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New CAD/CAM Options Refine Metalcutting Ops

By Patrick Waurzyniak, Contributing Editor, SME Media

Latest software increases speed and usability, improves connectivity and AM capabilities

With CAD/CAM software, machine operators and manufacturing engineers are always looking for the latest twists along the route to optimizing their metalcutting performance. Today’s manufacturing software features new techniques and tools in CAD/CAM that can improve toolpaths for standard metalcutting as well as many innovative additive manufacturing operations thrown into the mix. New connectivity features critical in the age of Industry 4.0 are being added, as well as much more automation and simulation within CAD/CAM systems that supplement higher-end, third-party simulation packages.

“As CAD/CAM software developers, we are in one of the most quickly changing areas of manufacturing,” said Ben Mund, senior market analyst at CNC Software Inc., Tolland, Conn. “Despite this, the main trend remains the same as it has been for some time: a constant drive to increase productivity through faster and more flexible manufacturing output. This remains a common trend among all shops, regardless of industry. With the disruptions we’ve seen in 2020, these goals have become even more important as shops expand the idea of how productive and flexible they can be.”

In CAM software, Mund sees three main pillars driving these trends: advanced toolpath strategies, technical partnerships between different types of industry leaders, and connectivity/Industry 4.0. “Our latest release is Mastercam 2021, and we’ve expanded within all three of the pillars,” Mund added. These changes include expanding Mastercam’s Dynamic Motion toolpath engine with 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,” Mund said.

Growing technical industry partnerships is key, he said, noting CNC Software’s work with tooling manufacturers. “Mastercam’s Accelerated Finishing toolpath strategy is intended to give shops better final surface finish in a shorter time than traditional toolpaths, so it’s closely tied to specific new tool forms being released,” Mund said.

Mastercam continues to expand its external connectivity to ensure that data can be brought in, used, and shared in the best way possible, Mund added. “CAD/CAM software directs the machine tool, of course, but it’s also a platform for the shop to do various things—like metrology, reverse engineering, or digital tool management. Clean, efficient data exchange between all of these pieces are necessary for the productivity gains intended by Industry 4.0.”

Creating New Options

Expanding CAD/CAM options for all users is important. “We are developing technology to benefit all user types, including prototype and production shops and for those performing 2D, 3D, five-axis milling and turning,” said Alan Levine, managing director of Open Mind Technologies Inc., Needham, Mass., developer of hyperMILL CAD/CAM. “There are new calculation strategies as well as improvements to usability, and a broadening vision to include functionality such as on-machine probing and advanced simulation techniques. Users want to bring more knowledge and assurance into the programming processes, thereby enabling machine tools to have increased utilization and focus on billable component manufacturing.”

Open Mind’s development efforts include two primary areas of focus—toolpath enhancement and virtual machining/simulation. “Toolpath cycles are being enhanced to provide higher quality and efficiency without extensive additional programming time or calculation time, while reducing the need for additional post-machining processes,” Levine said. “Some of these toolpath technologies include high-precision machining (machining to meet surface quality requirements), smooth overlap techniques to reduce mismatches and witness marks between machining regions, and improved toolpath layouts and strategies. These have created demand for conical barrel cutter solutions.”

Another area of development is enhanced virtual machining simulation and analysis, Levine noted. “Here, we are offering G-code simulation, intuitive interface, and smooth linking command between jobs and from home/tool change.” He also noted Open Mind has developed what he considers innovative selection of machine axis variants to avoid collisions and seek preferred machining, and other optimization techniques to improve toolpaths.

Creating a Digital Twin

Another key trend is using the digital twin, a precise digital replica of the machining environment, noted Yijun Fan, director of product marketing, DP Technology Corp., Camarillo, Calif., developer of ESPRIT CAM. “By bridging the virtual and physical worlds, digital twins are extremely valuable for programming, optimizing, monitoring, and preventing downtime in manufacturing,” Fan said. “With a digital twin, users leverage the full knowledge of a CNC machine’s capacities (axis limits, turning options, kinematic chains, etc.) to maximize productivity,” he added. “The virtual machine moves exactly like the real machine.”

Digital twin simulation also helps machine operators reduce machine setup time by 65 percent on average, according to Fan. “It gives you the confidence to run the program and drastically reduces the number of iterations during the test run,” Fan said.

Another development, which is tightly related to digital twins, is artificial intelligence, he said. “AI brings faster programming with decisions made by a smart system, which streamlines the machining process to increase productivity and eliminates programming errors that can cause machine crashes.”

