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Toolpath Simulation Leads to Highly Optimized Parts

Gene Granata
By Gene Granata VERICUT Product Manager, CGTech Inc.
VERICUT simulation of Okuma's MU-8000 Laser EX hybrid machine depositing material on a large part. Different colors of deposited material show successive additive operations separated by subtractive milling cuts. (Provided by CGTech)

Manufacturing Engineering: What are some key technical trends in the development of toolpath simulation?

Gene Granata: With simulation software, all roads lead to optimization. Companies are searching for and learning which optimization products work best and deliver the touted results. The shortest optimized run time isn’t always best—it’s more about real constant chip thickness and consistency of machining conditions that provide the best overall results, increased tool life and extended CNC machine longevity.

Using specialized NC toolpath optimization software, like VERICUT’s Force optimization, addresses all of these issues. This could be in real time or batch processing, on new or existing NC programs, and destined for any NC machine. This flexibility is key for automating metal cutting productivity. It’s important while gathering data to make data-driven decisions instead of guesses. More accurate data helps companies provide more competitive quotes in a world of shrinking profit margins. Connecting to CNC machines is becoming more popular, primarily for monitoring overall equipment efficiency (OEE). However, there are many future plans to expand the data accessible from CNC machines and their controls as well as the sensors installed on them. This will close the loop between digital simulation environments and reality.

Access to “good” machining data (not just “Big Data”) can enable programmers to make better decisions, improve machining methods, and achieve optimal machining results the first time out. Doing so early in the manufacturing process, at the NC programming and simulation levels, is much more cost- and time-effective than on-machine prove-outs and testing.

ME: What are manufacturers looking for most out of their NC simulation?

Granata: Manufacturers are looking for the ability to simulate all of their processes—from traditional milling and turning machining processes to AM and hybrid methods, composites layups and trimming, and more. The goal is to verify the entire part manufacturing process “end-to-end,” rather than just verifying an NC program or single operation. They’re looking for software that provides guidance for NC programmers to be better machinists. For example:

--Are cutter extensions as short and rigid as they could be (also known as minimum cutter “reach” or “stickout”)?

--Is the planned machining surface footage appropriate for each cutter used in the stock material being machined?

--Are the programmed spindle speeds, feed rates and cutting strategies going to produce chip thicknesses that are within the cutter’s effective operating range?

--Are excessive cutting forces or tool deflection likely to be encountered? If so, where?

VERICUT Force users address all of these concerns through simulation and optimization. This is before sending NC programs to the machine, eliminating guesswork about machining and ensuring the best possible machined parts the first time. Software has to be expandable and adaptable to keep up with rapidly changing manufacturing environments—software that works with CAD/CAM systems they have today, as well as any popular CAD/CAM system they may decide to use in the future. What optimization or automation capabilities does it have? Does it have the ability to read/simulate legacy or modified G-code NC programs?

The more “connected” the software is, the better. For example, can the software connect to CAD/CAM systems for seamless transfer of data to automate setup for simulation/optimization? It needs to have the ability to import NC machine assemblies and kinematics and to more easily build virtual machines. It also needs to import cutting tools and their performance parameters from CAM and tool management systems, online tooling repositories, etc., as well as have the ability to quickly document manufacturing processes. VERICUT’s flexible report features provide a wealth of automated information, such as setup drawings, cutting tool lists, tool/part run times and critical part inspection information. A Review file can be saved and accessed by anyone who has the free downloadable Reviewer App. This inter-department connectivity more tightly integrates and reduces communication errors between NC programming and the shop, tool setup/cribs, quality assurance, and even planning/estimating departments.

ME: What are some of the newest technical capabilities in your latest toolpath simulation software?

Granata: VERICUT 9.2 performs faster collision checking, turning and mill-turn operations, and machining with complex cutting tools, such as those often distributed by cloud-based tooling repositories. New cutting data graphs provide the means to gather more key information about machining processes, highlight tool overloads/safety concerns, and show when cutters are underutilized or machining methods are inefficient. There are also enhanced “Learn” modes for optimization and more optimization strategies, such as calculating feed rates and subdividing tool motions to achieve constant ideal chip thicknesses as much as possible while simultaneously ensuring that maximum allowable tool deflection, cutting forces or spindle power demands are not exceeded.

ME: What new types of toolpath simulation functionality are needed and being developed for advanced manufacturing methods, such as additive manufacturing or composites machining?

Granata: For additive manufacturing, there are data-driven AM build simulations in the latest software. In addition to verifying AM settings and parameters, checking for proper laser-focal-to-part distances, and verifying maximum material overhang amounts, VERICUT’s additive simulation can gain intelligence to simulate build rates guided by actual on-machine test results. This enables simulation to more closely represent what happens with builds on CNC-controlled additive machines. There is also support for more AM build methods and machines. Since our version 9 release with enhanced support for simulating big-area AM (BAAM) and large-scale AM (LSAM) machines, other AM methods and machines are becoming more visible in manufacturing. These other methods include supersonic cold spray additive, CNC friction welding, robotic applications, continuous fiber composites additive, and others. If it can be used in part manufacturing, then it and its additive process must be both programmed and simulated!

Steelville Manufacturing uses VERICUT Force optimization to ensure maximum reliable feed rates are achieved for optimal cutting on its Okuma machines. (Provided by CGTech)

There are also more and easier ways to define complex and multitasking machines and attachments. Similar to how cutting tool assemblies are stored in tool libraries, users would like to be able to define and store working machine assemblies, such as additive heads, machining heads, robot end effectors, auxiliary rotary table assemblies, etc. Once cataloged in a library, all users in an organization can quickly retrieve or modify them for use in simulation on any brand of NC machine (or robot).

