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CAD/CAM Software Advances

New software tools improve efficiencies in multitasking machining,
blade machining and turbomachinery 

 

By Patrick Waurzyniak 
Senior Editor 
 

Speeding up programming tasks on CAD/CAM software ranks at the top of machine shops’ requirements when faced with making quality parts on a deadline. The more efficient a shop’s toolpaths are, the less chance that any programming problems result in wasting very expensive machine time on the shop floor.  

With some of the latest improvements in CAD/CAM software, machinists can add new techniques for creating toolpaths for the highly complex but versatile multitask machining (MTM) or multifunction machines that continue to gain converts. Many CAM packages also offer specialized features for cutting bladed parts, including the impellers and blisks used in the aerospace and automotive industries. Five-axis machining and usability enhancements to CAM and NC simulation software also are being added to most software packages.

In the highly fragmented CAM software market, Dassault Systèmes holds the largest share at 18.0%, with Siemens PLM Software at 12.1% and Delcam in third place with a 7.5% share, according to the latest figures on CAM software and services from market researcher CIMdata Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI). Recent CAM software mergers include Siemens’ acquisition of Vistagy Inc. (Waltham, MA), a developer of composite engineering solutions, and the merger of UK-based developers Vero Software and Planit Holdings.    

Specialized CAM

The machine tool industry may be entering an era of specialization in CAM software, where many CAM software developers simply cannot afford to offer software tools for everything. “We’re not seeing game-changers from everybody, but what everyone is doing is improving how well our customers can machine components,” says Bill Gibbs, president, Gibbs and Associates (Moorpark, CA), developer of GibbsCAM. 

The machine tool industry may be entering an era of specialization in CAM software, where many CAM software developers simply cannot afford to offer software tools for everything. “We’re not seeing game-changers from everybody, but what everyone is doing is improving how well our customers can machine components,” says Bill Gibbs, president, Gibbs and Associates (Moorpark, CA), developer of GibbsCAM. GibbsCAM

Popular user requests today are for new five-axis machining methods in the GibbsCAM software, he says, which enable spending much less time on machining setups. The company recently began offering two new GibbsCAM options, the 5-Axis MultiBlade and 5-Axis Advanced MultiBlade, that Gibbs describes as a set of capabilities specialized for the turbomachinery industry for machining parts for turbines and turbocharging equipment on both machining centers and MTM machines. “It’s a very interesting specialization for things including the turbos found on high-performance vehicles—everything that moves the fluid, or air, there’s a good chance there’s a device like that in there,” Gibbs notes. 

The GibbsCAM blade options can help users machine parts with blades with greatly reduced machining times coupled with increased machining quality. “Why does it take so long? Why is my surface finish not as good as I’d like? How can I make it work faster? The trend in CAM software is that you have to find more to specialize in,” Gibbs observes. “The days of providing everything has largely passed us by.” The MultiBlade interface provides access to toolpath strategies used in machining bladed parts such as impellers, blisks (bladed disks), and blings (bladed rings) used in industries where fluid (gas or liquid) compression or pressurized flow is required, mostly in aerospace, automotive and power generation.

Automating difficult-to-program parts, such as multiaxis machining of blades and automotive cylinder head ports, can save machinists time and speed efficiencies by using software that automates those tasks, notes Steve Bertrand, director, international strategic partnerships, CNC Software Inc. (Tolland, CT), developer of Mastercam software. The latest Mastercam includes Port Expert, specialized multiaxis programming for precision head porting that provides dramatically faster port programming and machining time, along with smoother toolpath motion, Bertrand notes, as well as Blade Expert, an easy-to-use custom application designed to generate efficient, smooth, and gouge-free toolpaths for cutting multibladed parts and hubs. “It minimizes unnecessary motion at the machine, resulting in a highly efficient toolpath with superior finish quality,” he says.

With CNC Software’s Swiss Expert, users can control the Swiss-style NC machines used by watch-making, medical device, dental, automotive, and electronics companies for the requirement of extremely small but very precise parts, notes Bertrand. This software option reduces startup time, is ideal for optimizing cycle times, and supports all types of tooling. 

“Companies are making software tailored to certain applications to make the programming of parts easier and quicker than ever before,” he adds. “Today’s users are looking for ease of use, automation, flexibility, and versatility in their CAM software. They want a package that can automate their machining process so they can cut parts faster than ever.”
  

