolute must before we make a “hard” launch of Swiss Expert. We only want happy customers whose needs we can fulfill, and we want to avoid any missteps as we go.
To our customers in North America, we thank you for your patience and encouragement. To the PMPA, thank you for welcoming the “new kid on the block” to this fascinating, growing segment of manufacturing.