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Betting on excellence

When Andrea Cecutti opened his small California startup AC&A, he wagered everything on advanced machines,skilled and motivated people, and Tebis CAD/CAM software. He’s winning.

Andrea Cecutti, owner of AC&A.

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula that guarantees manufacturing success. However, the combination of hard work, knowledge and advanced technology is about as close as you can get. That’s the formula employed by Andrea Cecutti, the owner of AC&A (Lake Forrest, Calif.). AC&A is a vertically integrated manufacturer of complex, close tolerance production and prototype parts, as well as large composite tooling. Its list of customers spans the automotive, aerospace, alternative energy and entertainment industries, among others. To service its varied and demanding customers it employs the most advanced technology that Cecutti has encountered in his long manufacturing career “I take a totally different approach from the conventional machine shop,” says Cecutti. He points out that cost conscious, fledgling machine shops generally opt for a “good enough” strategy when purchasing manufacturing technology, figuring they can upgrade somewhere down the road. In contrast, Cecutti has opted for the best technology since the day AC&A first opened its doors back in 2005. Today that means, among other things, Jobs high-speed 5-axis machining centers and Tebis CAD/CAM software. Supplied by Tebis America, Inc. (Troy, Mich.), Tebis is an integrated suite of CAD/CAM products with each product using the same database and user interface, and based on the same release, thus maximizing the speed and accuracy with which part data can be moved into production. It’s also powerful. “Most of my machines are the fastest you can find on the market,” says Cecutti, “and having a software able to calculate cutter paths that quickly and accurately is important.” He explains that other software products he had looked at had sometimes failed to keep pace with his high-speed machines, flooding the machine with data points rather than fully enumerated cutter paths. “No matter how fast my machines run, Tebis is able to calculate accurate, well defined cutter paths that also leave us with a high quality surface finish.”

AC&A owner, Andrea Cecutti discusses machining operations with NC Operator, Rudy Hernandez.

  • Under the hood

    There are a number of reasons for this type of performance. “The high degree of accuracy and surface finish we are able to obtain is because of the way we calculate the part design, or surface,” says Michael A. Thiessen, regional manager for Tebis. “Many software products tessellate the part’s digital model,” he notes. “A tessellation is like a mesh – say a fishing net – that lays atop and approximates the surface. As a result, they are not calculating toolpaths directly on the actual surface but on a tessellated mesh that approximates the surface. We, on the other hand, have never tessellated our toolpaths. Our system maintains the actual digital model and then creates our toolpaths directly on to the digital surface. That’s one reason our toolpath calculation is both accurate and quick.” And then there’s the factor of harmonizing the various toolpaths. Harmonizing? “Bear in mind,” explains Thiessen, “that when you are machining a three- dimensional part your toolpath consists of a series of points calculated according to cordal deviation of the toolpath. In plain English this means that your toolpaths are not all on a single plane. Tebis harmonizes these toolpaths. That entails creating additional toolpath points. The more toolpath points you have, the more accurate the toolpath is, allowing the machine to operate faster and with greater precision. As a result, a lot of our clients don’t have to bench their parts because the toolpaths are so accurate.”

    A view inside part of the more than 100,000 sq.ft. AC&A operation. This is part of the NC area featuring Jobs NC machines.

    However, Cecutti didn’t need to be sold on the software, he already knew it intimately. “I originally encountered the software when I worked for Jobs in the 1990s. We used various different software packages, but I was quite impressed by Tebis,” recounts Cecutti. “Then in 1998 I went to work with a design studio in Italy. There I had the opportunity to work in Catia and Tebis. I saw that Tebis had a very different approach than Catia, one that was excellent in terms of moving quickly and accurately through design and into production. “When I opened my own business,” he continues, “the choice was pretty simple. Tebis is not a typical decision for a startup. That’s because there are many cheaper products on the market. But Tebis was able to do the things I wanted to do. It fit in with my vision of an excellent machine shop, especially one that uses high-speed machine tools as we do. We’ve been using it ever since.” The performance of Tebis has been no surprise to Cecutti, but it has been an eye opener for some of his customers. “A few years ago we were approached by a customer who needed prototype hinge beams. This was a complex part and the customer presented us with a very strict timeline. Well, we received the forging, our programmer knocked out the roughing program in 24 hours, and a day after the receipt of the forging we were making chips. “When the customer came to visit us they were amazed at the speed with which we created this part, and at the quality. ‘How did you do this?’ they wanted to know. We explained it to them, and they went out and bought Tebis for themselves."

  • The sky’s the limit

    AC&A has more than tripled in size over the last five years, in part through a large expansion in high tolerance aerospace parts for companies like Boeing, Grumman, and the commercial spacecraft company SpaceX. The company now has nine seats of Tebis, one of which is a “floater,” meaning it opens anywhere for remote viewing and conferencing. “We buy a seat every year.” Along with being high tolerance, aerospace parts are frequently made from high cost materials, such as Inconel, aluminum, and composites. This makes another key feature of Tebis all the more important. “We work with Tebis virtual simulation day in and day out,” says Cecutti. Because Tebis virtual simulation is integral to the package, not an external, third party product that has to be linked to package, toolpaths can be rapidly checked, altered if need be, and sent to the machine. “The fact that you don’t need to post the simulations out to a third party system and them brings them back into your system helps make the entire flow of processing and verification seamless,” notes Thiessen. In terms of process, Cecutti maintains there is nothing more important to the production process than people – their knowledge and their attitude. “I tell my guys there is always a better way to machine this part, and I expect them to approach their job with the same attitude.” He feels that Tebis approaches its job the same way.

    In order for people to realize how good the software is, proper training is needed,” he continues. “Tebis is very good at this, especially since the constant upgrading that they do requires training updates if you are to fully take advantage of them. They host classes in Michigan and we also bring their people out here. Bringing them in-house is a great opportunity to exchange thoughts and analyze problems. ”Cecutti notes that most of his company’s design work is done in Tebis“ in order to have a more integrated platform. ”This lowers the need for costly cross-training, and enhances the agility that AC&A prizes.“ We service a variety of different industries, so the ability to move quickly between different applications without having to change software is very important. For instance, Tebis gives us the ability to quickly switch from making an aerospace part to prototype work without losing quality, and to solve many different types of problems, from design work to cutter paths. “We want to be at the leading edge of technology,” he concludes, “and this is the software that is helping us do it.”

     

Overview

Quote

"With Tebis the emphasis is on continuous improvement and continuous innovation. It never stops. We give them feedback and they look for ways to help us with a given product or problem."

Features

Focus:

Composite and metallic tool fabrication

Benefits:

  • Tebis harmonizes toolpaths
  • No matter how fast my machines run, Tebis is able to calculate accurate, well defined cutter paths that also leave us with a high quality surface finish
  • Customers are amazed at the speed and quality with which we created this part

Sector:

Model making, Design, Mold manufacturing

Company:

AC&A

Location:

Lake Forest, Calif, United States

Interviewee:

Andrea Cecutti

Position:

Owner of AC&A

Published:

2015

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