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Pattern for progress: a small shop moves up to fast track CAD/CAM software.

Schill Corp, Toledo, OH, started out as a small pattern shop on the east side of town at the turn of the century. Several booming wartimes and a severe depression later, it has a 60-person workforce, an in-house foundry, and a plant recently expanded to 35,000 sq ft. Key products are molds, trim fixtures, and castings for a variety of customers in the medical, food, and automotive industries.

The survival tenacity that contributed to the firm's longevity is still alive and well, says Wade Wines, CAD/CAM systems manger. "The Big Three often mandate that shops such as ours purchase certain equipment to meet their vendor specifications. A case in point, and the largest purchase in this company's 100-yr history, was the $500,000 CNC mill we purchased two years ago.

"Yet, when this behemoth arrived, it sat there for six months and was never used to cut a single job. At that time, a lot of work was being outsourced for programming and machining. I was hired to do whatever it took to get this machine running and making money, and bring this work in-house."

Wines. had the proper background. He had worked for a design service and two pattern/model shops. "At each of these," he explains, "I had worked with a Solution 3000 system, from Micro Engineering Solutions, Novi, MI, primarily because it was easy to learn and use, compared to other systems, many of which don't have its capability. I knew that within a month's time I could train someone with no computer experience to be proficient with it. - So Wines accepted the challenge. Schill had just rebuilt its computer room, and was willing to provide the equipment he needed. The first few months were quite exciting," he recalls. -It was like being on center stage. Everyone was watching me and waiting. They wanted to see something happen."

Making it work

Two Solution 3000 systems were purchased, each directly interfaced to milling-machine controllers and supported by an array of CAD/CAM software. Initially run on MS/DOS microcomputers, this hardware has been replaced by Sun Microsystems SPARC workstations with a UNIX operating system. A third microcomputer-interfaced to a 2D Nestler digitizer-is used for data translation and as a file-server workstation, inputting data for 3D surfacing by the Solution 3000 software.

Schill products range from aluminum molds for auto headliners to graphite molds for electrical receptacles to holding fixtures for the bottling industry. "I call the graphite permanent mold technique a poorman's die cast," says Wines. "A manufacturer can make 20,000 pieces from one of these molds-intricate molds with the strength of ductile cast iron. They can be held to /0.005" tolerances with no machining. In fact, we have just completed one of the biggest graphite permanent molds ever poured in North America. It's for a part weighing 16 lb. For larger parts, our foundry can pour up to 3500 lb of aluminum in a single casting."

Most graphite mold jobs are received in blue-print form. An operator at a workstation literally builds a 3D drawing of the part on a video display. "After the part design is complete, we analyze it, working with the customer to define molding conditions, back angles, etc; redesigning where necessary," Wines explains. "We then split the part into cavities defining the parting line for the mold, program the NC cutter paths for the mill, output this data to the mill, cut the mold with appropriate shrink factors, build the mold, run several sample parts, and finally check them on a CMM."

When defining a parting line, the male and female mold halves are rotated into machine position on the graphic display that exhibits material thickness. Next, an advanced surfacing module generates surfaces and a series of cutter-path instructions is generated for milling. These instructions ensure that the CNC machine will cut the mold with no gouging of adjacent surfaces.

About 90% of automotive jobs arrive on magnetic tape in IGES format. The Solution 3000 translates this data, transforming it into surfaces and cutter paths in a similar manner. Why the upgrade?

With the CNC mill in full operation and all the outsourced work captured in-house, why upgrade the hardware from MS/DOS to UNIX? Speed, replies Wines. "We wanted to meet the increased job flow with enhanced CAD/CAM productivity. The Sun SPARC system offered us tremendous speed, coupled with multitasking capability. Processing speed even beats MS/DOS systems with the new Intel 486 chip. Furthermore, the extra cost for this gain was less than $5000-certainly a justifiable tradeoff."

Because of time spent at the workstation, there is not a one-to-one correlation between change in throughput and increased processing speed. However, job-flow productivity has significantly improved. An operator must still design the mold and set up cutter paths," he admits, "but, in general, one third of our time has been eliminated because of UNIX."

Also boosting productivity is the system's ability to perform up to 16 independent tasks simultaneously. The gain in memory capacity (no longer limited to a 640K PC) permitted Micro Engineering Solutions to enhance their software with additional blending commands.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Dec 1, 1991
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