Many manufacturers follow this typical scenario when they bring in new technology: first, acknowledge the problem; second, develop a plan for evaluating current technology and making a selection; and third, implement and review the progress and results. For many companies, this process takes a long time, taking people away from their primary jobs and requiring a lot of self-education to make the best decisions. Eaton Corporation does it a little differently. At the company's manufacturing technology center (MTC) in Willoughby Hills, Ohio, Al Soles, Principal Engineer, explains, "We provide consulting services to the rest of Eaton's manufacturing facilities on manufacturing technology available and how best to implement it." In addition to consulting, this Eaton facility does some manufacturing of special equipment that is not available in the commercial marketplace, for Eaton's proprietary processes; so manufacturing challenges are not unfamiliar at MTC. The rest of Eaton's divisions benefit greatly from that manufacturing background combined with extensive market awareness which aids in selecting the best solutions with the greatest long term payback in the industry. Eaton believes this approach saves time and money by avoiding the costly mistakes so easily made in any automation purchase decision.
The Engineered Fastener Division in Massillon, Ohio relied heavily on Mr. Soles' market and technology expertise in its decision to install AutoPRO, Intercim's CAM module for AutoCAD. AutoPRO functions directly within AutoCAD to create NC machine data from AutoCAD geometry. "Our primary focus was for a complete tool set with full five-axis programming support as well as support for all machine types (such as EDM, milling, turning, etc.). Compatibility with all major CAD/CAM systems was also a key requirement. We needed a product to support multiple computer platforms, be compatible with our legacy systems, comply with major industry standards such as APT, CL, DXF, IGES, DMIS, and PDES. Because 60 to 80 percent of machine code for newer machines is non-cutter location related, we required a system to support machine functions that have nothing to do with cutter location. Most people think in terms of CAD and CAM, but that buys us only limited benefits. So, one of the reasons we selected AutoPRO was its flexibility. Beyond that, Intercim provided a product with a proven track record and was cost competitive," says Mr. Soles.
The Engineered Fastener Division(EFD) which manufactures spring steel fasteners, retaining rings and light shields for automotive, appliance, toy and other manufacturers was selected as the pilot site. EFD uses AutoCAD for tool design and Pro-Engineer for product design. Because AutoPRO functions directly within AutoCAD, creating machine data from AutoCAD geometry, Eaton is leveraging its investment and buildings on its success with the highly regarded AutoCAD system. Today, they use AutoPro to manufacture parts for all processes among the EFD's three wire EDMs, two ram EDMs. It also has the capability of supporting their new CNC mill.
Mr. Soles believes the single most important AutoPRO feature is its programming Macro (User Sequence) capability which generates and automates the use of current information throughout the entire design and manufacturing process. The macros can be selected directly by menu picks which extract parameter values from the AutoCAD drawing file. The more repetitive tasks a job calls for, the greater the impact AutoPRO can make in productivity. "In fact, the AutoPRO macros save us at least 25 percent of the time even for existing programs. With the five-axis tool path ability, we can machine parts that other systems couldn't handle," says Rich Fedor.
Since the original pilot, Eaton has expanded the use of AutoPRO and CIMPro (Intercim's stand-alone PC-based APT processor) to its Axle Division in Humbolt, Tennessee and its Hydraulics Division in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Mr. Soles says, "We are extremely satisfied with these Intercim products as well as their service and support of our long term needs." When the Intercim product manager offered to take the software back at no charge, if the company wasn't satisfied, Mr. Soles says, "I knew we had a winning partner."