Over time, CAD/CAM software has grown to play a more vital role than ever before for production machine shops, as part setup time has become as much of a production issue as cycle time, and engineering data is being transmitted more frequently as electronic 3D models rather than as paper drawings.
The definition of CAM software for production machining is a system for people who make parts in batches. “Traditional” CAM systems are more for making one-offs such as molds or tooling—products used to produce parts down the supply chain.
Against the backdrop of today’s production machining environment, it is critical that production machining organizations invest in CAM specifically tuned to their business needs.
Today, these needs include:
The ability to program every machine in the shop, from any type of mill to two-axis lathes to wire EDMs to turn-mill and Swiss lathes, in an intuitive, uniform manner
The ability to program parts in a way that is fast and automated while providing the requisite control to achieve optimal cycle times
The ability not only to read electronic data of any type or origin, but to also repair or manipulate this data to make it efficient to machine in an optimal way
The ability to generate efficient tool paths for a variety of geometries quickly and easily, from the most basic prismatic shapes to the most complex free-form surfaces, perhaps all on the same part
The ability to generate accurate NC programs whose format can be quickly customized to meet a shop’s exact needs
The ability to accurately simulate the machining process in a “virtual reality” type of environment to ensure that once programs reach the shop floor, they are correct, safe and efficient so that setup goes as quickly and smoothly as possible
The ability to have the CAM system not only produce accurate part programs but also generate clear, easy to understand process setup documentation for the shop floor
The ability for the CAM system to be used productively for all manners of personnel and skill levels across a manufacturing organization
The ability to receive timely, expert technical and applications support when questions arise
Historically, a lot of CAM software has been specifically designed strictly to manufacture complex shapes, such as those found in moldmaking. When you look at the history of the CAM software industry, most CAM vendors were largely focusing on the “die-mold” market. While this focus by much of the industry yielded a number of excellent tools for making very complex parts, these same tools can prove to be rather cumbersome and even inappropriate when recast for the production machining environment, which needs to deal with such applications as programming multi-piece setups on vertical and horizontal mills and the unique programming requirements of multitasking turn-mill centers and Swiss-type lathes.
Today, a number of CAM vendors have taken the approach of “total automation” with solid models. These are great tools for prototype operations or engineering companies that also do a bit of CNC machining where the primary concern is just getting a part made quickly and not caring about the efficiency of the actual machining process. In many ways, this level of automation is exactly opposite to the sort optimization tools production machining organizations need to do their jobs efficiently and profitably.
At Delcam, for the production machining market, we have taken special attention to ensure that our PartMaker suite of CAD/CAM products addresses these items in a unique way. We focus on developing solutions for certain target markets. PartMaker is Delcam’s solution for production machining focused organizations. So while PartMaker may not be all things to all people, it is very much our aim to make it all things to companies focused on the business of production machining.