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Electronics in the toolroom - even this one.

Olympic Custom Tool, Butler, NJ, is the epitome of a small tool-and-die shop-one man. Owner-operator Wolfgang Eichert is an unlikely candidate, at sixty years of age, to want to leap into the brave new world of computer-aided manufacturing. After all, the conventional wisdom is that CAM is complicated to learn and apply, best for more basic machining, and a computer technology better left to much younger geniuses with degrees in computer science.

Yet, Eichert, a progressive by nature, insists on being at the leading edge of both machine-tool and CAM technology. "I took my first big chance in 1974 when I refinanced my house and opened a shop with just my toolbox and a couple of conventional machine tools. Then in '79, I was invited to look at an AgieCut EDM 250 EDM machine and LAMA 250 programming system. In five minutes, I realized I was looking at the future of my business.

"So I refinanced my house again and purchased the first of three EDM machines I've owned, and the first of three generations of CAM. By'82, the LAMA system's speed improved by a factor of 2.5, so I became the first user of the HP 9816 series computer. Today, I work with the most advanced CAM system I've seen for shop applications, MECANIC."

Phases of the moon?

Eichert does complain that computer hardware and software change faster than phases of the moon, but he knows he must keep up or lose his competitive edge. "With MECANIC, I'm able to complete programs three or four times faster than I did with my first computer. For shops like mine, almost every job requires a new program, so ease of programming and overall speed are very important. MECANIC CAM is the fastest system for wire-cut EDM. When you consider my EDM systems run untended around-the-clock, and that 80% of my time is spent job planning and programming, you can appreciate how important CAM programming speed is."

Key factors in that speed are linked or unlinked geometry format, use of icons, menu-driven programs, an electronic mouse, and other simplified man-machine-interfaces. "I originally purchased CAM to minimize complex NC-code programming. Now, a change in a timing-gear tooth that would have taken 2 or 3 hr takes only 2 min!"

What features are most critical to him? "Macroprogramming and variable geometries," he answers without hesitation. "With macroprogramming, I create one program for the machining of holes, for example, and every time I need to create a hole, I call it up, specify size, and it's automatically integrated into the program. With linked geometries, I can expand the programming for a tapered mold cavity from 4" wide to 6" wide in 10 sec, instead of spending a whole afternoon changing the hundred or so radii involved."

Electronic profits:

With two highly automated AgieCut EDM systems, he has evolved quickly from a manually oriented shop to fully automatic tool-and-die manufacture. Bill Liner, an Agie CAD/CAM specialist, recalls Eichert slaving away a decade ago: "He was working 20-hr days and sleeping on a cot in the toolroom. Now, still a one-man shop, he has 30 regular customers and a file of over 100 satisfied customers. Profits have grown enormously, thanks to his dedication to leading-edge computerization."

Yes, agrees, Eichert. "I was the first in the US to use LAMA, the first to use the H-P 330 CPU that Agie offered, and I'm sure that I will be one of the first to upgrade to the UNIX-based MECANIC software." That's what he's known for, Liner points out, "High-quality, high-accuracy work-very, very fast."
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Title Annotation:Wolfgang Eichert automates his one-man shop, Olympic Custom Tool
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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