In search of innovation in technology for design and manufacturing, Al Dean travelled to South Korea to attend Delcam’s Asian Technical Summit and found that the ‘I’ word still holds some promise in the CAD/CAM world
It started with a phone call from Peter, Marketing Manager at Delcam. “Hello Al, would you like to go to Korea?” Of course the answer was a yes. Six months later, I flew around 8,000 miles, changed time zones twice, went to Dubai for cheese on toast and a beer and arrived in Gyeongju, South Korea. So, why was I there?.
Firstly, Delcam held its Asian Technical Summit to give the Asian press (and me) a briefing on how the business is performing, what its plans are for the future and how its solutions are progressing. Then it was the Hankook Delcam User Group event (Hankook is the native name for Korea). 2009 is a special year for the event, being its 20th anniversary, and I’d heard stories about the scale of it before, but the reality of seeing over 1,000 CAD/CAM users in one room was quite inspiring – and a little scary.
In a world where design systems are reaching a point of convergence and non-differentiation, Delcam has some truly unique technology. Its ‘tribrid’ modelling technology allows you to work with not only solids and surfaces but also tessellated meshes. This becomes particularly useful when geometry is more complex than typical surface models, either reverse engineered or modelled to represent highly organic features, whether that’s texture, decoration or other complex features. The other big CAD news at the event was that PowerShape will get Parasolid in the next release – the reason being to give it a faster, more robust geometry modelling engine and better interoperability, which is particularly critical for those working in a supply chain environment.
In terms of business, the standout news was the launch of Delcam’s Healthcare Division, which formalises and expands the company’s existing activities in the medical field. Chris Lawrie, Healthcare Business Development Manager explained how lessons and technologies learned in the engineering sector can be applied to the medical world. Delcam’s current medical activity includes maxillofacial (facial reconstruction), dental, prosthetic limbs, orthotic insoles, shoes and implants, general implants, dental reconstruction and cranioplasty.
What’s particularly interesting is that the medical field is crying out for assistance with these processes and according to Lawrie, there’s a huge opportunity for companies with experience within the aerospace field to readapt that experience to fulfil this need. This is due to the knowledge of handling and machining complex alloys and metals.
The second day of the Tech Summit is all about manufacturing and production, starting with PowerMill, which gets two releases this year. The reason for this is that Delcam has added two key technologies that its customers have been crying out for. The first is multi-core support, which has been added to PowerMill 10, and is used to split a tool-path into segments and calculate one of each CPU core. Release 10 also gets background processing allowing you to set-up tool-paths, add them to a queue, then continue to work on your part, adding more operations while your workstation chugs away in the background.
Innovation is a horrendously overused word, but when you spend some time with Delcam, you’ll use it in buckets
While these new tools are in the PowerMill 10 release (available now), PowerMill 2010 will be another major release later this year, with a redesigned UI, and more intelligent tool-paths that avoid common problems (such as slithers of material with insert-based cutters). It will also feature improved corner clearance, a new smoothing algorithm which can be applied across a whole tool-path, and a Tool Holder Profile tool which will help you find the most appropriate toolholder for your machining task. There’s also updates to Delcam’s other CAM products, FeatureCAM and PartMaker. As an example, PartMaker gets new 5-axis operations and greater interoperability with PowerMill to help with highly complex operations.
My two days in South Korea brought home something I’ve been pondering about the CAM industry in general for some time. While there’s an increasing amount of consolidation, it’s still highly fragmented, both in terms of geography and functionality. While the geographic fragmentation isn’t going to change until larger vendors start to swallow up the smaller vendors and others disappear, there’s also an age issue. A number of CAM vendors are privately owned by the people that started them in the late 70s and 80s. Many of these people are getting towards retirement age and you’ll see greater consolidation due to that reason alone.
Functionality fragmentation is another inevitability. Within the world of CAM, there are many processes, many machine types and many different variables. This means that the proliferation of systems is natural. The type of machine tool you run often filters out your list of available software, particularly if you choose not to go with your machine tool vendor’s recommendations. What’s interesting is that it’s a rare occasion when you find tools to support all these options and requirements from a single vendor.
While Delcam’s name was built within the world of mould and die design and machining, the last decade has seen the company hugely expand its offering, both in terms of a wider spread of CAM-variants, but also in terms of new processes, upstream and downstream.
The solution set now covers everything, from conceptualisation and design, through tooling design, NC programming and right through to inspection. There’s now greater integration between all of the systems and cross pollination of technology between them. PowerShape gets mesh handling tools from CopyCAD, PartMaker now swaps data with PowerMill etc etc etc. It’s highly impressive and something that many other vendors and designers/manufacturers could learn a thing or two from.
Delcam has mastered a core set of competencies and has found new areas in which to apply it, often creating solutions that haven’t been seen before. Innovation is a horrendously overused word, but when you spend some time with Delcam, you’ll use it in buckets.
Al Dean is Editor of DEVELOP3D. He enjoyed his time in South Korea so much, that Emirates bumped him off his flight on the way home. Now he’s got a free return ticket to Seoul. And he’s going to use it.
Al Dean reports from South Korea