Metrology and healthcare specialist Renishaw has been able to improve greatly the productivity of its rapid prototyping department by turning its designers into machinists. The key to the transition was the introduction of Delcam's feature-based programming system, FeatureCAM, in place of the department's previous CAM software.
"It is important for designers to appreciate the manufacturing techniques and capabilities that are available to them; this helps facilitate good ‘Design for Manufacture' as well as reducing any unnecessary delays during the prototyping stages of manufacture," says Richard Turner, senior CAM development engineer. To achieve this, Renishaw has always encouraged designers to take a ‘hands on' approach, even providing two Mazak Nexus machines for them to use for tooling and prototyping production.
"However, the designers, being occasional users, found our existing CAM software too difficult to use so they all passed the work over to our small batch department or sent their designs out for machining. At times, it was taking up to six weeks to produce prototypes, which was obviously having a negative effect on our product development process," explained Chay Allen, development engineer.
The move to FeatureCAM began after another development engineer, Tristan Dover, visited the Delcam stand at the MACH 2008 exhibition. "I saw a five-minute demonstration, which made FeatureCAM look like the easiest CAM system I had ever seen. I downloaded the evaluation version and could remember enough from the demonstration to use it. Even without any training, I could program as quickly as an experienced user on our existing system in a head-to-head competition. I realized that FeatureCAM would be ideal for our designers and other casual CAM users."
"Since we have adopted FeatureCAM, staff with little machining experience can be trained to use the software in a day," claimed Turner. "Even more importantly, FeatureCAM is so intuitive that they can come back to the software after a two-month gap and are still able to use it."
"We have set up FeatureCAM with the standard tooling package that we use on the Nexus machine tools and we have added in the speeds and feeds appropriate for our range of materials; this has made the system almost completely automatic," explained Allen. After the success with FeatureCAM, Renishaw engineers began using Delcam's PowerSHAPE CAD software for prototype tooling. "Most of the plastic parts are fairly small and we only need a few examples so we developed a system where new inserts could be used in the same tool assembly," Allen said. "With PowerSHAPE, we can quickly develop the core and cavity from the part design and then machine the shapes into our standard inserts with FeatureCAM."
The benefits to Renishaw have come from a shortening of the overall development cycle since prototype parts can now be produced in a day or two. The designers have more freedom to experiment because these shorter lead times mean novel ideas can be investigated more quickly. Furthermore, because the designers have to think about manufacturing at an earlier stage in the development cycle, it is easier to convert from prototype quantities to full-scale production. The only problem has been for the rapid prototyping team. Whereas before the machine tools were usually available, the demand from the designers has now grown so much that the team's own engineers often can't get access to them.