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Implementing 5-Axis machining can be an excellent strategy for efficiently producing accurate, complex parts. However, it takes more than the right machine tool to realize the full potential of a 5-Axis process. In addition to the right machine, tooling and fixture options, CAM software should be carefully selected. 

When Western Precision Products, Inc. (Tualatin, OR) made the decision to reinvent some machining processes by incorporating 5-Axis machining, they started planning and carefully considering the “big picture” over a six-month period. During this time, they concluded that only the leading solutions would suffice for its 5-Axis setup.

Western Precision Products (WPP) has been a precision machining manufacturer for over 30 years. WPP and its 85 employees handle projects from prototype through production in a high-tech, 48,000 sq. ft. production facility in the Portland, Oregon metro area. Aerospace and electronics make up the majority of WPP’s industries served, in addition to hydraulics, power supply equipment, recreational equipment, semiconductor processing, and testing and measurement equipment. 

hyperMILL® CAM software suite enables powerful 5-Axis strategies for machining challenging geometries, free-form surfaces and deep cavities.

WPP deploys a variety of machining technology including lathes, mill-turn and Swiss machines as well as horizontal milling and vertical milling centers. The type of parts manufactured spans a wide range from small intricate components to large structural parts. An AS9100 Rev D certified company, WPP’s jobs include manufacturing structural and complex parts for the aerospace industry which often have tight part tolerances and short lead times. Also, aerospace materials range in the thousands of dollars per part, making the risk of mistakes very costly. It is essential to make parts right the first time.

5-Axis Strategy

During the planning period for adopting 5-Axis technology, WPP wanted  to  answer key questions  including how to reduce or eliminate machine setup times, how to at least partially automate the programming of complex 5-Axis parts, and how to utilize the latest in Industry 4.0 initiatives to provide a competitive advantage over high-end machine shops. Mr. Tyler Bureau, senior manufacturing engineer at WPP, said “Our vice president Jerry Mullins and I carefully considered our options by using strategies including value stream mapping and examining potential failure modes for this new department. At the end of this analysis, we realized only the leading solutions in each category would be an option for us because they drastically reduced or eliminated failure points.”

This included selecting hyperMILL® CAM software from OPEN MIND Technologies.  “The first thing you need in a CAM package is trust – trust that it can do the job without limiting your abilities, and trust that it can do it in a safe, fast and efficient manner,” said Bureau. “We purchased hyperMILL® to allow us to program and run our 5-Axis machines to their full potential.”

The hyperMILL® CAM software suite enables a wide range of powerful 5-Axis strategies for machining challenging geometries, free-form surfaces and deep cavities at maximum efficiency levels. Depending on the geometry and machine kinematics, a user can choose between 5-Axis machining with a fixed tool angle, automatic indexing or true simultaneous machining. All toolpaths are generated fully automatically with collision checking and avoidance.

Tyler Bureau, Senior Manufacturing Engineer, Western Precision Products said the company purchased hyperMILL® to enable
programming and running its 5-Axis machines to their full potential.

Proof in Production

Since the implementation of 5-Axis machining, WPP has realized an overall 65% reduction in setup time and a 30% reduction in the amount of setup parts, saving thousands of dollars, much of which they credit to using hyperMILL®. This has allowed them to pass along savings and deliver parts faster to their customers.

In one example, WPP went from machining a UAV wing spar part on a horizontal machining center to producing the same part on a new DMG MORI 5-Axis machining center. They also transitioned from their existing CAM software to using advanced 5-Axis strategies in hyperMILL® and were able to create a better quality part in about half the amount of cycle time than the prior method. Machining strategies now include 5x rework, 5x profile finishing and tangent machining using barrel cutters. “Now the part surface is phenomenal,” said Bureau.

Since implementing hyperMILL®, WPP has taken advantage of its automated setup and programming abilities. For example, it is no longer necessary to program drilled and tapped holes anymore because hyperMILL® takes care of it. Bureau said, “We accomplished this by creating a macro database with set rules that look for common characteristics such as hole color, diameter, depth and hole bottom condition, and then make a determination on whether the hole is tapped or not. The macro then pulls the correct tools from the intelligent tool database and automatically programs the holes.” 

WPP can also take it a step further and have hyperMILL® rough, finish and chamfer pockets as well. And, because all the strategies, speeds and feeds, and depth of cuts for a given tool are saved by material type in the tool database, hyperMILL® has allowed WPP to bridge the gap between their experienced and newly hired programmers.

“We have a saying in our 5-Axis department ‒ if you can’t do it conventionally then use the imagination cycle that has become our nickname for the hyperMILL® 5-Axis REWORK cycle,” Bureau said. The hyperMILL® REWORK cycle is a versatile try-out strategy that determines and displays the exact tool path, then adds collision avoidance and control adjustments to achieve it. “It works beautifully,” said Bureau “hyperMILL has also helped us improve our Industry 4.0 initiative by allowing us to program the digital twin. We sent Open MIND our serialized solid models that match our machine tools exactly, measured our travel limits and now what we see on our screen is what we see at our machine,” Bureau continued.

Since implementing hyperMILL®, Western Precision Products has taken advantage of its automated setup and programming abilities.

Trust is Critical

Bureau has been in the machining/manufacturing industry for over 20 years and has extensive programming experience. He says he has come to one simple conclusion, “Our industry is addicted to bad CAM. We have come to expect our CAM software to fall short and that is simply not okay.” However, WPP chose hyperMILL®  because of its dedication to pushing the limits as a trend setter in the 5-Axis community. “When other CAM software companies hear they are competing with hyperMILL®, they pay attention,” noted Bureau.

WPP currently has four hyperMILL® workstations, which have set the stage for growing its 5-Axis business. Bureau said, “The days of not trusting our posted code are far behind us because of hyperMILL®. Today we program a part, walk up to our machines, hit the cycle start and walk away. I have a hunch not many shops can say they believe in their CAM package enough to do that.”

Article Supplied by  OPEN MIND Technologies Images Courtesy of Western Precision Products, Inc.