Allen Devoll

1. What steps can be taken to successfully implement automation?

The first step is to create a comprehensive implementation strategy that is well planned for success. There are many considerations that, when properly addressed, can result in a superior running automation solution. Next, you’ll want to start with a robust and stable machining process to realize the full potential of your system. An unstable process can cause unpredictable tool life, quality issues, and system interruptions that require excessive monitoring and affect performance. Fixing these issues by making significant future process changes can be challenging, especially in the medical industry.

2. When developing a robust 5-axis process, what are critical points to evaluate?

Part features, access vectors, and fixture considerations are the most critical evaluation points. Understanding their effects on tool reach, appropriate machining methods, part load repeatability, and potential for multiple parts-up will result in a robust 5-axis process. Understanding these factors during initial process development – and continually evaluating throughout process development and execution – is essential for establishing a good foundation.

3. Which tool path strategies should be considered when developing a process for 5-axis?

Incorporating highly efficient tool path strategies that provide superior tool life and maximize material removal while balancing programming time will provide the best results. Tool pathing methods such as dynamic style milling, radial roughing, and high-speed machining offer significant efficiency and tool life benefits, especially when paired with 5-axis capability. This capability also allows for highly efficient approaches such as finishing with circle segment/barrel tools to reduce finishing times, near net-shape roughing to eliminate re-machining, and using tool paths with collision avoidance functions to simplify programming.

4. Are there specific control technologies that should be used in a 5-axis automation cell?

Technologies such as tool breakage detection, built-in tool life monitoring, and spare tool selection are critical for a succesful 5-axis automation system. These features are simple to use and implement and allow for continuous operation when a tool expires or fails. A machine should incorporate technologies to track a part throughout the work envelope regardless of its location. Technologies such as Tilted Work Plane (TWP) and Tool Center Point Control (TCP) facilitate this and enable simple part pickup and simplify 5-axis programming.

5. When implementing 5-axis automation, what should a company look for in a partner?

A true partner should support all aspects of the system from acquisition to implementation. They should actively work with you prior to system arrival to create a 5-axis automation plan. After system arrival, they should offer on-site support such as training and assistance implementing specific technologies in the system. Additional training should be offered that supports process development and operation such as high-speed machining, macro programing, and machine maintenance. Finally, engineering assistance should be available to consult on the overall process and implementation for a successful 5-axis automation system.