A modern Formula 1 car consists of up to 80,000 components, all of which have been machined at some point during their manufacture. That’s before counting the number of re-designed or replaced parts, or prototypes and spares that never actually make it onto the car. Hundreds of thousands of individual components come together to create the racecars of today and producing this quantity of parts, along with their rapid development cycles, is only made possible by machines.
Machine technology is not only becoming more accurate and reliable, but the results more repeatable. Unfortunately, to achieve that, machines are removing the human element from the process because we are not accurate enough any more. Human error is one of the biggest challenges facing the machining industry today, which is why companies are shifting towards automation.
However, automating these complex machining processes whilst maintaining accuracy is an extreme engineering challenge.
‘Everyone in the machining industry at the moment is talking about IOT (Internet of Things), there is a real push for more integration, automation and software-based solutions,’ explains Mark Terryperry, applications engineer at US-based company, Haas CNC. ‘Our next generation of controllers are built with better networking capabilities, which makes them easier to integrate with robots so that the machines can run lights out. Also, we can access the machines from our desktop, so as I’m talking to you now I’m looking at the status of my machines on my laptop. These are innovations that just weren’t possible a few years ago.’
A part is first born in the virtual world of CAD (Computer Aided Design) software as a solid model. Once created, CAM (Computer Aided Manufacture) is used to translate the dimensional information of this solid model into a language the machine can understand. This code automatically defines the required tool paths, when to change the tool, as well as the sequence of machining processes required to manufacture the part. The software then controls the machine to carry out the processes via CNC (Computer Numerical Control).
Before, during and after manufacture, CMM (Coordinate Measuring Machine) plays an important role. This is where various types of measurement systems, usually in the form of probes, are constantly measuring the dimensions of features as they are being machined to ensure they are within tolerance. If not, this information is fed back to the machine, which can then account for any errors by automatically adjusting offsets.
‘We have pioneered a software package called 4C, which combines all four of these types of control,’ explains Anthony Usher, VP sales and marketing at Rottler. ‘The result is a CNC machine that you can design things in, whilst eliminating the complex coding process because it’s all done semi-automatically.
‘Quite often, engine builders are scared of CNC machines because they’re worried they will not understand the code, and will have to spend months learning how to program the machine. Therefore, to help them improve their accuracy and reliability, we have had to revolutionise the software to get CNC into their hands.
‘I often equate it to the iPhone. In the past, you would have had to write complex code to get your ’phone to go onto the internet, or take a picture. When the iPhone came out, it had icons and apps that did the hard work in the background for you, so anyone could make a call. We have done the same with our machines. The operator can just tap a few icons and the software writes all the complex code in the background, without you even realising it.’
By automating the coding process, operators no longer have to spend days learning how to write code. All they need to know is the design they want and a quick guide how to tell that to the 4C software, and they can begin machining.
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