CAD unlocks spiral manufacturing

Nov. 8, 2007
Design firm Kairos Autonomi in Sandy, Utah, uses CAD/CAM software to speed up development of retrofit kits for making autonomous military vehicles.

To satisfy the U.S. government’s time frame, the firm practices what it calls “spiral manufacturing,” an approach that avoids discrete research, engineering, and manufacturing steps. The company says the method gets it 80% of the way to workable designs in 20% of the time. Software from Delcam USA in Salt Lake City, Utah, provides the direct link between engineer and milling machine.

“The software helps us go from concept to part in only 20 minutes,” says Kairos Autonomi President Troy Takach. “For example, we use it to make solid models of actuators, two-piece aluminum collars that fit around the steering wheel and the gears or sprocket that turns them. The software determines how the machine axes move and selects tools to make the part. The program’s parametric capabilities let us quickly generate variations for different vehicles.”

The firm also machines hyperbolic mirrors used to see around a vehicle. “Though their size would have most shops using a turning machine, the software, along with innovative fixturing, lets us make near-perfect shapes cutting aluminum parts on a milling machine,” says Takach. “The mill has a 12 x 16-in. work envelope and an inversion tool in the software lets it machine even larger parts. We cut half the part, flip it, then machine the other half.”

Another plus: the software converts imported 3D CAD models to CNC parts. “It recognizes holes, slots, pockets, bosses, grooves, and other features from surface and solid models,” says Takach. “We need only type-in a few dimensions to generate additional linear, radial, rectangular, and point-list patterns of mechanical features.”

Takach says drop-down menus and dialogue box help eliminate guesswork in customizing NC code — changes are immediately visible on the screen. “And it’s just as easy to customize tool libraries, manufacturing parameters, and feed and speed tables. We save preferred machining attributes and re-use them in similar parts,” he says.

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