Prime Manufacturing of Estacada, Oregon came to be when Jason Baldonado knew it was time to move on from life as a Director of Operations and pursue his dream as owner-operator. He enlisted Nick Murphy, a friend and former coworker with 10 years of 5-axis machining experience to join him in the journey. Their partnership over the last two years has seen Prime Manufacturing outgrow buildings, add machines, cultivate customer relations, and find their place as a high mix, low volume machine shop in a competitive Pacific Northwest manufacturing environment.
“I started Prime with the vision of building a world class manufacturing company,” says Jason. “I was lucky to find my calling in manufacturing and have spent the last thirteen years learning new techniques, skills, and processes.” Nick Murphy, having worked at some of the most cutting-edge shops in the Pacific Northwest, came on board as an owner and managing member a few months after Prime’s doors opened. Using their experience, the duo has embraced automation and implemented efficient processes, delivering quality parts on-time to some of the most revered names in manufacturing.
Prime came out swinging, opting quickly to forgo traditional start up machine tools and get what they really wanted. They opened two years ago with 2,000 sq.ft. and a pair of Swiss machines. They soon added a lathe and another 2,000 sq.ft. of space. Now with 6,000 sq.ft. of manufacturing, this budding company houses Citizen L20X & Citizen L20-7 Swiss turning centers, a Doosan Lynx 2100 LSYB 4-Axis Lathe with Sub Spindle & Y-Axis, a Doosan Puma 2600 SYII 4-Axis Lathe with Sub Spindle & Y-Axis, and a Heller HF3500 APC 5-axis mill. Their quality lab has both a MicroVu CNC Optical Comparator and an Aberlink CMM.
Jason admits it was an interesting time to start a business during a pandemic but they quickly gained new customers due to supply chain issues “Our competition was quoting 8 to 12 weeks for parts and we were able to deliver in two weeks. Companies that would have conventionally hesitated to do business with a brand-new startup, were happy to find a source that could deliver on time and meet their specifications. Prime was able to grow its brand at a much quicker rate than imagined.” “Our plan wasn’t to be high mix, low volume,” adds Nick. “It just turned out that way and we’ve embraced it. One of the ways we can keep up with the demand is by programming the 5-axis Heller HF3500 APC using hyperMILL®.”
Prime’s Heller HF3500 is a simultaneous 5-axis horizontal machining center featuring a pivoting and rotating palleted table and dual pallet station. Travel is 27.9” x 27.9” x 29.5” and can machine fully upside down. It is outfitted with an 18,000 RPM spindle, high pressure coolant, plus in-machine Renishaw laser tool presetter and probing. “We decided on the Heller because of our partnership with Ellison Technologies,” explains Jason. “They treated us right when we were just getting started. I underestimated the importance of relationships with potential vendors. They gave us a good deal and helped us out on our first lathe. We’ve found that they really back the products they sell. So, when we were looking for an advanced 5-axis machine, they were our first call.”
Nick and Jason flew out to Detroit to see the German machine in person. They liked what was being offered, but admittedly it was at the limit of their budget, and the machine controller only supported metric at the time. They trusted Ellison and Heller to deliver the machine at a reasonable price and modify the control to support imperial. “We were able to put together a deal and get the first Heller like this in the Pacific Northwest,” tells Nick. “Heller is a well-known brand in the automotive industry and the machine had a lot going for it. For us we were attracted to its robustness, accuracy, features, and the ability to expand and grow with our customers. We thought for sure that we were asking for trouble taking on so much new technology — getting a new machine, metric conversions, and incorporating hyperMILL® CAD/CAM software, including its simulation and NC Optimizer capabilities. However, everything went perfectly with Ellison and OPEN MIND, and we were cutting in just a few days. We hold hole tolerances to +/-.0001, true position of .0005. Generally, our customers have basic callouts that require a surface finish of 3.2um/125. With the Heller 3500 and the Siemens 840D control, we were able to achieve mold quality finishes sub 16.”
More than Conventional CAM
Nick had previous experience programming with hyperMILL so there had been no doubt in his and Jason’s minds what software was needed for the Heller. They reached out to Kevin Lewis, OPEN MIND Technologies’ Account Manager, and explained their situation and goals. “One call and Kevin said, “We got you, no problem, this is what we do,” laughs Nick. “We knew hyperMILL® was the direction we wanted to go, so we really didn’t consider any other software for our 5-axis programming, and the software is still surprisingly easy to use. Also, OPEN MIND’s customer service is outstanding. Anytime we submit a support ticket they are 100% on it. Zoom, email, share screen, anything they can do to help you understand the software better.”
At Prime everything on their 5-axis is about high mix, low volume runs. Meeting tight timelines does not come easy when you have complex programming needs. To some, skipping verification might be a way to beat the clock, but at Prime that isn’t the case. “We need to be able to do speedy and accurate work right out of the gate,” describes Jason. “As a small shop undertaking quick turn prototype parts, a crash is more than detrimental, it is crippling. We only have one 5-axis machine; the customer needs their parts now and we can’t afford to be down. Heller is a German machine, so maybe a replacement part isn’t even in the country. We can’t take that chance, so everything on the Heller is programed and verified on the Heller using hyperMILL.” “For us, it is all about mitigating risk,” continues Nick. “We are the only ones here, only ones programming it, and the only ones that need to answer to our customers if we’re not able to deliver. We are new, and growing, and we can’t afford imperfections. I programmed a part, verified it, and just put it on the machine before this interview, and it will be done before we are—I’m not worried at all. I know it is going to be right and we are going to have no issues.”
