Not Afraid to Quote Anything

Nick Sluterbeck is a fourth-generation employee of a family-owned job shop business, also known as Sluterbeck. Started by his great grandfather, Kermit Sluterbeck, in his two-car garage in 1953, the company grew by 3,000-square feet when Kermit added on to his garage. In 1996, Sluterbeck outgrew the garage and moved into a 6,000-square foot shop, which expanded by 6,000 additional square feet by 2008.

Having received training from both school and his family, Nick became a competent machinist and very proficient at writing CNC programs at the machine. Business was thriving and the company added a CNC machine or two almost every year. In 2011, Nick was still writing his programs at the machine. He said, “We were just constantly programming at the machine which created so much down-time. We would lose an hour at the machine every time we wrote a program instead of moving right in to set up and cut the next part. That’s when we decided to get CAM software.”

Sluterbeck considered several CAM software packages. Foremost was getting something that would be easy to use, but also with enough depth so that the capabilities would grow as the programming requirements became more sophisticated. The company purchased a seat of Mastercam® Mill Level 1 software.

Nick began writing part programs the day the software arrived. The time savings realized by being able to manufacture parts and write programs at the same time were immediate because Nick took advantage of the productivity tools inherent in the software whenever possible. With a customer base ranging from medical products to consumer goods to packaging equipment and part runs from one to 1,000, he found the tools that benefited his operation the most and uses many of them routinely.

The Simulation for Collision Avoidance allows Nick to machine even complex shapes at optimal high speeds. This is one feature he uses constantly because he can set collision parameters with the holder of the tool shank to automatically eliminate many operator set-up errors which can lead to collisions with expensive things, like a spindle.

With the CAD For CAM feature Sluterbeck has been able to manufacture unusual and complex shapes because they can prep the CAD model for CAM programming as well as to design fixturing to grip the part securely, while allowing unrestricted access of the tool to critical areas of the part so that it can be machined with the fewest number of setups possible.

In addition, Nick does a lot of high-speed machining, running in the 300 i.p.m. to 400 i.p.m. range on his feed rate with a 10 % stepover. Mastercam’s Dynamic Motion technology allows Sluterbeck to machine parts safely, at optimal material removal rates, based on the cutting tool vendor’s recommended chip load setting. The software automatically adjusts tool motions to maintain the correct chip load, even as the tool enters and exits corners, so there is no danger of damaging the tool or the part. Nick says that he can rough out complex profiles in no time compared to previous methods.

Nick found that by using Mastercam’s nesting tools he can produce a complex part with multiple drilling operations in lots up to 50 parts per week. The operation previously required six or seven setups on conventional equipment yielding about 16 parts per week. Today, on his machining center, Nick has three fixtures and parts are produced in just three consecutive operations using 3D machining safely at speeds up to 400 i.p.m.

Mastercam has also helped Sluterbeck to get into using production lathes with bar feeder and parts catcher with Y-axis milling and drilling. The transition to using lathes with live tooling was relatively simple because the Y-axis toolpaths are identical to the ones used in the milling software.

By taking advantage of the full capabilities of his CAD/CAM software, Nick has been able to grow his company from one machining center to nine plus two production lathes with live tooling. The 3D contouring greatly expands the range of geometric complexity the company can handle and has shrunken set-up time requirements. He said, “One of the biggest things that I try to do is reduce setups and write programs to make parts that are completely chamfered and ready to go out the door. All the machine operator has to do is inspect it.” That type of one and done machining allows the company to compete effectively for production work when quantities need to be ramped up. And, CAM also makes it possible for the shop to take on more unusual orders.

Check out the complete article in Modern Machine Shop