Wolfram Manufacturing is a service-based company which provides customers with all of the offerings of a CNC Machine Shop with turnkey support. Led by a tight knit, fun loving group of professionals with decades of experience in service and manufacturing, Wolfram is building a unique concept that will take advantage of both the modern workforce and modern equipment to support manufacturing in the United States. With a blank slate, empty shop and the goal in mind to achieve a truly lean manufacturing shop, Wolfram set out to find the right equipment and people to make it happen.

The goal was to use modern equipment to run single piece flow parts through the shop and have the ability to be flexible in the size and shape of parts that Wolfram could produce. Another key consideration as a startup, was support. Hartwig, the central Texas Okuma distributor, was known for great service. With all of that in mind, Wolfram went looking for a 5-axis machine that would, in a sense, combine the capabilities of several machines. The team chose an Okuma MULTUS B400 decked out with high-pressure coolant, 10k RPM mill spindle, automated sub spindle, automated part probing, automated tool setting, and Caron Engineering’s Tool Monitoring Adaptive Control.

When the MULTUS arrived, the shop had three things in it: An air compressor, a forklift, and a small wooden worktable. With no shelving, tools were laid out on the carpeted floor of the office and the real work began, running the MULTUS. While climbing the steep learning curve to get the Okuma MULTUS B400 up and running, it was clear that Engineering and a passion for tinkering was necessary to make Wolfram successful. Wolfram hired their first engineer only days after receiving the new machine.

The first year of production was different than expected - the initial work that was planned for the machine was cancelled before it started and the business plan had to adjust to the job shop environment. The team was in a little over their heads, but managed to produce the high quality products customers requested within their time frames. Doing small jobs helped give the team a better understanding of how to work the complicated 5-axis beast. The team constantly pushed the limits, which means crashes, frustrations, and broken tools, but Wolfram used these to grow stronger.

Just months after getting the first part out the door Wolfram received their first large order for 1,600 pieces. With a reliable process and consistent quality checks they were able to run 24 hours a day with quality specialists, rather than machinists, operating the machine. Wolfram successfully delivered to the customer on time and has continued to do so.

About a year and a half after the company was founded, Wolfram started looking at buying a second machine. They wanted something that had different capabilities and that would fit into lean manufacturing concept. Based on experience with the MULTUS, Okuma was the obvious first choice. The MULTUS had proved reliable and the Hartwig support representatives were fantastic.

Wolfram chose the LB3000 because its feature set complimented the shop’s current configuration; most notably, its sub-spindle, parts catcher, and Y axis. The LB3000 EXII-MYW arrived in February, straight from Japan. Yet again, there were new challenges to overcome with this new machine. One of the biggest functional differences in a Lathe Mill-Turn and the MULTUS was the need to be mindful of not only the current tool (in relation to the workpiece, work-holding, and machine geometry); but also of the unused tools, because when the turret is loaded with large tools, there is a very real potential for collisions. It can be difficult for anyone to foresee all possible interferences without painstaking prove out time, so the need for accurate machine simulation became even more clear.

Bringing a CAM software package online was critical in being able to simulate machine movements, programming the parts away from the controller, and fully unlocking the machine’s potential. This had always been a goal of Wolfram’s, but had proven to be a difficult process. Standard posts which are qualified for this type of equipment are rarely capable of using a fraction of the machine capability. Wolfram’s engineers can now focus more on the process design of a part, program tool-paths from start to finish, load the program onto the network, and have confidence that the finished part geometry and machine movements will mirror those seen in the software.

In the next year, Wolfram plans on getting a robotic arm working to run parts overnight and double production capacity. Wolfram is always pulling forward in manufacturing, looking to make “locally manufactured” a competitive advantage for our customers and providing a template for developing manufacturing talent and the future of contract manufacturing.

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