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United Machine & Metal Fab Innovates with Alibre’s Parametric 3D Modeler

"Neither of us had a problem purchasing Alibre Design once we saw what it could do for the price and how easily it could do it. And it allowed us to step up from 2D to 3D CAM."

Alibre Design Improves Accuracy and Reduces Scrap Rate

At some point in their lives, most people think of an idea for a new product. Every year, tens of thousands of people try to develop and market their ideas, but few inventions ever make it to the marketplace.

One of the most prolific inventors of all time, Thomas A. Edison said, “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are: hard work, stick-to-itiveness and common sense.”

Tony Johnson, the owner of United Machine & Metal Fab, Inc. (UMMF), had an idea for a new woodworking tool. He and his partner Kevin Misenheimer, owner of Misenheimer, Inc., “worked hard” to develop their invention and reduce the amount of rework at the manufacturing stage. They “stuck with it” and switched from designing their tool in a 2D program to creating a parametric 3D model in Alibre Design. Their “common sense” allowed them to bring the New Generation Insert System successfully to market.

As is true of Edison who said, “I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others;” UMMF and Misenheimer developed their invention with tool operators in mind. The patented cutter is designed to hold an insert in place with a safety notch without removing any parts that might fall into the machine while the woodworking operator is changing the insert. This invention keeps operators from dropping loose parts, causing down time while waiting for replacements.

The Need for Scrap Rate Reduction

After coming up with the idea for the cutter and its improved insert, a 50/50 partnership was formed in which Meisenheimer would do the design and marketing, and UMMF would do the machining. Their challenge was to find a way to develop their tools without as many costly errors and scrap.

Trial and Error with 2D

Since the companies were using Mastercam for machining, Misenheimer tried using its 2D CAD features to design cutters and customer-requested tools. They exported the files as .DXF, emailed them to UMMR who imported them into Mastercam and machined them. The engineers had to know the hole locations and manually entered their dimensions. Tony explained that by entering the x and y coordinates for each hole, human error was introduced that led to scrapped parts. They struggled with errors and had to throw out too many parts. Tony said, “It was very expensive to make mistakes, scrap the project and start over.”

After six months with no marked improvements, they knew they had to find a program that could improve their accuracy and scrap rate.

The Best Choice at the Right Price

The partners decided they needed a parametric 3D modeler whose files could be read by their machining program. Having the same design program would allow them to help each other learn it, and also enable them to directly exchange files without translation.

The companies considered buying SolidWorks. Since they just started working together, they didn’t want to buy expensive software without knowing how well it would work for them. Plus, SolidWorks had additional features they didn’t need.

UMMF had received a 30-day free trial of Alibre Design in the mail. They thought it was probably going to be a hassle, but they decided to check it out any way. They were pleasantly surprised that it was easy to install and use. In fact, Tony said that it was so easy that the machine shop learned how to use it in a couple of weeks.

After demonstrating Alibre Design to Misenheimer, Tony said, “Neither of us had a problem purchasing Alibre Design once we saw what it could do for the price and how easily it could do it. And it allowed us to step up from 2D to 3D CAM.”

The 3D Parametric Modeling Solution

As opposed to 2D Mastercam, Alibre Design gave the companies a perfect 3D representation of the parts they were designing. They could rotate the cutter on screen and see every detail of the full design. Instead of having to interpret 2D drawings for manufacturing, these 3D models created in Alibre Design were imported directly into their manufacturing system. Some of the features that allowed UMMF and Misenheimer to improve accuracy and scrap rate include:

  • Interoperability – Tony said, “When we import Alibre Design STEP files into Mastercam, the loads are clean and look really good.” Reading Alibre 3D files directly into Mastercam has saved the two companies immeasurably in time and in frustration due to design file rework.
  • Re-Usable Files – Customers sometimes crash cutters or break parts on a nail when working with wood. UMMF simply loads the saved Alibre Design file into Mastercam again, and customers receive their replacements quickly, thus saving them time and money.
  • Support – The world-class Alibre support team solves customer problems every day. They always call the design team back fast, and are eager to answer their questions.

Less Work, Error, Scrap and Cost

With Mastercam, engineers were needed to work on each of their niche parts. Now that Alibre Design is used for all phases of turning, wire EDM and drilling and tapping, the engineering time is minimized. Tony said, “The real work is done during the design stage, and then we make the machines. Now, Alibre Design does the leg work for us.”

Alibre Design saves UMMF up to 50% or more on the time it takes to make these cutters. It takes experience to know how deep or far over to drill a hole. With the wrong dimensions manually entered, they had to call customers, and then make changes. Tony said, “Now, we don’t have to stop and ask customers questions because it is all right there in the solid model.”

Without Alibre Design, mistakes were made on hole locations that caused parts to be scrapped. It is expensive to scrap parts once they’ve been made. Tony said, “Alibre Design takes all the 2D calculator work away and eliminates the human error side of designing.” He added, “As we grow and our engineering grows, we’ll use Alibre Design more and more.”

Edison said that the value in an idea lies in the using of it – he would be pleased to know that UMMF has put its idea to good use.

About United Machine & Metal Fab, Inc.

United Machine & Metal Fab, Inc., (UMMF) a North Carolina company that makes woodworking tools, and Misenheimer, Inc., a Tennessee tool distributor and insert grinder, formed a 50/50 partnership to develop, patent and market tools for the woodworking industry.