An Alphacam post processor written on a floppy disk in 1998 has extended the life of what a retail display company says is its most versatile CNC machine.
While Dublin-based BOL Design constantly invest in technology and CNC machining, they still use an ageing Brema for 3D engraving. Technical director Brian O’Loughlin (pictured left) says the Brema takes an XYZ component, allowing Alphacam to work out the non-cutting ‘Ramp in’ and ‘Ramp out’ moves when activating and cancelling cutter radius compensation, ensuring the correct relationship between the tool and workpiece.
“This makes our oldest machine the most versatile. And Alphacam has saved us the cost of replacing it, by considerably extending its useful working life through keeping the programming current, ensuring its usability levels are on a par with modern machines. Without Alphacam’s ability to program it, the Brema would have been out of commission long ago because it is far too cumbersome to program manually.”
When Brian O’Loughlin brought Alphacam into the company their only CNC machines were two Bremas driven by CNC 90 programming software. “This wasn’t quite G-code based, but was very tedious and long-winded, because to do anything remotely curved we had to include angles and equations. Alphacam’s area manager Michael Pettit wrote a post processor which made programming them very simple. It completely revolutionised our programming -- and I’ve not come across another product that can do everything Alphacam does. We still use that same post processor on our Brema today.”
Describing themselves as a design company that manufactures, rather than a manufacturing company that does some designing, they predominantly produce retail display equipment – usually point of sale units – for a number of well known brands including Nestlé; Cadbury; Roberts Coffee; Cuisine de France; and the popular Irish mobile phone and broadband network, Meteor.
Although they expanded their range of machines to currently include an Anderson Stratus and Homag Venture Weeke, it was only two years ago that they started using Alphacam to drive them. “Apart from the Brema, we used the standard software that came with the CNC machines. Then we streamlined the operation and Alphacam became a much bigger part of our process, driving all three machines.” Around 90% of throughput on the CNC machines now driven by Alphacam is Medium Density Fibre Board, along with hard wood, chipboard, solid surface laminate and foam PVC board.
“The main reason we extended our use of Alphacam to cover all three CNC machines was to enable us to run a job on any machine after it’s been programmed once. Previously, if we wanted to move a job from the Weeke to the Anderson, we had to go back to the CAD stage, get the dxf files and reprogram, which was time consuming and repeating something we’d already done, but there was no way round it. Now, once the program’s been produced it can be post processed to any machine, so Alphacam aids versatility and our response time in delivering to the client.”
As the company designs 98% of what they build, they are very strong on the design aspects. “Our customers don’t give us designs to follow,” says Brian O’Loughlin. “They say ‘this is our brand, this is our palette, here’s the product, here’s the stock loading we want, here’s the budget, and this is the amount of space we’re likely to have for the unit in the shop’.” His designers use Rhino CAD to carry out 3D modelling and shaping, then output files either as native Rhino ext.3DM or dxf, which are readily imported into Alphacam for generating the machine code and finalising cutters, directions and other machining operations.
The output is then post processed to whichever machine is required. “We can allocate production depending on which machines are free, or which machines are most suitable for a particular job. The Anderson has a very strong backing bed and is particularly good at nesting, so if we have a job requiring many multiples of parts for nesting which are small and difficult to hold with suction caps they’ll go to the Anderson. General machining, particularly with edge boring, will go on the Weeke.
“And we use the Brema for donkey work, and for unusual machining operations. The Brema’s versatility means that for proving work from a design point of view, we’ll try out new techniques on it before integrating it onto the other machines.
“Alphacam gives us freedom to control what we do on any machine, ensuring the finished product is exactly how we want it. Other software that we’ve used doesn’t give us the options to do what we need. Using Alphacam means we can produce units from any machine that look exactly like our designs. And that is absolutely invaluable to us.”