The aim is to reduce throughput times in tool making by >50% through automation and lean manufacture and thereby address: (a) inefficiency of machine utilisation in European tool making (currently ~27 hours/week) week; (b) slower product generation in Europe than in the Far East due to lower added-value per employee; (c) poor and unskilled image of tool making which is resulting in serious staff shortages. The project seeks to address these objectives in an RTD workprogramme by: (1) Reducing programming time for pre-milling moulds on high-speed milling (HSM) machines by 90%; (2) Reducing programming time to generate electrode geometry and NC programmes for producing electrodes by ~95%; (3) Integrating HSM machines for electrode generation and electro-discharge machines (EDMs) for mould production, thereby increasing machine tool efficiency from 16% to 50%.
The FASTOOL project will be undertaken by 4 RTD teams from 4 premier European centres of excellence in manufacturing technology, on behalf of 4 IAGs, representing networks of national mould-toolmakers. The project is structured with five major R&D activities as workpackages (WPs) running in parallel, and synchronised in time. WP1 addresses freeformed products to be manufactured by High Speed Milling (HSM) or Electro Discharge Machining (EDM), with the automated production of reliable, high quality NC programmes for manufacture of the mould cavity and the electrodes. WP2 investigates the HSM and EDM processes, to construct a database filled with relevant process information. This database will supply the input for automated manufacture of moulding cavities and electrodes. WP3 develops a routing system for process automation tailored for an integrated FASTOOL facility, comprising a HSM machine, an EDM and a robot, operating in tandem. In WP4, the necessary hardware "add-on" elements, namely the handling and palletisation system, to effect the integration, will be developed. The combined results of WP1 and WP2, as well as WP3 and WP4 will be applied in the operation of the integrated FASTOOL facility in WP5, demonstrating the ability to retro-fit a combination of machine tools. WP6 concerns the dissemination and exploitation strategy, involving workshops, demonstrations, exhibitions, oral and written presentations, internet platform, to ensure that the results of the project are effectively communicated to SMEs of the Core Group and more widely in Europe, for their benefit. A strong management structure, comprising steering and project technical committees will oversee the project, monitor progress and measure the achievements in relation to the quantified objectives; its activities constitute WP7.
Milestones: M1 - The major specifications for the tool path software, for the database for HSM and EDM automation, for the integrated facility (hardware and software elements), completed. M2 - Conceptual designs for each of these has been made and crosschecked. M3 - Detailed designs for these are available. M4 - Procedures for the tool path software, the database for HSM and EDM automation, and for the integrated facility are ready for implementing. M5 - Completion of the project at month 36 with the optimised tool routing software available to core SMEs and a demonstration automated manufacturing facility available for 'hands-on' trials. A structured strategy will be in place for IAGs to disseminate and exploit these technological fallouts for the benefit of the European toolmakers and other manufacturers.