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Software gurus take a look at millennial industry trends.

With the start of a new century, software developers appear to be hitting their stride as prime motivators of the technological wizardry seen in smart shops and on production floors. At the same time, the endusers are demanding even more functionality as well as quality. The synergy is evident everywhere one looks.

Recognizing its role as a scout of industry trends, Tooling & Production asked leaders in software development to come once again to its roundtable to discuss the market. Assistant Editor Sara Kalman posed the following questions to these high tech gurus, the roster of whom appears on pg 38.

What are the major development trends in NC software today?

Christman: The primary driving force in NC software development is to improve user productivity by producing software that is easier to learn and use, more automated, and more tightly integrated with design software. This includes support of enhanced user interfaces, integrated surface and solid modeling, improved customization and integration tools, solids-based machining, high speed machining, knowledge-based machining, shop floor programming, automated re-machining, combining two or more machining strategies into a single toolpath, integrated toolpath generation and visualization, and improved techniques to communicate, collaborate and manage information up and down a supply chain.

Sammut: Application specific CAM software focused on specific industries is one of the key software trends. Process level automation, as opposed to operation level programming, where standard operations or best practices are invoked based upon the type of product or process that needs to be programmed. Greater use of manufacturing features, which contain embedded knowledge of the machining processes to make the feature, and greater use of visualization and in-process models integrated into the CAM systems are also trends.

Aber: NC software development trends are guided by two primary objectives. The first of these focuses on enhancement of the CAM user dialogue. Easy-to-use software reduces the education requirement for user proficiency across varied machining applications. The second major development trend is tuning of software methods and algorithms to better the imbedded manufacturing technology of NC software. This focus directs improvement in the areas of tool path quality, tool management, high speed machining, integration with a design system, and coupling to the shop floor systems.

Diehl: From prismatic solid shapes to constraint-based drawing tools, mechanical users are requiring the ability to construct shapes and forms in fast, easy-to-use software product interfaces. Users are also demanding advanced modeling technology. This demand is reflected in the capabilities of CAD/CAM products that offer complex, free-form surfaces to solids.

Marinac: In the mold and die industry we've seen a shift to process-focused NC software, which matches the specific needs for core, cavity, and electrode machining automation and specialized machining requirements.

This ensures that shops can meet the challenges of developing virtually any type of part for any type of industry.

Gibbs: Microsoft's Windows is becoming wide spread throughout CAD/CAM as the predominant implementation platform. Not only does this provide a level of compatibility between applications and PCs, it also enables a level of interoperability between and within applications. More and more technologies are available from 3rd party sources for integration into products. This can be as vanilla as system utilities to as specific as solid modelers and translation capabilities. By selecting external components, application developers can focus on what the consider their core competencies and differentiators.

Simpson: The major development trends in NC software today are support for shop-floor programming including high speed toolpath recalculation, high speed machining including the ability to use NURBS (non-uniform rational B-splines) to generate curved surfaces more accurately than ever before and to manage the automatic deceleration and acceleration of the machine tool's axis and spindle drives as it approaches each change in direction. Knowledge-based machining is also a development trend.

Mathews: The incorporation of Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) into CAM software. VBA is the recognized standard language for macros within the Windows world. With over three million software developers using the Visual Basic language, it is clearly a universal mechanism for software automation and customization.

Groves: I think you will find that solid based machining is a focus for CAM software development. In addition, for CAM products focused on the mold and die sector we are seeing rapid development in high speed machining strategies.

Werner: The need to be able to share manufacturing data between departments, across platforms, and between different CAD/CAM systems is increasingly important.

Gibbs: Also, as price/performance curves continue to plummet, functionality that was previously unrealizable due to compute demands are now manageable. As a result, whole new technology vistas are opening up, expanding the application playing field.

What are users looking for in CAM software?

Gibbs: Users are becoming more sophisticated in their system selection. No longer is it purely a matter of features, features, features. Users are beginning to understand that today's leader of features is often leap-frogged tomorrow. Users are now consistently measuring the following: ease-of-use, ease of learning, accesibility, functionality, and cost of ownership.

Mathews: Functionality, quality, support, and price: in that order.

