This is a continuation of a time-travel from the past towards the present and future.
I was anxious, I felt that I was part of the future, I have never done anything like this before but felt confident that the years of study and training have prepared me for this day and it was exciting to be at the leading edge of technology.
This was the first team project I worked on. There were six of us in this team of engineers and technicians and our job was to ‘program’ this 12-axis Swiss-turn machine so that it can cut a small component of a fire hose nozzle. We had an order for 300 thousand units in the first batch.
The year was 1979, the machine had 12 axes . . . 12 cam-plates which moved 12 components of the machine through individual lever systems. These axes where moving the bar-feed system, consisting of the main and bar-feed collets, the machines upper and lower turrets, with their individual tool-station rotary units, various live tooling and a part catcher assembly.
My job was to design the cam-plates which controlled the bar-feeding subsystem. The individual operations were simple enough, but they had to be synchronized with all the other cams so that the whole unit moved efficiently and gracefully as it cut the parts.
There was no CAM system around yet, especially behind the Iron Curtain so it took our team 3 to 4 days to design all the plates. There was no CAD system either so we designed them on a manual drafting board. The plates had to be turned, marked by a center punch along drawings, machined on manual machines, hand filed, heat treated, polished and assembled to the machines cam-shaft.
Now the machine was ready for the first-run, which was done by driving the machine very slowly, manually through all the motions without a part . . . we called it dry run because there was no material or coolant at this point. Most of the time minor adjustments needed to be made before ramping-up to full speed. The actual material was only added once it was clear that there are no collisions and that everything was moving without a glitch. Many parts were cut in this stage, until the process was ready for mass-production.
I always felt a great sense of accomplishment once the machine was running and it was producing good parts.
The company had about 35 of these machines and ‘programming’ them provided a full time job for a team of ‘programmers’ and a full compliment of a toolmakers because each project took about one to three weeks to ramp-up to production.
Programming those same parts using today’s modern Cam systems for modern CNC machines takes only hours even minutes in comparison but the same challenges still exist because the demand for speed and precession has matched the advancements in technology, tooling and machine tool capability.
This has been true throughout the history of manufacturing, that is why this is the leading edge of technology, a place of continuous innovation and limitless possibilities.