I spent today at Delcam‘s HQ just a few miles from where I live (which is a distinct pleasure, there’s no jetlag involved in travelling to Small Heath, Birmingham) and we went through the latest releases of both PowerMill and FeatureCAM, both CAM /NC programing products, but two very different systems, aimed at pretty different spectrums of the user community. But what struck me while going through the updates, is that CAM, often in stark constrat to 3D CAD, provides a more easily identifiable return on investment for adoption of new releases.
Take the latest releases of your workhorse CAD system. Yes, there’s some new things in there. In some major packages, there have been some pretty revolutionary updates to core technology this year. That said, ask yourself, over the last, say three years, what has each release actually brought to you as a user and your company? Can you get your job done more quickly, to a better quality, to a higher degree of accuracy – to any great extent or are you still using the tools as you did 3 years ago? I’m guess it would be very hard to quantify such things in such explicit terms.
CAM, on the other hand, differs. And differs Greatly.
CAM is all about speed and quality. Speed in terms of programming the part from your client (either an internal customer or an external client) and getting the NC code ready to upload to the machine controller. the quicker you do it, the quicker you can start cutting material. When it comes to the actual NC code, the more efficient it is, the greater the surface finish you can achieve off the machine tool (which reduces hand finishing) and the quicker the job is done, out the door and on its way to the client. The more profitable your business is. If a machine shop isn’t cutting metal, it’s loosing money – its as cut-throat as that.
CAM is key to doing that correctly. if you cut metal, to a higher quality in a shorter space of time, its worth the investment – particularly if you can squeeze more out of your machine tool investment, which typically greatly out weight the cost of the maintenance. Take the following example:
#1: This is a perfect example showing a reasonably complex simultaneous 5-axis toolpath – you can see from the video that the table and head movement are erratic. That means cutter loading is inconsistent, there are dramatic changes speed and feed and the whole thing adds up to poor quality surface finish..
#2: This video shows the same toolpath with Azimuth smoothing applied (as found in PowerMill9). You can see that the application of the new smoothing algorithms has a dramatic effect on the tool-path and machine movement – and that will always result in a better surface finish. When you’re dealing with machining, that’s worth its weight in gold.
If you are a PowerMill customer, then you get this upgrade if you’re on maintenance. if you use 5 axis, then your machine will last longer (due to reduced stress), your cutters will last longer and you’ll get a higher quality part, in a shorter space of time. Now THAT is Return on Investment.