Cookies, cakes or baked goods are high on everyone’s list of tasty treats. Many of these have unusual shapes such as holiday Christmas trees. At one time, these shapes were often produced with dies made by hand at Moline Machinery in Duluth, MN. But now the company has gained far greater efficiency and the ability to produce cookies with advanced machine tools and CAD/CAM software.
Moline Machinery, a family run company in business for 55 years, is a leading manufacturer of industrial baking equipment for the production of donuts, sweet goods, pastries, pizza crusts, cookies and specialty breads. They specialize in automated systems and lines for intermediate and high-volume production by wholesale bakers and food processors. Unusual cutters that produce shapes from dough like Christmas trees, bells, animals or just about any type of figure, is a product line that has changed significantly with the use of advanced manufacturing methods.
At one time, these unique, and at times one-off dough cutters, were done by hand, forming and fabricating steel to the correct cutter shape, welding the cutters to a sheet of steel, and then forming this sheet of steel around a cylinder. With this method, the cutters were stretched around the cylinder and often did not come out perfect. After over 30 years of experience, Corky Brown, engineering technician, said that he could figure out how to make a cutter that when placed around the cylinder, compensated for any stretching that occurred.
“Mom and pop bakeries weren’t that fussy about cutters, but larger baking companies were. They where weighing all their dough in grams, and each cutter would produce a different product weight causing inconsistencies. So they’d start spending more money on a cutter to achieve proper weights,” Brown says.
With these types of problems, hand fabrication wasn’t the best way to build cutters or the most efficient. Brown felt there had to be a better way.
That’s when Gary Moline, President, decided his company had to do something. He looked at different machining centers and when he found the right ones - two Mori Seiki SVL 50/20 vertical machining centers with a fourth rotary axis – then he looked at the software for programming them. After reviewing all the various CAD/CAM software packages, the company had Roger Peterson and his Prototek Engineering team come to Moline to demonstrate Mastercam software (CNC Software, Inc., Tolland, CT).
“It was kind of mind-boggling at first,” states Brown. We saw what Mastercam could do and what some of the other ones could not do, especially laying out an entire machining program. I could actually lay out baking cutters in 2D then roll them onto the cylinder and all the dimensions would be correct. Also the best part of this software’s capability allowed us to make cutters out of whatever material our customer wants, such as steel, stainless steel, aluminum, and plastic, because we weren’t tied to using steel sheets and hand-formed cutters anymore. Now we can cut from all types of cylinders.”
Moline liked the idea of working in 2D, and Mastercam has plenty of easy-to-use features for 2D machining. The user-defined Work Coordinate System would allow Moline to orient view, construction and tool planes of a cutter without having to move it in 3D space. The new planes and origins could then be easily transferred to G-code.
Now instead of making cutters from sheet steel and forming the pattern by hand, and then welding them to a sheet of steel and wrapping them around a cylinder, Moline can machine the actual cutter form right from a cylinder that is about 5-1/2 in diameter by 6 long.
Brown explains, “Now when we do cutters on the machining center, they’ll produce products with all identical weights. Dough weights are so much more consistent, and that’s what the big bakers like. Also, we’ve found that a company will buy a box for its product. Then they’ll buy the cutter and try to fit the finished product into the box instead of doing it the other way around. Now we don’t have to worry about that. We can say, ‘Ok, if you’re looking for a product that has to fit into a 16 x 32 pan, we can make it fit in that pan.’”
Mastercam’s machining simulation is another feature that is very important to Brown. In one instance, after putting cutters around a 18 roll die, he laid out two rows of cutters to make sure he had his spacing correct. “It was one of those dumb things where you put a wrong number in the program,” he explains. “When I translated them into the program, somehow I got it off about 1/16th of an inch. The centerlines of the cutters were actually overlapping by 1/16th of an inch, and looking at it on the computer screen I couldn’t really see it. As soon as I turned my simulator on and watched it, all of a sudden it was cutting into a cup. I thought ‘what’s going on here?’ So I went back and looked at it, and once I did some measuring, I found the mistake right away. Without catching the error, I would have scrapped out a $4,000 to $5,000 piece of material.”
The other exclusive feature from Mastercam that Moline Machinery likes is the Four-Axis Roll Die programming that delivers easy programming to special job roll dies. This is particularly important, because the company is so involved in specials. They also find that with full associativity, they can capture the knowledge of previously programmed parts, which is invaluable to their specialty cutter business. It is a huge competitive plus for them.