Radan, the powerful CAD/CAM software for sheet metal applications, is lighting the way for an engineering subcontractor to carry out small bends as part of the cutting process on their punch press. V & F Sheetmetal Co. Ltd. manufacture millions of components every year – a number of which involve small bends that can be handled with multi-bend tooling installed on a Trumpf 3000R and programmed with Radan.
They make full use of that facility when manufacturing a fan deck component for air curtains. “It saves time, not having to send them to the press brake,” says Director Ray Frith – son of the company’s founders – “and is a perfect example of how we keep at the forefront of technology.”
Named after his parents Vic and Frances Frith, V & F began by manufacturing light fittings for just one customer in the 1980s, eventually moving the production process into that client’s factory before expanding to cover a wide range of industries. They still supply a number of lighting companies today from their 13,000 square foot premises in Hampshire, along with customers in the HVAC, audio and electronics industries, amongst others.
The wide range of components includes covers, brackets and gear trays for heating and air conditioning companies; chassis and front panels for electronics; and front and back amplifier panels, along with internal bracketry for speakers. They also laser cut a complex pumping component for a brewery, which is installed in pub cellars as part of a more efficient way of changing beer barrels.
The smallest parts they manufacture are just a few millimetres, such as earth clips and tiny support brackets for their electronics customers, while some of the largest include light fittings that can be around two metres long. The shop floor is now capable of producing even larger fabrications, as the bed on their Trumpf 3030 3kw fibre laser is three metres by 1.5-metres, and the latest addition to the plant list – a Safan e-Brake press brake – can fold components up to three metres in length.
With Radan, from Vero Software, driving two punch presses and the laser, he says the software is at the heart of all their programming. And as well as being the only CAD/CAM system they use, it also plays a vital part in providing accurate information for quotations.
“Some components are obviously suited to one type of cutting technology...for example, if there are a large number of holes we may want to use a cluster tool on a punch press, while we would need the laser for a complex shape or thick material. But where either cutting technology is appropriate I always program the part for both the laser and punch while drawing up the estimate. Radan shows the material usage, how long the job will take, and what gas will be required for the laser, and if we’ve got the right tooling, so I can quickly see which will be the most competitive.
“It means Radan supports us right from the start, when we first get an enquiry about a job, right through to the component coming off the punch press or laser.”
As a subcontractor they are called upon to cut a wide range of metals, including the usual mild and stainless steels and aluminium; along with brass and copper on the laser. “This is possible because the laser is fibre, and companies with CO2 probably couldn’t cut those two metals. Radan fully supports the operation, not only creating the cutting paths and feeds and speeds, but selecting the gas, too.”
The CAD/CAM process usually begins when the customer’s 3D model is imported into Radan. “First of all we check the scale is accurate and we’re happy that the part can be manufactured. We can generate 3D models of complex fabrications and full working assemblies to eliminate design errors before we start to cut metal.”
It also plays a major role in guaranteeing the correct fit of components by ensuring inserts will be in line with screw holes, pop rivets will fit through the holes in fixing plates, covers will have sufficient clearance over boxes, and front panels align with electronic chassis on rack-mounted equipment.
Ray Frith makes full use of features specific for each type of cutting technology. For example, Radan’s automatic sheet nesting enables V & F to quickly try different nesting options on the punch machines, to evaluate the best material utilisation. “We can experiment with the position and alignment of components within the sheets, which can be a very powerful tool, when manufacturing a series of parts for a family of parts. We may be able to punch small parts from within the windows of other parts, between the punch press clamps, or in the dead area between larger parts.”
And what he calls a “particularly smart” feature gives them full control of the cutting operation at the laser itself, without having to make changes at the CAD/CAM station in the office. “With Radan’s Sub Parts Programming the shop floor operator can make certain amendments himself without the need to ask the programmer to stop what he’s doing to create a mini-program.” As an example, he says on an order for 20 components they programmed 18 on a sheet, and rather than run two sheets, totalling 36 parts, the laser operator used the Radan feature to simply add two to an offcut piece of material himself.
Concluding, Ray Frith says with material costs becoming an increasingly higher percentage of the overall component cost, Radan helps keep it to a minimum, meaning V & F, which employs around 20 people, can remain highly competitive.