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CAD/CAM Options for Increased Shop Productivity

Ben Mund
By Ben Mund Senior Market Analyst, CNC Software Inc.

Manufacturing Engineering: What are the latest technical trends in CAD/CAM software development?

New shaped tooling can deliver faster results with finer finishes. This part was programmed with Mastercam’s Accelerated Finishing toolpaths, designed to take advantage of these shaped tools.

Ben Mund: CAD/CAM is always rapidly developing. Manufacturing technology continues to evolve to increase productivity. The disruptions of 2020 underscore the need for more productivity, with many shops evaluating capacity and revising growth strategies. Manufacturers are demanding solutions that are collaborative, cost-effective, and scalable.

In CAM software, three trending factors are critical: advanced toolpath strategies, technical partnerships between different types of industry leaders, and connectivity/Industry 4.0. These three pillars guide technical developments to produce benefits accessible to manufacturers without placing undue stress on operations.

ME: What’s new with your latest CAD/CAM software?

Mund: Our Dynamic Motion toolpath engine has been expanded to include more machining situations, including 2D milling, 3D milling, and turning. We’ve also upgraded both the “basic” and “advanced” ends of the CAM spectrum with smarter drilling and more automatic multiaxis cutting. Mastercam’s Accelerated Finishing toolpath strategy is also closely tied to next-generation tool forms being released.

With regard to tool forms, our relationships with tooling manufacturers yield direct benefits to Mastercam users. The ability to import tool libraries and use strategies for an expanding range of tool shapes saves programming time in addition to time on the machine.

And finally, we’ve continued to expand our external connectivity to ensure that data can be brought in, used, and shared in the best way possible. The CAD/CAM software directs the machine tool, of course, but it’s also a platform for applications such as metrology, reverse engineering, and digital tool management. Clean, efficient data exchange throughout manufacturing processes supports many of the productivity gains derived from the advent of Industry 4.0.

ME: How are users best applying new CAD/CAM tools and techniques in manufacturing?

Mund: This is always an interesting question, because the reality is that not all shops need to apply all the latest tools. Small improvements or upgrades to existing techniques are easy to identify and use, as they quickly become part of the processes that already use those techniques. The trick for successful shops is a) making sure they know what the latest major software tools are, and b) evaluating if each of the major new tools applies to them.

Over the first part of 2020, we talked to a lot of shops who have used the disruption to re-evaluate their assumptions and their jobs. The slowdown some shops have seen has given them time to examine new software options. This lets them determine whether they can increase throughput on those (or similar) jobs, and if there are other areas where those options can be applied. They can then choose to use only those new software tools that actually make a difference to their shop’s time, money, or both.

The most practical advice we’ve seen is to first work with your CAM representative for an overview of the new tools you’re not using and whether or not they are beneficial for you. Then, invest in training to get the most from those options.

ME: What impact are some of the newer additive tools having today on CAD/CAM?

Mund: As the additive manufacturing industry continues to mature, the software systems used to control the process are becoming more open to working with current CAM systems. It is common for a new AM machine to include its own software for controlling the build parameters. This may be necessary as the technology is new, and processes are still undergoing development. Once a process has been in the market for some time, the desire to use traditional CAM systems will push the market. We are constantly evaluating AM as it advances; for example, we see heavy projected growth for powder-bed fusion systems moving into 2021.

ME: Are CAD/CAM systems becoming easier to use? And just how important is that to today’s users?

Mund: Ease of use is extremely important and always improving. In the case of Mastercam, we have a division devoted to user experience (UX) working to make sure that new and existing features are constantly improved and streamlined to make them as straightforward as possible. As we do with our toolpaths, we are constantly testing these UX improvements through a user feedback program.

The reason ease of use is such an important component of CAD/CAM goes back to the first question and the goal of almost every shop—to increase productivity. Shops can never stand still in doing things better, faster, and more efficiently. CAD/CAM developers need to be just as aggressive in making sure the software they deliver lets them do that in as easy a way as possible.

