Multi-Axis CNC Machining Made Easy
Aerospace job shop cuts costs, increases capacity, and improves machine performance with software CNC
Ron Patlian, Manufacturing Manager for Turbine Engine Components Technologies (TECT, Utica Corporation), Santa Fe Springs, California, was looking for a cost-effective CNC solution that wouldn't tie the plant to a traditional proprietary system. With a busy aerospace job shop producing thousands of parts each year, Patlian needed to increase manufacturing capacity without spending from $500,000 to $2 million each for new machine tools. He was tired of having production stopped by obsolete and expensive to repair proprietary NC controls that were plagued with frequent breakdowns. He needed a different kind of control, without constraints such as memory, program manipulation, and future repair parts availability. It would have to be simple and easy for people to install, operate, and maintain.
What he found was a unique CNC technology that could not only handle the tough demands of complex, high-end, five-axis aerospace machine tools, but also cut cycle times and increase uptime. In fact, overall machine performance improved so dramatically with the new CNC that Patlian recently set up a plan to upgrade many other five-axis machines that currently have older controls. What Patlian found was OpenCNC® software, the unbundled, all-software CNC from Manufacturing Data Systems, Inc. (MDSI).
Starting with a dual-spindle Rigid five-axis mill and then a Sundstrand five axis Omnimil using OpenCNC, Patlian discovered that the shop could:
In an industry dominated by proprietary hardware CNC solutions, MDSI's OpenCNC has proven high-end, multi-axis CNC machine tools can be controlled entirely from software-without any motion control cards, proprietary hardware, or embedded firmware. OpenCNC provides a common control technology across a full range of machine tools: single- and dual-turret lathes, single- and multi-spindle precision drills, routers, mills, grinders, gear hobs, dial index machines, and gantry machines-all from a single operating system, Microsoft® Windows NT®, running from a single processor.
Because the CNC is unbundled open-architecture software that runs on off-the-shelf PCs, manufacturers aren't locked into proprietary arrangements for hardware, control repair, or control upgrades-while OEMs can speed time to market and cut engineering costs with concurrent, non-linear, design development.
Patlian didn't know he was looking for a software CNC when he first got on the Internet. He just wanted a better alternative to traditional CNC.
"I didn't want to be tied to a proprietary product," he said, "so I started surfing the Internet and came across MDSI's Web site. Once I saw it, I knew that was what I had been looking for. The great thing about the MDSI control is that you can install it yourself, or have a local electrician help you, and you're not tied to anyone's product. It gives you the freedom to customize at a modest cost with the flexibility of Windows NT running on a 450 MHz PC."
TECT, Santa Fe Springs, California, functions as an independent job shop for production-critical gas turbine engine and airframe components. Whether machining centrifugal compressor parts for helicopter engines, locomotive turbo-charger compressor wheels, or parts for commercial airplanes and jet attack fighters, the shop is competitive and profitable. A major test for OpenCNC on two five-axis Omnimils was machining compressor rotors for fighter planes. Each part cost up to $65,000 in value added and took several weeks to machine. Scrap was not an option.
OpenCNC Just Worked
After several months and several thousand dollars researching and testing PC-based controls that didn't produce the desired results, the change to OpenCNC came easy.
"We gave OpenCNC a try and it delivered smooth continuous five-axis motion from the very start," Patlian said. "We do some very critical five-axis contouring and our machines need to perform right at the peak. MDSI delivered the servo control that worked."
By choosing the all-software OpenCNC, Patlian solved several problems at once:
Machine Tool as Online Peripheral Device
What the TECT crew also enjoyed about the all-software CNC was getting instant DNC. "You don't need to buy DNC software," Patlian says. "With a couple of PCs, you can run to Radio Shack and buy some cabling, a hub and link as many machines as you wish using MS network software. What we say now is that with OpenCNC, we have a network of PCs that just happen to have machine tools connected to them."
The Future is Open Wide
There are now over a dozen machines at the Santa Fe Springs plant running with OpenCNC, and the plans are to convert several more five-axis machines to OpenCNC. With the machine tools on OpenCNC running on Windows NT, the way is clear for remote machine diagnostics and maintenance via the Internet-or for taking advantage of OpenCNC's patented real-time data collection technology. With that, manufacturers can collect whatever machining data they choose-including maintenance, production and quality-in real time, without specialty hardware.
The TECT shop hasn't had time so far to take advantage of OpenCNC's data collection features. They're busy with additional rebuilds and control upgrades using OpenCNC. "We have a terrific crew," Patlian says. "And a control that doesn't limit our horizons. I see no reason why we can't build our own specialized machines at some point in the future."