CAM software takes next step – Productivity needs push software capability further

Posted on 8 Feb 2011 by The Manufacturer

Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software is a fast moving area of IT where small improvements can save companies thousands of pounds. Brian Davis’s roundup of the latest innovations in the CAM software market focuses on ease simpler programming for ease of use, faster processing times and flexible manufacturing.

Operating in very competitive global markets, UK manufacturers are under constant pressure to keep up with the latest machining technology. As the bar is raised, new and innovative CAM programmes are being introduced to improve machine efficiency, save programming time, generate more efficient tool paths and reduce machining time, as well as reducing waste and improving ease of use. The move towards ‘lights out operation’ also demands high levels of reliability in a fully automated plant environment.

Stock model approach
Delcam marketing manager Peter Dickin says, “Companies want new users to become productive as quickly as possible for fast, high quality machining.” He sees three key trends. “Growing use of multi-core (multi-processor) computers allows faster calculation times and background processing.

Machine tools are also getting more sophisticated, so software must be capable of handling multitasking, and finally easy to use software is vital.” Delcam deploys the stock model approach in PowerMILL, which gives a precise representation of how much material remains on the part after each machining stage, to ensure that the cutter is never asked to remove more material than it can safely cut, or is left cutting air. Feature-based machining offers a more automated approach to programming.

This breaks down the model geometry into features such as holes, pockets or cuts, so the software can select the appropriate tools and speeds to match the model, material and other parameters.

Delcam’s 2011 version of PowerMILL CAM for five-axis and high speed machining claims to make programming of safe tool paths faster and easier using new stock model options that protect the cutting tool and the machine from excessive loading.

New editing facilities simplify the machining of duplicate items, with more versatile control of the feed rates and links, and extra functionality for sketching.

FeatureCAM, CAD/CAM software from Delcam which markets on its ease of use, now incorporates 64-bit processors and improved data exchange to support direct translation of 3D-design models from Catia V5, Siemens NX and Solid Edge, Pro Engineer, Autocad Inventor, SolidWorks and others. Also stock models can be used to select appropriate operations from turning to five-axis machining.

Flexible manufacturing and measurement
Increasingly, machining plants are looking for flexible manufacturing. Mastercam software supplier 4D Engineering is receiving a lot of interest in new hybrid machining software. “Mastercam V5 features new tool path engines for hybrid machining, i.e.

automatically selecting whether to use three or fiveaxis tool strategies,” explains sales director Stewart Roney. “New tool paths have also been developed for the ISCAR range of tooling for rapid mill turn, roughing and other features.” There are also new developments in Robotmaster, which works within the Mastercam environment for six-axis machining.

US metrology software developer Verisurf partners with Mastercam. Verisurf X5 features a new Catia interface which is able to extrapolate the engineering tree directly from Catia 5 into the Verisurf tree, so defined feature inspection can be carried out directly off the CAD model. The operator can also inspect live the general dimensioning and tolerancing (GD and T) for model-based definition, or MBD. MBD offers the ability to define feature characteristics of a 3D blueprint including surface hole location, edge of part and anything defining the component. “The inspection time can be reduced by 70%,” claims Verisurf director James Barnes.

Verisurf has also introduced Master3DGage, a six-axis articulating arm which interfaces with Verisurf software as a portable computer-based measuring machine (PCMM) solution suitable for any engineering workshop.

Geoff Bryant, managing director of Citizen Miyano UK sees increasing demand for simpler programming solutions, particularly in the sub-contract sector.

“The key driver is to de-skill as much as possible, enabling shopfloor personnel to programme, set and operate machine tools themselves,” he says.

Consequently Citizen Miyano has developed the CNC Wizard, now version 5, which features code libraries to provide help facilities. As a low cost solution – it is about £600 – the CNC Wizard does not aim to be a fully fledged CAM system, but allows the user to create programmes and shapes using a simple interactive programme.

Better control
Several companies have identified the need for better control of machine programming. Mori Seiki has started linking ESPRIT 2011 as a CAM package to their high end machine controllers for significant time savings. According to Phil Juhasz, strategic account and engineering manager at Mori Seiki, “integrated CAM software provides simple programming for complex work pieces, and a machine-specific post processor. Feature based programming means it only takes a few steps from the 3D CAD module to complete the machining programme.” ESPRIT 2011 features an updated core system with improvements on the calculation side, for machining impeller and gear addings, and new mould cycles for spiral finishing, radial finishing and plane finishing. MAPPS iV offers a new generation of controls with a duo-core-processor and CAM module. For lights out operation, Mori Seiki also provides Morinet to monitor machines and issue automatic alerts by text or email.

