Even the best-designed parts and molds are useless until they're actually built. Yet importing CAD files, writing CNC code, and massaging the results can take days of valuable time. Now five advances in CAM software could help speed the process of transforming digital designs into tangible parts.
One solution is Delcam's (Windsor, Ontario, Canada) PowerSHAPE and PowerMILL software, which enabled a South African company to generate tool-path codes and "send the results directly to our various CNC machines without even verifying them."
Novate Industries (Johannesburg, SA) makes tooling for complex plastic and cast components, such as pool cleaners from Baracuda (Pompano Beach, FL) (see figure). Before using Delcam, Novate had to start every project by repairing imported CAD data, says Company Director Mirko Tappero. Then they'd "wait ages for CNC to be generated, cut in wood, tweak the program, cut in wood, and so on, until finally we could start machining in steel." But PowerSHAPE speeds the process by translating imported CAD data. And PowerMILL creates complex tool paths in just six to eight minutes, and processes them in 15-20 minutes, he says.
Another machining pitfall is the constantly evolving range of tools, which increasingly bear multiple spindles and turrets. "Controlling multiple tools across one or more spindles at one time creates a whole new level of complexity to programming, especially if you want to create efficient programs," says Bill Gibbs, president of Gibbs and Assoc. (Moorpark, CA). The new Gibbs CAM MTM (multi-task machining) tackles this problem with extensible configurations, able to adapt to any new tool group. MTM can handle multiple tools with its Sync Manager, which displays multiple process flows relative to one another so users can set synchronization points. The Sync Manager also adjusts operation durations according to which dominant tooling controls the spindle speed.
One way to cut CAM time is to use a software tool with one-window compatibility with the CAD application, so an engineer isn't forced to toggle between screens on his desktop. An add-in called Mastercam Direct (Tolland, CT) supplies this ability for Rhinoceros users. Now users of Rhino CAD (Seattle, WA) can use Mastercam on a new CAD design without changing windows on their PC screen. Rhino is used in broad applications including industrial design, marine, jewelry, hobby modeling, RP, and reverse engineering.
Yet another shortcut is choosing high-end CAM, if you can afford it. MecSoft (Irvine, CA) claims to make this choice easier by selling its new VisualMill 4.0 far below market price. Designed for mold, die, toolmakers, and wood workers, its toolpath generation strategies can control cutting tools with ease of use. And it's flexible enough to accept imported file types including: IGES, Rhino, Parasolid, SolidWorks, Solid Edge, Dxf, Dwg, STL, VRML, RAW, and Point Cloud.
Finally, tool databases can make any job faster by helping a user select the perfect machining tool. TurboCADCAM from IMSI (Novato, CA) does this by prompting the user for tool type, diameter, number of flutes, and tool material; then it selects the best option.