Delcam has launched a completely integrated solution for the design, machining and inspection of electrodes. The close integration has been made possible through a combination of developments in Delcam’s PowerSHAPE CAD software, PowerMILL CAM system and PowerINSPECT inspection software.
The production of electrodes is a key stage in the manufacture of many types of tooling so the availability of a faster, more automated method for their development will increase efficiency and reduce lead times across a number of industries. At the heart of the novel Delcam solution is a new file format – the .Trode file.
This contains all the information for each electrode project, including not only the electrode design but also the machining and inspection information, plus the set-up sheets for its manufacture and use. Having all the required information in a single file simplifies data management as well as increasing overall efficiency. The initial design stage of the process has been made both easier and faster thanks to the increased range of direct modelling tools available within PowerSHAPE. Users can now quickly and easily define the region where the electrode will be used, extract the shape needed to produce the required feature in the part, and then edit the design to provide clearance from the main surface of the tool and to blend it into the blank size needed to fix the electrode into its holder.
Analysis tools are available to check that the draft angles and minimum radii used in the design will not cause downstream problems, while the ability to simulate the action of the electrode ensures that it will operate as expected. To speed the design process further, catalogues of blanks and holders are included from Erowa, Hirschman and System 3R. Users can add their own standard sizes to these databases. Once the design has been finalised, the necessary spark gaps can be specified to provide the machining offsets required in PowerMILL to cut the roughing and finishing electrodes. Inspection points can also be added so that the measurement of the electrode in PowerINSPECT can be automated to a large extent.
Then, set-up sheets for the electrode’s manufacture and use can be produced automatically, either to a standard format or to a user-defined template. Companies that produce multiple electrodes of similar sizes from the same material can develop templates within PowerMILL to machine them in a standardised way. Burn, clearance and blank faces of the electrode are automatically colour-coded within PowerSHAPE so that they can be recognised within PowerMILL. The size of the material block and the spark gaps for the electrode family are also read from the .Trode file and applied to the toolpaths automatically. Once the templates have been created, generating the machining toolpaths becomes a fully-automated process.
Specifying the inspection points within PowerSHAPE means that the probe path in PowerINSPECT and the production of the inspection report can also be automated, including undertaking a best-fit analysis of the machined electrode. However, all of PowerINSPECT’s flexibility is available if extra measurements are needed from any areas of the part that are causing concern. The results of the inspection are added to the .Trode file for quality control records.
The automated generation of set-up sheets for both the machining and application of the electrodes ensures that all the data needed at each stage is readily available. A documentation pack, including the GA and detail sheets, can be issued as drawings, HTML files or Microsoft Excel spread sheets. All these options make communication easy between the various people involved in the design, manufacture and use of the electrodes.