American Machinist

Tool-and-die shop to CAD/CAM. (Thunder Tool and Engineering Inc.)


I REALIZED IT WOULDN'T BE much fun sitting back and watching the rest of the tool-and-die industry pass us by. We had to get involved with and make it work-or get out of the business.

My father founded Thunder Tool & Engrg Inc in 1952 to fabricate tools and dies for the automotive industry. I came to work here fresh out of high school at age 18. The opportunity to advance through our entire company proved to be a tremendous benefit in carrying out my current duties-except for a void in one important area.

Until recently, we had never even considered the possibility of integrating computers into our design and manufacturing operations. Why should we? Everything was running smoothly, and plenty of our competitors were also doing fine without computers.

Then, about three years ago, some of our customers-who work directly for the Big Three automobile manufacturers-began telling us that they could no longer place certain jobs with Thunder because we were not equipped to cut our dies directly from CAD data that was routinely provided in magnetic tape format. The auto companies were actually telling their suppliers-our customers-"We can't put that job in your shop because you don't have CAD/CAM." Clearly, a trend was emerging. These manufacturers were making the transition to CAD/ CAM, and they, in turn, were pressuring all contractors and subcontractors to do the same.

The rationale behind that mandate, for the die maker, is quite evident. Traditionally, wooden die models were fabricated outside of our company by firms that had the capability of reading tapes containing the design data and creating NC toolpaths. These firms, in turn, would cut the model for us. We would then take casts from the model and produce the die.

However, if we could read the tapes ourselves, and cut a die directly from the math data on the tape-eliminating the model entirely-there would be a definite gain in accuracy and efficiency and an associated reduction in cost because of the fewer steps involved. …

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