The Multiaxis State of Mind: Get the Right Stuff… What Else? (Part 3 of 6)

The Multiaxis State of Mind
Part 3: Get the Right Stuff… What Else?

Know what else you need to invest in to make the most of the expansion of your multiaxis manufacturing capabilities.

The mere ownership of a capable multiaxis system ideally suited to a shop’s immediate needs does not guarantee a worry free transition into this style of manufacturing. There are several other considerations that must be taken into account to make the most of a multiaxis investment:

Capable CAD/CAM:
Once you buy a machine that is the best fit for your shop, you have to make sure you get a capable CAD/CAM system to drive it. Manually programming at the machine is a waste of time and it defeats the purpose of having multiaxis equipment. Good CAD/CAM software allows your programmer to write more and better programs faster and facilitates the shop’s use of multiaxis equipment capabilities to improve its profitability.

To this end a good machine simulation package is essential. There is simply too much going on in the multiaxis environment for a programmer (even a very good one) to be able to figure out everything that is going to happen just by staring at the code. If you don’t have machine simulation in your CAD/CAM, you are forced to use your machine as a verification system. This is not only dangerous, it is also a tremendous waste of the machine’s and the programmer’s time.

The lost opportunity of not having a top-notch CAD/CAM system increases over time, since the software developers are continually improving their products to give their users even greater competitive advantages. Your competitors will be able to take advantage of these improvements and you will not.

Good Post-processor:
Before you go from indexing to continuous multiaxis work with your new multiaxis machine, make sure you have a good post processor, one that is tuned in to your CAD/CAM software, the multiaxis system’s controller configuration and your shop’s unique requirements as well as the equipment’s responses to specific g-code outputs.

This is very important because machines rarely have identical configurations. They vary according to the builder’s preferences or may be altered by the dealer to match his understanding of preferences common in particular geographic locations. If the post’s output does not match aspects of the controller’s configuration, it won’t work well, if at all. Your machine’s baffling behavior could seriously delay successful launching of your capability, or worse, cause a crash that damages the equipment.

Here’s a simple example. Say a machine has an A and a C axis, and on the C axis you are on 359 degrees and the next command in your toolpath is 1 degree. What should happen? Should the machine rotate 2 degrees? Should it go always clockwise, always counter clockwise, the shortest distance, absolute, incremental? Those are all settings in the machine’s controller that can be changed, and the guy who installs the machine usually changes them.

So you can have two technicians installing two machines on the same shop floor and the post processors will not be the same. That happens all the time. So you have to make sure that the post processor is configured to your specific machine. Most users will be way ahead of the game both time-wise and financially if they get professional help to develop a “bullet-proof” post.

Buy the Best Possible Tools:
While you are implementing your great multiaxis manufacturing capabilities, make sure you take full advantage of them by using the best possible tools. Multiaxis machines make it possible to use shorter tools and shorter holders to get into places that could not be reached except with long, slender tools on a 3-axis machine. This will result in less vibration, more accurate geometry and better surface finishes with standard tools that actually cost less. This can be a real money saver.

Buying a Ferrari won’t make you a better driver. It takes both training and experience to make the most of a high-performance racing machine. The same is true for high performance multiaxis manufacturing equipment. Training and workforce development should be built into your shop’s multiaxis manufacturing support budget.