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Precise Automated Part Alignment Software Increases AM Machining Output Seven Fold

SST Technology (SST), part of Polar Technology Group, who specialize in the design and manufacture of engineered precision fabrications and thermal management systems for high-tech industries, have seen part setup times reduced from 4 hours to 25 minutes and machining cycle time halved from 15 hours to 7.5 hours and now manufacturing up to 7 times more parts a week with the implementation of advanced manufacturing solutions from MSP to their additive manufacturing process.

The increase in part production and significant time savings occurred after SST were experiencing non-conformance issues during the manufacture of Inconel 625 Additive Manufactured (AM) components for exhaust systems. SST contacted MSP for their expertise with the aim to produce right-first-time parts and increase their productivity through an automated manufacturing solution.

MSP works to deliver high-accuracy automated machine-tool solutions to the manufacturing industry and have applied their precision measurement expertise to projects worldwide across various industries such as Aerospace, Formula 1 and Energy.

Before MSP’s products were introduced to SST’s process, a highly skilled operator would manually locate the part in the fixture to ensure the alignment was accurate before machining. This involved multiple steps and was extremely time-consuming to achieve the necessary accuracy. This, coupled with the human error caused by the manual elements, resulted in a vast amount of machine downtime and scrapped parts.

There was also no simple way to test or adjust the accuracy of their machines to ensure they were operating to a high standard, as it involved using complex machine kinematics and the use of advanced measuring tools before machining took place, increasing machine downtime even further.

Aidan Wigham with Brad Airey on the SST shop floor.

“Machine downtime was on average 5-6 hours a day before MSP. 100% of my time was being used to fix issues on this project and it required an incredible amount of time from other senior level people in the business to resolve other problems – it was all hands on deck,” explains Thomas Clanfield, Quality Manager at SST.

Because it was such a time-consuming task to create a quality part, SST were having to find a balance between speed and quality. Their choice was to either invest more time in the manual part setup, and risk the detrimental effect on productivity, or just run with a poor setup to keep up with production, but risk the high chance of scrapping a part.

To solve SST’s first challenge, MSP’s NC-PartLocator software was installed on SST’s machine to automate part setup by calculating precise alignments for each machining operation. This removed the need for manual alignment, originally performed by a highly skilled operator.

“Before MSP we were losing more parts than we were creating good parts and we couldn’t manufacture in one operation. We had to put the part on the machine, probe it, do rough cuts, measure it, put it back on the machine, re-cut it. With the introduction of MSP, not only can we remove all of these manual steps, but we can now check everything before cutting the part and resolve any problems that previously resulted in scrap parts.” said Brad Airey, Operations Manager at SST.

The second challenge was resolved using MSP’s NC-Checker software. NC-Checker ensures the machine tool’s geometric performance is accurate enough for the part to be machined correctly. It produces automatic ‘benchmark’ reports for users to understand the performance and accuracy of the machine tool, before any machining begins. This is very important when working with AM parts that have little stock material.

“NC-Checker gives us the confidence to trust that our machine will always make a good part. This enables us to focus solely on the machining of the part, without having to worry about issues related to the machine itself.  And this benefit is not just specific to this job, it also extends to all our future machining work and projects at SST,” added Brad. “The elimination of inaccurate part setup and any machine issues also means the amount of scrap parts has also greatly decreased.”

Automation has transformed SST’s machine and part setup into such a simple process, that operators with no experience of the project are, with minimal training, able to run the machine 24 hours a day, with every shift, and alongside multiple other machines.

“Integrating MSP into the final machining process of our additive manufactured components has transformed the reliability and consistency of this process. It has also given us confidence to embark on new projects with new, similarly challenging parts, safe in the knowledge the MSP will help us achieve our goals,” explains Thomas.

After experiencing the benefits of adding these techniques to their additive manufacturing process, SST are now in discussions to implement MSP into their composite machining processes – an industry that MSP products have also achieved much success.

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