Jason Adkins, director of operations at Manes Machine & Engineering, Fort Collins, Colorado, says the company purchased CGTech’s Vericut software in 2007, shortly after the installation and subsequent crash of a new Mazak Vortex high-speed, gantry-style machining center.
“Within the first couple of months, we ended up wrecking the spindle. It cost around $95,000 to replace,” Adkins says. “If you consider the return on investment (ROI) for software that prevents you from crashing a very expensive machine tool and incurring all the subsequent repair time and lost productivity, it’s pretty easy to justify.”
Vericut, a sound investment nearly a decade ago, has become a far more important and valued tool to the precision milling shop. With the majority of Manes Machine’s work focused on 5-axis machining of complex aerospace components, toolpath simulation is an indispensable piece of the manufacturing process, and one for program verification on nearly all of the company’s 28 machining centers.
As long as it flies
It didn’t happen overnight, however. Manes Machine opened in 1983, in Ontario, California. Founders Alan Manes and Bruce Page eventually found the Southern California business climate too stifling, and in 1993 moved the business to Fort Collins. In 2002, Page assumed ownership of Manes Machine, and today the leading supplier to United Technologies, Boeing, Lockheed, and other Tier 1 aerospace manufacturers employs 91 people at a 65,000ft2 facility.
“We do just about everything, as long as it’s milling work and is aerospace-related,” Adkins says. “Wing spars, seat tracks, heat shields, door panels, the list goes on. Our shop has machining capacity to roughly 160", but we classify the work by three different revenue streams: parts that fit into 0" to 30", 30" to 60", and 60" to 160" envelopes. We have the shop organized into three separate manufacturing areas accordingly.”
The equipment list supporting these areas includes a pair of 50hp 3-spindle Cincinnati gantry milling machines, a pair of Mazak Vortex 1400/160-II vertical machining centers (VMCs) with enough travel to mill the chassis of a mid-size sedan, a five machine cell of Mazak Variaxis i-800 VMCs, and a Mazak HCN 8800-II with 2-ton load capacity. There’s little the Manes team can’t handle.
“The industry has changed substantially in recent years,” Adkins explains. “Mechanical assembly is one of the fastest growing parts of our business. As the aerospace industry continues to streamline operations, they’re not really looking for shops to just deliver machined components. They want a completed assembly, ready to install on an aircraft. The more you can accommodate those demands, the greater the opportunities.”
Adkins says that Manes’ employees didn’t use Vericut as they should have for several years after purchase.
“The main problem when we first bought the software was that our shop had a lot of outdated equipment. But around six years ago the company began to modernize its equipment, and as part of that transition we decided to make a big push with Vericut,” Adkins says. “Being able to get our machine models directly from the manufacturer has made the process much easier, and on those machines where we do use Vericut, we find our setup times are much faster.”
As the shop transitioned from old to new equipment, it fully embraced 5-axis machining, explains senior programmer Richie Shawver. When Manes bought its first DMG MORI 160U horizontal, the team used its unfamiliarity with the Siemens 840D control as a springboard to re-implement Vericut.
“The Siemens control uses far different programming code than what we were used to,” he says. “It pushed us into using Vericut. We also made the decision that, since we were paying for it anyway, we should use the software to its full extent.”
Manes still has a few disco-era machines hanging around, but the balance of its equipment is 100% onboard with Vericut. Shawver adds, “Our Mazak’s, DMG’s, and Okuma’s – basically anything purchased in the last five years or so, is modeled and proven out with Vericut.”
The company’s tooling choices have similarly evolved – a growing pain that Vericut has helped ease. Shrink-fit toolholders are used for most of its finish machining operations, but roughing and semi-finishing are done with Rego-Fix powRgrip collet-style toolholders. This offers a best balance of accuracy and clamping force, but the larger diameter of the mechanical holders presents some clearance challenges when 5-axis machining.
“We’ve performed apples-to-apples tests between the two styles of toolholder and the Rego-Fix mechanical chucks offer 27% improvement in tool life,” Shawver says. “Unfortunately, the body is so big that interference is a problem, especially in deep pockets and intricate parts. Vericut is a big help in preventing any collisions between the toolholder and the workpiece or machine table.”
Manes also has invested in quick-change tooling such as Schunk zero-point and modular fixturing, as well as pallet changers and other forms of automation. Adkins says competing in today’s manufacturing world depends on getting parts on and off the machine quickly, and this in turn requires a reliable form of simulation to avoid surprises.
“With Vericut, we’re able to load everything into the software, and see how things are going to work long before the first chip is made,” Adkins says. “There’s no more figuring things out on the floor – no wasted machine time, or potential crashes. ”
The Manes programming team includes Shawver and three others. He says the interface between Vericut and the shop’s Siemens PLM Software NX CAD software works well, and takes “only a few seconds” to generate a model. Manes does not yet use CGTech’s free Vericut Reviewer utility on the shop floor but is planning to do so once the necessary hardware infrastructure is in place. Shawver and his team do, however, take full advantage of Vericut’s Auto-Diff module, which compares the CAD model to the virtually machined part and identifies any gouging or excess stock.
They’re also in the process of implementing CGTech’s OptiPath software, a module that automatically analyzes material removal during the machining process and adjusts feed rates accordingly, speeding up or slowing down as necessary based on an optimization library that contains tool and material-specific information. This greatly reduces cycle time and machine wear and tear, while simultaneously improving tool life.
Both Adkins and Shawver look forward to the delivery in the coming weeks of a 24,000rpm, high-speed machining center from Makino, their first from that builder in two decades, as well as a »venturion« tool presetter from Zoller. Both pieces of equipment will be integrated with Vericut.
“Vericut reduces scrap and prevents accidents at the machine. It helps the guys feel more confident when running through new part programs, and greatly speeds up the process. Even if your shop doesn’t make super complex or very expensive parts, it’s absolutely worth it,” says Shawver.
Adkins agrees. When asked if he has any words of wisdom for those considering Vericut, his answer is simple: “Do it. Even without a crash, it drastically decreases setup time and lost production on the shop floor. This is especially true for anyone doing multi-axis machining or moving in that direction. The programming is much more complex, there’s generally a lot more of it, and it doesn’t take much of an error to cause a major issue.
“A lot of people don’t realize the benefits of simulation,” he adds. “Vericut has paid for itself several times over in decreased production time, avoidance of equipment damage, increased throughput, and the confidence that when you send programs to the shop floor, they’re going to be glitch free.”
Manes Machine & Engineering
Okuma America Corp.
Siemens (Automation Technology)