ME: How has Mastercam’s strength in the educational CAM market helped CNC’s software development?

Mund: Mastercam is in thousands of educational institutions, ranging from high schools to advanced university labs. This has two primary benefits. The first is helping fill the skills gap by encouraging as many students as possible to move into the job market with a solid and immediately usable CAD/CAM foundation.

Going back to your question, the second benefit is innovation. While institutions such as high schools are delivering the fundamentals, the advanced uses at some colleges and universities can push the boundaries of what software can do and help us better understand where some emerging technologies and techniques might fit. We’ve even hired Mastercam students into CNC Software in engineering and technical roles.

ME: Describe a particularly innovative way a Mastercam user deployed the software.

Mund: A company in Washington state uses Mastercam to rapidly create precision burn masks for fire victims. These burn masks replicate the entire face in an internal cavity and can dramatically help in healing, especially when applied accurately and early. The shop has to get facial scans from doctors or emergency units, produce the burn mask and get it out to the facility with incredible speed and precision. I’ve seen some of the results, and it’s satisfying to see how advances in manufacturing can so positively impact real lives.

Updated Measurement Software

The latest CARTO 4.2 suite of calibration software is now available for users of Renishaw’s XM-60 measurement equipment.

Renishaw Inc., West Dundee, Illinois, has released the latest version of its CARTO software suite for calibration products. The new suite, CARTO 4.2, uses dynamic data fit functionality to allow Renishaw’s XM-60 multi-axis calibrator to quickly capture and analyze data from linear axes of any length. The XM-60 measures all six degrees of freedom (linear, vertical and horizontal straightness, pitch, yaw and roll) on any form of linear axis. With the addition of the new XM-60 long-range measurement functionality in CARTO 4.2, unlimited measurement range is now possible.

Heidenhain linear compensation is a new option in the CARTO Compensate 4.2 application. This feature allows laser users to apply pitch error compensation to Heidenhain machine tool controls. Renishaw’s CARTO 4.2 is available to download free of charge now at

Siemens Adds MBD in NX Software

Rapid definition and authoring in NX MBD using user-defined rules simplifies the task of authoring PMI (part manufacturing information) by capturing key characteristics and knowledge.

Siemens Digital Industries Software, Plano, Texas, has expanded its Xcelerator software portfolio with enhanced Model Based Definition (MBD) in the latest version of the company’s NX CAD/CAM software.

The latest version of NX lets companies use a rules and knowledge-based approach to MBD, which builds in best practices and leverages artificial intelligence. NX MBD provides a variety of characteristics beyond size and shape to enable a digital twin. By including non-geometric data within the CAD model, engineers can now produce a digital definition of a product in an organized manner.

In trying to replicate a drawing-based workflow in the context of 3D CAD design, many companies are ending up with a 3D drawing, which does not have the tools to capture the true business intelligence needed to take advantage of the digital twin and digital thread. Using NX’s MBD, designers and engineers can automatically create and reuse data, adding more intelligence to the model, leveraging the data to inform other products and decisions—moving to a model-based enterprise, according to Siemens.

Optimized Five-Axis Post Processor for FANUC Controls

A new five-axis Mastercam post processor allows FANUC machine tool users to reduce cycle times while boosting part accuracy.

CNC builder FANUC America Corp., Rochester Hills, Mich., and Mastercam developer CNC Software Inc., Tolland, Conn., have introduced a new post processor designed to optimize five-axis capabilities in FANUC CNCs. The new post processor allows machine tool operators to reduce cycle times while boosting part accuracy.

“For five-axis simultaneous contouring, a quality CAD/CAM system is critical,” said Rick Schultz, aerospace program manager for FANUC America. “FANUC has worked closely with CNC Software to make it easy for programmers to create optimal toolpaths using the advanced algorithms available in the five-axis Milling Standard Package for FANUC’s 30i-B and 30i-B Plus Series controls.”

