By Hari Sridharan
Creating and using EDM (electro discharge manufacturing) electrodes is considered a painful challenge by most moldmakers because it is time consuming, slows down mold production and requires precision. Given the option, most toolmakers would rather mill the steel and avoid electrodes altogether.
Nevertheless, electrodes still are required for a good portion of moldmaking jobs, with some molds requiring many electrodes. Parts with narrow ribs and sharp internal corners are good examples for such cases. As a result, moldmakers constantly are searching for processes and technologies to ease the pain of creating electrodes. Dedicated electrode design and manufacturing software is one such solution. The following are some strategies a moldmaker can use to make the most out of using electrode design and manufacturing software.
Get an early start
In traditional moldmaking practices, electrode design typically is the last step in the mold design process. Using concurrent engineering, electrode design can be performed in parallel to the splitting of core and cavity. Multiple users can work concurrently on the same project, thereby expediting the mold design process.
With the many steps involved in the electrode design process, even the most experienced users can benefit from some help and guidance, and novice users can get up to speed more quickly if taken through the process step-by-step.
A software wizard can do just that, assisting a user in the many steps involved: selecting the electrode area; extracting the electrode surfaces; developing extension surfaces; selecting a blank, base and holder; creating a boundary; determining burn locations; and creating inspection drawings.
Wouldn’t it be nice if software also could help users avoid some of the tedious and time-consuming details involved in the electrode design? This is exactly what some of the advanced electrode software packages can do. Automation not only helps a toolmaker get the electrode done quicker, but also ensures greater levels of accuracy and consistency, and with fewer errors.
For example, the software should be able to find a base and automatically extend the electrode to interface with the holder. Automatic extraction of the electrode surfaces is another function that can greatly benefit users. The software also should dynamically position and rotate blanks to determine burn areas and then automatically fit each blank to the selected burn area.
To save time and resources in creating accurate documentation, the electrode software should automate the tedious task of drafting and documenting the electrode process.
Although each mold and electrode could be different, a great deal of repetition can be avoided by saving common tasks and processes as templates for future use. For example, the process described above for extending the surfaces can be saved as a template – with different templates for different electrode contours. Templates also can be used to generate assembly, inspection and burning location drawings.
Use a single solution for design and manufacturing
Using a single software solution throughout the electrode design and manufacturing process – electrode creation and drawing, customizable electrode reports, seamless integration to NC and automatic programming for an EDM – can go a long way to smooth the process and eliminate unnecessary steps and data transfers while reducing the probability of errors and repeat work.
Integrated design and manufacturing electrode software should automate the electrode production process while providing complete control over all machining and burning parameters. To maintain flexibility, the system should allow the definition of both general and machine-specific parameters, electrodes and burning locations.
To ensure the information is communicated accurately to the shop floor, the software should provide setup sheets, including detailed instructions as required by the machine operators. The best solutions will provide direct interface of the setup data to the EDM, avoiding operator errors and greatly speeding the setup process. Support for high-speed milling is a must for most tool shops these days. To ensure a streamlined production process, the software should automatically generate the most efficient toolpaths, using continuously updated knowledge of actual remaining stock.
Get user buy-in
No matter what level of functionality the software offers, it has little value unless properly used. Some users may be reluctant to use automatic functions and templates, fearing they might lose control over the process and its results. Tool shop executives can address such user concerns on three levels:
- Technology. The software must allow users to do things their way, even if there is a better and quicker way for accomplishing the task. Users always must have the ability to override system defaults, modify templates and manually execute specific tasks.
- Training. Too often, a software package is thrown at the users without proper training. Always pressed for time, users may feel that self-training is an acceptable shortcut. This, however, typically ends up causing users to spend valuable time trying to figure things out on their own, lengthening the learning curve beyond what is necessary. Moreover, lacking proper training, users may never use the full potential of the software, sacrificing long-term productivity for short-lived budget and time savings.
- Support. Without proper support, users may end up struggling with software issues instead of getting their jobs done. To avoid such productivity loss, tool shop managers need to consider the vendor’s support capability when evaluating an electrode software package.
The bottom line
With the proper processes, people and technology in place, what used to be a painful task can become much more efficient, manageable and better integrated into the entire tool design and creation process.
Cimatron is part of 3D systems, a leading provider of 3D printing-centric design-to-manufacturing solutions, including 3D printers, print materials and cloud-sourced, on demand custom parts for professionals and consumers alike in material that include plastics, metals, ceramics and edibles. CimatronE and GibbsCAM are two major CAD/CAM software for manufacturing product lines. They cater to all manufacturing sectors, offering specialized solutions for mold and diemakers, as well as solutions for 2.5 to 5-axis production milling, turning and MTM. For more information, visit www.cimatron.com.