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Ready to take the plunge? CNC programming time and program efficiency are significant factors influencing a machined component's cost. Even the fastest, most accurate machine tool can't compensate for a poorly composed and cumbersome part program.

Repeatable high quality, efficiently machined parts demand part programs that incorporate both optimal designs and methods.

Enter CAD/CAM

Employing CAD/CAM technology in your shop can reduce programming and editing time, uncover potential problems like machine crashes, generate 3-D models, and archive shop-proven designs and methods data for future use.

Prepare

Selecting CAD/CAM software can be confusing, especially to those new to the technology. New products seem to appear almost weekly and supplier "specsmanship" can be difficult to interpret. It's essential that you prepare before meeting with CAD/CAM software vendors.

1) Assess your shop's recent job history. Will you continue machining the same kinds of parts indefinitely or do you want to expand your shop's capabilities? Will you need to buy new equipment?

2) Retrieve the drawings, NC part programs, and time and cost sheets for the most typical, but challenging, parts you've quoted or machined.

3) List the types of CNC's currently in your shop and if possible identify the brands you plan to acquire in the near future.

4) Decide your short and long term uses for CAD/CAM software. Will it be limited to part programming, or will it also be used for machine tool and shop management?

5) Speak with colleagues who use CAD/CAM in their shops. What brands do they prefer? Why?

Meet The Vendors

The essential question to ask a potential CAD/CAM supplier is if his software can help produce your typical components. Illustrate your point with actual drawings and part programs.

Urge the vendor to demonstrate his product using one of your drawings as the foundation. His doing so will answer a number of questions and also establish how easy the software is to use.

All CAD/CAM software contains libraries of standard geometric profiles and basic machining routines, although they'll not adequately suit all your needs. To a greater or lesser extent all shops develop their own geometries and procedures. To make future use of this information in a CAD/CAM environment, the software you chose must allow this data as well as edited standard geometries and procedures to be added data to its library.

CAD/CAM-CNC compatibility can be a significant determinant in selecting CAD/CAM software. Is the system output compatible with the CNCs in your shop or will you need to buy post processors, adding to the cost of your purchase?

Is the vendor's software compatible with other CAD/CAM software? Will it allow you to import files generated in other formats? This is important when customers send you CAD drawings for quoting purposes. If you can't read them, you can't quote them.

Informing the vendor of your intended current and future uses for his software will aid him in helping you make an informed buying decision. Will the package he's presenting do everything you want it to do, or will you have to upgrade or buy additional modules? Can his software be upgraded and updated after its initial purchase? If so, it's important to know the costs and if there will be any functional limitations.

Receiving proper training is paramount in getting the most out of CAD/CAM software. How does the supplier conduct training? There are numerous training techniques, each with its own benefits and drawbacks.

In-person training is typically the most costly. Aside from its initial fee and expenses, it takes productive employees from their assigned tasks. CD-ROM training allows students to learn on their own time at their own pace, and to repeat segments if necessary. Interactive on-line training also allows students to work at their own speed, on their own time and get immediate task feedback.

After-the-sale technical support truly defines a product's value. Is it provided factory-direct by the vendor or is it by contract with an outside party? What means are used and what are their costs, benefits, and limitations?

Bottom Line

Machining parts will become more cost-effective when you use a CAD/CAM package tailored to meet your shop's requirements. Invest the time, get the answers, make the right choice.

The CAD/CAM Column is published every other month in Modern Applications News. If you have questions, comments or suggestions for the column, please e-mail the Editor: jmullally@modernapplicationsnews.com.
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Title Annotation:CAD/CAM
Publication:Modern Applications News
Date:Jun 1, 2004
Words:704
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