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How Small Shops Can Go Digital — Economically!

Stas Mylek
By Stas Mylek Senior Product Specialist, CNC Software

In the early days at CNC Software, we saw that our Mastercam CAD/CAM system was only part of a larger manufacturing solution and that an open architecture foundation could allow seamless data communication with complementary devices and systems across the shop floor.

Open architecture, along with partnerships with vertical solution providers, is fostering more cost-effective digital solutions that small shops are starting to adopt. These partnerships include such interrelated applications as paperless ERP/MES shop management; reverse engineering, CAD and model-based definition; CAD for CAM; cutting tool management; robotics; metrology, CMM programming, inspection and analysis; and machine monitoring and optimization.

For example, new ERP/MES systems provide job shops with real-time, paperless tracking and reporting tools that enable better-informed business decisions while monitoring the entire process, from initial quote to final deliverable. Data sharing between the ERP/MES system and the CAD/CAM system connects the shop infrastructure to the part manufacturing processes and information. Shared tooling data reduces job setup and tool presetting time while providing accurate tooling information to streamline costing, purchasing, and inventory management. CNC program operation data, fixturing information and work order change tracking can reduce machine setup and programming time and help eliminate errors and delays.

Further, when digital models or prints don’t exist, reverse engineering is typically the only choice available to replicate parts. Today’s reverse engineering technology enables shops to connect to and use measuring devices to create a digital 3D CAD model that can be machined using a CAM system.

Despite the power and efficiency gains with modern CAM products, manufacturing processes still require the support of transparent CAD data integration. Digital models and their associated model-based definitions have moved into the assembly, testing, and inspection of fixture designs to support additional manufacturing processes.

Also, tool management—and tool presetting in particular—helps job shops realize many cost benefits. Digital transparency and exchange between applications ensures that everything from tool setup to crib management, scheduling, inventory and procurement can be efficiently managed.

A new digital application involves measuring actual machine performance by capturing real-time operating data from the CNC. Utilities can connect to the machine controller, collect the data and compare it against the original G-code posted by the CNC programmer. By honing in on the sweet spot of the machine and the optimal capabilities of cutting tools, CNC programs can be optimized to run at specific feeds, speeds, spindle loads and horsepower requirements.

As for robotics, shared model data tied to integrated software can provide cost-effective automation for trimming, deburring, welding, spray coating and other processes. Unlike conventional off-line programming, these new applications take a CAD/CAM approach to robotics programming with a shared data model. This allows multiaxis robotic programming with optimized trajectories and complete process validation to be accomplished based on data from the same model used to generate the CNC part program.

At the end of the manufacturing process, the exchange of everything from model geometry to process documentation and reporting is critical to a successful digital inspection implementation. Using integrated, dimensional metrology solutions and a common interface along with their data models, users of these technologies can become more productive.

Opportunities for small shops to adopt shop-floor digitalization are expanding. If you would like more information about the applications mentioned here, email me at

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