When Every Millisecond Counts: Machining To Win At Kalitta Motorsports
Andrew Wheeler posted on January 06, 2017 | | 6603 views

I had the unique pleasure of diving into a conversation about engineering software recently when I spoke with Tim Evans from Kalitta Motorsports. Tim is responsible for designing and producing new components for the company's legendary racing team.

Connie Kalitta, owner of Kalitta Air and Kalitta Motorsports, retired from American drag racing in the 1990s and was the first driver to reach a speed of 200 mph at a NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) event in 1964. Besides winning 10 NHRA national events between 1967 and 1994 and was also the first recipient of the NHRA's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

In a machine shop charged with designing and producing ever-faster parts, building an efficient production system includes keeping your eyes peeled for software that is easier to use and helps you optimize the life of every machining component in a new way.

The introduction of cloud-based CAD computing over the past 2 years has been a gradual one. Marked by engineering software company Autodesk, the jump to the cloud is part of a high-level prediction and strategic gamble by CEO Carl Bass to keep Autodesk ahead of what he sees as an inevitable curve skyward.

Autodesk Inventor HSM 2017 CAD/CAM was developed by software engineers interested in enabling machinists, designers, CNC programmers and engineers use any CAD system they like to produce parts.

Inventor HSM has some useful advanced features that allow users to augment standard toolpath strategies for milling and turning operations with goodies like adaptive clearing and a post-processor system that increases time-to-market.

Other new features for 2017 include the ability to create a chamfer cutter path on your part, even if it’s not yet designed. This chamfer cutter path automatically reduces collisions with corners and part bodies by understanding the differences in the shapes of various tools.

If you design a text or sinewy shapes into your part, a new engraving cutter path can be used for milling.For cleaning out excess material from different design features, the engraving cutter path supports the option of using chamfer tools.

Another new feature is that users can pull up an electronic probe to help with centering and zeroing various part materials.

How did you think Autodesk HSM influenced the successful outcomes of your recent races?

We started this whole job a year and a half ago. They had a couple machines, some older software and were making some parts. But we basically wanted to build chassis in-house, which required us to build more parts. With HSM and Inventor, we were able to build all the fixtures and build the chassis in-house. It's given us a lot of control over the cars and the engine systems. We went through all of the clutch systems, and we re-machined a clutch in-house.

The clutch was one of the first things that we did, and it showed results right away. We had 15 wins with our four teams since we began building our chassis in-house.  We won the NHRA Funny Car championship in 2015, and placed 2nd this year in Doug Kalitta's top fuel dragster. Combined, our four teams (two funny car and two dragsters) all finished in the top 10 in championship points the past two years.

What was the immediate response of your team when they got Autodesk HSM?

They were using an older version of GibbsCAM when I got here. I come from a MasterCAM and CAMWorks background. We began to evaluate all of the different software after deciding that we needed something a bit better than that version of GibbsCAM. We already had SOLIDWORKS and we came across HSM Works, downloaded it and were able to begin making parts right away with the free version.

If I update a model from SOLIDWORKS or Inventor or a program and I can save it in HSM, and it will sync and import your solid models automatically. We used it for all of our machines—the lathes and the mills—and ran a lot of update especially when we were developing cylinder heads. The quick updating helps us with the turn-around on product development and time-to-market.

The AnyCAD feature on Inventor makes it easy to update constantly, which we always do even if a product is done.

How did you use HSM toolpaths to machine titanium parts?

One of the things I enjoyed best about doing the titanium was using the Adaptive toolpaths in HSM. The way the pressure plate, the clutch, the flywheel—there's lots of pockets in and around the different studs that hold things together—so you have a lot of pocketing to do. We take a lot of material out at the end.

The Adaptive toolpath is constantly engaged on the tool, so you don't have to worry about overloading it, which is critical when working with titanium. If you engage too much of the tool, it heats up too fast and everything goes to hell.

I run fairly high feed rates, 40-60 inches per minute with a light radial that keeps good tool engagement. I use 3/8 inch diameter tooling, which is only 35 bucks a piece to replace versus 150 or 300 dollars when they do wear out.

The way it maintains the toolpath, with that tool, you can run the whole flywheel and look at the tool after you've finished roughing it all out and it doesn't even look like you used it.

Getting all that material moved quickly was really part of bringing down the machining time.

Are there things that you’d like HSM to be able to do that it doesn’t yet?

It's amazing to think of how difficult it was to make things happen in GibbsCAM. Once we started working with HSM, everything was easy. From working with the model the way it does, creating the layout—the learning process is really easy.

Kalitta Air currently operates 22 747 and 767 cargo planes with more being added to his fleet every day. They do all the maintenance, rebuilding and repairs in-house at their Oscoda, Michigan-based facility.

It turns out that at that facility, they were using an even older version of SurfCAM. One of the shop managers picked up HSM in no time at all. It's user friendly without being over the top. Sometimes companies overreach for you, and you spend more time undoing things (laughs).

Autodesk has sponsored ENGINEERING.com to write this article. It has provided no editorial input. All opinions are mine. —Andrew Wheeler

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