Sponsored By

September 20, 1998

4 Min Read
Shop-floor programming saves tool stock, time

FTW Ltd., a toolmaker and molder in Tamworth, England, is constantly searching for advantages, and it recently found one that is saving time and eliminating waste in the toolmaking room. FTW managing director Frank Williams notes, "Customers are much more demanding now, and there's plenty of hungry competition." He therefore looks to save every possible minute of time and sees wasted tool stock as a direct subtraction from profits.

"Harnessing the best new technology is essential," says Williams. However, it has to be practical, and that includes being cost efficient. On that basis, FTW installed Prospector moldmaking software from Softech (until recently Cimlinc ATM). The resulting savings in time and elimination of waste have been as promised, and more. Prospector, say its creators, is designed for use on the toolmaking floor by toolmakers. Further, it adds the toolmaker's expertise into the software during use. The experienced toolmakers at FTW put it to the test, and it passed with room to spare.

Busy Moldmaking Shop

FTW's molding shop has 22 injection machines running nearly 300 working molds to produce a variety of products for the toy and appliance markets, among others. The eight people working across the road from the molding shop at FTW Die Sinkers & Engravers produce up to a million pounds of finished molds annually. Molds are of varying sizes but most would be classified as mid-sized and many are complex. A significant percentage of molds is made for other molding shops. The moldmakers are busy, and one thing they didn't want to do was spend a lot of time learning a new toolmaking software package.

Prospector, according to David Rikalans, head of FTW's toolmaking room and hands-on toolmaker, was easy to learn and becomes easier with use. The product is regularly upgraded, but Rikalans says the learning curve for the upgrades is likewise minimal. FTW installed Prospector alongside its existing Cyncro and Verimetrix systems. Like them, Prospector is a full-featured, 3-D mold design software system, but the main difference, says Rikalans, is the degree of confidence it gives the machinist in the NC code outputs.

Green Light Means No Gouging

Prospector is a Windows-based system. Taking advantage of that, it simplifies interaction through extensive use of color and graphics, as well as a number of Wizards that guide the operator through procedures quickly. It does many things well, says Rikalans, but if all it did was eliminate unforeseen gouging, which it most definitely does, it would be worth it. Prospector reads the CAD file, including files from other systems, and like most others, selects cutting paths and makes them visible. However, it then goes on to search out potential gouges, isolate them, and flash a warning.

The software then leads the machinist to the point of the gouging. Remember, this system is generally right on the shop floor, adjacent to the cutting machine, though it can also be in a separate office for design. Prospector's graphics make it easy for the toolmaker to see the problem and edit the cutting path to eliminate it. And that, Rikalans points out, is before any steel is cut and potentially wasted by a hidden gouge.

Prospector has its own built-in expertise, of course, and offers default solutions for every machining operation. But it also harnesses the shop's accumulated skills by remembering the machinists' preferences and using them in subsequent jobs. While the machine is performing a cutting task, the operator can simultaneously program the next feature or set up another job on a different machine.

Features For Speed and Efficiency

Prospector's Wizards take the machinist step by step through Z-planar roughing and finishing operations. Its Remaining Stock Model makes it easy to find the most efficient, fastest cutting paths for both roughing and finishing. The Remaining Stock Model also works with a Wizard that supports Pencil Tracing, one key benefit of which is avoiding any time wasted cutting in areas that are already completed. Both Williams and Rikalans concur enthusiastically on the time saving realized with Prospector's Plunge Roughing feature. It allows the cutter to maintain high speed even doing deep work, says Rikalans, avoiding the vibrations that often force a slowdown in the cutting. Prospector automatically produces the follow-up cuts needed to clean the cusps left in a plunge-roughed cavity. New window editing techniques are for intricate areas and for reuse of windows created in previous programs. Prospector operates under Windows NT on Pentium, Pentium Pro, or Pentium II computers. There is an office-based unit and shopfloor cabinet and various combinations of these modules are possible. Base price for a package consisting of one office and one shopfloor unit is $16,000.

Sign up for the PlasticsToday NewsFeed newsletter.

You May Also Like