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CAD/CAM Software Advances


Latest packages add more simulation, support for multitasking machines and high-speed machining

By Patrick Waurzyniak
Senior Editor 


Programming software for machine tools enables manufacturers to easily add new features for improving metalcutting efficiencies. With the latest updates to CAD/CAM and NC simulation/verification software, manufacturers can take advantage of an array of improvements including expanded support of multitasking machine tools, fullmachine 3-D simulation capabilities, plus new toolpaths for multiaxis and high-speed machining.

With worldwide competitive pressures demanding the highest-quality finished parts, manufacturers increasingly require machine tool programmers to provide completed workpieces needing little to no rework. For five-axis machining, new capabilities in PowerMILL 7 from Delcam plc (Birmingham, UK) include a wider range of five-axis strategies for roughing and finishing, faster calculation times, improved point distribution, and easier data management. The five-axis roughing strategies now include machining to or from a point, orientation through a line or curve, and programming using a reference surface.

Among five-axis developments, some of them like point distribution on a toolpath are a little bit more subtle and difficult for users to immediately notice, says Craig Chester, Delcam's international sales support manager. "From a user point of view, they probably can't see any difference whatsoever. We've put in a lot of smoothing algorithms to smooth out the point distributions and make it a much more even point distribution, and subtle vectors moving as well," notes Chester. "The toolpaths may look the same to the naked eye in PowerMILL, but when you see them run on a machine tool, they're significantly different."

Higher-quality surface finishes allow manufacturers to avoid costly, time-consuming rework on parts, which is critical in today's ultra-competitive manufacturing environment. "A lot of surface problems in simultaneous five-axis are due to kinematics effects on the machine tool, so a toolpath may be mathematically correct and in theory give you a beautiful surface finish, but due to various kinematics effects, that's not necessarily the case," Chester notes.

"People are demanding that the part is finished and ready to be shipped as the part comes off the machine, whether in five-axis or threeaxis," he adds. "Certainly in the Western world where we're trying to compete with the low salaries of China, the only way we can compete is by being more efficient."

Multiaxis improvements from Pathtrace Systems Inc. (Southfield, MI, and Reading and Yorkshire, UK), which was acquired early this year by Planit Holdings plc (Ashford, Kent, UK), are included in the latest EdgeCAM 11. It adds new functionality to support four and five-axis simultaneous milling on the latest-generation mill-turn machines, as well as improved drilling routines for automatically finding and machining holes through cylindrical and conical faces.

"Advanced milling and mill/turn machines offer enormous productivity improvements, and EdgeCAM 11 enables businesses to maximize their investment by making the full range of four and five-axis cycles available," says Dave Boucher, Planit Holdings CAM product director. "The four and five-axis strategies in EdgeCAM have been designed with multitask machines in mind and offer unparalleled ease of use for this advanced technology."

Mold-and-die users are starting to use more five-axis machining, as costs fall on machines that until recently have been too pricey for smaller shops. "We're beginning to see five-axis coming to mold-and-die, and that's something people have been talking about for years but it's now beginning to happen," notes Vynce Paradise of CAM software developer UGS Corp. (Plano, TX). "The small tool companies are buying these smaller, cheaper five-axis machines, and they're looking for five-axis software to drive it."

At IMTS 2006, UGS demonstrated its NX CAM Express software, which is a full-function NC programming software package aimed at mid-sized companies with a lower pricing structure and more automated setup to make setups easier for novice users. "It has all the capability of NX because even small shops have complex machines," Paradise notes. "We haven't reduced the functionality. We've made it easier to use by putting in tutorials and pre-set environments. These pre-set environments will set the system parameters up so the programmer doesn't have to do that from scratch—you select your environment for prismatic machining, for turning or for five-axis, and then the system presets, and therefore, it can hide a lot of the system switches from the novice or new user."

