Need for better control on the tool pass for complex machining.
Faster processing with upgraded software.
Ontario shop upgrades CAM software to meet demands for complex machining
by Tim Wilson
When it comes to CAD/CAM software, customers have their own critical pain points. Often, the issue centres on the need to better manipulate data files to enhance control on the tool pass. It doesn’t matter what the material is: the more complex the design, the more data to crunch.
“We have been in business for 26 years,” says Gurpal (Paul) Bhamra, owner of Alltype Machining in Brampton, ON. “I was using one program for almost twenty years, and another for three years. We had done some small upgrades over time, but then decided to purchase a solution from Delcam about a year ago.”
The reason? Bhamra needed better processing to handle customer requirements that, increasingly, include larger files and more complex designs. Decision time came when Alltype hit the wall on a demanding job.
“We took the job, but my existing software was not even able to finish on time,” says Bhamra. “It was because of the calculations required. I went through a number of vendors and was very frustrated.”
In the end, Bhamra went with a recommendation from a friend who was an application engineer, and purchased PowerMILL from Delcam. This is a stand-alone CAM system that produces NC tool paths from CAD models.
“Before, because the system was not processing fast enough, it was creating a lot of tool paths that were not really needed,” says Bhamra. “As well, the tool path was not accurate enough to do the job properly. I was receiving assistance from my other vendor, but I was getting nowhere.”
PowerMILL is Delcam’s core three, four and five axis milling product. It can accept data from any CAD system, via IGES, VDA, STL or a variety of direct interfaces, and can generate roughing and finishing tool paths. For Alltype, the productivity issue was reaching a serious juncture: without more advanced processing capabilities the company would lose out on opportunities.
“I initially thought I might lose the customer,” says Bhamra. “After the new software purchase, however, the customer has more confidence in me.”
In this instance the customer was in the automotive sector, which, along with construction, represent the core industries served by Alltype. But, no matter the industry, the standard problems that a CAD/CAM solution addresses can generally be grouped into three areas: increased productivity, shorter lead times, or a need for better quality. In all these areas, advanced computing has a role to play.
“Recent developments on our end include support for background processing and multi-threading to shorten calculation times,” says Mark Cadogan, the VP Sales for Delcam North America, Windsor, ON. “We also have new five axis and high speed machining strategies to shorten machining times and improve finish quality.”
As it stands, if a customer uses AutoCAD, Alltype can use its .DXF output files for manufacturing, or its .DWG files for review. The company can also work with Solid Works files.
Where to next?
Alltype Machining is a good example of a smaller operation that has had to look at new ways to improve its business. This is an ongoing process and an industry-wide phenomenon, with CAD/CAM vendors continuing to promote innovation and the development of cutting edge manufacturing techniques.
“We are looking at Delcam’s PowerSHAPE,” says Bhamra, referring to Delcam’s solution for both product design and for toolmakers.
PowerSHAPE helps address a common problem: designers are primarily concerned with the design of a finished product, often ignoring the features required for manufacturing. As a result, time consuming and expensive operations are often sorted out on the shop floor.
“The problems of data translation are significantly less than they used to be,” says Cadogan. “But with PowerSHAPE—and, to be fair, other CAD software—we now have much more powerful tools for data translation and data repair.”
Cadogan says there are still some advantages of having a single platform, but the main benefit now is in the relationship with the supplier.
“If your supplier of machining software is producing regular updates with the technology you need, providing clear and concise training, and giving you good support, it makes sense to look at the range of products offered from that company.”
That would be a big decision for Alltype, which is now using another vendor for design. These decisions will become more pressing as the company expands beyond its core market in the greater Toronto area.
“We can now do more complex procedures, and are planning on upgrading from three axis to five axis machining,” says Bhamra. “When that happens, we will likely upgrade.”
When dealing with five axis, PowerMILL can help with 3D modelling in a range of materials; a big help, as many machine shops are now looking to expand into new areas. For example, a Dutch company, De La Roy Isolatie & Design, has had success using the software for modeling of polystyrene.
“We started looking for a new system because the software we had been using made it difficult to program simultaneous five axis operation,” says Joost Banken, a work planner at De La Roy. “PowerMILL can machine STL files or CAD models very rapidly. We can produce high quality results from simple drawing programs such as Google SketchUp, or from scanned files.”
That level of flexibility allows for efficient and complex tool paths, with customization options at any step of the process to minimize or eliminate chances of human error. That means that smaller operations can stay competitive, and deliver agile solutions to increasingly demanding customers. SMT
Tim Wilson is a contributing editor based in Peterborough, ON.