Despite the recent economic uncertainty gripping our nation, lingering supply chain issues, and labor shortages, Advanced Precision Machining’s (APM) Colorado machine shop is well into the third quarter of what’s been a very successful year for us! Rebounding positively from the COVID-19 pandemic, our milling and machining facility in Longmont, and the industry as a whole, continues to experience growth in all aspects of the business. As the precision manufacturing and metalworking economy has emerged from a somewhat stagnant footing in previous years, we’ve continued with planned expansion and find that our machine tools are now working harder than ever. In fact, demand for our machine shop services has been increasing at a rate that occasionally outpaces our supply and capacity.
With all of this being said, our mission remains unchanged; We’re dedicated to manufacturing the highest quality precision parts while providing the best customer service experience in the CNC machine shop business! As everyone works to get through this period of economic uncertainty, our CNC machinists are making every effort to meet our customers’ needs for high-quality precision machined parts and deliver them accurately and on-time. Recent advances in milling and machining technology, including a vast array of digital tooling utilities, are now used to augment and boost machine tooling operations, and these are certain to play a big role in meeting the demands placed on us. Today’s modern metalworking facilities now have at their fingertips critical, cutting-edge software necessary to make their business successful, and APM will be relying on it more so now than ever. We are hopeful that our positive growth continues, and to that end, we want to help educate and familiarize by introducing readers to a sampling of the machine shop software components we rely on for our success.
If one were to take a peek inside any CNC machining facility, you will find a host of technologically advanced software programs being run to improve the productivity of the business itself, and most importantly, the CNC milling, turning, grinding, and measuring machines that are at the very heart of the precision machine work. In addition to the purchase order, scheduling, accounting, inventory, and payroll programs to name just a few, APM’s CNC machinists rely heavily on a natural progression of software suites dedicated to one-off or batch production of precision machine components. From initial blueprint and design, to prototyping, to final part production, the following utilities are standard protocol and used by almost every milling and machining operation. Here we present a brief overview:
Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Software
The CNC machining workflow process cannot begin without the implementation of CAD software; The heavily relied upon technology that allows for the rendering of a 2D or 3D model of a part to be precision manufactured. CAD allows CNC machinists and machine shop customers to digitally create, modify, analyze, and optimize the design of any component before milling and machining work takes place. The precision machining process itself can be facilitated as CAD allows for a part’s materials, tolerances, and dimensions to be analyzed. Diagrams and drawings, or even solid models and prototypes using 3D printing technology, can be viewed and modified prior to production.
Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) Software
Once a part is mocked-up with a CAD rendering, it now enters the toolpath and CNC machine programming phase. CAM software is utilized to organize the CNC machining process. In simple terms, CAM takes the geometric models produced by CAD software and generates a series of codes (G-Codes) that are fed into the control software on CNC mills and lathes, for example. CNC Machinists rely on CAM utilities to form machining strategies that enable workflow efficiency. Selection of stock, dimensions, tool designation, speed and feed settings, and streamlined tool paths can all be programmed into CNC machining centers. CAM works in conjunction with CAD to make the entire part machining process more reliable and more efficient.
Simulation and Verification Software
When G Code is converted in the CAD to CAM process, errors may present themselves in precision machining operations. This is not a good thing! Modern milling machines are complex, and programming errors can result in damage to expensive equipment, wasted bar stock, and loss of time, money and productivity. Simulation and verification software is used to better write, analyze, and improve functions before milling and machining begins. Code simulators and verification programs provide a good graphic replication of how a CNC machine will perform, and what will be produced.
CNC Machine Control, Monitoring, and Other Utility Software
Modern CNC machines consist in part of the machine tool assembly itself, and its computer numerical control system, with control software acting as the heart of the system. Most CNC machining centers, including APM’s Hurco’s VMX 50, rely on OEM software built into the machine that converts CAM programming into the motions of precision machining. Machine monitoring software, such as MTConnect, allows for the exchange of data between precision manufacturing tools and software packages tasked with monitoring the performance of the machine shop equipment. PC-based software also exists that allows for a desktop computer to act as a control unit, although this is more common among hobbyists. Utility packages work in conjunction with control software to monitor performance, output, and capabilities such as part feed and speed.
Shop Management Software
Machine shop management software, such as JoBOSS, is a quoting, tracking and price review software specifically tailored to a precision machining operation. Shop owners are constantly up against short lead times, scheduling conflicts, resource constraints, and many more obstacles to running a lean operation. The right shop management software solution goes a long way towards better handling one-off jobs, blanket orders, multi-level assemblies and split jobs, and helps to automate many outdated, manual processes. The end result is more predictability, shorter lead times, and better allocation of resources, milling machines, and personnel.
Would you like to learn more? Listed above is only a small, but most heavily utilized, sampling of some common machine shop software solutions. For more thorough information on the software you see described, if you have questions about what you don’t see listed, or you want to put our software power to use for your next precision machining project, contact the expert CNC machinists at APM’s Colorado machine shop today.
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About the Author
Gerry Dillon is a co-founder, current owner and certified CNC machinist at Advanced Precision Machining (APM), a full-service machine shop located in Longmont, Colorado. Before making his home in the United States in 2000, Gerry was born and raised in Ireland and took an interest in milling and machining from an early age, ranking #1 in the Irish National Apprenticeship Program. In 2005, he began what’s grown into a leading Colorado machine shop. Gerry brings over 30 years of machining experience to the shop floor, and is certified in all aspects of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing.