CAM keeps spindles turning at Hightown Engineering

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“Within the 3D graphics view of Mastercam, we can rotate the part to quickly catch features that may need to be redesigned for manufacturability or determine how the part will be held for manufacturing. These features streamline engineering negotiations and quoting,” says Smith.

Smith is very impressed with Mastercam’s Dynamic high-speed toolpaths, such as OptiRough and Peel Mill, not only because they are so much faster but also because they reduce tooling costs as well as wear and tear on the machine.

“Years ago, using Mastercam X5, we ran a thin sidewall stainless-steel part on the 4th axis, which wasn’t a very rigid set-up, but because the high-speed machining toolpaths produce light cutting forces, we could run at dramatically increased feeds and speeds,” Smith said. “What would have been nearly a three-hour cycle time ‘conventionally’ programmed, took ¾ of an hour thanks to the Peel Mill and Dynamic Mill roughing toolpaths. This was a stainless-steel part and from then onwards, we implemented high speed toolpaths on aluminium parts, which is the bulk of what we do. These paths dramatically reduce our cycle times on our high-speed machine cell – the machines have a #30 taper and thus are not as rigid as our #40 machines, so we Dynamic-toolpath all roughing and the machines excel”.

Once Hightown has settled on a toolpath strategy that works well with a certain type of part, Mastercam gives its user the ability to automatically replicate that strategy for similar parts to eliminate enormous amounts of programming time. Smith calls these features “hidden gems”.

Transform Toolpath is one. “If you want to make multiple parts, program just the one from start to finish, then select transform toolpath. Mastercam then steps in and repeats your part as many times as you have set. This can literally fill your machine table with only a few mouse clicks. We use this feature as much as we can,” Smith said.

Another of these gems is Import Operations. “If you have a tool that's really flying on a part, a real nice flowing toolpath, you can save that operation—the feeds, the speed, the depth of cut and everything—and use it over again on similar jobs. You import the operation into your file, apply it to your CAD geometry, and that's it. You can almost standardise all of your programming just by importing operations”.

Nothing lost in translation

When Hightown Engineering opened its doors, the nature of its business was high production with not much value added. Typical runs were 1,000, 2,000, and even 5,000 pieces, repeating every month. Not much programming work was required at that time. But all that evaporated and the work that replaced it was geometrically complex with production quantities of 25 to 50, developmental quantities of 5 to 10, not to mention the very frequent one-off prototypes.

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Smith concluded, “Mastercam has allowed us to keep up with a geometrically higher engineering workload so that our company can be productive and profitable making parts with much higher value added.” So when he goes home at night, it is almost certain that he will spend at least a little time on Mastercam’s website, looking for what else he can learn and take advantage of. His wife thinks that he is just playing, but it’s much more serious than that.”