How TRD kicked their CNC automation into high gear by cutting programming time.
CNC automation cells are a tried and tested way of improving your manufacturing efficiency by minimizing setup and down time. But as Mike Merrill, Manufacture Engineering Manager at Toyota Racing Development found out, integrating automation into your process can also expose issues you never even knew you had. We sat down with Mike to find out what he discovered.
In November 2017, Christmas came early for NASCAR Manufacturer Toyota Racing Development. Martin Truex Jr had just capped off a great season with his first ever Energy Cup Championship and Christopher Bell had taken the title in the Camping World Truck Series. Better yet, Toyota had won the overall manufacturer’s title in both series, proving that their success a year earlier was more than just a flash in the pan. It was a result of continuous analysis and problem solving from a team of driven people constantly improving their methods.
Race component manufacturing: where the only constant is change
Mike Merrill is one of those people. “I’m a process person, I’m a true believer in the Toyota methodology for defining a process and improving that process. Just because you win a manufacturers cup or a racing cup, doesn’t mean you’re going to win it the next year.” he says. As Manufacture Engineering Manager, he’s responsible for taking the latest ideas to come out of Design & Engineering and turning them into real parts, ASAP. “You know what happens on the race track can lead you on to a whole different path, whatever design engineering comes up with that week, and now [they ask] manufacturing Can you make this for us?“.
Having worked in aerospace, mold-making and tool & die for over 40 years, Mike had seen his fair share of machining challenges, but even that couldn’t prepare him for the demands of cutting complex parts while meeting not just tolerance and surface-finish requirements, but most importantly a race schedule. When he got to TRD in 2015, he could see the current manufacturing process just couldn’t keep up. So he went back to the drawing board and came up with a solution: automation. But as he explains, implementing that solution would teach him a valuable lesson: “Your process, you move into automation you’re going to find out if its a good process or not”.
An unexpected NC programming bottleneck
Overhauling your machining process to this degree is not an easy task, and the path to get their automation cell up and running was a tough one. But once the 8 Mikron 5-Axis Mills and their System 3R cell manager were operational, they were faced with a new, unexpected obstacle: “Each machine that was brought online equated to another large percentage of parts that had to be created and verified tool-set and run through the cell. The time it was taking us to program these jobs we soon learned that we had monster to feed that we couldn’t keep up with.”
“The time it was taking us to program these jobs we soon learned that we had monster to feed that we couldn’t keep up with.”
Thanks to their new equipment, they were indeed able to cut more parts in less time, but the reality of race component manufacturing meant their bottleneck hadn’t been broken but rather moved upstream. These high-complexity, low-tolerance parts required hours and days of NC programming to get right and what’s worse, these designs changed week-to-week. So back to the drawing board he went.
One part program, any machine.
“What was being done for the older mills, was that we were programming a part with multiple offsets in order to bring up the dimensional quality of the part.” he says. “In automation you can’t do that, because in automation any one of the eight machines can machine a job.” He knew that his hardware was world-class, so this time he turned to something different: faster programming through better software. That’s where ICAM came into play.
“What we told ICAM is we want to be able to program a part for the 450, re-post it for the 800 and in turn re-post that for the 1450. So we want the flexibility to go back and forth between machines with the same source program. On top of that we’re still using creo to do some of our programming, so the post needs to post-process creo data along with Powermill data.” That’s the level of manufacturing agility you need to reach to truly take advantage of automation and break through your NC programming bottleneck. And Adaptive Post-Processing gets you there.
Unlocking the full potential of the automation cell
TRD’s new engineering process is built around ICAM’s Adaptive Post-Processing. The all-in-one post, simulation and optimization solution automatically adapts positioning motions to any machine shape, size and kinematics. That, coupled with some other unique features allows shops to dramatically reduce programming time.
Here’s how Mike summed it all up: “Every job we program is programmed for automation, we’ve done the simulation, if there’s any issues, because we’re post-processing and simulating at the same time, you can play back and forth and you can see the point that is a potential issue and you can go back to your CAM, right to that section, correct and in less than 30 seconds, you’re back into ICAM and you see that you’ve corrected the issue. Along with the new CAM software and the reduced time we’re seeing post-processing and simulation, we’re programming much faster today than prior to ICAM. Probably the best gauge of that we are now keeping up with demand and asking other Toyota locations for work.”