LEARN TO PROGRAM IN SPACE
Understand that good multi-axis programming is very creative. It is performed with the part sitting in space rather than being anchored in some pre-conceived work-holding solution. A CAM system is to a multi-axis programmer as a hammer is to a carpenter. It is an essential tool used to complete a job. You can give that same hammer to two people – one can frame a whole house and the other may find driving a single nail a challenge. The magic is not in the hammer – it is in the craftsman who wields it. Effective multi-axis programming is not only the result of the skill (which can be learned) but the state of mind, which only comes with experience.
Modern CAM systems have very similar capabilities when it comes to generating toolpaths that drive multi-axis machine tools. Most multi-axis challenges are not toolpath related. Creating the actual toolpath is the easiest part of most manufacturing solutions, yet a large segment of programmers start with toolpath creation, before visualizing the whole solution. It is very easy to get caught-up, needlessly over-thinking and complicating the process. Before you know it, a programmer can paint himself into a corner.
Take work holding, for example. Most newcomers to multi-axis will still think like a 3-axis programmer. One of the first things they will consider is “How will I hold this part?” Experienced multi-axis programmers will leave that decision for later. They will first make sure to place the part in the optimal position within the machine’s working envelope – the “sweet spot”. They will make sure to minimize machine motion – this is achieved by orienting the part based on the specific machine’s kinematic configuration. It is also recommended to pre-plan what tools to use (i.e. the shortest tools feasible, along with rigid holders).
Think about the order of operations. Can you do the whole part in one setup? What are the cutting characteristics for the material with the tooling that is available? Does the machine have enough RPM and/or horsepower?
Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Keep that in mind when planning your multi-axis manufacturing process. Use the ‘KISS’ method. Do not make the process complex just because your CAM system or machine is capable of generating and executing complex motion.
- Minimize machine motion – by positioning and orienting the part in the machine’s ‘sweet spot’.
- Use your brakes when roughing. 3+2 machining allows you to rotate, lock and machine in a rigid state.
- Know your machine and maintain and calibrate it regularly.
- Know your tooling and work holding. Using the right tools makes a world of difference.
- Know your CAM system – keep current and train on latest capabilities.
- Keep innovating – be open to new ideas . . . there is always room for improvement.