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11/29/2010 | 2 MINUTE READ

Delcam's 35,000th customer uses robots for composites machining

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New Zealand's Southern Spars' purchase of a PowerMILL CAM system made it Delcam's 35,000th customer; the system is used to automate fabrication of spars and rigging for high-performance yachts.


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Delcam (Birmingham, U.K.) on Nov. 29 announced that Southern Spars, a New Zealand-based company specialising in the design and construction of spars and rigging for high-performance yachts, has recently become the 35,000th customer to purchase Delcam's CAD/CAM software. Southern Spars has acquired Delcam’s PowerMILL CAM system to program robots for the finish machining of spars and other components manufactured from carbon fiber-reinforced composites.

Southern Spars built its first carbon fiber-reinforced composite spar in 1990. Since then, the company has delivered world-class cruising and racing spars, rigging and related components made from composites. The company has built a 75 percent market share in Grand Prix race boats and super-yachts. Its customers include the holders of more than 25 world sailing records, and the owners of some of the largest and most expensive yachts ever built. Southern Spars’ operations include centers in the U.S., Europe, Asia and South Africa, in addition to its headquarters in Auckland, New Zealand.

The decision to invest in the Delcam software was made by Stephen Young, a design engineer at Southern Spars with responsibility for the company’s CADCAM operations in New Zealand. He had read about the possibility of using robots to machine larger components and felt that this approach could replace the manual methods being used for finishing of the company’s composite parts.

His initial investigation proved frustrating. “We approached a number of suppliers that claimed to offer systems to program robots,” Young remembered. “However, most of the people we talked to did not actually have any real-world experience. Delcam was the only company that could show us some genuine applications with the technology.”

Ease of programming was a key requirement for Southern Spars. “All of the programming is carried out by the design office in New Zealand, plus it needed to be carried out offline as early as possible in the design process,” explained Young. “This meant that the software had to be instinctive and easy to learn. In addition, since practically every part we make has to be custom designed, the programming time had to be kept to a minimum.” PowerMILL was able to meet both the requirements for ease of use and for programming speed.

Savings from using robot machining in place of the traditional manual processes are in the range of 70 to 80 percent. These savings are still increasing as users become more familiar with the software and can further reduce the programming times. Quality and consistency have also improved substantially.

The next stage in the development is to place the robot onto rails so that even Southern Spars’ biggest components, including a 78m/256-ft mast for a super-yacht, can be machined in a maximum of two sections.