Located in Silverstone, no more than a short walk from the world famous race circuit, Alitech Precision is a subcontract design, concept delivery and manufacturing company that specialises in the motorsport industry. When the subcontract manufacturer purchased its first 5-axis CNC machining centre, the only feasible option for driving the machine was CAM software from OPEN MIND Technologies.
Alitech Precision opened its doors for business just three years ago with a HAAS VF2SS machining centre and a 3-axis CAM package. As the business evolved, it has acquired another two HAAS machines, a larger bed VF4SS with a 4th axis rotary table and more recently a HAAS DM2 high-speed machining centre. Whilst the 3-axis CAM package served the company well, it had limitations with 4th axis machining. These limitations were fully realised when the company installed a fully simultaneous 5-axis Spinner U-620 vertical machining centre.
The fledgling business needed to upgrade its CAM software and after reviewing the numerous packages, the only feasible choice was hyperMILL from OPEN MIND Technologies. Specialising in the design of motorsport solutions and taking concepts through design to manufacture in the shortest possible time, the company works with everything from high-performance road cars to F1 teams in the local vicinity of the ‘motorsport valley’.
Commenting upon how the business operates, Alitech Precision Managing Director, Mr Darren Cudd says: “We tend to be the company that customers call when they have left their designs a little bit late for manufacture. We step in and make sure the parts and vehicles are ready to go, whether it’s for the roads, the test track, the race circuit or the F1 teams. Service and response times are critical to our business and that is why we invest in high-end technology like hyperMILL from OPEN MIND.”
Discussing the reasoning behind selecting hyperMILL, Mr Cudd continues: “From the word go, we knew we’d be doing a lot of simultaneous 5-axis machining as opposed to fixed 5-axis cutting. We narrowed down our selection to three possible suppliers. What shone out above all else was hyperMILL’s full 5-axis capabilities, it was certainly better than the other two packages. Additionally, the standard ‘out of the box’ package from OPEN MIND was far more comprehensive than alternative systems. We found that standard features in hyperMILL were chargeable and expensive bolt-ons with other suppliers.”
Prior to the arrival of the U-620 Spinner machine and hyperMILL, the company was already intent on acquiring a high-end CAM solution. As Mr Cudd recalls: “Our previous 3-axis CAM solution worked reasonably well with our existing HAAS machining centres but it was the complicated jobs that demanded a change.”
“We were machining a complicated engine block and with the time invested in programming the job, we wanted to be sure the program was correct before the job went on the machine table. With our previous CAM solution, the simulation and collision detection was not really at the level we needed.”
Taking the engine block from design through to machined component, Mr Cudd says: “This engine block was designed in house, so there was over 100 hours of design hours and another 100+ hours of programming with our previous CAM system. Putting so much time into an engine block and not being confident in the anti-collision credentials justifies buying hyperMILL. Calculation times are massively reduced and in the case of this engine block; hyperMILL has reduced programming by at least 50%. Collision checking is a critical factor. Now, we can put the full CAD model on the machine and if hyperMILL says the model is good, we know we can machine with complete confidence.”
Referring to collision detection and avoidance features, Mr Cudd says: “We recently machined a billet turbo manifold for a motorsport customer. It required two 40mm diameter oval shaped port holes with a curved machining depth beyond 200mm. We used an 8mm diameter ITC lollipop cutter protruding 70mm out of a slim 80mm heat-shrink toolholder extension with a 75mm long back-end configuration. hyperMILL modelled the complete work envelope and detected the collision parameters for the cutting tool, toolholder and machine spindle. By precisely simulating the process, we are running at high-speed and the heat shrink holder is often as close as 0.25mm to the port walls during HSM.”
This feature works in complete harmony with the hyperMILL Z-Level Finishing Cycle that enables Alitech to lean the cutting tools at angles that are very close to the wall of the port holes. This permits Alitech to run short-length cutting tools in port bores. The benefit of this is improved stability, rigidity and surface finishes that permit machining at higher speed and feed parameters.
“As a company, we are in the minority that conducts simultaneous 5-axis machining as opposed to fixed 5-axis machining on a daily basis. This is how we set-up our business and during the infancy stage with Spinner, hyperMILL and the concept of continuous 5-axis cutting, we certainly made plenty of use of OPEN MIND’s technical support department. The help and support we have received is excellent.”
Before hyperMILL, Alitech was turning away challenging projects as the subcontractor wasn’t capable of delivering parts to the complexity, speed and lead-times required. This has now changed. “One customer required a billet inlet manifold for a drag racing car in just two weeks. In this timeframe we used a Romer arm to capture the engine co-ordinates, drop it into our CAD system and then reverse engineer a complete solution. The re-engineered manifold required 6 parts to be designed, manufactured and delivered in 2 weeks. Without hyperMILL this would have been impossible.”
hyperMILL has reduced programming and cycle times, improved surface finishes, lead-times and more importantly given the Northamptonshire business the confidence to take-on the most complex components.
Aside from the collision system, the speed and efficiency of programming has been enhanced by a number of other hyperMILL features. “For us, the Port Machining Cycles are a major benefit. We design and manufacture a lot of inlet manifolds, valve seats and inlet port heads. hyperMILL helps us to effectively machine down and around corners on internal pockets and this is a key reason we opted for hyperMILL. It is so easy to use that we can just ‘grab a port boundary, give it a curve and away it goes’. It’s as close to ‘click and go’ as you can get.”
Another aspect of hyperMILL that has certainly improved throughput is the Stock Model feature. “The Stock Model tool allows us to simulate what stock is remaining on the component at any point in the process. This is really useful on challenging parts that require 2nd ops. If we have to re-orientate and re-fixture a job, hyperMILL will show us exactly what stock remains on the job and what has been removed, so we’re not left guessing. It allows us to eliminate fresh air cutting and likewise, it prevents us from hitting a job too fast or hard with the tools or having a collision. The Stock Model ensures our second-op cutting tools are machining the remaining stock at the correct parameters and position rather than tentatively stepping through the cycle until we reach the remaining stock material. This is creating huge savings in set-ups, programming and machining times on very complex jobs that may need multiple set-ups,” concludes Mr Cudd.