Cutting Metal More Efficiently
More software support for multitasking machines and better simulations pace productivity improvements
By Patrick Waurzyniak
With multitasking machine tools proliferating, manufacturing software developers continue to offer more support of MTM, while beefing up machine simulation capabilities to help users program the highly complex machinery.
The latest offerings from CAD/CAM and NC simulation/verification software developers feature much wider support of multitasking machines (MTM) as well as enhancements for high-speed machining (HSM), improved 3-D simulation capabilities, and in some cases, tighter integration of NC cutting processes with the large-scale PLM software employed predominantly at big automotive and aerospace manufacturers.
In the highly fragmented CAM market, the two largest suppliers, UGS (Plano, TX) and the team of CATIA developer Dassault Systèmes (Paris) and IBM Corp. (Armonk, NY), hold the top spots in market share based on CAM-related revenues, according to the latest NC software report by CIMdata Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI). Mastercam developer CNC Software Inc. (Tolland, CT) once again leads the industry in overall CAM industrial seats installed in 2004.
Improving collaborative development with digital manufacturing solutions holds the potential to speed time-to-market while lowering costs. With the recent Dassault/IBM update of the Version 5 Release 16 (V5R16) PLM offering, the companies have added significant new functionality in the PLM solutions suite—comprised of CATIA, Delmia, Enovia, and Smarteam—that more tightly unify the solutions. The updated PLM systems, which include Delmia's new V5R16 digital manufacturing solutions, have added capabilities in collaborative product development, extending use of 3-D XML within the enterprise and accelerating system performance with full Windows 64-bit support.
"We are linking together CAD/CAM, manufacturing, and data management because that's important to industries today," notes Bob Axtman, business development director for Dassault's Delmia Corp. subsidiary (Auburn Hills, MI). "It's no longer just a separate entity of CAD or product design using CAD systems, and it's no longer just CAM for machining. There's a lot more involved with producing a 'part' than just those entities—it's a combination of processes and methodologies that have to be considered."
The Dassault update also includes added capabilities that more tightly meld CATIA's CAM offering with Delmia's NC simulation software. "From the CATIA standpoint, there were two significant enhancements of Dassault related to how we share information and data together," notes Lance Murphy, product manager for Dassault's Enovia brand. "But also the CATIA Machining Solutions have integrated the Delmia simulation technology, so that realistic NC machine and material-removal simulations are possible. Now you can run those simulations in CATIA and reduce lead time from the program to the production side.
"The big thing is pulling these solutions together," Murphy adds. "This allows people to work in their environment and empowers them to be able to make decisions, changes, and understand the impact of their changes throughout the product development and the manufacturing process. A unified platform like Dassault's for data enables people to work on the real product definition when they make decisions affecting their process on the shop floor."
By adding Windows XP 64-bit support, Dassault's solutions are now more capable of quickly handling large data sets for manufacturing, with huge files ranging into the terabyte level, Axtman adds. "Most manufacturing out there today is handling these large data sets. Up until this point we were still at 32 bits. At 64 bits, we eliminate the slowness caused by handling all those data sets, and this isn't simulation—it's just handling the file systems that are out there today. With the amount of data that exists not only in automotive and aerospace but in shipbuilding and electronics, the files are getting massive. It's typically 128 GB of RAM and 16 terabytes of virtual memory, so that exceeds most of what's out there today, including full-ship or nuclear-submarine capability. We've now eliminated the issue of time per data sets—it's solved."
With UGS' updated NX 4, enhanced 3-D simulations include controller-driven simulation of Siemens' 840D control and machine simulation kits for complex multitasking machines.
The systems' new 3-D XML capabilities also allow engineers to share the visual graphics shell of a product via PowerPoint or Word documents that also can include images of the file for manipulation or annotation in collaborative review sessions. "That's important to manufacturing," Axtman says. "The transferring of data is one thing, but the image is also as important for the shop floor or global facilities that need to view and manipulate these viewpoints for a collaborative review."
Enhanced machining simulation has been included in UGS' latest CAM update with its NX 4 software, which also features increased support of HSM and multifunction machines. "The CAM business doesn't change rapidly," notes UGS' Vynce Paradise, "but as far as machining function—HSM, hardened materials, mold and die, five-axis typically for aerospace but increasingly mold/die, and the multifunction/multitasking machines and the mill-turns—those rapidly changing areas of functionality have been our focus the last three years."
With NX 4, UGS has added new functions to allow more flexibility in using its Synchronization Manager for multiple channels and multiple devices on multifunction machine tools, with the 3-D model of the in-process workpiece now integrated across multiple milling and turning functions. In NX 4, integrated machining simulation has been enhanced with support for complex machines with nonorthogonal rotary machining axes, according to UGS, and the software allows collision-checking with non-active tools, which can be critical in complex configurations such as mill-turns with additional tooling in positions close to the workpiece. Controller-driven simulation, initially prototyped in NX 3, now supports the Siemens 840D controller in an add-on module, allowing an NX simulation to be directly driven by a version of Siemens controller software, which is said to offer more accurate and reliable simulation that can eliminate or reduce program prove-out at the machine tool.
"Every time we add more functionality to it, there are more things you get such as enhanced display, and a much tighter integration between the toolpath verification and the machine simulation," Paradise says. "We've improved dynamic rotates when it's simulating. Postprocessing and simulation are very tightly linked, and for the mill-turns we have combinations of postprocessors and simulation kits, with a 3-D model of the machine, the software driver to animate it, and the accompanying postprocessor connected to it as a kit."
