Robinson Helicopter Saves Thousands in Tooling

In 1973, Frank Robinson envisioned a small helicopter different than the traditionally manufactured helicopters. When his ideas were disregarded at the company where he worked, Frank took his plans home and engineered one of the hottest-selling helicopters in the market today.

Robinson started his own company, Robinson Helicopter Co., and successfully targeted markets where helicopters were previously too expensive to be practical. Such markets include law enforcement, crop spraying, aerial photography, surveying, and flight training. Equipped with piston engines instead of turbine engines, Robinson Helicopters sell around half the price of competitors' helicopters. In addition, Robinson Helicopter manufacturers nearly all the helicopter parts in-house. This creates better quality and production control.

To allow most of the parts to be manufactured in-house, Robinson Helicopter needed a CAM system that could create part programs quickly and easily. Paul Johnson, supervisor of the tooling department at Robinson Helicopter, evaluated several CAM packages and found his solution in FeatureCAM. "We make punch press dies that consist of 4 plates with matching hole patterns, and each plate is different," Johnson explains. "Since the beginning of the year, we have been able to cut over 120 dies, with 4 plates each, using FeatureCAM. I only have to spend about half a day each week in FeatureCAM to keep ahead of my mill operator."

With the FeatureMILL3D product, Robinson Helicopter has also saved thousands of dollars by importing parts from CAD programs and using FeatureMILL3D's simulations and NC code generation to find and correct any errors. "We imported a cyclic grip into FeatureMILL3D and found some errors that we needed to correct. That saved us up to $14,000 in tooling costs," Johnson states.

With no previous experience with CNC programming, Johnson also found it essential to invest in a CAM program that did not require hours of study to become proficient. "FeatureCAM is easy to learn," Johnson says. "You work mainly with geometry and FeatureCAM picks the tools, speeds and feeds, and toolpaths. From the beginning, I have relied on FeatureCAM 100% to cut the parts accurately."

FeatureCAM is manufactured by Delcam USA (formerly Engineering Geometry Systems), which like Robinson Helicopter, has developed a product with advantages beyond traditional methods. FeatureCAM's feature-based approach to CAM accelerates part generation. Traditional CAM systems are operations-based and require programming for every operation-one at a time-to create parts. All the manufacturing details are left to the machinist. That means that users must specify the details for every spot drill, drill, ream and roughing pass of the part.

With FeatureCAM users generate parts with features such as tapped holes, bosses, turned grooves, etc. and the operations are automatically created. FeatureCAM also manages the details of the manufacturing process, including as tool selection, speed and feed rates, and toolpaths. To modify any element of the part program, users simply change a few settings on a feature and a whole new set of operations is generated to reflect the changes.

By breaking out the mold of traditional methods, both Robinson Helicopter and FeatureCAM envisioned and have created products to better meet the needs of their customers.