what is your personal history/experience in CNC and manufacturing:
I have worked in sheet metal manufacturing for about 16 years. 5 of those years were as a machine operator of cnc punch and laser equipment, with some manual machines for good measure. From there, I forayed into the CAD/CAM programming of those machines, along with cnc water jets, as well. I have been in sales and management for about 8 years, now. Through the course of selling our services to OEM’s and other contract manufacturers, I have seen most methods of manufacturing products available. The latest process I witnessed was the rotational molding of plastics.
What is it like running a small business in the manufacturing sector:
I really enjoy manufacturing. Being a manufacturer is not what I aspired to be when I was a boy, but my dad tricked me into working for him (not really!) and it turned out to be in my blood. Now, I just naturally begin dissecting things when I look at them.
In today’s economy, however, manufacturing is in a downturn. Unless you are heavily associated with certain markets, such as the military or infrastructure, you are experiencing some heartburn, right now.
how do you feel the current economy and world affairs will effect manufacturing in america?
The economy is not very good for manufacturing as a whole. There are certain fields or markets that still have requirements, such as the Department of Defense (DOD), Medical Supplies, and Infrastructure, to name a few. What usually happens is that the companies that were not as efficient as they should have been will go away, and those companies that survive will be stronger and have a period of growth. I guess that’s the free market at work, but it is certainly not painless, even for those that survive. We have had to lay off some workers and it is hard for those on either side of the lay off.
what is some advice you have for people getting started in your field
It depends on what level you are starting. If you have never been in manufacturing before, a good vocational school is a good place to start. A person could get exposure to various areas of the field; such as manual machinist, cnc machinist, sheet metal mechanic, plant operations, manufacturing engineering, process engineering, etc.
If that is not an option, I would interview at a manufacturing facility that offered a documented training program while working. Documentation is important because it provides the structure for goals and objectives concerning both education and pay. There are companies that are willing to train the right people. Those companies will need to have evidence of your reliability, such as a good list of references. They will want to know that there investment in training will have a return. Some will even require contracts with reimbursement clauses.
what are some tips you have for cad programming
As every program system is different, I will address methodology. As a job shop, one of our challenges is that we have to keep track of customer names, part numbers, and revision levels. To over come this, be sure to use a good filing system, if your system does not use a database for its shape files and coded files. Use a good naming convention for your files, as well. If you use certain operating software on the machines, it may relegate you to a very simple and limiting naming system (such as 4 numbers, like Fanuc.) Keeping your files orderly will facilitate your ECO’s (Engineering Change Orders) or whatever documented process you have for handling part revisions when they happen (not if.)
I have taught several people how to program machines that they have never operated. Although this is not the ideal situation, it is most easily overcome by having the programmer shadow the operator as much as possible and when faced with new setups, always ask the operator how she or he would like to receive the file and ask their help in developing the program. An operator can kill a perfectly good program, if they are not on board with the approach.
If your CAD software offers the use of construction lines, use them. Plotting holes or part features by coordinates can be tedious, even for the most focused and methodical programmer. Construction lines help catch mistakes during the part building process and avoid reprogramming or even scrap.
What are some tips you have for gcode programming
I have only performed a little of this style of programming. Though I can read the code and write simple programs, my expertise is in CAD/CAM. I will say that ALL operators should be able to read their machine’s code. Being able to analyze a program “Matrix style”, or through reading the code on the screen, is essential for proper program vetting and operation.
What do people come to you for and why?
Our specialty is welded fabrications. We have focused on the CNC cutting for many years (laser, waterjet, and punching), but in Oklahoma, there is a lot of manufacturing. Where we used to be unique in our cutting solutions, there is now a laser on every corner. To compete, we have to do more than just cut the parts. We have to add value with such processes as forming, welding, installing hardware, paint or powder coating and packaging.
Do you have any experience with DIY projects,
I assume this is Do It Yourself? I don’t really have any experience with this.
what cad-cam software do you recommend and use and why
Our CAD/CAM systems include: SolidWorks, MetalSoft, SmartCAM, Trumpf’s ToPs 100, Mazak’s FG CAM and Smart System. We use SolidWorks for our 5-axis laser and checking any parts that we design, including fixtures for cutting, welding, or assembly. The other software is for our flat cutting machines. Although we use 3rd party software in some cases, I always recommend using the software that is either made specifically for the machine or recommended by the machine OEM. In the case of Trumpf’s ToPs laser software, we have seen a measurable increase in productivity due to ease of use and compatibility. Not only is it easier to use for our programmers, it is able to maximize all of the features of the machine. Prior to the acquisition of ToPs, our machine operators would start reworking the program, as soon as they got it. Even though the dimensional aspects of the program would be good, there were significant nuances to the cutting methods required to most efficiently cut a part.
what is the most challenging part you have made
Our very first 3D project for our 5-axis laser was the hardest part we have ever done. Called a spar, the part is an extruded tube shape that required slots and cut outs down the side, all at differing angles. It required several thousand dollars for a fixture just to orient and restrain the piece. In hind-sight, cutting our teeth on this project was not the best idea, but everything else was down hill from there!
Vice President of
Midwest Precision, Inc.