A flick of a switch at his desk is all it takes for James Darby to post process Alphacam CNC codes to machines across a range of cutting technologies.
Darby’s Machine Tool Shop in the Republic of Ireland manufactures a variety of machine components used in specialised production lines, mostly for export. Their biggest customer produces process control equipment for the paper manufacturing industry worldwide; they also make parts for a heating products company; and at the end of 2010 began a new line of work for an American company making faceplate panels.
James Darby and his brother Tom, who are joint shareholders, have used the market-leading fully integrated CAD/CAM system, Alphacam, to drive their machines since 1998. And it now just takes the flick of a switch to direct the CNC codes to whichever machine and cutting technology is required for a particular job. The company, based at Dunleer in County Louth, has a Fanuc Robocut wire eroder, Burny flame profile cutter, two Haas machining centres, a Colchester lathe and a Bridgeport milling machine.
“It’s very important that Alphacam drives machines from a variety of manufacturers across the full range of cutting technologies. When we buy new machines from manufacturers we don’t use at the moment, we know that Alphacam will have a post processor that marries up to them and will run them in the same way that it runs our present machines, guaranteeing consistent machining,” says James Darby.
He says Alphacam has generated thousands of programs which can be recalled to any machine for repeat orders of the hundreds of different components they make at any one time. “We’re very versatile in the cutting technologies we use, and we rely on Alphacam to maintain that versatility. We just couldn’t operate competitively without it -- we’d be out of business.”
The brothers undertake almost all the programming for their seven employees to operate, and always use Alphacam, even when they only require a simple straight line to be cut. “It’s much easier and ensures an accurate cut every time. We’ve only ever programmed offline, whether it’s producing a completely new program or editing code in existing programs.”
In fact, James Darby says he would not know how to write a program directly at the machines’ own screens. “We started using Alphacam when we bought a wire eroder in 1998. Because Alphacam is so user-friendly and easy to understand, I quickly learned how to program offline, and realised that was the way forward for us as a business.”
While he says they now use Alphacam daily and it is second nature to them, there was a time when the idea of any form of computerised machining was a luxury beyond their imagining. “When I started out in the metal machining business, computers didn’t exist outside science fiction. Even up to around 15 years ago there was no computer on our premises.”
Now Alphacam puts computers at the heart of everything they do. He says it is integral to their whole process, from the design stage through to parts coming off the production line. “Whether it’s profile cutting 100-mm-thick black plate to within a couple of millimetres, through to wire cutting hardened tool steel to within a couple of microns, and everything in between including milling and turning, Alphacam is the perfect CAD/CAM system for us.”
The original design for parts comes in from customers as a paper drawing, a sample, or as dxf or dwg files. “The files can be imported straight into Alphacam, where the toolpath is then created and the CNC codes generated. We’ve built a comprehensive tool library for the machining centres and lathe, and depending on what tools are required, they can be put on the job very quickly so we can be up and running for machining in a matter of minutes.” When they receive a sample or paper drawing, James Darby produces the design in Alphacam’s CAD functionality.
Alphacam is used by both large and small production engineering companies in the manufacture of many types of components. Its ongoing development, with two new releases every year, ensures the software helps drive companies’ ever-changing requirements by enhancing productivity, reliability, and flexibility, to deliver maximum return on CAD/CAM investment.
Improving these attributes in any company helps increase profitability – and Darby’s Machine Tool Shop is a perfect example of that. “Without Alphacam I’d be lost,” concludes James Darby.