Increased automation
Demand for higher automation goes hand-in-hand with two trends. Companies want to run more efficiently, often 24/7 and reduce their skilling requirements. “People are increasingly looking for lights out machining to have the clever bits [included] – from entry level to high production machines,” says Martin Doyle, UK sales and marketing manager of Hardinge Machine Tools.

In the mid-range of machine tools, Hardinge has introduced a dedicated automated cell, the GS51A which comes with a Fanuc or Siemens control.

The gantry loader works with an automated pallet loader, with two-axis as standard and up to three-axis live tooling. “Traditionally, standalone systems always had the potential for compatibility and integration issues, which the GS51A cell eliminates,” says senior applications manager Steve Brown.

Companies are also looking for scalability. “People buy for today in preparation for tomorrow when investing in automation,” says Doyle. Block lookahead is an important issue for high end machine operators. The latest Hardinge CAM software is designed to identify the implications of processing several thousand lines of machine movement ahead, down to 0.5 millisecond processing time. ‘The further you can look ahead the better the finish,’ reflects Brown.

Hardinge’s mid- and high end machines feature three types of controls: Fanuc, Heidenhain and Siemens. The Siemens 828D control features Advanced Surface Technology, which offers mould-making precision down to one nanometer, reducing component cycle times from 48 to 33 minutes in tests and achieving a better surface. On the Fanuc side, a new machine overload torque detection system protects mechanical elements, calculating disturbance torque through the motors of the machine, and monitoring these points every millisecond. The latest Heidenhain 620 control is also cost effective. The super precision T-series multi-axis lathe features twin spindles and offers two micron repeatability.

Addressing utopia
“Everybody wants utopia – cheap systems which do everything!” says Solidcam director Gordon Drysdale. In the real world, SolidCAM has launched an entry level product, SolidCAM Xpress, which offers basic milling capabilities and is easily upgraded to higher versions for 3D and five-axis milling. At the high end, Solidcam iMachining is aimed at the aerospace engineering sector and offers 2.5D milling with intelligent tool paths, and reduces cycle time by up to 70%.

The PLM vendors have also been very active in terms of innovation. Ian Pilkington, UK technical manager at PTC, explains that Pro-NC is designed to handle milling, turning and wire EDM, and NC Sheetmetal handles sheet metal manufacture. “The latest version of Pro-NC is focused on process reuse, using CAM software in concert with the CAD model to decide what machines to use, tooling and best manufacturing process.” The system allows users to save off best practice, e.g. for machining a cylinder head, or for complex trajectory milling, or profile milling of a bore. This removes the risk of data interpretation, and cuts cost by reducing the time to programme machines. Manufacturing processes can be embedded in the CAD model, and the interface is more user-friendly, with full NC machine simulation and post-processing provided.

Dassault Systèmes’ Delmia V6 allows manufacturers to simulate all elements of factory production. Delmia’s Prismatic Machining capability can programme a machine to produce 3D parts requiring advanced 2.5-axis milling, axial and probing operations. Delmia Turning Machining is an extension to programme turning and mill turn machines. Delmia Milling Machining is an extension to Delmia Prismatic Machining to programme milling operations for advanced 3-axis milling, including the ability to switch to five-axis motion, and a lifelike immersive experience to validate the milling programme. V6 offers multi-position machining, worn cutting tool management and simulation, in-process model creation and support for parallel processing computation of tool paths.

Siemens PLM Software has introduced industry specific applications in NXCAM version 7.5. This includes a five-axis application to programme multi-bladed rotational components like blisks and impellers. NXCAM can generate NC programmes automatically using NX design model data. “Future versions will be able to read data from other CAD/ CAM models,” says Vynce Paradise, director of product marketing at Siemens PLM.

CAM Xpress version 7 is aimed at the CAD independent market and is closely paired with NXCAM, with a full range of CAM functionality including five-axis impeller machining and feature based automation.

Although no single size fits all, CAM software providers are moving closer to a vision of automation which is easier to use at all levels of operator ability, offering greater, leaner efficiency in terms of reducing material waste, process time and cost reduction.

Cost reduction gains are in terms of unit cost productivity and energy.