When asked to highlight a few of the features they find most useful in hyperMILL, words such as intuitive, efficiency, and automation rang true for both Jason and Nick. “On the surface, because hyperMILL is so comprehensive, it may seem like it has fewer options than some of the other CAM software out there,” explains Jason. “That isn’t the case, though, and we see that as a good thing. We need to program quickly and efficiently, and hyperMILL’s clean and intuitive interface makes that easy. hyperMILL knows what to do, the software is figuring everything out in the background for you. You don’t have to question if there should be a bridge rapid linking move here, or here, or here. hyperMILL’s intuitive, in-depth capabilities identify if you do, or you don’t, or if there is a more efficient way to achieve the desired result. One of the best things about hyperMILL is maintaining traceability. It keeps track of the part, the stock, the fixture, all of it throughout the manufacturing process.”
The extensive 5-Axis cycles that hyperMILL has was a big selling feature for the guys at Prime. They consistently use the 5-Axis Rework and the 5-Axis Finishing Cycles. The ability to quickly convert a standard 3-axis move into a 5-axis move, utilizing all the prowess of the Heller, is something they use daily. “The 5-axis rework feature operates a couple different ways for us,” details Nick. “For one, I can program a basic toolpath and have hyperMILL convert it into a more ideal 5-axis path. We get 3D models in with less than ideal surfaces that can make 5-Axis cycles difficult to achieve clean toolpath. Other software will calculate a path that goes in and out of the material, hyperMILL generates the most beautiful path that doesn’t come out of the cut. It improves speed, accuracy and quality. The hyperMILL 5-axis rework feature also allows us to easily modify and refine existing 5-axis toolpaths, without having to start the programming process from scratch.”
Virtual Machining Virtues
As users of hyperMILL at previous work places, Jason and Nick are no strangers to the features offered as part of the base program. They also are acquainted with add-on strategies such as Virtual Machining Simulation and its popular NC Optimizer. hyperMILL VIRTUAL Machining provides postprocessing, and G-code simulation including a VIRTUAL Machining Optimizer which offers solutions to improve toolpaths that are traditionally calculated in the CAM engine. The Optimizer also incorporates knowledge of the part model, tooling, the toolpath calculation and collision check engine, and the machine tool model with its physical constraints.
“hyperMILL has great simulation built in,” adds Nick. “But when we ordered the Heller, we added in the Virtual Machining Simulation module and NC Optimizer to our OPEN MIND wish list. With full G-Code simulation built right in, it took us to a whole new level of trust. So, for example, if we program a part and the verification comes back with a problem, we can quickly make the edit, and it is all within the hyperMILL program. No moving between software, it is seamless, and makes the correction throughout. Besides being a time saver, it is also just easier. You can tell they put a lot of effort into maximizing the user experience.”
hyperMILL’s NC Optimizer is one of those modules that people can’t believe they lived without. It seems so simple, but again a known feature becomes a standout surprise when added into the workflow. “We thought the NC Optimizer was going to be cool, but we had no idea how much time that would save us,” adds Nick. “I can program with potential over travel. Let’s say I have an inch of over travel, before Optimizer I would have to change the program to fix the over travel, which can add significant program time. Instead, I send the program to virtual simulation and hyperMILL recognizes the over travel and will optimize the code to fix the over travel. Remember hyperMILL knows everything about the part, material, fixtures, table, tooling. It is shaving valuable time off every cut and transition.” “Nick does all the programming on the Heller via hyperMILL, but sometimes I walk by the machine and just watch how the hyperMILL Optimizer creates minimal clearance moves from the part and all fixturing,” tells Jason. “Tools are just clearing materials, it is rotating on every axis, avoiding crashes and getting back into the material as quickly as possible. NC Optimizer cuts minutes off our run times. I cannot wait to get another Heller setup for production and extrapolate that into 1000-part runs. Manufacturing is difficult enough but we do not want to have to fight with our CAM system. We feel hyperMILL is more than software – it is an automation solution. We can concentrate on the manufacturing and let the software do what it is designed to do.”
Prime Manufacturing’s continued growth is limited right now by space and power consumption, but Jason and Nick know their next move should be another 5-axis machining center. Before any more rapid growth spurts, Prime Manufacturing needs to expand to a larger building. Jason, Nick, and their team of employees work weekends, nights, whatever they need to do to get parts to their customers on time. “We are new enough that one bad customer experience could ruin us,” concludes Nick. “That is a little bit stressful, but down to the wire, high complexity, high risk stuff is what we love. We love the challenges that come with this business. We love machines, we love making parts.” “It is fun and satisfying. Can’t ask for more from a job or a better satisfying way to make a living,” adds Jason. “Manufacturing products that are made in the U.S.A. gives us the satisfaction and the drive to wake up every day and make a difference. We love what we do.”
Provided by Prime Manufacturing & OPEN MIND Technologies