Part 5: Scalable CAM Technology Helps Small Shops Grow

How small shops can use advanced CAM software features to achieve steady incremental growth

Part 5: Optimize the workflow

In this blog we will look at some of the ways small shop owners are using their advanced CAM capabilities to get more parts completed sooner, without compromising quality.

Reprogram repeat jobs to improve profitability: Generally shops, especially startups, are not enthusiastic about “fixing what ain’t broke.” However, shops that started out using conventional CNC programming can often improve the profitability of work that comes in on a regular basis by rewriting the programs using material aware toolpaths. Often the cost associated with rewriting the program can be recovered in terms of increased machining productivity the first time the reprogrammed parts have been machined.

Flexible workholding solutions: Having a variety of flexible workholding solutions that can be quickly adapted to the types of manufacturing your customers request allows you to get parts on and off the machine faster. Having several holding solutions in or on the machine allows you to gang up jobs for continuous production. If you can trust the fixtures and get multiple parts on the machine effortlessly, the focus of manufacturing productivity shifts back to the advanced CAM software that is up to the challenge of generating part programs as quickly as possible.

Maximizing machine hours: It is important to get as many operating hours as possible out of your CNC machine. If you have the work, then you can hire part-time operators to load programs and take parts on and off the machine. If you have more complex parts or machines with multiple workholding solutions, you can also load it up and run lights-out (unattended) so that your machine can do the work while you are home with the family or getting some badly needed rest. If you have made simulation a way of life, you can machine these parts with confidence even though no one is present in the shop.

Tool libraries: Your understanding of best feeds and speeds to use with specific tools for various part geometries is proprietary knowledge that allows you to machine more effectively. This knowledge should be available to everyone who works in the shop, and should not have to be recalculated and re-entered into the CNC program every time a similar job comes in. Tool libraries capture this valuable information and automatically enter it into subsequent programs. This saves time, while it ensures that everyone who programs CNC equipment is using proven settings that are most appropriate for the work at hand.

Setup sheets: Similarly, as the shop grows, the knowledge that was once resident in the head of the owner/primary programmer must be shared consistently with other machinist/programmers and operators. Marking up drawings and images of setups is an approach that is taken most frequently. Small startups have a unique opportunity to achieve team communication consistency at the outset by developing setup sheets that concisely convey—in computer generated images and word—exactly how a part should be set up and run. This is far easier to do when there are one or two machines and just a few people than a few years down the road when multiple approaches to conveying part setup information have to be sorted out.

Template-based CNC programming: When it comes to making families of parts, one good manufacturing program can serve as a template for many other similar parts. This makes it possible to generate manufacturing programs in minutes simply by dragging and dropping toolpaths and other information picked off the master program template.

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