   

MTM, Turn-Mills in Demand 

With global competition, manufacturing companies must be able to compete with builders anywhere in the world. In the latest V6R2012 CAD/CAM applications from Dassault DELMIA, the company has added full toolpath compatibility for its highly installed V5 CAD/CAM software with the newer Version 6 lineup, and Dassault also has improved its online collaboration capabilities for its PLM users, making it easier to quickly exchange data within far-flung plant operations worldwide. 

With global competition, manufacturing companies must be able to compete with builders anywhere in the world. In the latest V6R2012 CAD/CAM applications from Dassault DELMIA, the company has added full toolpath compatibility for its highly installed V5 CAD/CAM software with the newer Version 6 lineup, and Dassault also has improved its online collaboration capabilities for its PLM users, making it easier to quickly exchange data within far-flung plant operations worldwide. 

While there have been many gains in CAD/CAM, including taking greater advantage of dual-core processors and the Windows 7 64-bit operating systems, changing the way companies work may be most important. “What I see in general in the CAM industry, it’s not the actual software itself that’s having the big change, but it’s the way the companies are forced to do business now,” notes NC Kishore, global CAD/CAM industry leader, Dassault Systèmes. “In the global scenario, it is imperative that we support that kind of environment. Our V6 platform will enable companies to work globally more easily and collaborate and exchange in a very secure environment.

“We have always improved toolpath computation speed,” Kishore adds regarding leveraging faster processors and more efficient operating systems, which have helped boost computational speeds some 30%. “It’s a combination of hardware and software algorithms in the system. The algorithms consider the kinematics of the machines, and we can use that to help compute the toolpaths. One of the key things in machining is that mill-turns are really starting to rule the world. These are multitasking machines that are much more capable, and are much more flexible to give users what they want.” 

Demand for the Dassault V6 multitasking module, Turning Machining, is very strong, Kishore adds. “This is extremely powerful now in being able to program and simulate multiple turrets, and also part transferring.”  DentCAM

Other CAM developers concur, as demand for MTM modules has stayed strong even with recessionary times, due in part to lower costs for these complex machine tools that offer flexible machining with fewer setups. “The general technical requirements remain the same—they are looking for the ability to quickly create efficient toolpaths,” notes Glenn McMinn, president, Delcam North America (Windsor, ON, Canada, and Birmingham, UK). “Many shops are reevaluating their overall CAM solution and looking for a single vendor who can help them program all the machines in their shop and provide expert support for all of their locations. Having a team of experienced technical experts is a real key. 

“We’ve seen a real increase in demand for programming solutions for turn/mill and Swiss turning machines,” McMinn states. “With Delcam’s FeatureCAM and PartMaker products we’ve been perfectly positioned.” The company’s DentCAM and DentMill software for medical applications also has seen strong demand, he adds, and the CAM developer continues to share precision milling technology across its CAM family of PowerMILL, FeatureCAM, ArtCAM, Delcam for SolidWorks and  PartMaker solutions. New in 2012 will be a further sharing of technology among Delcam packages, including the release of Delcam’s new Vortex algorithm, a patented adaptive area clearance roughing algorithm that will be shared across Delcam's CAM product line. 

Users continue to look for CAM systems that can leverage more of the manufacturing data that exists in some of the CAD models, and they also seek to take advantage of the new functionality in the increasingly complex multifunction machine tools, notes Bruce Wiener, director of R&D and support—CAMWorks, Geometric Technologies (Scottsdale, AZ, and Mumbai), a division of Geometric Americas Inc. “Multiaxis not only covers four- to five-axis simultaneous mill but to a greater extent, mill/turn machines with multiple spindles and turrets,” he says. “We are finding a sharp increase in the number of companies looking to automate all or some aspects of their CNC programming tasks. The obvious benefit is time, but also consistency from component to component, and it fills the gap in the labor force of experienced CNC programmers and operators.”

As with many recent CAM updates, Geometric has added Version 4.0 of the VoluMill toolpath functionality from Celeritive Technologies (Cave Creek, AZ) to its CAMWorks 2012 solids-based CNC programming solution. 