Multiaxis additions from CNC Software Inc. (Tolland, CT) include new multiaxis functionality and toolpaths for HSM and hard milling to its latest Mastercam X Maintenance Release 2 software demonstrated at IMTS. The updated Mastercam software adds a new engine to the advanced multiaxis toolpaths, which provides a customized, streamlined interface that is fine-tuned to specific applications, such as impellers and turbine blades. Depending on what toolpath is being used, Mastercam's parameter pages display only parameters applicable to the specific toolpath type.

Advanced controls for gouge-checking allow full control of the tool motion in Mastercam, and users are not limited to retracting only along the tool axis. Full roughing capability is also available for all the advanced multiaxis machining strategies, including an option for plunge roughing.

Advanced 3-D simulation capabilities were shown at IMTS by PartMaker (Fort Washington, PA), formerly IMCS Inc. prior to its acquisition in July by Delcam. In its preview of PartMaker 8, the company demonstrated its new full-machine simulation module which is said to offer photorealistic 3-D models of machine tools in action. The simulations, based on actual 3-D solid models, can help users pinpoint potential errors and collisions on the complex multitasking turn-mill and Swiss-type turning machines that PartMaker programs.

With PartMaker's new simulation module, the company is offering users improved error-checking and collision detection to users, by allowing them to perform an even more robust machining simulation than currently offered by the CAM supplier. With the new system, the machine model being simulated incorporates machine specific toolholders and attachments to ensure that any possible collisions that might occur on the machine will be detected off-line on the user's PC, resulting in CNC programmers and machinists spending less time setting up new jobs and performing dry runs to assure there are no collisions on the machine.

"Our specialty is multiaxis turning, programming turning machines with live tooling," says Lena Fishman, PartMaker founder, executive vice president and chief technical officer, noting PartMaker holds patents for programming multiaxis turning machines, both Swiss-type and turn-mills, and for synchronization. "We know that for multiaxis turning equipment to be effective, multiple tools cutting at the same time have to be properly synchronized to avoid collisions.

"We have a patent in this area that clearly is also very important for turn-mills, but far more important for Swiss machines," Fishman says. "Even before we had our 3-D simulation, we had our own 2-D simulations where it was specifically geared to the needs of Swiss machines, where we could show the moving parts, which is very difficult. Simulation is critical to our process."

After acquiring PartMaker, Delcam has no plans to make any changes to the PartMaker user interface, according to Delcam managing director Hugh Humphreys. "It's been developed for a specific customer so that will clearly stay," he says. "We will help them to grow their sales overseas, and that will generate more revenue and will go back into development, so it's good news for customers. The product improvement cycle will continue—if anything, it will be faster.

"PartMaker is an unusual CAM company, because there is a big difference between itself and the nearest competitor—nobody else really focused on SwissTurn, so it's their strength. Their software is available for milling and turning as well, but they've focused more and more on the more difficult area, and that proved to be of interest.

"The focus is very much on efficient machining, above all else, whereas a lot of products are maybe more focused on easy programming," Humphreys says of Part- Maker. "That's not the case. Swiss-CAM is focused on saving seconds of machine time."

Production machining updates previewed at IMTS by Gibbs and Associates (Moorpark, CA) included a suite of three-axis enhancements that extend GibbsCAM's existing machining capability and provide users with a complete range of milling functionality with support for high-speed machining.

With the new advanced three-axis functionality, GibbsCAM adds a variety of capabilities, such as 3-D rest milling, which focuses machining only on remaining material to be removed, minimizing air cutting, and significantly reducing cutting time. Multiple containment areas and avoidance areas allow precise control of toolpath to efficiently control the machining process, and users can also specify that the toolpath generated by the new three-axis functionality has no sharp corners, optimized for high-speed machining.

In addition, Gibbs also introduced its new GibbsCAM Machine Simulation option for multitasking (MTM), mill/turn, and turning machines at the show. The simulation option complements Gibbs' existing Cut Part Rendering process simulation capabilities, allowing an entire machine tool motion of a CNC program to be validated in an accurate simulation.

