Better Machining Through Computing

Hurco's Data Processing and Controls Background Helps It Achieve Five-Sided Machining Innovations

By Jim Montague

Just as computers followed the Industrial Revolution, most machine builders started with manual controls and added computerized controls later. But, Hurco Companies in Indianapolis took the reverse path — from computers and controls back to machines. This gives it a unique perspective and advantage in developing the integrated controls that run its CNC machining centers and turning centers.

Hurco CNC machine tools are used by job shops that typically have a high-mix of parts they must manufacture in small to medium lots sizes. However, as job shops strive to increase productivity to fulfill users' requirements for smaller lot sizes to support just-in-time initiatives, they're employing five-sided processes to increase productivity. Instead of using three-axis machining centers, they're using five-axis machining centers and adopting a five-sided machining process, also known as 3+2, which minimizes the time it takes to set up a job. Hurco's longstanding computer know-how, Conversational Programming and software eases this transition from three-axis to five-sided machining.

Computing and Conversation
Hurco was founded in 1968 by Gerald Roch and the late Edward Humston, who understood the connection between people and computers very early on, and believed that, "Computer technology should help people be more efficient — not get in their way. Technology should minimize tedious and redundant tasks, and simplify work, so machinists can be more productive."

"There are multiple advantages to Conversational Programming for job shop owners, who often say if their CNC machine isn't making chips (cutting metal), then they're not making money. Our technology, especially Conversational Programming that's resident in our control, eliminates a lot of the stuff that gets in the way of making chips," says Phil Fassnacht, Hurco's marketing director. "This gives the machinist and the shop owner a lot of control because it's versatile. They can use Conversational Programming and enter the dimensions from the part print, or use standard NC from a CAD/CAM file, or import a .dxf file directly to the control."

Five-Sided Efficiency
In the past few years, Hurco has built a lot more five-axis machining centers as users move from traditional three-axis machines. Fassnacht adds, "Three-axis machines can work in 3-D on one side of a part, but the machinist has to take out the part, flip it over, and reposition it for each side. This adds time and makes it challenging to hold tight tolerances. By using a five-axis machine, shops can take advantage of 3+2 positioning for five-sided operations, which eliminates the need for multiple fixtures, enables better tolerances, and saves time. Where Hurco really shines is the software in our control that makes programming easy for five-sided machining."

Mike Cope, Hurco's technical product specialist and applications engineer, adds that the transition to five-sided programming can be intimidating. "You're used to thinking in three planes and then you have to rethink the entire process because you have more axes," says Cope. "Our five-axis control has a feature called Transform Plane that makes this transition easy. It basically changes programming on a five-axis mill back to 2.5-D programming that you'd do on a three-axis mill, so you don't need to worry about the tilting or rotating. As a result, small shops realize they can use five-axis machining to do a lot less manual manipulation, setup and fixturing, which adds to their bottom lines."

For example, a part requiring seven operations and five hours to set up on a three-axis machine might only need two operations and 1.5 hours to set up on a five axis machine, and save several minutes on each cycle, which means greater efficiency and profit. "Individual cycle-time reductions with five-axis machining are about 10-20% on average," Cope adds. "And, by prioritizing tool changes, some cycles that used to be 19 minutes can be reduced to about three minutes."

Combine and Anticipate
Beyond five-sided machining, Hurco also launched its patented UltiMotion motion-planning software in 2011. UltiMotion optimizes trajectory and feed rate to run machine tools by combining millions of algorithms that figure out the most efficient paths. This reduces cycle time, but it also improves surface finish quality because machine jerk is reduced by 50%.

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"UltiMotion software talks to each functional area independently, which means it needs less hardware, but it can still run faster and smoother, and reduce cycle times by 30% or more, depending on how complex a part is," Cope says. "UltiMotion also eliminates fixed look-ahead. While most machine control software only looks 400-600 software blocks ahead, UltiMotion's Dynamic Variable Look Ahead feature can look 10,000 blocks ahead, which means better navigation around parts and improved positioning. For example, cornering velocity is up to 25% faster with UltiMotion."