Kern Microtechnik is a global market leader in the field of micro-manufacturing. With a staff of 150 and production facilities in Murnau and Eschenlohe, Germany, the company designs and builds machines for ultra-precision milling, as well as providing precision contract manufacturing services.
The company was founded as a manufacturing shop in 1962 by Kurt Kern, but it was not until 1981 that Kern began producing its now famous milling machines. In that year it was approached by IBM to manufacture a part requiring an extremely high level of precision. However, the ability to manufacture such a part was well beyond the company; in fact, there was no machine on the market that could produce the part given the exacting level of precision required.
Rather than declining the job from IBM for this reason, Kurt’s son Günter adopted the attitude of “nothing is impossible” and decided to create a machine that could manufacture precision parts. This machine became the basis of Kern’s highly successful micro-milling machine business and its emergence as a global leader in the field.
The company today hosts the largest micro-manufacturing plant in Europe and, in addition to the provision of machines, it offers precision contract machining of prototypes, single lot parts, and full production runs. Its product range varies from mechanical watch components, to fiber optic connectors, medical instruments, and turbine wheels.
To run its world famous machines, Kern relies heavily on the CimatronE CAD/CAM software solution. “To design and program parts on our machines we need a powerful CAD/CAM system, a system that can generate highly effective toolpaths that allow a part to be created in record time”, says Robert Brandl, one of Kern’s senior engineers.
Highest precision for the smallest dimensions
Kern often needs to manufacture parts with tolerances in the single digit micron range. Prior to using CimatronE, the company’s engineers had to manipulate part geometry in their computer system, enlarging the geometry by a factor of 10, then scaling the result down to the desired dimension. However, this led to miscalculations that had a noticeable effect on the part produced.
Since employing CimatronE’s micro milling module, “effective toolpaths are guaranteed, even with the smallest tolerances,” says Brandl.
CimatronE launched the world’s first solution for micro milling in 2005. The solution enables the efficient milling of parts using miniature tools (with diameters smaller than 0.1 mm) and working at very tight tolerances in order to achieve an extremely high level of accuracy. A constant tool load is maintained to prevent breakage. The solution also allows users to perform high speed milling and to work on any 3-5 axis machine.
Minutes instead of hours
Kern has experienced an overall reduction in programming time since it first began using CimatronE’s 5 axis module. This has given the company an extra boost in its efforts to meet often tight customer deadlines.
“It’s really tops,” says Brandl. “We also use another well-known CAD/CAM package in our factory and we’ve found that CimatronE is generally faster for most tasks. Sometimes it takes only a few seconds or minutes to perform programming tasks that in the other software could take hours.”
Simulation with actual machining conditions
Another aspect of CimatronE that Kern has benefitted from is its multiple simulation capabilities, which allow for the creation of safe and efficient toolpaths.
Those who rely on simulation data are sometimes in for a nasty surprise, as many simulation programs calculate data that differs significantly from the actual machining conditions. However, CimatronE’s simulations employ advanced algorithms that ensure the realistic simulation of the machining process, with tool motions visualized in the actual machine environment.
“CimatronE might not always be as fast as other simulation packages on the market, but it is definitely one of the best that I’ve seen in terms of calculating data like the post processor does,” says Brandl.
Data interface & customer support
The customer data that Kern receives is sometimes of very poor quality. However, Brandl says that, “with CimatronE’s data interface, we’ve always managed to load problematic data and to begin editing with a minimum of fuss.”
Kern is also happy with the level of localized technical support that Cimatron offers: “Cimatron are experts at solving tricky problems,” says Brandl. “We’ve had the same engineer at Cimatron for many years available to answer any questions we have on the phone. We feel like we’re in good hands.”
Brandl says that Cimatron “takes its customers seriously” and is open to receive feedback: “On occasion we feel that there are features that it’d be good for the software to have. We don’t hesitate to mention this to Cimatron and often these features appear in one of the next releases of the software.”