Since upgrading its part programming facilities from Pathtrace (Ontario, California) PAMS to the latest Pathtrace EdgeCAM system, Apex Tool Works Inc. of Rolling Meadows, Illinois, has continued to expand the installation to six seats. The expansion has enabled the company's design engineers to eliminate what was formerly a serious bottleneck and achieve a paperless manufacturing solution. Apex manufactures specialized tooling for metal container manufacturers, such as Carnaud Metalbox.
As part of the upgrade to support the machine shop, Apex is now able to download pre-programmed text messages to the shopfloor that previously had to be conveyed via tooling sheets. This move has been further enhanced by the adoption of standardized tooling packages on the company's CNC machines.
The highly specialized tooling is produced to high orders of precision and often involves complex geometry and the use of three CNC jig boring machines working to tolerances of ±0.0001 inch. Tooling development often means several geometric changes to achieve the final form. This in turn demands a rapid response for program changes and editing.
"We have used Pathtrace CAM products since 1989 when we installed the PMS system to support our increased requirement for CNC Programming," Apex engineer Jim Whittenhall Jr. explains. "Since then we have developed our CNC facilities to the point where manual machining has been almost eliminated. However, because we often manufacture in small batches of between one to four components, there is a heavy programming requirement. And, with a growing business, it became evident that it was time to upgrade again to overcome a bottleneck in the supply of programs to machines."
The company had already upgraded from PMS to the Pathtrace PAMS in 1992. It maintained pace with ongoing developments, which meant it was fully aware of the Windows-based EdgeCAM system.
"The ease of use of EdgeCAM is critical to our application as it has allowed our tool design engineers to become proficient at programming very quickly," Mr. Whittenhall explains. "...we can now develop a program that is very high in quality, and little or no editing is needed at the machine tool to make it work effectively."
The installation at Apex includes an IGES translator to download geometry from the company's own 3D solid modeling CAD system. Paradoxically, designers sometimes find geometry creation easier using EdgeCAM than on the Main system. The company currently has EdgeCAM turning and milling modules, which are also used to program its EDM wire and jig grinding machines. However, the increasingly sophisticated container shapes being developed for can producers means that a specialized wire module is likely to be installed soon.
"EdgeCAM has proved to be very effective and overcomes any frustration of programming delays," Jim Whittenhall concluded. "Pathtrace technical support has proven to be very good, and we quickly gained confidence in the system."