In the latest version of ESPRIT, DP Technology brings the digital twin to the next level in CAD/CAM, Fan said. “The new digital twin not only includes the representation of machine geometry, but also all the other key attributes, including kinematics, machine behavior, interfacing, mounting, compatibility, user preferences, and machine-optimized post-processors.” Working directly with global machine OEMs, DP Technology has created digital twins in ESPRIT for more than 3,500 CNC machine models, covering more than 200 machine brands, Fan said.

“We keep enhancing the capabilities of our AI engine with automation for multichannel machines,” he added. “The AI engine offers automatic synchronization for safe operation of the machine and it can automatically configure the program for a continuous production run. The AI engine programs the concurrent operations of both turrets, and consequently can achieve cycle time reduction of up to 50 percent.” Fan noted that total cycle time is reduced because of ESPRIT’s automatic concurrency optimization.

Smarter Manufacturing

Some of the biggest technology trends in manufacturing and CAD/CAM software today are part of Smart Manufacturing and Industry 4.0 initiatives. “These trends encompass automation and digital transformation, which gives manufacturers the technologies to help them be substantially more productive,” noted Marc Bissell, new business development manager and a senior CAD/CAM applications engineer for CAMWorks, a CAM package developed by USA Geometric Americas Inc., a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based unit of HCL Technologies Ltd., which is based in Noida, India.

“Today’s technologies also make working remotely more feasible, and the COVID-19 pandemic is hastening both the demand for automation and increasing the need for smart solutions in remote manufacturing,” Bissell said.

Implementing automation and moving to digital manufacturing can be daunting and has some specific challenges, he added. “Many manufacturers may see it as something that comes with a large price tag or takes a long, complex implementation,” said Bissell. “However, there are steps they can take to gradually incorporate more automation into their machine shops and immediately see the benefits of utilizing advanced technologies.”

CAD/CAM software that is fully integrated—such as SOLIDWORKS, SOLIDWORKS CAM and CAMWorks—provides several benefits, according to Bissell. “First of all, designers and the programmers use the same software environment to design the part, program machinable features, create the toolpaths and generate the NC code. With an integrated system, the CAD and CAM models become one and the same and teams can take parts all the way from conceptual design to a final product while staying within the same software interface,” Bissell said. “All the CAD and CAM data is stored in a single file, so there’s no need to maintain separate CAD and CAM files and no data translation issues. There is also no risk in machining an obsolete part because the toolpaths are fully associative to the design model and they update automatically when a design or engineering change occurs.”

Another technical trend in CAD/CAM software is expanded automation tools, such as feature-based programming and knowledge-based machining, which have several benefits over using operations-based CAD/CAM software, he said. “The databases of machining knowledge in the CAD/CAM software will select the appropriate tools [from a tool crib that matches the machine shop’s available tools], calculate optimal feed/speed rates, apply the appropriate roughing and finishing toolpaths, and generate NC code.”

Taking it a step further, with the SOLIDWORKS CAM and CAMWorks Technology Database (TechDB), programmers can edit any of the automatically selected options and save them in a company-owned feature and strategy library, he said. “This allows manufacturers to capture best practices and reuse them automatically. This helps standardize and automate tooling and CNC programming processes.”

HCL recently released CAMWorks ShopFloor, which delivers CAD/CAM functionality to machinists without the need for a full CAD/CAM system on the shop floor, according to Bissell. “Once the CNC programmer has completed part programming in SOLIDWORKS CAM or CAMWorks, they publish the ShopFloor file for the machinist. All the CAD/CAM data necessary to manufacture the part is included in one digital file, allowing companies to move beyond the use of 2D drawings or static PDF files.”

More Integrated MCAD/ECAD

Melding the mechanical with the electrical side of CAD/CAM is also a developing trend, according to Paul Brown, senior marketing director, product engineering group for Siemens Digital Industries Software, Plano, Texas. “Our goal as a CAD/CAM provider is to ensure our customers have the right solutions to meet the changing demands of their environments. As part of that we are seeing an increased demand for the integration of mechanical and electrical disciplines,” Brown said. He believes that as products become more complex, with an increase in electronic capabilities, customers need to be able to integrate their processes, bringing MCAD and ECAD systems together to enable close collaboration between groups.

He also thinks AI and machine learning are important elements. “Since our introduction of machine learning and artificial intelligence into NX, we have recognized more possibilities for the use of ML/AI to improve customer workflows as we believe this will become a key driver for companies looking to boost productivity,” Brown said. “With our latest version of NX CAD, we have leveraged AI to tackle one of the fundamental processes that every user goes through—capturing initial ideas through the use of 2D sketching. This process has been the same for every system for over 30 years, but now we have taken a new approach that allows the system to work with the designer without forcing the designer to add lots of information to make intelligent changes.”

Additive Breaks the Mold

New additive manufacturing options are now included in many CAD/CAM systems. These entries include new AM modules in systems from DP Technology, Siemens, Open Mind, 3D Systems, and others.