The future of CAD/CAM will be based on the introduction of design intelligence into the software and maximizing industry innovations and cutting edge technologies, adds Marc Freebury of Vero Software Ltd. (Cheltingham, UK), developer of the VISI CAD/CAM software and also the Planit line of CAM packages. “Advances in PC hardware, design/engineering machining and cutting tools will result in CAD/CAM suppliers optimizing their offerings,” he says. “PC hardware technology is vital to CAD/CAM development—without hardware advancements, CAM features such as complex full-machine simulations and high-tolerance toolpath calculations would not be possible.”

The cost of multiaxis machining centers has also been reduced, making it easier to purchase higher-spec machine tools that need more advanced toolpath strategies. “But the key is automation,” Freebury adds. “Development over recent years has seen automation of machining come to the forefront of development, with automatic recognition and machining of standard feature types including holes, pockets and bosses, even to the extent of choosing the correct machining methods based on size and type of geometry.” 

   

Making CAM Easier 

NakamuraUsing CAM systems hasn’t always been the easiest task even for advanced technical users, and many developers have included extensive usability enhancements. In the new version 8 NX CAD/CAM/CAE package from Siemens PLM Software (Plano, TX), Siemens offers extensive updates to its design, manufacturing and engineering analysis components, including usability enhancements and new ways to machine parts with new volume-based 2.5-axis milling functionality.  

Using CAM systems hasn’t always been the easiest task even for advanced technical users, and many developers have included extensive usability enhancements. In the new version 8 NX CAD/CAM/CAE package from Siemens PLM Software (Plano, TX), Siemens offers extensive updates to its design, manufacturing and engineering analysis components, including usability enhancements and new ways to machine parts with new volume-based 2.5-axis milling functionality.  

“Our focus was on making the software easier to use,” says Siemens PLM Software’s Vynce Paradise. “We've redesigned and added to the basic milling and turning packages to offer a comprehensive solution for machinery or prismatic part programming.”

The new NX 8 also adds a Feature Teacher and Operation Teacher that can help users program the system using automated feature-based techniques. “These are interactive tools that a customer could use to enhance the system,” Paradise says.

 

NC Simulations Also Critical  

Simulating NC code quickly and accurately is a must for CAM software programming. Not only is simulation speed important to customers, but the time spent preparing a simulation is also critical, notes Bill Hasenjaeger, product manager, CGTech Corp. (Irvine, CA).

CGTech’s Vericut NC simulation, verification and optimization software offers several enhancements for faster simulation of CNC code. “We look to invent new ways to reduce the time required to set up and run a simulation,” Hasenjaeger says. “CAD solid models of cutting tools are becoming more prevalent. A new Vericut feature allows easy import and identification of which part of the CAD model is the insert or cutting edge and can cut, and which part is the cutter body and holder, which should be monitored for collisions. This simplifies the creation of an ‘intelligent’ Vericut cutting tool built directly from the tool supplier’s CAD design. We also constantly refine our various CAD/CAM interfaces to help integrate the simulation step into our customers’ workflow.” 

NC programmers increasingly need to communicate with the shop floor, customers, suppliers, and others, he points out. In the latest Vericut software, CGTech offers a Reviewer tool that allows low-end computers to interactively replay a Vericut simulation using an unlicensed player, allowing users to dynamically rotate/pan/zoom animated images, measure features, and inspect NC programs line-by-line.

“For years, we’ve been programming and simulating automated fiber-placement CNC machines, and we have also started programming and simulating auto-drilling and fastening machines,” Hasenjaeger adds. “Understanding other types of automated machinery helps us understand and assist with the customer’s complete process. Whether cutting composites with a milling cutter, or waterjet, or ultrasonic knife, or other process, Vericut can help reduce the chance of a very expensive mistake late in the production sequence.” 

Many customers are overloaded and are buying new NC machines, he adds. “Our customers are machining increasingly more complex parts, and adding complex multiaxis and multifunction CNC equipment to produce them. This trend is driven by the ever-present need to reduce production costs, together with better affordability and availability of multiaxis and MTM machines.” 

As machine tool builders add more features to each release, CAM companies seem to be struggling to keep up, he adds. “As a result, we have customers who are struggling to use their two-year-old CAM system to create programs for a machine they just purchased last month. Some CAM systems simply don’t have the required output capabilities, so our customers create the programs they need by hand-stitching NC programs together. This creates opportunities for us because they need to simulate that somehow; it’s simply too risky to prove-out a program on an expensive machine tool without simulating it first.” ME 

 

This article was first published in the February 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF.

 


Published Date : 2/1/2012

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