CG Tech Software helps components maker fill experience gap

Editor: Eric Culp

Establishing a high-precision engineering company supplying mould bases to the international plastics injection moulding market requires skilled and experienced workers. But what do you do if none are available?

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Facing a shortage of skilled, experienced workers, the Czech company found software to solve the problem.
Facing a shortage of skilled, experienced workers, the Czech company found software to solve the problem.
(Source: CG Tech)

There can be little argument that ice hockey is one of the toughest team sports, so when three players decided to establish a business together, they were ready to battle hard to be successful. Based in Vysocina, around 75 miles to the southeast of Prague, Tirad was initially established in 1993 as an international logistics company before purchasing a Unix workstation with Euclid CAD/CAM software in 1994 to produce NC programs for external engineering companies. As the logistics business declined, the transport equipment was sold to purchase its current workshop and the company’s first CNC milling machine in 1996.

CAM heads to the clouds for greater productivity

Wanted: equipment operators

However, at that time no one could operate it and experience with CNC machine tools was very limited. Managing Partner Stanislav Vesely recalled the situation: “We could program the milling machine, but we had no experience of setting it up. Experience was not available locally, so we employed tradesmen with other skills and a strong desire to learn. So everything had to be prepared for operators that had very little experience.”

Tirad’s focus on how to keep the methods simple for the operator is still the main philosophy of the company. “We have precise machine tools and we focus on how to use them effectively without skilled people,” Vesely explained. “Now the operators are more skilled, but we still keep it simple and let the machines do what they can. Many of the original tradesmen are still with the company and are an important part of the team.”

The company provided subcontract engineering services to various industries until 2000, when it decided to focus on precision parts for injection mould bases. The goal was to be the best supplier of the bespoke mould bases, which are extremely demanding on accuracy and to build long-term relationships with international customers.

In 2005, the company installed Vericut software from CG Tech to improve productivity by identifying any problems with NC code before it was passed to the machines in the shop. With technical support from a local agent, the company began modelling every element involved with the production of mould bases in 2010.

Ready for orders

Now all the milling and drilling machines have been modelled, i.e., built to reflect exactly how each machine is used. A Diamach 3-axis milling machine was modelled first, followed by a more complex Huron 5-axis machine that was very important to key customers.

Customers supply 3D models that are taken into Pro/Engineer or Siemens NX CAD systems before the NC tool paths are applied using Edgecam CAM software. The Edgecam interface allows the NC program to open directly in Vericut for verification and optimisation. A skilled programmer checks all the set-ups before they go to the floor. Using Vericut prior to releasing the NC code to the shop is said to have helped Tirad keep things simple for the less-skilled.

Parts for machining generally follow the same procedure: The NC program is prepared, set up and run through Vericut. Mistakes are reported back to the programmer, who makes modifications and corrections. The toolpath is then re-checked with the software, and once cleared it is released to the company’s network.

Tirad operates a paperless environment with NC programs transferred to the floor via its intranet. Every machine tool has a PC with software for viewing CAD files and Vericut’s Reviewer, a collaboration tool that allows 3D simulations to be shared with anyone without the need for a software license.

The Reviewer can play forward and backward while removing and replacing material. Error messages and NC program text is highlighted when a collision on the stock or fixture is selected. A tool path line display is optional. The operator can rotate, pan and zoom just like the normal software, and the cut stock can be measured using all the standard X-caliper tools.

Cutting conditions are shown in the status display and available when stepping through the program using NC Program Review. The feature shows detailed information about the cutter’s engagement with material, including axial depth, radial width, volume removal rate, chip thickness, maximum surface speed and contact area.

The shift leader can resolve mistakes with the software. If the file is modified, it is reported and uploaded back to the CAM programmer for updating and storage for future use, as parts can be re-ordered by customers. A comprehensive shop floor data collection (SFDC) system is installed at Tirad and every machine has PLC-based monitoring equipment that reports on the machine’s status, such as running, waiting, stopped, spindle over-ride and so on. It allows the company to collect data; analyse the performances of the machine, the tool and the material; and improve from a known datum.

It truly is the Information Age

“Monitoring processes from accurate data collected from machines is vital to business decisions,” Vesely explained. “Thanks to SFDC, it was possible to compare productivity during the implementation of Vericut and to analyse efficiency gains. Continual production on machine tools without errors in NC code to stop the machines has improved our efficiency significantly, and the return on investment was achieved within 18 months. Beyond that, Vericut has increased our capacity so we can grow. Without it, we would spend too much time repairing errors and not be able to move the company forward.”

Today, over 20 high-precision machine tools and 92 staff are committed to achieving a positional accuracy at 7 micron within a 1m mould base length, but the drive is to now achieve 5µm and the whole company is focused on achieving this. Raw material for mould bases are very expensive, and customers require high precision and ever larger mould bases on shorter lead times, typically four to six weeks, and the raw material delivery can take more than two weeks.

Stanislav Vesely explained the elements for high accuracy: “You need good machine tools with a planned maintenance schedule, environmental control so that all machining is carried out in known conditions, high quality solid carbide cutting tools must be used and, finally, qualified staff.”

Money can’t buy everything

All of these elements can be purchased except the staff, which has to be trained. All of Tirad’s maintenance is done in-house to ensure accuracy. Everybody on the shop floor has been trained to measure all facets of the company’s products because experience counts when checking the finished size.

Vesely summed up the entire experience: “Vericut is one tile in the whole mosaic, but without it the production picture would be incomplete.”