“Additive technologies break the paradigm of traditional production,” noted Miguel Johann, machining market and product manager, Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, North Kingstown, R.I. “Rapid prototyping and design-concept validation were transformed by this new technology, and software solutions jumped right in to help with that process. Additive manufacturing introduces innovative methods such as generative design, which is capable of creating new shapes that deliver better solutions to existing problems, but were often unmachinable using traditional methods.”

New conformal cooling channels, only possible through additive, optimize material distribution and enhance mechanical properties of molds, he added. “Additive nozzle heads on CNC machines allow for material deposition and are used for effective feature-building and to deliver mechanical and chemical properties optimal for manufacturing,” Johann said.

The new version of the company’s EDGECAM solid-manufacturing solution delivers associative solid machining with improvements to probing, inspection, wire erosion, and additive attachments on CNC machines. It also includes improvements to milling and turning capabilities, Johann noted. Another entry from Hexagon is the new version of SURFCAM, which introduces a link to the company’s NCSIMUL manufacturing simulation software. “NCSIMUL generates digital twins of full machining environments to improve workflow and ensure safety and productivity throughout the entire manufacturing process,” Johann said.

AM continues to expand outside of simple prototyping, noted Siemens’ Brown. This “brings its own set of challenges, including how to get the most from new approaches to design and manufacture as well as how to model, analyze and manufacture products using the full power of the new approaches,” he said. “This means that CAD tools need to adapt, allowing users to work with more types of geometry, including mesh data using tools like convergent modeling.”

GibbsCAM 14, launched in September, includes a host of new features for boosting productivity, according to Daniel Remenak, GibbsCAM product manager for its developer, 3D Systems, Rock Hill, S.C. “We’re launching several new modules, including a new probing module for part location and on-machine inspection tasks, a reworked, tightly integrated wire EDM product with automatic feature recognition capabilities, and new modules for supporting additive manufacturing’s directed-energy deposition (DED) and hybrid (additive plus subtractive) machining technologies,” he said.

The new GibbsCAM also features a volumetric feature that cuts only 3D material, Remenak noted, which reduces “air cutting” from disparate machining operations, even when the part is transferred to a different spindle or refixtured.

“Additive manufacturing has a strong role to play in the larger ecosystem,” he said. “We’re seeing additive manufacturing used in a lot more high-volume production environments, in situations where it can make a big difference to the viability of the manufactured product, whether through lighter weight, more customization for the end user, blended and gradiated materials, and many other unique capabilities. CAD/CAM software needs to be able to recognize these advantages and offer integrated programming techniques to leverage them side-by-side with subtractive technologies.”

According to Open Mind, most work with additive manufacturing technology is in powder-bed fusion systems, “but we see the more interesting applications are with directed-energy deposition (DED),” said Levine. “DED is available with additive-only machines and also with hybrid machines that are able to build and finish-machine in the same environment. DED technology can be applied to component repair (mold or turbine blade for example), mold modification, and newer technologies with multi-material uses. It is not limited to 2D sections and can work with a complex starting geometry. In these cases, existing components or tooling can be re-purposed for only incremental costs.”

Easier-to-Use CAD/CAM

For years, many CAD/CAM systems were considered quite difficult to use, but thanks to the youngsters entering the industry, those dynamics are shifting for the better. “There is an interesting generational change happening. While the industry has grown over the years with dedicated specialists that participated in week-long training sessions to understand the exact procedures needed to create the parts they wanted, the incoming workforce tends to focus more on final results,” Hexagon’s Johann noted. “The younger generation simply wants software and machinery to work as easily and quickly as their mobile phones. Tolerance of complications, limitations and idiosyncrasies is much lower with up-and-coming manufacturing professionals than with their more seasoned counterparts. CAD/CAM software is adapting to this trend by focusing on simplified workflow and increasingly suggestion-based interfaces. Another important factor is the lack of interest in manufacturing careers by new workforce entrants, which forces companies to invest in knowledge-capture systems and automation.”

CAD/CAM systems are becoming easier to use, agreed DP Technology’s Fan. “It takes much less time to train a new programmer how to use the software. And there’s a gap in the job market for good CNC machine programmers. Very often, our customers need to train their machine operators how to program an increasing number of programming jobs.” Powered by its AI engine, ESPRIT significantly simplifies CNC machine programming with increased tool life, reduced cycle times, and improved machine performance, Fan said.

Streamlining the programming process and shortening turnaround time is critical. “With faster development and more customization in general for various manufacturing industries, there has been an increase in complexity and variety in products, while the quantity for each particular product design has been decreasing (from 50,000 parts for every program to 500 parts for every program),” Fan noted. “This requires job shops to adapt in order to improve their programming speed and stay competitive.”