In addition to composites machining, CGTech also supports automated fiber placement toolpath programming and simulation. The technology allows for the precise placement of composite materials using CNC equipment. The machinery first originated in the 1970s, but recent advances in computing power and machine learning have opened the door to more sophisticated programming that takes advantage of composite properties. Instead of programming each ply in a vacuum, focusing on the part holistically allows programmers to embrace the material’s anisotropic nature and optimize final part performance.

FANUC Adds Integrated G-Code Programming for Robots

A machinist programs a FANUC robot via FANUC America's new QSSR feature. (Provided by FANUC America)

CNC and robot builder FANUC America Corp., Rochester Hills, Mich., has added a new feature that enables programmers of FANUC CNCs to directly program the company’s robots through CNC G-code.

FANUC said this introduces the next step in complete robotics and CNC integration for more efficient operations. FANUC CNCs now have the ability to control connected FANUC robots, providing machine tending or other assistance through FANUC’s Quick and Simple Startup of Robotization (QSSR).

More manufacturing operations are adding robotics to execute repetitive tasks previously performed manually. FANUC says QSSR is a complete package that simplifies the connection of a FANUC robot to a FANUC-controlled machine tool. The new QSSR G-code feature allows operators and machine tool builders to program robots through the FANUC CNC in ISO standard G-code format. Those unfamiliar with robotic programming languages will no longer require additional training because the programming can be performed with G-codes, according to FANUC. A reliance on a separate teach pendant for the robot is also greatly reduced with the capability of robotic programming and operation through the CNC user interface.

FANUC’s QSSR enables connecting a FANUC robot through a high-speed Ethernet cable to a machine tool and simplifies the setup, programming and operation, according to the company. The QSSR G-code feature is available on FANUC CNC Series Oi-F, Oi-F Plus, 30i-B and 30i-B Plus.

Marposs Introduces Optical Measurement Software

New software for Marposs optical technology testing testing systems has been added to the company's Optoquick and Optoflash measurement systems. (Provided by Marposs)

Marposs Corp., Auburn Hills, Mich., has enhanced the software embedded in its optical technology testing systems. The new software is designed with an intuitive interface that allows operators to configure new measurements on an Optoquick or Optoflash system. All measurements are archived for retrieval by the smart search function.

The company’s Optoquick flexible solution, featuring both optical and contact gauging, is suited for high-precision gauging controls on cam, crank, and gear shafts as well as drive shafts. It provides a quality control solution next to the machine tool on the manufacturing floor, according to the company. This helps speed up work-in-progress operations and eliminate time wasted in moving parts across the shop floor. It is available in five different models based on the part size being measured.

Optoflash is based on 2D optical technology that provides quality control for small-size shafts and fasteners. It features an industrial-grade architecture, making it appropriate for both laboratory and production environments. It is available in four models, all suited for the precision mechanical device and medical industries.

Hexagon Releases Reverse Engineering Software

Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence Division, based in North Kingstown, R.I., has released REcreate, a flexible software solution designed to make it easier and faster to reverse engineer parts from metrology scan to manufacturable model.

Hexagon's new REcreate software solution enables users to reverse engineer parts from metrology scans to manufacturable models. (Provided by Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence)

Reverse engineering is routinely employed throughout manufacturing and maintenance processes. However, despite the availability of capable metrology systems, these processes can require complex digital workflows to account for incompatible data types and technologies, which impedes productivity and can introduce errors, according to Hexagon.

Designed to remove complexity, REcreate provides a single working environment from scan to manufacturable CAD model. The user can prepare models from any point cloud data. Its CAD tool suite enables users to create manufacturable CAD models as well as 2D engineering drawings. REcreate’s analysis tools also enable manufacturing professionals to interrogate those 3D models and validate whether they are manufacturable before exporting as CAD or STL files for CAM or additive manufacturing processes.

While designed to be interoperable and slot into a customer’s existing methods, the solution offers additional benefits to customers that use other Hexagon technologies. Operations that use Hexagon’s portable arms for inspection can reduce training needs by allowing any operator to read inspection data directly from the device to perform reverse engineering using a single solution. REcreate is tested with Hexagon’s production software tools that are used to plan, optimize, and program machining processes.

Siemens Extends Simcenter Software

Siemens Digital Industries Software, Plano, Texas, has released the latest version of its Simcenter STAR-CCM+ software, which has achieved Amazon Web Services (AWS) High Performance Computing (HPC) Competency status. This designation recognizes that Siemens has demonstrated deep experience helping customers optimize their HPC workloads for performance and efficiency using AWS’s cloud infrastructure, according to Siemens.

The latest release of Simcenter STAR-CCM+ adds new features that helps engineers model the complexity of today's products faster. (Provided by Siemens Digital Industries Software)

The latest release of the multi-physics computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software includes new features to help engineers model the complexity of today’s products and explore design possibilities. Simcenter STAR-CCM+ is part of the Simcenter portfolio of simulation and test solutions within Siemens’ Xcelerator portfolio of integrated software and services.

Siemens says it has further expanded the capabilities of Simcenter STAR-CCM+ related to turbomachinery, delivering improved productivity and increased insight into performance for better engineering decisions. CFD engineers can benefit from increased productivity through consistent use of best practices and faster exploration of design possibilities. Simcenter STAR-CCM+ users can now open simulation files in read-only mode without using a license, giving users greater ability to check the setup, make comparisons and leverage best practices across many simulations.

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

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