Five-axis CAM system is key to the success being achieved by a new sub-contracting company
Three years ago, at the age of 25, Ben Goodwin was earning good money as a deep-sea welder and fabricator, but realising the danger — and the relatively short life expectancy — he quit the job, bought a machining centre and set up BRG Developments in Market Weighton.
With little experience of machine shops, Mr Goodwin had the odds stacked against him, but he bought a Hurco VM10 three-axis machining centre and a low-end CAM system.
Although initially facing a massive learning curve, he has since made a success of the business venture, which is credit to his drive and enthusiasm — plus the introduction of a new CAM package from Open Mind Technologies (www.openmind-tech.com).
Mr Goodwin says: “I bought the Hurco and a three-axis CAM package, but even with my then limited machining knowledge I soon realised that the latter was holding me back.
“The three-axis software was slow and laborious; and despite my limited experience, I was getting frustrated with the tool-paths it was giving me. I needed to upgrade, and Open Mind’s HyperMill seemed the obvious choice for my business.
“I did my homework on a number of vendors, watched YouTube videos and then bought a seat of HyperMill at MACH 2014 — even though it was a five-axis system.
“Despite only having a three-axis VMC, I have huge ambitions for the business and aim to introduce five-axis machining in the near future. When we get there, we will be prepared — and conversant with a five-axis CAM package. Moreover, because HyperMill is a modular package, we can add what we need as we progress.”
The learning curveBRG is now on the Lloyd’s Register and ISO: 9001-certified, but when Mr Goodwin set up the company, he had no concept of M codes or G codes on a CNC machine, diving straight into CAM programming.
“Our very first job was machining and drilling simple side-step plates for ambulances, but I wanted to progress to more-complex high-value-added work. We are now realising this ambition with the machining of complicated
automotive mould tools and aerospace engine components — plus intricate medical parts. None of this would have been possible without HyperMill, which I can use for producing everything I currently take on.
“The selection of this CAM system was justified by the first few jobs we used it for, one of which was to produce a trophy for the Best-in-Britain Hot-Rod competition. I estimate that the complicated trophy would have required four days of programming with our previous CAM system and 29hr of machining time.
With HyperMill, the programming took just 2hr 30min and the machining just 9hr. For a family of typical P20-steel automotive mould tools for water-pump parts, we cut programming times from 4hr to just 20min; and whereas the machining time was previously 9hr for each of four tools, HyperMill tool-paths allowed us to machine four similar tools in just 1hr 40min.”
For BRG, simplicity, safety and ease of use are built into almost every feature of HyperMill. “Our previous system, like many three-axis CAM packages, was based on a 32-bit operating system that was slow to calculate and process information. Being a 64-bit system, Hypermill churns through the data at ‘lightning speed’, reducing idle times and speeding up programming times massively compared to our previous package.”
Contributing to shorter programming times is the software’s ability to use multiple work planes, rather than the one fixed datum point offered by some systems. “The ability to set work planes from two different points around the job gives huge time savings when programming. The multiple work plane feature also calculates how much material has been removed from each surface.
“The collision detection capabilities of the software, which have proven to be faultless, are underpinned by the tool database system; this allows us to load tool-holder, collets, drills and end mills into it, giving us a complete picture of our set-up and the tool overhang.
“Moreover, because this database works in conjunction with the collision detection feature, we have complete confidence that we won’t crash our machines.”
Other features highlighted by Mr Goodwin include the new MAXX Machining package within HyperMill; this incorporates Arbitrary Stock Roughing, which allows users to define exactly those features they need to machine and the step-over parameters.
“We are currently using most of the new features, and tentatively trying MAXX Machining. The overall package has put us way beyond our immediate competitors in terms of turn-round times and our ability to manufacture extremely complex parts. Moreover, being able to machine complex geometries on a three-axis machine has put us in a good position with Tier Ones and OEM manufacturers.”