One Five-Axis Process, 10 Elements of Automation

November 22, 2017 2:42 pm

The new five-axis machine at Phoenix Proto has a pallet pool with loading system, but there are many other less obvious elements of automation in this precision mold-machining process that are just as essential.

Article From: 11/1/2017 Modern Machine Shop, Derek Korn, Executive Editor

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Automation is apparent even to the untrained eye when observing Phoenix Proto’s new five-axis machine with six-station pallet pool and pallet-loading system (the same goes for one of its similarly equipped three-axis machines). That said, there are other, perhaps subtler, elements of automation that comprise the shop’s five-axis process. In fact, it’s these elements that enable the process to repeatedly achieve the tolerances and surface finishes required for the shop’s aluminum mold components while, with minimal if any human intervention, adjusting for the inherent variables that can adversely affect machining precision and throughput.

This point about throughput is important, because the Centreville, Michigan, shop’s goal is to provide assembled aluminum molds to customers within three weeks, so fast turnaround of quality, machined tooling components is imperative.

trunnion five-axis machine interior

Phoenix Proto uses its trunnion-style five-axis machine for effective milling of aluminum injection molds. Although some customers use these as prototype or temporary “bridge” tooling while they wait on steel molds, others use them for production. When hard-coated, some aluminum molds can attain 1 million shots depending on the plastic part geometry and resin. The shop aims to provide molds within three weeks.

machine shop floor

Both of the shop’s Roeders machines (three-axis on the left, five-axis on the right) include a pallet pool and loading system to enable long stretches of unattended machining.

a pallet carousel for the five-axis machine

The five-axis machine, in particular, has a number of other automation elements to enable it to run unattended with virtually no human intervention.

deep machined ribs

The capability to tilt parts enables the use of shorter, more rigid tools and the machining of deep ribs.

a plastic part with its machined mold

In some cases, deep ribs can be machined complete…

machined pockets and ribs

…which eliminates the need for subsequent sinker EDM operations to finish.

a touch probe

Touch-trigger probing is used to speed setups and perform automatic calibration routines. For the latter, the probe locates the true position of prisms ground into the trunnion arm casting and the casting that houses the C-axis motor and adjusts to compensate for any slight movement that occurred due to fluctuating ambient temperatures within the shop.

a spindle head with automated expansion compensation

Two forms of automation are shown in this image. The L-shaped arm positions a non-contact sensor near the surface of the spindle face to enable real-time compensation for spindle expansion or contraction. The coolant nozzles at top left automatically adjust to direct the coolant jet to the tip of a tool based on the known tool length.

shrink fit tooling apparatus

Shrink-fit tooling offers good runout and doesn’t require the cleaning that collets do.

a slim shrink-fit toolholder

Slim versions such as the one shown here improve tool access to deep workpiece features.

a camera suspended from the ceiling for monitoring the machines

Phoenix Proto has installed a camera that can pan to view both the three- and five-axis Roeders machines. This enables shop personnel to use their smartphones to remotely view the machines’ workzones or CNC screens to ensure there are no issues with the machines as they run unattended.

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Article From: 11/1/2017 Modern Machine Shop, Derek Korn, Executive Editor

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