CMI-Tech Center, Inc., a subsidiary of CMI International, Inc. is a manufacturer of castings and other components for automotive and related industries. The Tech Center, in addition to developing new manufacturing processes, also designs and manufactures casting dies for CMI's other component plants.
CMI-Tech Center had been using proprietary Unix-based workstations with turnkey software to program and download its library of NC tape files to its 14 machine tools which produce casting dies. Because the supplier of the workstations had discontinued sales and support of its hardware, replacement parts were unavailable and computer boards had to be custom repaired. Continued high maintenance costs prompted Tech Center to search for a replacement.
In addition to the high maintenance cost, two additional problems were occurring. First, limitations on the number of I/O ports in each proprietary workstation forced the Tech Center to configure its systems point-to-point. Due to the nature of the proprietary windowing interface, tape files could be loaded only to a single, target machine tool. This necessitated a large investment in custom workstations--one system for each machining center. Secondly, all job sheets--the documents which included machining and set-up instructions as well as drawings for the machine tool operator--were paper based. Job sheets were sometimes out-of-date and when an operator made changes to the machining specification, these changes and the accompanying operator notes were frequently misplaced. If a die was returned to the Tech Center for subsequent work, the NC programmer would often not have knowledge about how the die was originally fixtured or why the cutter path wasn't matching the original.
In considering a replacement system, CMI-Tech Center believed that a strategic partnership with a vendor that understood its short and long term needs was a crucial factor in meeting CMI's performance goals and competitiveness. The Tech Center selected Thedra Technologies in Troy, Michigan, to develop a replacement strategy in addition to evaluating and implementing new technology.
Thedra replaced the discontinued workstations with new Unix servers, new terminals for the shop floor, and new workstations for each NC programmer. Thedra's TrueDNC product was installed on the new servers which allowed machine operators using the shopfloor-based terminals to download cutter path tape files to multiple machine tools.
As new dies are designed, the paper-based job sheets are replaced by on-line work instructions using Thedra's TrueGuide. Thedra developed on-line forms that are similar to the original document, yet include the ability to capture up-to-date 2D and flattened 3D drawings of the die and fixture as well as set-up instructions. Users can also attach comments with this application's Post-It Note feature.
Though CMI-Tech Center's original goal was to curb maintenance costs by replacing outmoded hardware and software with a more readily supported solution, a number of additional benefits have been realized. The Tech Center significantly reduced the downtime of its machine tools, users were able to perform partial downloads of cutter paths and other tape files, and machine tool utilization has increased because operators begin each job with up to date, accurate interactions and drawings provided by TrueGUIDE. Job quality has also improved because operators work with the most up to date information.
The Tech Center continues to work closely with Thedra to identify system strategies and evaluate new technologies which will support CMI's strategic vision.