How Toolpath Machining Technology is making manufacturers more competitive

Manufacturers are improving machining performance 50 to 300 percent without the need to make changes to existing equipment and infrastructure. Thousands of manufacturers worldwide have transformed their machine shops into highly cost-efficient operations, enabling them to successfully compete in world markets – many for the first time in decades.

Manufacturers in North America must balance a multitude of issues to stay profitable. Increased competition from overseas manufacturing with its access to cheap labor, the reduced availability of qualified workers in the manufacturing trades, and tightening employee and environmental regulatory requirements, are but a few of the key issues challenging the wits of manufacturing executives today. Because of this increased level of change and instability in the manufacturing sector, the costs of traditional growth initiatives – such as adding floor space, capital equipment, personnel and overhead – present more of a significant risk today than in early times when the manufacturing environment was more stable and predictable.


Underutilization of existing machining resources

One key area of poor capacity planning within manufacturing is the failure to fully realize the capability of existing machining resources. Instead, for many machine shops, the solution to increased capacity has been to add more equipment and workers, and extend valuable floor space. But, the true production capacity of a machine tool is seldom fully realized by those responsible for assessing production volumes. This factor is so important that it can make or break the profitability of a machine shop. At the very center of this issue is the inefficiency of computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) toolpath generation, which plays a critical role in fully influencing machine production capacity. Also, a high level of inefficiency exists in conventional toolpath generation, despite the otherwise high-performance levels of modern CAM systems.

“Millions of manufacturers believe that the toolpaths native to their CAM systems are designed for optimum performance,” said Gregory M. Saisselin, Vice President of Worldwide Sales for Celertitive Technologies, a leading developer of toolpath generation software. “In the vast majority of cases, they are running, at best, at 50 percent of their productivity potential.”

The importance of science-based Toolpath Technology

For many manufacturers, using more efficient toolpaths to drive their existing machining equipment has proven to be a much more cost-efficient and workable solution to managing the variables of order size and improving production throughput, compared to investing capital into new machinery and the labor requirements to support it. Groundbreaking toolpath technology has helped manufacturers reduce costs, produce more parts, and lower project bids, while utilizing their existing equipment and infrastructure.

This machine-efficiency transformation is being played out in thousands of machine shops within manufacturing facilities in the United States and throughout the world. Spearheading this change is a science-based toolpath, called VoluMill, developed by Celeritive Technologies, Inc. (Celeritive), for high-efficiency, rough-milling operations.

VoluMill is a true science-based toolpath technology that enables machine tools and cutting tools to operate at peak performance. It performs all of the complex calculations required to determine the best cutting strategy for any part. Its toolpaths drive cutting tools along a path that maintains a consistent tool load, has no sharp corners or sharp directional changes – the toolpath is smooth and flowing with no repeated stopping and starting. VoluMill keeps a constant step-over whenever possible, resulting in shorter path lengths than other approaches. This produces even machining loads with uniform chip formation, and excellent heat evacuation. By avoiding sharp directional changes and controlling the rate of material removal, the toolpath enables the tools to cut faster and deeper, while greatly reducing stress. The toolpath evens the loads on machine tools and cutting tools, significantly extending tool life.

“This toolpath solution increases the productivity for any two-axis, three-axis or two-plus-three-axis rough-milling application” continued Saisselin. “It dramatically reduces machine c ycle times, enabling the production of more parts per hour. This means increased profitability and increased asset utilization for the shop.”

What is driving widespread manufacturer acceptance

Released in 2008, VoluMill has gained international acceptance within dozens of various manufacturing industries such as aerospace, automotive, medical equipment, heavy industrial, oil & gas, and consumer products. Manufacturers are improving machining performance from 50 to 300 percent without the need to make changes to existing equipment and infrastructure.

“The toolpath solution can easily blend into any machining environment, without having to change CAM systems,” explained Saisselin. It is integrated into seven of the world’s leading CAM systems, and consistently performs better than the native toolpaths.

“We use Siemens NX with the VoluMill plug-in,” said Chuck Shannon, with General Tool Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Tool life is dramatically increased due to the reduced load and heat on the cutter. We obtain higher metal removal rates than traditional cutter paths.”

The recognition that streamlining toolpath performance can significantly improve machine efficiency and production capacity has prompted a number of CAM software offerings following in the footsteps of VoluMill. None, however, have been able to keep pace with its market acceptance or its toolpath performance.

“The introduction and industry acceptance of VoluMill is nothing short of revolutionary,” said Saisselin. “It has completely changed the way metal is cut. It throws out everything that has been done in the past, and has introduced a better system of toolpath generation.”

Game-changer for manufacturers

Although toolpath generation is but a component within complicated CAM systems, it is a very critical one that plays a vital role in machining.

The benefits of an intelligently engineered toolpath technology in use within a manufacturing facility can have extensive implications. Increased machine capacity means a greater volume of finished parts can be produced in less time, which provides for greater flexibility to meet just-in-time delivery schedules.