ProtoTYPING: Make Me a Model

The engineering team at Edison Nation encounters a wide variety of design and prototyping challenges and it’s important to have a variety of tools to solve these problems quickly and effectively. This month I would like to take you back into the shop to introduce you to another one of our important and often used pieces of equipment, the Tormach 1100 CNC Mill.

A mill is a piece of equipment that has a vertically-mounted cutting tool and a table that can be moved in and out, left and right, and up and down to remove small amounts of material from a piece of stock material to form a finished part. A manual mill has axes that are controlled by hand and is a piece of equipment that is found in nearly every machine shop and many home-based workshops. Manual mills are typically used for two-dimensional cutting and drilling. CNC (computer numeric control) mills have the same basic architecture, but have motors that drive each of the axes. This makes it possible to program the machine to do precise and complex movements to create complex 3D surfaces. Since consumer products rarely have simple 2D geometry, CNC mills are a great tool to create the look of prototypes in the later stages of product development.

The Tormach 1100 is a great machine for the Edison Nation shop. The table has travel extents of 18” x 9.5” with 16.25” of vertical travel, which is well within the size limits of most products that we work on. It has an RPM range of 100-5140 and a built in coolant system which allows us to get a great surface finish on practically any material. While the Tormach has great specs, its price starts at about $8,500 which makes it accessible to high-end hobbyists, hacker spaces, and educational environments.

Tormach_Kevin DEdison Nation engineer, Kevin Dalquist, using the Tormach to mach a part for a prototype

No matter how good a CNC mill is, it still needs a set of instructions, called G-code, to actually get the machine to cut the desired surfaces. There are plenty of programs on the market that can aid in generating G-code, but the Edison Nation team has chosen SolidCAM as our toolpath generation software. SolidCAM is a perfect fit for us because it runs seamlessly inside our CAD program, SolidWorks. There is no need to export files to another program, and it makes it much easier to make changes to the parts on the fly. They also have a great set of video tutorials on their website, which made it easy for the whole team to learn the software quickly.

Tormach_SolidCAM Cut paths for a Germ Master part displayed on the SolidCAM interface

The machining process starts from a CAD file. Once we have a part designed in SolidWorks, we use the SolidCAM add-in to create a tool path. We select the origin of the part, clearance limits, and material stock size. Then, we create profiles, pockets, holes, or 3D machining cut paths by selecting profiles or features from our part to act on. Once the operations are defined, SolidCAM computes the G-code file. The G-code file is transferred to the computer on the Tormach. We, then, zero all three axes on the machine, install the correct cutting bit, and run the program. Cycle time depends on the number of operations, and the hardness of the material being cut, but most of our programs are between 2 and 90 minutes.

The Tormach and SolidCAM have been used together with great success on a number of Edison Nation projects, including a couple of products in season 4 of Everyday Edisons. During the Hydrolyptic project, the impeller, which is the main resistance element in the product, was machined on the Tormach. The Tormach was also used during the Splot project to cut a vacuum form mold, which was used to create a form model to show to potential licensees. I also used it to cut a garolite chassis for the Germ Master that was also featured on the show. The Tormach and SolidCAM are so versatile that we use it to make parts for our prototypes during all of our projects, especially when we run into material property limitations with 3D printing.

Tormach_vacuum toolProgression of the vaccum forming tool made for the Splot being mached. The lower right picture shows the finished product after the Tormach was used in the vacuum former to make the form model

CNC milling capability is a must-have for the Edison Nation engineering team. It allows us to create complex designs out of proper engineering materials when creating our prototypes, which many other pieces of equipment cannot do. The Tormach’s capabilities and size suit our needs perfectly, and our SolidCAM software makes it easy to use, whether you need production capability, are outfitting a hacker-space, or simply build prototypes in your garage.

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