Experts manufactured a full-scale working model of a 2002 V12 Cien Cadillac concept car within 18 days for the sci-fi movie "The Island" using Surfcam software.

For five-axis machining the special flying motorcycles in the movie "The Island," Fxperts generated toolpaths in Surfcam, relying on the software's tool and shank gougeavoidance function.

Half way through building three sky cycles — flying motorcycles without wheels — for "The Island," a summer 2005 Dreamworks sci-fi movie thriller, special-effects company Fxperts Inc. received a revised film schedule, forcing the Sun Valley, Calif., company to manufacture a full-scale working model of a 2002 V12 Cien Cadillac concept car within 18 days. The sky cycles, as well as a futuristic Mack truck and passenger car, wouldn't be needed for about 45 days.

To meet such erratic film schedules, Fxperts quickly delivers fullscale working models by drawing them in graphics programs and then generating toolpaths for manufacturing using five-axis CAM software from Surfware Inc. of Westlake Village, Calif. According to Ken Mieding, systems engineer at Fxperts, Surfcam software makes programming fast and easy and ensures that once the shop starts machining, it won't end up with a lot of scrap or spend time re-orienting parts.

General Motors furnished Catia files of the Cien's exterior, interior and engine, and Fxperts translated them into its native CAD software. From there, it generated toolpaths. These five-axis paths involved such complex operations as undercutting, leading, lagging and swarfing (cutting with the side of a tool).

Surfcam's full-visualization feature kept machines from cutting through fixtures and their heads from crashing into parts, fixtures or the machine's table.

The software takes the labor out of generating toolpaths, says Mieding, especially on the shop's waterjet saw. Programming hundreds of holes in a 4 8-ft sheet, for instance, takes all day. However, the software's automated lead in/out programming reduces that time to an hour.

Also, Fxperts must split car bodies into pieces for machining because an intact body won't fit on the machine's table. To accomplish this in Surfcam, Mieding draws boundaries just around the areas of the existing geometries to machine or uses UV lines to create boundaries.

Fxperts made the Cien's console, seats, engine, and all other visible parts in-house. It machined the parts from high-density 8-lb foam blocks, which cost about $1,000 each. To ensure these separate blocks matched up, the shop's programmer viewed toolpaths from every angle with Surfcam.

Five-axis machining is valuable to Fxperts because it eliminates refixturing workpieces, which can take hours and reduce accuracy. While machining interruptions increase cycle times, collisions can damage workpieces, tools and machines, which is why Surfcam features a full tool and shank gougeavoidance function when using ball, bull or flat end mills. Verification programs are helpful, says Mieding, but turning the part and seeing what it will look like before machining is even better.

After machining exterior and interior foam parts, the shop sent them to its composite department, where they were used as a pattern for making a mold. The composite group molded the parts out fiberglass, fitted them together and mounted them to a drivable chassis.

With the Cien ready for filming, Fxperts completed the sky cycles and the futuristic Mack truck. The sky cycles started as an artist's renderings in a graphics program output as shaded surface files that were imported to the shop's CAD program for conversion into mathematical surfaces and then into toolpaths with Surfcam.

"When five-axis machining futuristic vehicle parts, tools travel inside cavities, holes and other features," explains Mieding. "Using Surfcam's View machining feature, I 'drive' machines until the tool vectors are where we want them, note the rotary axes positions and then create that tool and viewpath."