Key functions in the Milling Standard Package for FANUC controls include Tool Center Point (TCP); Workpiece Setting; Error Compensation (WSEC); Easy Setting Function to support multiple acceleration and process profiles; and advanced look-ahead algorithms AICC II with Smooth Tolerance Control+. “This new Mastercam post processor unlocks the full potential of machine tools with the five-axis Milling Standard Package,” said Schultz. “Shorter cycle times with better path accuracy and mirror surface finishes will set a new standard for machining with Mastercam-generated code.”

MillMax Aims to Optimize Milling Productivity

MSC Industrial Supply Co., a distributor of MRO products and services based in Melville, N.Y., and Davidson, N.C., has announced MSC MillMax, a new service focused on maximizing manufacturers’ milling productivity and reducing cost.

MSC MillMax combines the knowledge and insight of MSC’s metalworking specialists with impact testing equipment to improve milling performance on CNC machine tools. As part of the new service, MSC’s metalworking specialists will recommend an optimal tool and/or holder for each application from its portfolio. These specialists will then perform an impact test and share the ideal performance parameters in minutes. MSC’s representatives will also provide documented application cost savings as appropriate.

MSC MillMax originated through a cooperative R&D agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to improve the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers. Under the project, MSC’s metalworking specialists are trained by ORNL to work with manufacturers to optimize their CNC machine tools and collect data that will advance manufacturing in the U.S.

Quality Software for Manufacturing Assembly

Retrocausal Inc., Redmond, Wash., a developer of visual mistake-proofing software, has released RetroActivity software, said to offer advances in quality control for manual assembly processes in discrete manufacturing.

Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), Retroactivity identifies errors or missed steps to assembly workers through verbal prompts and visual cues. Retrocausal projects average improvements of 10 percent in first-time yields and reductions of 60 percent in manual assembly-related quality issues.

Retrocausal was originally developed to help surgical residents and nurses train for complex medical procedures in collaboration with CAE Healthcare and NASA Johnson Space Center. The company identified an even bigger need in U.S. manufacturing for continuous quality monitoring and training for workers, alongside analytics for industrial engineers and managers. Retrocausal has recently partnered with Siemens Digital Industries Software and is working to improve manual assembly-related quality issues in discrete manufacturing.

RetroActivity technology uses AI that understands complex human activities, as well as the specific details of the parts being assembled, the company said. RetroActivity comes loaded onto a small computer with a Bluetooth camera and an adjustable mount. Alternately, the project engineer can install RetroActivity software on an existing hardware system or through the cloud. The developer has also earned a grant from NASA to build an extra pair of eyes to assist astronauts in performing complex operations in space. RetroActivity can be purchased by subscription.

AI Solution Released for Plant Optimization


Aspen Technology Inc., Bedford, Mass., an asset optimization software developer, has introduced aspenONE V12 software, which embeds artificial intelligence (AI) across the portfolio, supporting increased safety, sustainability, and improved margins for industrial companies.

The aspenONE V12 solutions have an Industrial AI hybrid model designed for the process industries and other capital-intensive industries. Aspen Hybrid Models capture data from assets across the enterprise, and then apply AI, engineering first principles, and the company’s domain expertise to deliver more comprehensive, accurate models.

New features of aspenONE V12 software include the Aspen Maestro, a capability for Aspen DMC3 and Aspen Mtell, which automates the development of better models faster by guiding a less experienced user on how to build a particular model or agent; Aspen Deep-Learning IQ, enabling the building of more accurate models; and Aspen Verify for Planning, using AI to capture knowledge and check against plan to prevent costly mistakes. The Aspen Multi-Case, which runs thousands of simulations cases concurrently, on-premises or in the cloud, allows a more complete analysis so results can be used to navigate operational complexity and make more accurate decisions faster.

Software Update is edited by Contributing Editor Patrick Waurzyniak; contact him at

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