Hydro Review: Using CAM Software to Streamline Hydro Turbine Manufacturing

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Altered Energy – Alternative Energy news

By Helene Horent

The need to evaluate and improve their manufacturing processes is one that continuously drives companies across a spectrum of industries. A few years ago, BRAKO concluded that its computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) system was unable to handle the company’s growing number of machine tools and expanding production portfolio. The growing complexity of its products ruled out manual programming as a solution. BRAKO embarked upon a search for a better CAM system, and found it with ESPRIT.

Background

BRAKO — founded in 1947 in Veles, Macedonia — produces parts and components for use in small hydropower plants (as well as in medical devices, antenna towers and other equipment). Its components range from simple shafts and bushings to hydro turbine housings and covers. The company also makes wire products, including nails, mesh and welding wire. However, most of its work requires three-axis milling. The company primarily uses mild steel but also some stainless steel and aluminum.  

Due to the small size of the Macedonian market — the country has just over 2 million inhabitants — the overwhelming majority (96%) of BRAKO’s products are exported. Its customers include Austrian turbine producer Global Hydro Energy and Macedonia’s electric company, EVN.

BRAKO currently runs three CNC milling machines and three CNC turning machines. The company also owns a boring machine with a working area of 6 m by 4 m by 1.5 m and a rotating B-axis table that can also make linear movements in the direction of the Z-axis. Rounding out BRAKO’s inventory is an assortment of laser cutting, tube bending, plate rolling, plasma cutting and coordinated measuring machines and a robot welding station.

The company has 550 employees and has a range of about 4,500 different products that it is now machining. About 15% of its total production is devoted to manufacturing components for hydro plants.

Changing the approach

BRAKO had been using another CAM system, and sometimes the manual programming function on the machine to program simple milled parts. However, the CAM software they were using was not user-friendly and the support was disappointing. Manual programming was not an effective solution due to the complexity of many parts and the fact that it was very time-consuming, thereby reducing programmers’ productivity. In short, “We were ‘forced’ to find good CAM software, says Aleksandar Naumov, BRAKO project manager and mechanical engineer.

The company began evaluation other CAM software systems. At one point, representatives at machine tool builder Mazak referred the company to a local CAM dealer, Rapid Progress, a reseller of ESPRIT software. ESPRIT is a powerful, full-spectrum CAM system for CNC programming, optimization and simulation – supporting the entire manufacturing process from CAD file to machined part. The technology is owned by DP Technology.

BRAKO found ESPRIT’s training to be excellent, greatly improving its programming speed and efficiency. “The initial ESPRIT presentations gave us a good feeling,” says Naumov. “After taking a training session and getting to know the interface, and after creating our first G-code and machining our first parts, we decided that ESPRIT was the best choice for us. And, of course, the support is excellent. We mainly chose ESPRIT because the software was simple to master, and we were able to familiarize ourselves with it quickly, but it was also our top pick because of the excellent help and training provided.”

BRAKO began using ESPRIT in early 2016.

BRAKO’s two engineers — project manager Aleksandar Naumov and mechanical engineer Slavcho Mitrovski — are able to program about 2,000 different parts per year using ESPRIT.

Results

BRAKO created more than 2,000 CAM programs in its first year of using ESPRIT, an astonishing number considering the company employs only two programmers. “It’s proof that ESPRIT is very user friendly, especially for similar parts that are repeated frequently,” Naumov continues. “Now we can’t imagine how we’d handle all the machines we have without ESPRIT.”

Naumov says the most important benefit for BRAKO of using ESPRIT has been decreased programming time and increased productivity. The company is more than 30% more productive in programming — after just one year.

BRAKO recently worked on some guide vanes for a Francis turbine, which are made in two operations — milling, then turning — that are programmed by ESPRIT. The part is complex enough that, with the old system, preparing for production took more than four days. But programming with ESPRIT took less than a day.

BRAKO programmed this complex guide vane for a turbine in less than one day using ESPRIT.

“Using the wide range of standard machining operations contained in ESPRIT helps us to tackle complex and unusual parts with ease,” says Naumov. “We can easily switch production from one part to another, and we can move production of some parts from one machine to another — it only takes a few clicks to generate G-code for another machine. The ability to define and save tools in the database, group operations together, and edit machining processes makes us very flexible in programming, as well as in production. In short, this is the power of ESPRIT.”

As for its future plans, BRAKO intends to purchase a bigger five-axis milling machine to machine runner wheels for Pelton turbines to be used in small hydro plants. “It will be a challenge, but we’re in this together with ESPRIT,” Naumov says.

Helene Horent is marketing specialist – EMEA with DP Technology Europe.

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