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Multitasking pushes the envelope: machining choices remain to be made.

The latest technology, in almost any field, is typically the most expensive and challenging to apply. It is worth the time to evaluate whether the implementation of such technology generates measurable gains. This outlook can be applied to the most recent advances in manufacturing, multitasking machines, and their programming complexities.

Multitasking machines are bound to enter the conversation when speaking of "lean manufacturing." Reducing setup time, eliminating secondary operations, and combining machining operations will make any job shop run more profitably but are these goals right for everyone? A variety of industry experts seem to believe that a thoughtful marriage between a multitasking machine and CAM software can achieve unmatched productivity levels.

Olivier Thenoz, application specialist for ESPRIT CAM, says that the technology for multitasking machines is progressing rapidly. His main role is to keep up with this technology and consistently produce software that is easy to use yet capable of the programming that these extremely complex machines require.

"Post processors are a big issue with these machines," Thenoz explains. "ESPRIT is marketing a pre-packaged solution which incorporates built-in post processing and templates for machine setup."

Effective post processing, translating the data in ESPRIT to something the machine can read as a G-code program, is one of the most important parts of the multitasking machining process.

Software is one important factor when considering switching a shop to multi-tasking machining. Many manufacturers would say software is just as important as what kind of machine you purchase. The right software and the right machine can allow a job shop to thrive.

Understanding what type of shop would benefit from this kind of complex machining process is also a critical factor to consider--specially when taking a leap into a more expensive machine tool. When implemented correctly, almost any shop can improve its production with a multitasking machine.

There are two types of machining to consider for lean manufacturing: batch process and multitasking process. In the batch process, multiple setups are required to move a piece onto a machine and then off, and then onto another machine (mill, lathe, etc.) in order to complete the part.

In a batch process, there is typically one day of idle time due to setup before beginning and then a pair of two-day idle periods while the part waits for the next machine. Although each machining operation takes a quick two minutes once it gets started, that part has a prolonged wait before getting processed with this method.

On the other hand, during a multitasking process the part is cut without removing it from the machine. As a result, the processes are completed sequentially and without any idle time other than time required to load a blank and unload the finished part.

The multitasking process sometimes includes increased individual operation times because of the complexity of the machine, even though the overall leadtime of the part substantially decreases. While a longer operation time may initially seem intimidating, the operation time is not the focus of multitasking machining. The underlying goal is achieving the fastest time to deliver an order of parts--what you may lose in operation time, you more than regain in leadtime.

Assessing the benefits

If you have a longer overall time on the multitasking machine, you can determine which type of process best suits your production. Here's how: Compute the volume of parts for which you break even on delivery time in either the multitasking or the batch process. If the production quantity is greater than that break-even amount, you face a production situation that may easily be categorized as "mass production." If this is the case, and if you are not seeking the other benefits of integrated machining, you will do better to find a batch process solution.

Compiling this type of information, a shop can assess what kind of process would best suit its needs--weighing leadtime and cycle time while deciding if multitasking would save overall production time.

As far as the future of multitasking machining, new software developments in the newest version of ESPRIT CAM software, ESPRIT 2006, for example, can work hand-in-hand with multitasking machines to optimize its production time, Thenoz says. The latest release has new functionalities, including B-axis turning.

B-axis turning in CAM software allows ESPRIT to support any orientation for programming a turning operation and program and simulate any B-axis orientation with turning tools. The main advantages of these features, when considering converting a shop to multitasking machining, are tool clearances, tool efficiency, flexibility, and cycle time.

Tool clearance will greatly improve. Because of its large size, it is difficult for the head to get close to the spindle when it is vertical. With B-axis turning, this is not a problem. B-axis turning allows use of the same tool for different work, improving flexibility, Thenoz adds. Because of this, cycle-time is improved by reducing lengthy tool changes that might otherwise pose a setback. By using the same tool, at better angles because of the tool clearance, the quality of the cut improves as well, Thenoz says, making the tool cut more efficiently.

Overall, with the software allowing for various programming improvements, benefits of multitasking can be expanded and utilized more effectively. These machine tool and software features of multitasking only skim the surface, though, of what to expect from advanced machines and how to effectively assess and implement them on the shop floor. Other important factors are reduced floor space, improved part accuracy because of less handling, and the positive aspects of near-full automation. A wide breadth of factors must be considered, allowing individual machine shops decide whether the latest technology in manufacturing is fight for them. DP Technology Corporation,

DP Technology, Camarillo, CA
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Title Annotation:CAM software
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Previous Article:Analytical software.
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