Marinac: Users are demanding a flexible user interface that can be used in both a friendly, instructive "novice" mode and yet not restrict a "power-user" from operating at top speed. Key machining features must include high speed machining (HSM), 5-axis algorithms, knowledge-based machining (KBM), automated re-machining with knowledge of stock remaining (KSR), and combining two or more machining strategies into a single "smart" toolpath.

Groves: Users are demanding more automation and more knowledge base capability so that they can store their company standards and deskill some of their processes. Users demand tools such as automatic feature recognition and feature based machining.

McCoy: Traditionally, there was tolerance for implementation of many systems that provided automation of separate tasks, like tool path creation. Now customers expect a broader expanse of CAD/CAM functionality. We think there is a misconception, primarily on the part of software vendors, that tier 3 and 4 suppliers have needs that will be met by simpler products. In fact, this tier of user is where there is no room for approximation and there is substantial need for robust and complete modeling functionality to support the CAM activity

Simpson: Today's users are telling us they want: ease of use to facilitate toolpath generation on the shop floor ease of use so sophisticated CAM systems can be used correctly by "occasional" and even inexperienced users, strong editing functionality so toolpaths can be customized/optimized, ensuring that one-of-a kind mold or die surfaces are machined as efficiently as possible, a wide variety of roughing and finishing techniques, allowing users to cut part

in the ways they have found work best in their shops, and high speed toolpath calculation, so that different strategies can be compared and the most efficient selected.

Aber: Users continue to look toward broad support for programming of many different types of machining requirements. This provides the user the flexibility to address ever-changing part geometry configurations. The user understanding is that each of the applications within the solution will be best-of-breed. The implied breadth of a comprehensive manufacturing system makes this a significant order. This part of the user perspective is unfortunately not available in today's state-of-the-art solutions

Werner: CAM users want software to organize and apply their machining knowledge to their CNC processes. They want this capability to be highly automated, but also easily configured to their specific needs.

Sammut: Easy to use systems that reduce the programming man time. Systems that provide resource libraries of tooling and machining parameters. Systems that provide focused application functionality with more visual feedback.

Diehl: Software products that lack advanced, online learning facilities; machining software that fails to teach the user; or manufacturing software solutions that rely on outmoded interfaces are missing the point. Users want manufacturing software that improves their company's profit.

Has knowledge based machining (KBM) matured in the past year? How?

Mathews: KBM is clearly the future of CAM. Although years from maturity, it promises to dramatically reduce the time and complexities of programming CNC machine tools. With APT, among others, "programmers" produced families of part programs that captured the manufacturing process and rules for one part, thereby automating the CNC programming for the entire family.

Groves: Yes, I believe it has matured. I think we have moved from a position where vendors talked theoretically about this subject to a situation where some products are delivering knowledge based functionality. EdgeCAM now recommends feeds and speeds to users and also allows users to save away machining strategies to be used on other parts.

Christman: KBM technology is not new, but acceptance has been slowed by the difficulty in implementing some of the early software systems. This is changing as major CAD/CAM and CAM-centric vendors, as well as some niche vendors, now offer usable and productive software that are targeted at specific application areas.

Simpson: KBM has developed on two levels. The first includes increasingly high-level knowledge of general machining processes being embedded in these packages by the developers. So far, this has led to very conservative implementations which have yet to offer compelling benefits. The second approach allows users to continuously capture their particular machining techniques and parameters.

Werner: By producing smarter software, developers are looking to give users more opportunities to take advantage of the data already available to them in some form or another. One example is the new ability to create "as-machined" models from existing NC data.

Aber: The maturity that is noted in the last year is observed in user acceptance rather than the core technology itself. Production machining case studies have resulted in very significant productivity measurements. These gains are coupled with indirect cost reductions of predictable quality, reduced rework/scrap, reduced tape-try-out, and efficient engineering change implementation.

Diehl: Procedural methodologies allow users to modify data defining a surface and then automatically update the surface accordingly. With true hybrid modelers, we have the opportunity to utilize both solid and surface data at any given moment. Feature recognition means the user doesn't spend time defining boundaries for machining in their CAM software. Modeling engine technology makes it an automatic process to know that the system will automatically avoid clamps and fixtures during toolpath processing.

