I find myself in Pune, India – this job brings you some strange things, but the ability to dash off and visit a new country is one of the nicest of them. Why am I here? To attend, for the second time, Delcam’s Asian Technical Summit, where a collection of the press from around the asia-pacific region (and me) take a couple of days to sit and learn about where the company is at, how its performed, what its customers are doing and of course, what’s new in its increasingly wide ranging suite of products. If you’re unaware of the Delcam name, the company’s roots lie in a research project between Cambridge University and the Delta Group to create the, I believe, first system that could cut tool steel using 3D geometry as the base for tool-paths.
That was then sold to Volkswagen and things kicked off. The company has been through several key phases in the last two decades. from the move away from its original DUCT system to the windows platform, the establishment of its core systems, PowerShape (for complex geometry modelling), PowerMill (for advanced machining) and PowerInspect (for inspection and metrology). That’s since been fleshed out with CopyCAD for reverse engineering and triangle modelling, ArtCAM (for artistic decoration design) as well as a whole host of tools for the medical sector – speaking of which.
Healthcare Division – A year on
Last year’s event saw the establishment of Delcam’s Healthcare division. A year later and it seems that the group is going great guns. Delcam quoted sales figures moving upwards of 200% in many areas – of course, you may consider that the division only started a year ago, this is no great surprise, but some of the systems (such as DentMill) has been available on the market for a couple of years – all that changed is the tools are now within their own business group and have clearly been given specialist attention, in terms of branding, of marketing, of establishing a board of advisors from the medical world.
The solutions differ from Delcam’s industrial offers as they’re intended to be used by practitioners and healthcare professionals, rather than CAD or CAM users. The users interfaces have been tuned to the requirements, in terms of ease of use and terminology for the specialists and in use, they’re impressive. For someone with a feint fear of the dentists chair of doom but an inherent curiousity in how things are designed, seeing the process of designing custom implants to replace teeth, featuring implants screwed into your jaw bone, gives a macabre type of delight.
One thing that is interesting is that Delcam’s also been developing hardware to go alongside it’s software offering in the field – namely, two scanners that again, are specialised, for both scanning feet (for orthopedic purposes) and teeth (using dental impressions). Considering that the idea was thought up around the time of the event last year, to get from idea, through design, into production and shipped to a good number of customers, in a year, is pretty impressive.
PowerShape & Parasolid: I won’t labour this one because we discussed it in a review a while back, but PowerShape has been rebuilt on the Parasolid platform and that’s giving the company something of a boost in terms of both interoperability with other systems as well as a more robust set of solid modelling tools which are now starting to trickle into the system to complimenting the existing and impressive set of surface modelling tools
PowerMill: PowerMill has been through something of a change over the last 12 months, as you’ll discover if you have a look through our overview from a couple of months ago. It’s seen the system become multi-threaded in many areas (the ability to use multiple cores is used where you can get the most bang for the buck), now supports background processing, so that tasks can be carried out why the system is chunking through tool-path calculations.
During the presentation, the team showed this rather fascinating vimeo of a turbine blade being machined from both sides on a Mori Seiki NT4300 using the technique of pinch milling described as a “method for machining long slender workpieces.” By machining from both sides simultaneously, means the radial forces on the part are cancelled out, giving a much smoother finish, and allowing for heavier cuts to be made. Creating the toolpaths for 2 different tools simultaneously, one doing a semi-finishing job and the other a finishing job (which can be in full 5-axis) – and anyone with any experience in machining will know that programming a task like this isn’t a trivial job.
News from the event is the release of PowerMill Robot. This is something that’s been coming for some time. many have scoffed at the idea of machining with robots from the likes of Kuka, ABB, Fanus, Motoman but there’s people doing it and doing it well (this article by the SME is a good place to start). The new system takes the tools and knowledge from PowerMill and applied it to allow the programming and simulation of robots with up to 8 axes in both linear and rotary motion.
A customer, Southern Spars, based in New Zealand presented at the event to talk about how they had adopted robot-based machining to assist with finishing the advanced carbon fibre masts, spars, spreaders and other components for the high performance yachting industry. This helped them make their processes more efficient (having previously relied on manual processes that meant a lot more hand finishing. They’re now using the Kuka-based (with PowerMill creating the toolpaths) set-up on a lot of processes having worked out the kinks in the programming process, their preferences in terms of cutters.
To give you an idea, the whole process to create a spreader trimming operation; from start of programming, set-up and machining now takes about an hour – compared to a day and a half’s work and when you consider that most of the companies products are custom, then there’s very little in the way of reuse and each is a one-off. That said, the team now has nailed their process and they’ve got their operation programming time down to between 10 minutes to an hour depending on the complexity. In the future, the team is going to be looking at producing extremely huge masts for super yachts in the region of 78m tall (to give you an idea, that’s a fair bit taller than the Taj Mahal and 18metres wide than a 747’s wingspan).
Ok – more in a bit peeps.