October 16, 2023
ALFA TECHNOLOGY (Higashi Osaka, Osaka; President: Naofumi Nakajima) is participating in the organizer’s special program (Concept Zone) entitled “Machining Extraordinaire” at MECHATRONICS TECHNOLOGY JAPAN (MECT) 2023. This company uses a 5-axis machining center (MC) to achieve both shorter machining times and higher machining accuracy. To achieve these two goals, not only the machine but also the tools play an important role. It is therefore necessary to determine the optimum tools that can reduce the number of machining operations as much as possible while keeping costs low. In the Concept Zone, ALFA TECHNOLOGY presents original workpieces that are unique for 5-axis machining, and also demonstrates hands-on machining using a 5-axis MC and special dedicated tools to promote its strengths.
ALFA TECHNOLOGY, in cooperation with YASDA PRECISION TOOLS (Satosho-machi, Okayama; President: Takuto Yasuda) and OSG, presents the 5-axis machining technology it has developed over the years. In the Concept Zone, the company displays an original workpiece designed for MECT, a cylindrical workpiece about 250 mm high that is spiral-shaped and so complex that it can only be machined with a 5-axis MC. By setting up Yasda’s 5-axis MC “YBM Vi40” on site and combining it with OSG’s special designed tools, the company intends to demonstrate its original machining technology that can reduce time compared to the conventional method. In addition, other new methods for reducing roughing time and in-machine measurement that are optimal for 5-axis MCs are also planned to be introduced at MECT2023.
To achieve both high accuracy and reduced machining time, the usage of both tools and 5-axis MC should be properly designed. When high accuracy is required, tools that make point contact with the workpiece, such as ball end mills, are generally used. Although these types of tools can achieve high accuracy, they also take a long time to machine. To reduce machining time while still achieving high accuracy, the company uses tools such as flat end mills that contact the workpiece with a surface during machining. “It used to be a common theory that a tool that touches the workpiece on its surface has a large cutting area, but cannot achieve high accuracy. However, tool capabilities have improved, and it is now possible to achieve sufficient machining accuracy,” says Mr. Nakajima, President of ALFA TECHNOLOGY.
ALFA TECHNOLOGY was established in 2016 as an independent 5-axis machining division of its predecessor company. Since then, the company has specialized in 5-axis machining. 5-axis machining is capable of machining workpieces with a single chuck, and its main feature is that it can reduce machining time compared to 3-axis machining. ALFA TECHNOLOGY dares to perform 5-axis machining on workpieces that can also be machined with 3-axis machining, highlighting the advantages of high machining accuracy and reduced machining time. President Nakajima explains, “We do not just sell finished parts; we offer our high-precision, time-saving technologies as a production system. There are many customers who are attracted to 5-axis machining and place repeat orders”.
In addition to reducing machining time, another advantage of 5-axis machining is that it reduces the occurrence of machining errors caused by workpiece removal and reattachment. By reducing human intervention as much as possible, machining accuracy is stabilized and the accuracy that the machine can achieve is transferred directly to the workpiece. President Nakajima says, “In order to sell high accuracy, we are striving to install 5-axis MCs that can achieve the highest accuracy in the current market”. In addition, the company has also introduced a 5-axis MC that guarantees the minimum accuracy required, and uses different machines depending on the accuracy required by each customer.
One of the disadvantages of 5-axis machining is that the machining path becomes more complicated, and it takes longer to program the machine than other types of machining. However, President Nakajima points out, “The machining itself is completed by simply pressing a button on the machine. In addition to requiring less follow-up work after machining, it is less likely to cause machining errors due to workpiece removal/attachment”.
To reduce machining time, ALFA TECHNOLOGY not only uses 5-axis MC, but also selects tools very carefully. When the company receives a request from a customer for the first time, it first selects the most expensive and powerful tool among those suitable for the machining process. “It is often the case that the cheapest tools are used first, but if they cannot perform the machining according to the blueprints, other tools must be purchased,” says President Nakajima. “We don’t want to be ‘penny wise and pound foolish’. Use the most expensive tool and if it still doesn’t work, then I can make up my mind,” he adds.
Once the machining is successfully completed according to the blueprints, they switch to the least expensive tool that can achieve the required accuracy to reduce costs. President Nakajima laughs, “It’s an Osaka way of thinking that if you can get the same machining performance, there’s no need to buy the more expensive one.
ALFA TECHNOLOGY’s predecessor company started 5-axis machining about 20 years ago, when 5-axis machining itself was in its infancy. The company initially used commercially available jigs when it first introduced 5-axis MCs, but because of the high installation costs, the company decided to make the jigs in-house. “We went through a trial-and-error process to find the best way to make a better jig. We looked on the Internet and referenced videos of machining that were uploaded to websites. It took about 10 years to establish the technology,” recalls President Nakajima.
As for the future, President Nakajima does not see business expansion, but rather business succession through M&A (mergers and acquisitions). To pave the way for this, the company joined MRP Engineering Group, a machinery manufacturer in Thailand, in 2019. He is determined to “increase the value of the company as much as possible with the current employees and equipment”.
SEISANZAI Japan editorial team
September 21, 2023