Sharp Tooling Solutions

Leading fixture supplier Sharp Tooling Solutions uses WORKNC to produce complex prototypes and check fixtures for the automotive, aerospace and defense industries

Sharp Tooling Solutions has been a leading supplier of fixtures for the automotive, aerospace and defense industries for three decades, steadily upgrading technologies and processes to remain competitive without sacrificing precision and quality.

Based in Romeo, Michigan, Sharp offers design and build for component-quality certification, fixture design and build for assembly tooling, manufacturing of simulation models, and manufacturing process improvement. Among its clients are major automotive and aircraft manufacturers, as well as the U.S. government. Sharp’s manufacturing capabilities include lathe work and milling in up to five axes, with aluminum, stainless steel and titanium comprising its most commonly used materials.

“We typically make check fixturing that allow our customers to course correct during their own manufacturing processes,” says Manager Jim Justice, who has been with Sharp for 17 years. “Many of the fixtures we make are used in the manufacturing of automotive and aerospace parts, such as door panels for cars and skins for aircraft.”

The company, which employs a team of 80-90, is also the developer of the cutting-edge PATCO® Modular Tooling System, which replaces dedicated fixtures and components with a reusable, repeatable system. This is a significant financial boon for customers, who are able to reap additional benefit from an initial investment in fixturing.

“We chose WORKNC for the roughing, finishing, re-machining, and 5-axis programming.”

Jim Justice, manager

“If they want to weld two parts together, they need a fixture to hold that part, but then they can tear it down and reuse it,” Justice says. “We’ve kind of got a niche for the modular tooling. We do all of the PATCO design and building here at Sharp, and we also keep inventory, which is a huge benefit to the customer.”

To manufacture its prototypes and check fixtures, Sharp Tooling has used the WORKNC CAD/CAM system since 2009. The company made the switch from its former system upon finding that the solution couldn’t meet all of its needs. Having used WORKNC for 30 years, Justice was influential in the company’s decision to implement the new solution.

“WORKNC is a much more robust system than what we originally had,” he says. “Any time there is something better out there, we go after it wholeheartedly. We chose WORKNC for the roughing, finishing, re-machining, and 5-axis programming. Everything that is available to us in the software we are using or have used.”

Once CAD models are imported into WORKNC, the models are saved to workzones, in which toolpath is generated. “When we get a job, we’ll start by getting our stock that’s ordered for the material and make our stock model,” Justice says. “Most of our parts are multiple setups — meaning five, six, or seven setups.”

Sharp takes advantage of WORKNC’s automatic feature-finding tool, which is used to automatically identify part features, such as chamfers, fillets and pockets, to be machined. Due to the complexity of its hole drilling operations, the Sharp NC team uses the solution’s manual drilling functions in combination with the WORKNC Drilling Manager.

The drilling manager helps save programming time by automatically detecting holes and displaying hole data in a window that enables programmers to easily assign center-drilling, drilling, tapping, boring and thread-milling operations.

“The drilling manager finds all the holes that you want to drill, finds the vectors of those holes, and creates the vectors that the machine will recognize,” Justice says. “We typically vector holes all over our parts, and the drilling manager allows us to cut time spent programming holes by 50 percent, or more.”

To maintain efficiency, the Sharp NC team relies upon WORKNC’s specialized roughing cycles, which include the waveform roughing strategy, as well as the basic global roughing and re-roughing cycles. Additional WORKNC roughing cycles include flat surface roughing and re-roughing, plunge, adaptive trochoidal, spiral core, and parallel roughing.

While Sharp is just beginning to use the waveform strategy, the company extensively utilizes other WORKNC roughing cycles. “Global roughing and re-roughing are 95 percent of our rough program. Re-rough is beneficial because you can go in there with a short cutter and then do collision check and go back in with a longer cutter. You can’t use a longer cutter as quickly because of chatter, so it’s more efficient to use the shorter cutter first and then re-rough the area that the first cutter couldn’t reach.”

Similarly, using the WORKNC re-machining strategy ensures that material remaining after a first  operation is automatically removed with increasingly smaller tools in subsequent operations.

“The re-machining is huge because you can finish the part with a large cutter and then come back later with a smaller cutter to get into the corners,” Justice says. “The benefit is that you’re able to use a larger cutter to finish your part, and it recognizes where the stock is so that you can machine only those areas that can machine with a smaller cutter.”

WORKNC offers dynamic 3D stock management, so programmers can easily track the state of the stock model throughout the programming process rather than just at the beginning and end.

Keeping track of stock is part and parcel with collision detection, and is a vital need when dealing with the kinds of complex parts produced by Sharp Tooling.

“None of the details we do are simple,” says Justice. “We basically cut 3D out of a solid block of aluminum, flipping the part continuously to make sure warp doesn’t happen. Collision checking is utilized for 99 percent of what we do. It will show us if the spindle is going to hit and we’ll take precautions. It will also tell us the cutter length, which is especially helpful for employees as they develop experience and manufacturing knowledge.”

About the Company

Name: Sharp Tooling Solutions

Business: Fixtures, tooling and models for aerospace, automotive and defense


Benefits Achieved

  • Efficient roughing, finishing, re-machining, and 5-axis programming capabilities
  • Flexibility in using a combination of automatic and manual programming functions
  • Dynamic 3D stock management allows users to track the state of the stock model from start to finish


“We chose WORKNC for the roughing, finishing, re-machining, and 5-axis programming.”

Jim Justice, manager


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