Cost reduction, the improvement of quality and the trimming of lead times are vital in every sector of manufacturing industry – even if your products happen to be luxury motor yachts with a price tag of several million pounds! For internationally renowned Sunseeker, the drive for continuous improvement includes ongoing investment in Alphacam and Cabinet Vision manufacturing software and latest generation CNC machining equipment to streamline the production of wood panel components used throughout its product range.
“Apart from the GRP hulls, most of our boats’ construction is based on woodworking operations – from 25 mm thick plywood bulkheads through to MDF-based cabin and galley furniture,” says CNC specialist Bill Taylor. “Fitting out and assembly used to be done manually by a skilled team of craftsmen, who could easily take a week to mark out, profile and rebate a set of bulkheads for one of our larger yachts. But using Alphacam and Cabinet Vision software, one operator can now complete a full set of bulkheads within a single shift.
Sunseeker’s first investment in CNC machining dates back to 1998 with the acquisition of a Bulleri CNC driller/router equipped with Alphacam software.
“It completely changed our way of working,” says Taylor. “Previously, the craftsman would use a template to mark out the required panels and jig-saw them by hand. The new system opened the way for us to design virtually everything in AutoCAD, then transfer the geometry directly into Alphacam for offline programming.”
Citing the example of a typical set of 10 or 12 bulkheads, Taylor explains that each may be assembled from four or five separate profiled panels using tongue and groove joints. Not only are the CNC machined components much more accurate than even the best hand made equivalents, but the use of CAD/CAM technology gives an average saving of around 30 minutes on each part.
“That adds up to huge time and cost savings,” Taylor continues. “What’s more, the flexibility of the software means that geometry changes or amendments to the rebate pattern – say, to improve bulkhead strength – can be easily incorporated, with an updated machining program produced at the touch of a button.”
Today, CAD/CAM technology is applied throughout Sunseeker’s manufacturing operations. According to Taylor, the company’s four seats of Alphacam are primarily devoted to the programming of structural components such as bulkheads or ceiling head linings. In operation, the required component data is transferred from the company’s AutoCAD system in DXF format. Alternatively, digitized point information – typically from first-off samples or prototypes – can also be imported directly into the system for subsequent manipulation and processing.
As part of the company’s drive for standardization and consistency, components are normally programmed using pre-defined machining ‘styles’, which enable operational sequences, tooling, cutting speeds and feeds to be applied consistently on similar parts. Likewise, kits of panels are normally nested on screen to ensure maximum material utilization and optimum cycle times.
Sunseeker also takes advantage of the software’s ability to generate a full on-screen simulation in order to verify programs before they are released to production.
“While Alphacam is ideal for groups of individual components, Cabinet Vision is at its best advantage on assemblies such as galley fittings, stowage units or bunks. Using its powerful parametric modeling capabilities, complete cabin interiors can be designed and visualized, with families of assembled units being fully defined and programmed simply by selecting the required product from the library and specifying the relevant external dimensions. All internal components such as drawers, shelves and associated fittings are calculated automatically, with the appropriate machining program for the complete assembly – ready nested on the sheet – generated at the touch of a button.
“Again, it represents a major time saving for us, while also ensuring the production of correctly sized components that fit together right first time,” says Taylor. “Each software application has its own particular strengths. It is a bonus that they are both from the same source and are totally compatible.”
An illustration of this integration is Alphacam’s ability to import logos or motifs in a variety of file formats and produce subroutines that can subsequently be incorporated within larger machining programs in Cabinet Vision. This not only opens the way for parametrically-designed cabin fittings to be tailored to the available space, but also easily personalized to a customer’s particular requirements.
A further feature is Alphacam’s ability to manipulate imported digitized information, which Sunseeker has put to good use in compiling libraries of component data from existing templates, as well as capturing design intent from one-off models or prototypes.
Alphacam’s versatility also extends to its compatibility with a Blackman & White fabric cutter used to produce on-board upholstery and furnishings. Here, the digitized data is imported into Alphacam, where the system’s geometry tools are employed to tidy up the patterns before outputting cutting programs in the required post-processed format. In parallel, the Alphacam and Cabinet Vision software interfaces with the company’s management and information systems to enable assembly or reference drawings to be made available to shop floor operators on a ‘view and print out’ basis.
Advanced manufacturing methods
The increasing use of advanced manufacturing methods at Sunseeker not only reflects strong business growth during the past few years; it also underlines the company’s clear commitment to continuous improvement.
“We look to streamline our operations wherever possible,” says Taylor. “For example, most bulkheads were originally produced by bonding two sheets of 12 mm ply together. Machining times were significantly shorter than with the current 25 mm thick panels, but this is more than made up for at the assembly stage – along with significant additional cost savings on the adhesive we use.”
With four programmers and around 3000 live machining programs on the system at any time, Alphacam and Cabinet Vision tick all the right boxes for Sunseeker.
“We now produce kits of bulkhead panels 70% quicker than before, with greater consistency, accuracy and repeatability than we could ever achieve using manual methods,” notes Taylor.
The software also provides less obvious benefits. For example, if a panel is damaged during assembly, relevant part data can be retrieved instantly and a replacement produced – eliminating the risk of delays at the fitting out stage. Furthermore, by simplifying Sunseeker’s manufacturing methods, CAD/CAM technology has reduced the company’s dependence on skilled woodworking labor, which is proving to be in increasingly short supply in the Poole area.
“We place a great deal of emphasis on developing our in-house skills and, in this respect, we have been impressed by the training and support we’ve received from Alphacam,” confirms Taylor.
During the past eight years, Sunseeker has added a two further Bulleri machines to its original CNC machining installation, with the most recent unit running solely on Cabinet Vision work. Taylor believes that another new machine could be added within the next two years as business levels continue to grow. However, what is more certain is that Alphacam and Cabinet Vision will remain at the heart of Sunseeker’s woodworking operations for a long time to come.
Filed Under: 3D CAD, CAM software, Software