02 | 2006

Manufacturing time of production moulds cut in half by improving control of machine tools

Technology helps to face challenges of China effect

Together with some other companies, VTT has taken into research and test use a technology that improves the control of machine tools. Based on the estimates of international research institutes, the technology makes it possible to spend 30-70% less time on designing and manufacturing mechanical parts. The technology improves the competitiveness of European companies and helps to face the challenges posed by the China effect.

The technology developed by VTT improves the efficiency of the design and manufacturing chain of the mechanical parts, as the code required by the machine tool for the manufacturing of the component is integrated into the product model at the CAD design phase. Among other things, this makes it significantly faster to manufacture production moulds used in mass production. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, the new technology can shorten the necessary working time from the computer-aided CAD design of the item to the finished mould by several days. An additional benefit is that the automation of the machine tool results in further cost savings. 

The new technology is based on the latest international standard set for the control of machine tools (the so-called STEP-NC standard).

Machine tool code from design model automatically

In a few years’ time it will be possible to automatically convert the CAD design model of the mechanical part into the STEP-NC code understood by the machine tool. For this reason, it will be easier for the main contractor to order mechanically tooled metal or plastic parts that meet the requirements of the CAD design from the subcontractor.

In mass production, the end product typically consists of some twenty mechanical parts. The moulds for these plastic parts are produced using modern manufacturing methods. However, this poses great challenges for mould manufacturers, as, forced by global competition, the manufacturing times are constantly being shortened.

Currently, the information produced by CAD/CAM systems cannot always be easily transferred from one system to another, as all CAD programs do not support each other's file formats. STEP-NC makes it possible to introduce a uniform data transfer format from the CAD system to the machine centre, and there is no longer a need to use compilers.

Test production in Korea and USA

The manufacturing methods using the new standard are being studied in test production, mainly in Korea and in the USA - by Boeing and General Dynamics, among others. The other participants in VTT's research and development project were Perlos Oyj, Nokia Oyj and Machinery Oy, and the research partners were Joensuu Science Park, the Universities of Lappi and Oulu, and the Helsinki University of Technology.

This national transfer and research project of top technology was funded by Tekes and the participating companies. VTT is currently working on a further study of the subject in co-operation with research partners in Middle Europe.

Research publication

Integration of CAD, CAM and NC with Step-NC


Additional information

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