3-D Mill Software Brings Moldmaker Up to Speed

By reducing the time needed for EDM and CNC work, a moldmaking company was able to reduce costs and increase its business.

When Tempe, AZ-based Southwest Mold (SWM) decided to shop around for a new software package, it had some specific goals in mind. "We wanted to make sure that we met our deadlines and were able to use 3-D surfacing to reduce the number of electrodes needed," states Vice President Mary Schweppe. SWM - a plastic injection moldmaker/molder for the medical, defense, electronics, consumer and automotive industries for 25 years - chose TekSoft Inc.'s (Scottsdale, AZ) ProCAM 3-D mill software because of its user-friendliness and ability to meet the company's needs.

Software Solution

In a nutshell, ProCAM simplifies the process of taking parts from design to manufacturing, reports TekSoft Marketing Manager Dennis Roberson. "Developed specifically for mechanical parts, ProCAM's Windows interface and CAD tools allow parts to be modeled quickly and easily," Roberson says. "Each CAM module provides intuitive methods for fast and efficient toolpath creation."

The program allows the operator to create and machine parts for each specific machining requirement. Simple or complex parts can be machined using the program's wireframe and surface modeling tools, and parts can be imported using translators for popular file formats such as IGES, Parasolid, DWG and DXF. "The results are accurate, error-free CNC programs for virtually any two- through five-axis mill, multi-axis turn, punch, plasma/laser and wire EDM machine," Roberson states. "Plus, the software is available in a variety of configurations, so you can purchase exactly what you need now and add to your system as your business grows."

The program has a number of capabilities that make a user's job easier. SWM is especially pleased with the program's surface modeling and surface machining features that allow the user to complete a job more efficiently and accurately. According to TekSoft's Roberson, the program supports multiple surface creation methods like swept, ruled, plane, offset, surface of revolution, four-curve, three-curve, constant and variable radius fillet, complex surface and two-surface blend. Plus, these surfaces can be easily manipulated.

The surface machining capabilities use algorithms for the latest toolpath and gouge protection methods of cutting surfaces; generates toolpaths for fast, error-free surface cutting over single or composite surfaces using ball, flat endmill and hog nose tools; uses slice cutting to provide continuous machining across multiple surfaces for finishing and semifinishing; and reduces production time by allowing the scallop height or step-over to be user defined.

Efficient Operations

All of this adds up to smooth sailing for SWM. A recent job for a medical OEM customer is a prime example of the surfacing capabilities possible with the software. According to Schweppe, there were several complex details where arcs, bosses, threads and other features were tied together with fillets and angles. Surfacing drastically reduced cost by allowing several of these features to be machined on one electrode. "Some of these areas could not have been accomplished by conventional machining," she explains. "The number of electrodes and successive burns were reduced and the quality of the finished product was greatly improved. Once programming is complete, it allows us to employ unattended machining strategies. Our customer was very pleased with the end result."

An automotive OEM has just begun its first production run using a tool produced at SWM. Again, the extensive use of surfacing allowed several features to be incorporated on one electrode or - in some cases - directly machined into cavity and core inserts, completely eliminating the EDM process. "This reduced production costs, manufacturing time and provided an additional level of product quality," Schweppe notes.

"Every year TekSoft makes a fair amount of improvements and we are able to capitalize on these improvements and improve our molds," Schweppe comments. "We can do our work a lot more efficiently and quickly. There is so much more in it that we haven't even done that we want to be able to get into. We need to get more of our people familiar with the software and find the time to delve into it more.

"In some of our operations, we are able to take a program and send it down to the EDM and CNC machines, where they are able to do the processes much more quickly because of the way the information is presented," she continues. "And we are able to take on more projects because the EDM and CNC work - which is so time consuming yet so crucial to our work - takes less time now and we are able to run the machines unattended. This also allows us to use less manpower."

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