Five-axis machining, a staple of hard-goods manufacturing for the past two decades, has finally come to the practice of mold making.
Five-axis machining adds two types of motion, pivoting and swinging, to the conventional X,Y, and Z-axes, so a manufacturer can machine any surface—regardless of complexity. In the past, because of the five-axis machines’ high costs, it was not common place in the mold shop. Now, with the reduced cost of the machines and the faster processors available in their control system, if is a viable option for the mold maker.
Typically, mold makers succeed by removing the most material in the shortest possible time, so the focus is on making larger cutting tools do as much work as possible—thanks to ultra-sophisticated toolpath algorithms—before going to the smaller, finishing tools. Five-axis enables mold maker to machine into area’s not possible with three-axis, reducing the time and cost of electrode making and spark-erosion.
But the trend toward smaller and more stylish products, from blow-molded plastic soda bottles to cell phones and auto headlight clusters, is pushing five-axis into mold making. If your business is mold making, you’ll be glad that the enhancements to the newest version of Pro/TOOLMAKER include the valuable five-axis functions.
A key benefit of five-axis machining is its ability to tilt the cutter in ways that let you either gain access, or machine with peripheral spindle speed at the cutter contact point, enabling better surface finish.
The new Pro/TOOLMAKER can now convert existing three-axis tool paths, made with a ball cutter, into five-axis tool paths, adding optimized linking for five-axis, as well as new controls, like Tilt Away, Tilt Through Point, and Tilt Through Curve, for setting the cutter profile. And, with the addition of support for NURBS surfaces, Pro/TOOLMAKER can offer extended five-axis surface-machining strategies for the plastic mold industry.
NURBS, non-uniform rational B-spline, is the standard mathematical model for representing curves and surfaces, and it’s the growing popularity of curves and complex surfaces in plastic and other molded products that can slow down three-axis milling machines.
Pro/TOOLMAKER 9.0 gives you tools for speeding up surface-cutting, as well as for dealing with the ever-deeper cavities and smaller spaces that often go with more complex shapes and surfaces.
Swarf cutting – This is often used for cutting the walls of the core with the side of the cutter. Pro/TOOLMAKER lets you tilt the cutter so it cuts the material from its side, rather than its tip, and follows the contour of the wall.
Morph cutting – You can automate the machining of selected surfaces by controlling the cutting limits with control curves or surfaces.
Parallel cutting – This lets you specify the axis, and the approach angle for the cutter used.
Being able to tilt the tool and cut from the side pays dividends that go beyond increased speed.
“With these side-cutting techniques, a tool can generate a much better surface finish by machining with a contact point on the surfaces, away from the tip,” says PTC product manager Rob Hawkins. “Beyond that, side-cutting creates a more polished surface. That’s important for a product like a headlight cluster, where the cluster will have a highly reflective surface.”
Additional Pro/TOOLMAKER functions. In addition to the five-axis functions, Pro/TOOLMAKER 9.0 features several other major enhancements. For one, the software now runs as a native 64-bit application. That, plus improved memory management and other refinements, may give some companies toolpath calculation speed improvements of as much as 20 percent.
The new Pro/TOOLMAKER also includes a number of specific functions that speed toolpath cutting by reducing cutter changes and minimizing the time the cutter spends in the air, going from one toolpath to another. These include improvements in linking and link ordering. The new Pro/TOOLMAKER has additional roughing strategies, Zigzag and Raster roughing capabilities, and enhancements to advanced feed rate control.
Simpler controls. Most important, says Hawkins, is that Pro/TOOLMAKER 9.0 will put five-axis machining into the hands of people who’ve never used it before, and the experience will be a good one.
“Everyone talks about ease of use,” he says. “But in this case, yes, anyone who is used to Pro/TOOLMAKER will be able to move into five-axis very easily, and get going right away.”
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