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Established in 1939, Brown & Holmes (Tamworth) Ltd. has an enviable reputation for quality paired with a commitment to environmental sustainability — a combination that has won significant levels of new business over the years. The company has been using Autodesk design tools such as Inventor since 2013 to design components, fixtures, and assemblies. Over the last two years, however, the increasing demands on the team resulted in a realization that its existing practices, workflow, and CAM system needed a significant overhaul. An upturn in orders led the company to upgrade its licenses to include subscriptions to the Autodesk Product Design and Manufacturing Collection (PDMC), a collection of Autodesk products including Inventor and Fusion 360.
Ashley Fielding was the first at the company to introduce Fusion 360 to the team when he was tasked with applying manual data input on a CNC machine to produce a lot of plate work for fixtures. A CNC controller with limited capacity compounded the laborious process and resulted in extended programming and production times and an increased risk of data inputting errors.
Unlocking 5-axis with the Fusion 360 Machining Extension
Having used Fusion 360 in a previous role, Fielding suggested using the Fusion 360 Machining Extension to augment and replace manual data input. Simultaneously, the company had installed a new DMG MORI 5-axis machining center. The cycles and macros of the existing CAM software proved to be inefficient and, in some cases, incapable of manufacturing the parts that Brown & Holmes needed to produce. This made CAM programming a bottleneck that left the new machine idle for extended periods while waiting for NC code to generate.
The Brown & Holmes management team contacted Autodesk and tasked our team with creating suitable post-processors for the DMG MORI 5-axis machining center. Brown & Holmes set up Fusion 360 on a laptop at the side of the DMG MORI machine, which drastically improved spindle uptime. Equally significant is that training the shop floor machinist to program the parts with Fusion 360 eliminated the bottleneck of multiple machines waiting for office-based programmers to create NC code for the shop floor. The machinists could finally create their own programs.
“Over 12 months ago, we were lucky enough to win a big order that was on a very tight timescale,” Paul Bourne, Operations Manager at Brown & Holmes, recalls. “The CAD/CAM and offline programming used to be done by our team leaders. With this new order, we are more empowered to undertake the management tasks and filter down the offline programming to the guys on the shop floor. We started with Fusion 360, firstly because it was already included in our Inventor software from Autodesk on the design side of the business. That gave us a natural opportunity to try something new, and it proved to be a very worthwhile success. We now have six seats of Fusion 360 running with the Machining Extension throughout the machines on the shop floor.”
“If I put a job on the table and program it with the Siemens Shopmill CNC control on the machine, it is more than a day of programming for me,” Neil Flint, CNC Operator at Brown & Holmes, adds. “With Fusion 360, it’s a lot faster and probably takes me a quarter of the time, if not less. When parts are more complex and require offline CAM programming, we relied on the team leads doing the work. This meant a lot of guys were waiting for the programmers to help them and support them to get the work through the shop floor. Working with Fusion 360, we don’t have to go to an offline programmer anymore — I can do it all myself on the machine with the software I have.”
CNC Operator Steve Sisam seconds that statement: “Since using Fusion 360, our spindle uptime has increased massively. We are no longer waiting for programs to be done offline with several machines in a queue. Sometimes, we could have machines sitting there waiting for a program. Now, I can do it myself. The spindle is machining quicker, and the parts are coming off the machine faster, and we get left to our own devices. So, a part comes in, and I receive a block of material. From there, I will program the part from start to finish with Fusion 360 and take the part through to inspection. I am no longer relying on other people — I can get on and do the job myself, which speeds up the throughput for the business.”
Implementing a change of direction
Of course, everything didn’t simply “change overnight” after the subcontract manufacturer purchased six seats of Fusion 360. In May 2021, with a shop floor machinist having the facility to program at the machine, the offline programming bottleneck began to ease, and spindle uptime significantly improved. At this time, Brown & Holmes won a significant order that would have added to the programming bottleneck. Instead, the company recognized the benefits that one machinist had with the Fusion 360 and DMG MORI 5-axis machine combination and subsequently invested in more Fusion 360 seats with the Machining Extension.
The Fusion 360 Machining Extension unlocks additional strategies and capabilities on top of the base level of Fusion 360, including simultaneous 5-axis machining, toolpath trimming, surface inspection with spindle-mounted probes, and automated part alignment. Brown & Holmes trained several operators on Fusion 360 and the Machining Extension, and it has since been rolled out across the shop floor.
With a highly diverse workload and batch sizes, plus machine tools from a multitude of vendors, such as Doosan, Mazak, DMG MORI, Colchester, XYZ, Bridgeport, Brown & Holmes, needed an all-encompassing CAM solution that could meet its diverse demands while providing reliable post-processers for its extensive machine park.
Adding more Fusion 360 seats gave CAM capabilities to the shop floor, but the introduction of the Machining Extension really stepped things up on the factory floor. The Machining Extension provides automatic hole recognition and drilling to speed up the drilling of recognized holes in 3D CAD models. The Brown & Holmes team used this feature to replace manual data input for the programming and machining of plate work.
Regarding milling operations, the Fusion 360 Machining Extension provides intelligent strategies, like Steep & Shallow, to automate the programming of complex parts and a complete range of innovative multi-axis toolpaths to safely streamline 4- and 5-axis machining. To provide full programmer and operator confidence when streamlining both programming and machining cycles, the Machining Extension also provides comprehensive multi-axis collision avoidance that incorporates the tooling, work holding, fixturing, and tool holding.
The Machining Extension also enables the Brown & Holmes shop floor programmers to modify toolpaths and even incorporate inspection features such as surface inspection, geometry probing, and component alignment. One key feature that Fusion 360 and the Machining Extension have provided to Brown & Holmes is uniformity.
“With some of the higher-end cutters that we use, the speeds and feeds have to be to a very specific range. The tooling library in Fusion 360 has given us the ability to standardize across the shop floor, and it gives us a back library of the tools that we have used on particular jobs and materials,” Fielding adds. “This means we can tell the guys on the shop floor what tools work and what tools to use on particular jobs and material types so that they will have no problems at all. This also enables us to increase the speeds and feeds across the shop floor, which is significantly improving our throughput by reducing our cycle times.”
Bourne concludes: “Since having Autodesk Fusion 360 on-site, we have doubled our turnover! Our NCR (non-conformance reporting) has been reduced by 34%, and the costs incurred by those NCRs have also been reduced by a similar level. Additionally, it is creating more pride in the work that we are doing. Upskilling the guys on the shop floor has given them more impetus and more motivation to further themselves and their contribution to the business. In hindsight, I wish we had bought Autodesk Fusion 360 sooner.”
Ready to see how the Fusion 360 Machining Extension can transform your team’s workflow?