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AIM, an aerospace subcontractor, has invested in a series of five-axis CNC machining centres and CAD/CAM software from Open Mind Technologies.

The Clevedon-based company made the investment to support its move from large production runs to intricate batch manufacture.

Rob Kendall, managing director of AIM, said: ‘In the 1980s and 1990s, the company was predominantly machining large production runs; however, this type of work is less common within today’s UK aerospace industry.

‘Evolving to meet the demands of the industry, we have a diverse range of machines with four CNC turning centres and 28 CNC machining centres with a bed size up to 6.5m.

‘We continually invest in new technology to bring flexibility to our business; this now includes four five-axis machining centres,’ he added.

The company is now able produce anything from 6m parachute rails to small complex components that require five-axis machining.

AIM now provides conducting for research-and-development projects, repair schemes and the updating of commercial and military aircraft with particular emphasis on airframe structures.

The company has delivered projects for Airbus, GKN, the Ministry of Defence, GE Aviation and a number of additional customers involving component production for helicopters, the A380 aircraft and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

To meet the demands of the aerospace sector to manufacture intricate components with rapid turnaround times, AIM acquired three Mikron five-axis machines and one Hedelius five-axis machine and then loaded the machines with high-specification tooling from Iscar to meet the capabilities of the high-speed machines.

Despite this investment, there was still a bottleneck with part programming, so the company contacted Open Mind.

Kendall continued: ‘We knew that our CAD/CAM package wasn’t well suited to five-axis applications and it couldn’t meet the performance of our machines, so we looked for an alternative.

‘We conducted trials with a number of vendors and Open Mind’s Hypermill ticked all the boxes.

‘We then invited Open Mind’s technical engineer, Ken Baldwin, to program one of our parts at our facility.

‘Ken programmed the specified part in just more than two hours, even with three of our programmers continually interrupting to ask questions.

‘Using the previous system, our programmers were taking almost 10 hours to program the same component,’ he said.

In July 2009, AIM acquired two seats of Open Mind’s Hypermill system.

Kendall said: ‘Our five programmers’ confidence in Hypermill and our five-axis capability is growing and we are moving more parts from our three-axis machines to five-axis daily.

‘Our production times are up to 50 per cent faster on our five-axis machines and, while setups and the elimination of second operations is a major contributor, it is Hypermill that has enabled us to move parts across with confidence,’ he added.

The previous CAM supplier had difficulty providing post processors for the company’s diverse range of machine tools, which immediately caused issues.

Open Mind, however, supplied post processors for all machines.

In addition, if any five-axis part programs were broken into during production, the CAM system had anomalies where it would not pick up exactly where it stopped.

This caused positional issues and, inevitably, scrap.

AIM manufactures components from expensive aerospace-grade aluminium, titanium, steels and carbon composites.

This cost is highlighted when some parts require more than 10 hours of machining with some three-ton billets being machined to a finished weight of 315kg.

As a result, staff were reluctant about machining five-axis parts with the previous CAM system.

Kendall continued: ‘We now produce three to four times more part variations than 10 years ago.

‘This means more setups and smaller batches of typically five to 30 parts, which causes issues when most parts are complex and demand multiple machine setups.

‘Our previous CAM system was holding our machine shop back and we didn’t have the confidence to fully utilise our five-axis machines.

‘Since the introduction of Hypermill, we are continually loading the five-axis machines with more jobs to reduce secondary operations and improve cycle times.

‘To demonstrate our cycle time benefits, we have taken one job from a three-axis machine and moved it to a five-axis centre and this has taken setups from seven to two and cycle times from 3.5 to 1.5 hours.

‘Another cycle time has fallen from eight hours to five, with another job falling from 3.5 to 2.25 hours.

‘We run one shift, with lights-out machining gradually increasing.

‘Hypermill has enabled us to improve cycle times by upwards of 50 per cent, reduced programming times and improved confidence, surface finishes and product quality.

‘It has also drastically cut finishing operations such as deburring,’ he added.

Open Mind Technologies

OPEN MIND Technologies AG is a leading developer of CAD/CAM software and postprocessors for designing and manufacturing complex moulds and parts. OPEN MIND offers an extensive range of products, from 2D feature-oriented solutions for milling standard parts through to software for 5axis simultaneous machining. With their hyperMILL software, which is used in the automotive, tool and mould manufacturing, mechanical engineering and aerospace industries, OPEN MIND Technologies AG is represented in all the important markets in Asia, Europe and North America.  

OPEN MIND’s solutions feature a user-friendly interface and the largest range of 2D, 3D and 5axis modules available to users. In addition, the company delivers a fully integrated product concept encompassing CAD solutions, plug-ins, interfaces and postprocessors that cover the entire manufacturing process from design to manufacture. We take our innovative ideas, long-time CAD experience and milling expertise and create technologically sound CAM strategies. OPEN MIND has made a name for itself internationally as a pioneer in innovative 5axis technologies. What makes OPEN MIND and its products special is the unique blend of computing and production expertise, experience and vision, and international character and individual service. This combination of qualities results in a constant stream of new ideas that help companies optimise their production processes.  

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