When prospective clients ask if we offer rapid prototyping, and we say "YES", it's automatically assumed that we have a stereolithography machine in the back (we do have three FDM machines and two Polyjet printers for demonstration models). For an appearance model, stereolithography can be a reasonable choice, but if you want a part machined out of actual engineering materials, we can do it at Omnica.
The Fadal vertical machining center is big enough to mill an engine block, and capable of 0.00010” point-to-point accuracy. That’s not a misprint: one ten thousandths of an inch, which is 1/30th the width of a human hair! The vertical mill holds 21 tools, can engrave the head of a pin, and can produce a satin-smooth machined finish.
Mark Mossberg, our CAD/CAM specialist (and a Mechanical Designer), is the person at Omnica who’s primarily responsible for those services, and he has been fulfilling that role here for almost 20 years. In his previous like Mark machine-sculpted prototype parts for ALPS Manufacturing in Garden Grove. He has the knowledge, quick answers, and self assurance of a person who has been around machine tools for a long time. Omniview has some questions for Mark regarding our vertical machining center.
OMNIview: Can you tell us why the Fadal Vertical Machining Center is particularly suited for rapid prototyping?
Mark: There are a couple of reasons. But before we get to that, just because you buy the tool doesn’t make you a machinist or a rapid prototyper. There are really three things necessary to make rapid prototyping with the Fadal work; the operator, the machine and the software. We have everything here you’d need to do rapid prototyping and short production runs. With SolidWorks™, or I can take an IGES file and read it directly into MasterCAM (the cutting program); it goes in perfectly. I put the part in position and write my tool paths. The real benefit of MasterCAM is that it’s 10 times faster than writing the machine program code by hand. The cutting program does all the cutter compensation and the math and geometry, but the program doesn’t make decisions for you. I still have to choose the right cutting tools and path, and figure out how to hold the part so there’s still a lot of art involved.
OMNIview: Can’t someone just hire a machine shop to do this kind of work?
Mark: No. The dividing line in this business is doing the 3D machining. Most machine shops won’t touch 3D work, they’re scared of it. Even if they have a machining center they don’t know how to do the organic shapes. They make machine parts. There are a lot of 3 and 4-axis machines around, but when it comes to doing something like the swoopy wrist support you’ve seen on ergonomic keyboards, it’s hard to find someone to do it. I’ve done a lot of mold machining, and I can tell you that it’s the mold shops that do the 3D work. Machine shops think it’s black magic.
OMNIview: What kind of jobs fit best with the prototyping and pre-production services we offer?
Mark: We can do the organic shapes, but another good fit is for the customer who wants a short production run of really accurate parts. I mean real accurate; where you can’t tell the difference between the first part and the last one. With this machine we can do complex, multiple tool, hands-off programming. It minimizes most operator errors. You don’t pick up the wrong tool, put it into the machine and drill a hole in the table. If you have multiple parts or mirror-image parts you’re going to get consistent accuracy. Also, if the customer wants a smooth finish that requires hardly any post-production handwork, I can run a pass with the 60,000 RPM air spindle.
OMNIview: 60,000 RPM! That’s almost as fast as a dental drill. So if you could figure how to clamp my head in there —
Mark: Oh heck yes. Just lay down on it.
OMNIview: —you could probably program a root canal or cavity removal?
Mark: I could, but I sure wouldn’t want to miss by much.
OMNIview: Mark. . . . I’ll pass for now.