Drive-train manufacturer must embrace new ways of working
TEAM Industries has customized NX and NX Machining to support paperless communication and "lights-out" machining
In its efforts to turn short-run jobs into long-term work, TEAM Industries wanted its Baxter, Minnesota facility to be “state-of-the-art.”
New plant’s mandate: win business
When TEAM Industries opened a new facility in Baxter, Minnesota, it assigned the plant two responsibilities. One was to build die cast tooling for the company’s Detroit Lakes facility. The other was to serve as an example of just how quickly and efficiently TEAM can deliver drive-train components, with the goal of winning new business. “Our other shops are geared for longer-running production,” explains Jason Roue, general manager of the Baxter facility. “At Baxter, we’re here to develop new business. By doing an excellent job with prototypes and short-run jobs, we hope to get our foot in the door to take on longer-term work.”
To fulfill both mandates, fast turnaround was a must. Engineering management at the Baxter facility wanted a CAD/CAM system that would let them go from a customer’s design to production as quickly as possible. This facility couldn’t waste time on file translation and subsequent model repair. Another requirement was tight integration between CAD and CAM so that once engineers designed tooling around a customer’s CAD model, that geometry could be used directly to create CNC code. Finally, management wanted CAD/CAM software that was open and flexible. This was very important because the Baxter facility is designed to be “state-of-the-art.” This means embracing new, faster ways of working such as paperless communication and “lights-out” (unattended) machining. The plant wanted CAD/CAM software that could be custom-tailored to support this accelerated, all-digital environment.
NX and NX Machining: the flexible solution
NX™ and NX Machining delivered on all counts. “We chose this CAD/CAM system because it met our requirements, particularly those for openness and flexibility,” says Bill Givans, engineering manager at the Baxter facility. One example is the software’s open by design foundation that makes it possible to import CAD data in all popular formats. This spares TEAM engineers the headaches of file translation. Another example is the ease with which NX solutions can be customized. Not only can the user interface be modified for integration with TEAM’s processes, users can incorporate proprietary intelligence and best practices into both the CAD and the CAM programs.
The Baxter facility installed 18 seats of NX and NX Machining, six in the engineering department and 12 on the shop floor. CAD data from prospective customers and the Detroit Lakes facility comes into engineering where it is imported into NX. If it’s a solid model, the tooling is designed around the model. If it’s a surface or wireframe model, an engineer uses that information to construct a solid model of the part. After tooling is designed, the file is sent to the manufacturing department, where a manufacturing engineer uses the same NX geometry to create the CNC code that will produce the part. Manufacturing engineers have customized NX Machining to simplify many programming tasks and enforce TEAM’s standards. For example, they created a routine that automatically selects all of the holes on a mold base and assigns them to the appropriate drills based on their size.
More importantly, this facility has customized NX Machining to such an extent that it now includes automated routines for programming every manufacturing operation performed there. “This is critical if you want to have ‘lights-out’ machining,” explains Givans. “Normally there are simple operations like a tool change that you might not program because it would take too long. You just have the operator do it. But if you want machining to take place unattended, there must be CNC code for one hundred percent of the machining processes.”
Benefits of flexibility: time efficiencies, advanced operations
Automating so much of the CNC programming has resulted in significant time savings. For example, the job of creating a program to drill, counterbore, ream and tap a typical mold base has been reduced from one hour to five minutes using a custom-designed NX Machining routine. Routines aren’t limited to simple operations; some have been written for complex 3D contouring operations as well. Givans estimates that on average (parts vary widely in complexity), programming time is 30 to 40 percent less than it would be with standalone, uncustomized CAD/CAM.
Another key benefit of the NX solution is that it supports the Baxter facility’s paperless and “lights-out” initiatives. Communication between engineering and the shop floor is handled via NX files. Not only does this eliminate the need for paper drawings, it enforces the use of current engineering data, something that is very difficult to ensure when using paper. The highlyautomated NX Machining environment has turned the goal of unattended manufacturing into a reality by making it quick and easy to program any machining operation. The net result: lead times that are short enough to satisfy the Detroit Lakes operation and to impress the most demanding of potential customers. Roue, the general manager, reports that many of the short-run jobs done with NX solutions turn into business “wins” for the company.