High-end NC simulation/verification from CGTech Corp. (Irvine, CA), developer of Vericut NC software, has added extensive support for MTM, according to Bill Hasenjaeger, CGTech product manager. "CAM software needs to quickly adapt to the latest machine tool and process technology, and we've increasingly been challenged to simulate more complex processes and more complex machines," Hasenjaeger notes. "Worldwide competitive pressures appear to be driving this trend towards higher automation and consolidation of previously separate machining operations on a single machine tool. Formerly called mill-turn machines, the new breed of multitasking or multifunction machines are more complex to set up, program, and simulate."
In addition, more multiaxis milling machines are being used for machining processes previously done using simple three-axis milling machines, he adds, a trend fueled by a significant decrease in price of multiaxis machining centers over the past few years. "Even small and mid-size tooling shops that previously would not have considered buying a five-axis milling machine now have to learn how to set up and program these machines, making accurate five-axis NC program verification and machine simulation a mandatory tool."
The latest CGTech Vericut 6.0 can synchronize a nearly unlimited number of machine "channels" or machines with multiple synchronized CNC controls.
With its latest update, Vericut Version 6.0, CGTech has added new capabilities to support more complex processes and machines, simulating multiple setups in a single simulation session. "The manufacturing engineer organizes all his NC process steps in one place, and the workpieces transition from setup to setup automatically during the simulation," he adds. "Multifunction machines with a virtually unlimited number of independently controlled tools, spindles, and auxiliary attachments, are also supported. Each independent 'channel' is defined in Vericut as a subsystem, tied together with CNC control logic to synchronize axis motion."
The updated Vericut also includes enhanced collision-checking that monitors spindle states for milling and turning simulation, and significantly enhanced simulation of the complex cutting tool designs used on these machines in production processes.
Most CAM developers have updated packages that include more support for MTM, HSM, and added machine and/or NC simulation. In Mastercam X, CNC Software has added a host of new features including a new Windows interface, machine and control definitions, and new toolpaths for HSM and multiaxis machining. "Some key trends are that software is driven by machine tool manufacturers—we're constantly coming up with strategies to run machine tool vendors' new machines," says Mark Summers, CNC Software president. "For example, Mori Seiki asks us to come up with new functionality that will run their machines, and Mazak is another vendor that contacts us before their machines come out.
"Machine and control definition allows you to store knowledge of your machine and control, to save time and increase productivity. You can either choose a pre-made definition for your machine, or create one yourself. With machine definition, Mastercam streamlines what is available so you only see what your machine can perform. The software also checks user input to prevent programming mistakes, and allows machine-to-machine programming to support the natural work flow of the shop environment."
For CAM developer Delcam plc (Birmingham, UK), the overall business climate last year was the best it has been for several years, according to Delcam's Peter Dickin, and the company last year acquired FeatureCAM developer Engineering Geometry Systems (Salt Lake City), which now operates as Delcam USA. "Global sales of machine tools have grown considerably this year," Dickin notes. "Having said that, the division of work around the world is changing, and CAM developers must ensure that their sales organizations can adapt to the new global economy.
"The aerospace business is booming, with both Boeing and Airbus in the middle of major development programs, with large defense projects such as the JSF [Joint Strike Fighter] in progress. However, these new programs are seeing significant changes in manufacturing techniques, in particular, the increased use of composites in airframes."
With the latest Delcam PowerMILL 6.0 CAM package, the company has broadened the program's functionality from its traditional focus on three-axis machining for the mold and die industry with high-speed machining, Dickin says. "We have continued the development in three-axis machining but have also added much greater strength in 2-D and five-axis machining, and made the software more suitable for a range of industries, especially aerospace and autosport machining."
New features in PowerMILL version 6.0 include a 2-D Machining Wizard to make the generation of 2-D toolpaths much easier and quicker, a series of templates for drilling with improved hole recognition, improved methods for machining flat areas, additional swarf machining methods with support for tapered tools, automatic collision avoidance that tilts the tool away from the part if a potential collision is detected, and improved plunge- machining routines for both area clearance and finishing.
In FeatureCAM 2006, the latest enhancements include improved MTM support for machines with multiple turrets, according to Tom McCollough, Delcam USA vice president, software development. "Complex machines are part of today's market," he says. "For milling, it still makes sense in some situations to purchase separate mills; but for turning, people are leaving the simple two-axis machines behind. Prices for these machines have been lowered, but the expertise required to run them has increased. There are just too many things moving at once to program them manually. To meet this demand, we have improved FeatureCAM's support for turning and multiple-turret machines, and we have also added full-machine simulation in order to show part cutting on these complex and expensive machines before the NC code is actually run."
The upcoming GibbsCAM 2006 update will include several enhancements in graphics simulation capabilities as well as HSM and multiaxis machining, according to Bill Gibbs, president, Gibbs and Associates (Moorpark, CA). "A significant part of our business plan is protecting our customer's investments with a program of on-going improvements," Gibbs notes. "GibbsCAM has been overhauled for the latest in OpenGL technology, providing high-performance graphics for modeling and cut-part verification, using the power that the current inexpensive graphics cards provide.
"Our product focus begins with Production Machining," Gibbs says. "This release adds new capabilities for pocketing, drilling, and turning; new high-speed machining and three-axis milling capabilities; four and five-axis simultaneous milling improvements; improvements in CAD model associativity; and automated programming."
At Surfware Inc. (Westlake Village, CA), the upcoming SurfCAM Velocity III release targeted for later this year will feature Surfware's patent-pending TrueMill technology applied to three-axis simultaneous milling, which will further improve the mold-machining process, says Glenn Coleman, Surfware vice president, product design.
"The most significant advancement in our SurfCAM Velocity II release for the first quarter of 2006 is the application of TrueMill technology to the rough milling of complex, multiple surfaces," notes Coleman. "Combining the toolpath technology of TrueMill with our patented mold-roughing process enables moldmakers to realize the time savings that we offer for production milling."
This article was first published in the February 2006 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.