Nov 29, 2011

Alphacam's Tagging Helps Monoplane-Maker Soar

Those magnificent men with their cutting machines played a significant role in getting other magnificient men their flying machine. A Cambridgeshire woodworking company has produced all the shaped wing struts for the re-creation of a famous early 20th Century monoplane.

A group of model-makers from Basildon came across the story of the Oakington Monoplane which was built in 1909 in an attempt to win a £1,000 prize offered by the Daily Mail for the first circular flight of at least one mile, by an all-British aeroplane. Alfred Grose and Neville Feary constructed the original monoplane in a barn in Oakington, Cambridgeshire. Although it never flew, the story captured the model-makers’ imagination, and they are currently building a full-size working model.

Ironically, the woodworking company chosen to manufacture the birch plywood wing struts was The Cutting Room, sited just 15 miles from Oakington as the crow flies.

Cutting Room partner Mark Durey explains that the market-leading CNC software Alphacam was instrumental in cutting out all the components “as sweet as a nut” on their twin-bed Anderson Duo CNC router which has two heads and eight-station auto tool changers. “We used the Anderson as it has the best vacuum for this type of work.

“While Alphacam was absolutely essential for creating the CNC codes for the toolpaths, a particularly important factor for this project was the software’s Support Tagging procedure. Tagging is a real game-changer for making small accurate components like these wing struts. Without it our job would have been much more difficult.”

He says once they had made sure all the geometric lines on the client’s CAD file were clean and interconnected properly, they decided whether they were going to cut inside or outside the line and then put in the toolpaths to a depth of minus-1mm. “Using the tagging function, we raised the cut for lengths of 15mm in specific areas to about 3mm. Putting a series of these in holds the components steady. I always liken it to how Airfix kit parts are held in place.

“Tagging these components saved us hours over the other more traditional options: making a purpose-built jig, pinning, or onion-skinning. Making jigs is time consuming, pinning tends to spoil the component, and with onion-skinning you’ve got to release each part with a craft knife. Using Alphacam’s tagging feature is much quicker and neater.

“Although we were creating a lot of small parts, using tagging effectively makes them one large part, which ensures absolute accuracy and increases the cutting speed.

“The more accurately we can work, the better. And that’s what Alphacam gives us. It means we’re working to perfection. In the office we work to perfection on the programming, then in ‘real life’ when it gets to the machine, it’s also perfect.”

Although The Cutting Room used their Anderson Duo, they could just as easily have transferred the job to their SCM Record 220 or SCM Routomat 3. The Anderson handles most of their contract work, with the Routomat 3 used mainly for kitchen doors – which is a large part of their business – and the Record mainly for 3D work and some overspill from the other two.

“Another distinct advantage of Alphacam, is that its programs can be transferred to any of our machines. We can produce a program for one machine and within a minute it can be transferred to another. We’ve got all our post processors which I can readily tweak. We’d be nowhere without Alphacam, we’re so embedded with it now.”