Marinac: "Grass-roots" type of knowledge allows various parameters to be automatically set according to the "knowledge" provided by both previous toolpaths and certain current parameters. Also, a more mature "topological" type of knowledge provides for "smart" toolpaths that utilize knowledge of stock remaining from previous toolpaths or that can create toolpaths based on slope-control to determine shallow and step areas for machining.

However, the feature-based approach is more appropriate for simple plate machining since machining information is linked to the design features. This type of knowledge based machining is best suited for the manufacture of holes, simple pockets, and profiles required on mold and die plates. This is simple to create in solids--the real challenge it to handle feature recognition in wireframe and surface models.

Mathews: The promise of feature-based KBM is to take proven productivity gains and apply them generally, without special programming or software customization. It must be an adaptive process that automatically learns from everyday use.

Gibbs: With our Hole Wizard and Stock Wizard capability, our company has personally realized a new level of KBM which extends beyond our previous ability to retrieve stored processes. Wizards capture the users' manufacturing knowledge and use it to guide the creation of new manufacturing processes. By encoding the parameters used to determine process decisions for hole making the system responds to actually manufacturing situations resulting in a more dynamic approach than stored processes.

Sammut: Feature based machining is still in a growing stage. It is progressing slowly because we need to store more process information.

How has software made high speed machining easier?

Christman: Software features that have been or are being introduced include NURBS interpolation in which the output of a toolpath follows a spline equation, adding loops to the end of a zigzag toolpath as compared to a square end, automatic insertion of a smooth curve on internal corners, looping to the next level in Z-level cutting, adjusting the distribution of machining points to maintain smooth tool movement, circular tool entry and exit from the material, use of equidistant or 3D stepover for constant chip load, and defining a specific menu pick to invoke code to support high speed machining.

Mathews: Due to the length of the average HSM G-Code program, a CAM system is a pre-requisite to success. More importantly CAM software should offer a large number of specially designed high speed machining canned cycles. These canned cycles support the special tool movements required for cutting at high speeds and in harden state materials.

Diehl: CAD/CAM software has advanced significantly in its ability to handle the complex tool movements required for true high-speed machining. The way tool movement, or toolpath, output is controlled is critical to these advancements. For years, CAD/CAM software was only capable of outputting point-to-point surface movements. Today, through advances in toolpath algorithms, tool motion is optimized with technologies called arc fitting, NURB-spline motion, and return motion looping. These capabilities allow the tool to be "driven more smoothly across these complex shapes. This translates into a decreased need for continuous acceleration/deceleration (Acc/Dec) control by the machine operator.

Werner: Software has made high speed machining easier because it incorporates cutting knowledge into the machining process, thereby eliminating the guesswork. Based on the exact amount of material removed in each cut, manufacturers can have the software choose the ideal feed rates for different cutting conditions, materials, machine capabilities, and tooling.

Many companies program the machine tool's maximum possible feed rate. They program very light cuts, with small step-down and step-over so that cutter load never approaches a maximum. But the cutting time could be decreased dramatically with a heavier cut. Unfortunately the cutter can occasionally get into an overloaded condition, such as in pocket corners, causing cutter breakage or exceeding the horsepower on the machine. Fortunately optimization software knows exactly how much material will be removed in each segment of the cut, and can be used to slow the feed rates down where the load is too great. The software prevents cutter breakage and keeps the machine from exceeding horsepower limitations, while maintaining the same high feed rates with greater cutting efficiency than would be achievable by stepping down for each pass.

Groves: Using CAM software makes the task of programming complex parameters easy as the software does all the work. CAM software can regulate the feeds and speeds, calculates toolpaths that avoid sharp corners, minimize deceleration of the machine etc. All of these parameters would be almost impossible to calculate manually.

Aber: Developments include the definition of more uniform tool engagement and variant feed rates that provide for more constant tool force loading. Enhancements include cornering, step-over from path-to-path, ramping level-to-level, and island machining management. Tool path verification and material removal simulation will likewise make HSM easier.

