Part 5: WHO’S GOING TO WRITE THE PROGRAMS?
Develop an approach to workforce development that encourages programmers to advance their multi-axis programming skills. Most shops that transition into multi-axis work have competent 3-axis programmers/operators who can pick up the intricacies of multi-axis programming over a number of months. As the operator becomes more and more proficient, the multi-axis system will become more productive, as improvements are realized in set-up time, cycle times, programming efficiency and machine utilization.
Because of the significant ROI generated by multi-axis manufacturing, more and more work will be channeled to it, making it necessary to do strict triage to make sure only the most appropriate work (based on accuracy, productivity and delivery targets) is delivered to it. Before the queue of work to the first multi-axis machine is overflowing, the shop should begin to establish criteria for purchasing the next machine— perhaps one of a completely different size and type. The good news is that the person who is programming the first machine is likely to have a sufficient skill set to program the second one as well. The process will be similar, and he should now have more time available. Someone else can run the machine and, ideally, that person will be someone with good 3-axis skills who is willing and able to learn the art of multi-axis programming himself. This is what happens in the best shops going down this path. Programmers learn from each other and cohere into a team responsible for programming a whole multi-axis machining department.
A warning is in order at this point. Those who become very familiar with their machines and the toolpaths they have been using can become set in their ways. CAD/CAM software developers like Mastercam are constantly developing new toolpaths and other functionality that delivers tremendous boosts in efficiency. Shops that keep on doing things the same old way— even if they are well equipped— will still be left behind by competitors who are finding ways to make better use of their multi-axis capabilities. Keep your tools sharp, including your brain. Be willing to at least evaluate the benefits of the latest CAD/CAM advancements.