Programming its five-axis machining centres with Delcam’s PowerMILL CAM software has taken Noonan Race Engineering (NRE) in Queensland to the forefront of race-car engineering in Australia and overseas. Without the software and its broad range of machining strategies, it would be so much more difficult for NRE to produce the sort of race-specification engines and specialised components that the company is becoming famous for developing.
PowerMILL enables NRE to translate its outstanding designs into products that can be marketed and sold worldwide. "To NRE, CNC machining is not just a form of engineering, it is pure art,” said Jamie Noonan, one of the founding partners at the company. "Our customers look at our products and are amazed at how the toolpaths flow and add character to the product.”
That’s no accident as the company uses the inbuilt versatility of the Delcam software to ‘tweak’ things and add extra dimensions to their machining. "With PowerMILL, we have the ability to control the toolpaths to a very high degree, creating not only a proven performance product but also a stunning world-class finished result,” added Mr. Noonan. "The porting strategies have also enabled us to bring another key area of our products in-house.”
PowerMILL undertakes an automatic division of the port machining process between areas that can be reached using three-axis techniques, and those that require positional or continuous five-axis operation. With most machine tools, using three-axis or positional five-axis cutting offers greater rigidity and so allows more accurate machining, at higher speeds, with less vibration of the cutter. However, most engine ports require continuous five-axis machining for part of their manufacture.
PowerMILL automatically optimises the overall machining sequence so that as much material as possible is removed with three-axis and positional five-axis operation, and that continuous five-axis machining is only used where necessary. This reduces the overall machining time, while maintaining the required level of surface finish.
The sequence uses a spiral motion for the roughing cuts but gives the operator a choice between using a spiral or a plunging approach for the finish machining. Using a spiral approach produces cusps across the flow of gas and so increases turbulence, while using the plunging technique gives cusps parallel to the flow direction and speeds the passage of the gas mixture through the port.
PowerMILL also divides the CAD model automatically to create the surfaces that will be machined from either end of the port. The user can specify the length of the overlap between the two sets of toolpaths to ensure a smooth transition between the two areas.
Such detailed control is not possible in many other programs, especially for five-axis machining, or may be very time consuming. Time is a luxury when developing race engines and associated products. There’s always another race just around the corner and teams demand rapid delivery, as well as more power and reliability.
"We’ve trialled other software programs that claim to do the same and we still think our Delcam systems improve our overall productivity in excess of 20% – which is a huge gain,” stated Mr. Noonan.
NRE supplies engineered race products to a number of motorsport sectors – drag racing, circuit racing, speedway, boat racing and rallying. As with any supplier to this industry, they are continually pushing the boundaries to deliver more power without sacrificing reliability.
The company has received approval from the National Hot Rod Association – the premier US governing body for championship drag racing in North America – for competitors to use the NRE X1 aluminium Billet Hemi Top Alcohol cylinder head, based on a big-block Chrysler engine in the ‘Blown Alcohol’ classes. NRE is the only overseas supplier to receive this stamp of approval from the NHRA.
In Australia, NRE has supplied engines and engineering expertise to many V8 Supercar teams, perhaps the most well known are Brad Jones Racing and Paul Morris Motorsports. The company’s facilities contain all the equipment needed to design, manufacture and test the race products they develop, including state-of-the-art, five-axis machines.
"The ability to work with simple 2D toolpaths all the way through to very complex five-axis surface machining, while maintaining simple-to-use forms, is of great benefit,” added Andrew Collins, joint business partner and head of the machining area at NRE. "In a lot of cases, suppliers of CAD packages don’t complement the CAM package. With PowerMILL and PowerSHAPE, Delcam’s design software, you are getting two genuine heavy hitters in their own right, which are really made for each other.”
Mr. Collins and Mr. Noonan agreed that any product is only as good as the support behind it.
"It was obvious from the outset that our local agent, Camplex, was very passionate about the software,” said Mr. Noonan. "For me, it made the whole relationship click, from training through to ongoing problem solving and support. Knowing that the support is in place when we need it is worth its weight in gold.”