"As machine tools become more and more complex, the need for an accurate simulation of the machine tool motion becomes more and more critical," says Bill Gibbs, Gibbs and Associates president. "The latest class of multitasking machine tools represent just the beginning for machine tool complexity and configurability. We fully expect that multitasking machine tools will continue to evolve and place even more extreme requirements on programming systems."

Data interoperability issues are addressed with the latest Esprit 2007 CAM package from DP Technology Corp. (Camarillo, CA), which includes the company's new Esprit FX technology for CAD-to-CAM feature exchange. Demonstrated at IMTS, the Esprit FX technology is incorporated into DP Technology's milling and wire EDM software. The FX technology allows users to automatically capture design intent, defining what is being machined and allowing programming parts much quicker and easily.

The FX technology provides portions of the original CAD Feature Tree directly inside the Esprit CAM system's interface, including original design elements including features, tolerances, material properties, surface finishes, and administrative data. The system enables mapping the CAD features and their associated properties into machineable features providing a complete definition of what is being machined. These manufacturing features and their properties are then fed into Esprit's Knowledge-Base, aiding users in automatically selecting how to machine the part based upon existing best practices.

Known for its ease of use, the former SmartCAM software program was highly regarded years ago before the company folded. After its rights were acquired from UGS in 2003, the software was redeveloped by Smart-CAMcnc (Springfield, OR), which has released five major updates to its Windows-based SmartCAMcnc software package in just under three years, according to Hugh Caldwell, SmartCAMcnc vice president.

At IMTS, SmartCAMcnc announced that SmartCAM V13.5 functionality provides all SmartCAM customers with its new Job Information Management enhancements for organizing and capturing of job and process data. The SmartCAMcnc line of stand-alone CAM software includes packages for milling, turning, fabrication, and wire EDM applications on a full range of parts, from two-axis work to complex three-axis molds, dies, and prototypes. SmartCAMcnc also provides maintenance contracts, updates, upgrades, and technical support for all SmartCAM users, regardless of version.

"The new enhancements allow a user to create a 'master job library' and to populate it by capturing and collecting the tooling, operation parameters, and speeds and feeds from their previous SmartCAM job files," notes Doug Oliver, Smart- CAMcnc senior product manager. "Once the library is populated, the stored data can be easily inserted into the current job, which will greatly reduce the time required for defining tooling and job parameters, saving 50% or more of the time previously required to set up a new job. Because the new tools capture the existing tool and job data, users can now spend more time on their primary task: creating accurate and efficient toolpaths."

NC simulation and optimization in the Vericut NC software package from CGTech Corp. (Irvine, CA) have been enhanced with new capabilities to support more complex processes and machines, simulating multiple setups in a single simulation session. The updated Vericut 6.0 software offers new features designed to increase the ability of CNC programmers and manufacturing engineers to analyze and optimize the entire CNC machining process in order to increase manufacturing efficiency.

With Vericut, users can tie complex machining processes together with the ability to simulate multiple setups in a single simulation session. The updated software also includes enhanced collision-checking that monitors spindle states for milling and turning simulation, enabling users to catch common programming errors with spindle and cutting-tool usage.

The updated Vericut software includes significantly enhanced simulation of complex cutting-tool shapes commonly used in production processes and shows the NC programmer or manufacturing engineer exactly what will happen when using the tool. "The result of this work is a tightly unified environment for simulating complex mill/turn multi-function machining centers for production processes," notes Bill Hasenjaeger, CGTech product manager. "Vericut leverages the results of simulating complex processes with the ability to create inspection instructions, CNC inspection programs, and automated process documentation using the simulated workpiece. Because of Vericut's accurate, feature-rich inprocess model of the simulated workpiece, the inspection and process documents can accurately reflect the state of the workpiece at any stage of the process.


This article was first published in the November 2006 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 11/1/2006

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