Marinac: Contour milling toolpaths (as opposed to traditional vectored toolpaths) will provide stable cutting depth and cutting forces with adequate chip load on the cutter. "Look-ahead" features in HSM controls reduce the feed rate automatically when they detect a corner approaching. Features include smart machining, remachining with knowledge of stock remaining using combined toolpath strategies according to slope control, cornering treatments such as rounding all corners, internal looping, 3D looped approaches, and helical approaches, side step for HSM such as looped, inwards, outwards, and golf-club, and NURBS-based toolpaths.

Gibbs: Probably the most apparent is in response to HSM introducing a whole new set of requirements that need to be taken into consideration when developing toolpath geometry. For a programmer to develop all of these specialized geometries would be time consuming and prone to inaccuracies. Software can be used to identify these geometric conditions and automatically insert the appropriate geometry

Simpson: New features allow the cutter to move into and out of the work piece as smoothly as possible. Allow moves on the material to occur as smoothly as possible. This ensures an even thickness of material all over the part before finish machining. This feature is called "Rest Roughing." Software also allows rapid moves below the surface of the block of tool steel in areas that have already been machined, and allows particular regions of parts such as steep or flat regions to be automatically identified and machined with the most appropriate strategy.

How has the Internet changed CAM software? How will the Internet change CAM software in the future?

Marinac: In large manufacturing sites, collaboration among users over the intranet has already been critical to breaking down the walls that have existed between design and manufacturing. The Internet is the world's largest knowledge repository Tapping into this knowledge-base will enable manufacturers to preview information for visualizing mold splits, evaluate and locate engineering changes, and simulate the manufacturing process interactively while on-line with vendors and suppliers. With machine tools being made available over the World Wide Web, remote programming is indeed a reality.

Mathews: Like the traditional utilities of telephone or electricity, it's indispensable. Through the web, email, and discussion groups, the Internet now delivers CAM users high quality technical support at a very low cost. On-Line stores now offer CAM users a vast array of special purpose add-Ins and macros.

Simpson: The Internet itself has also improved communications globally allowing companies to model (adding split and draft surfaces) in one country, generate toolpaths in another, and machine in a third. This has driven down costs and lead times.

Diehl: NC software vendors now universally realize that most prospective customers use the Internet to make technical evaluations of products, and many offer advanced product tours on their web sites. CAM software solutions that offer advanced and complete training options to their customers are still relatively rare, but will soon be commonplace. Cutting edge companies offer extremely advanced ways of learning their software online: streaming web video of their software in action, multimedia tours of common functions, and online discussion boards offering insider knowledge of features mean that users learn the products at their own pace.

Gibbs: The Internet is definitely changing how manufacturers do business. Electronic Commerce is no longer the exception, but is more and more often the norm for today's manufacturers. Ultimately, the Internet will facilitate a level of live concurrent collaboration between CAD and CAM that is more direct than conventionally experienced today.

Current maintenance releases can be downloaded vendor sites. The Internet also plays a vital role in software support providing a valuable communication link between end users and technical support staff.

Sammut: The Internet has made it possible to get closer to the customer and has provided them with more frequent software updates.

Aber: The Internet will replace the hard copy references currently used in each machine shop. They will provide real-time access to a company's manufacturing infrastructure or assets. Candidates for further application of Internet and web-based technologies are preferred tooling databases, setup instructions, tool crib information management, and post processing services.

Groves: As CAM software develops I believe we will see far more fundamental change where customers will have the option to run ASP based CAM systems, CAM systems will also be loading tooling, parts across the web perhaps from web based supplier catalogs.

Gibbs: In the future we expect that the AST, Application Service Providers, model of product distribution, that is starting to ramp up in CAD, will eventually become more commonplace in CAM.

Marinac: In the future this knowledge will be shared over the Internet which will enable tooling suppliers to work collaboratively in the global - rather that local marketplace.

Which do you view as more beneficial, on-line or off-line programming? Why?

Aber: Off-line programming continues to be more beneficial to the integrated CAD/CAM/CAE system user. Off-line programming provides access to the vast NC software developments that provide for greater productivity and quality the NC media produced. Off-line programming provides better utilization of the capital equipment located on the shop floor. The benefits of off-line programming are compounded when one examines reuse of the program throughout product lifetime and the inevitable engineering change. However on-line programming also continues to have very valid application.

Sammut: I would say off-line programming is more beneficial. The NC programmer can spend more time determining the most efficient method to program the part. There can be greater control and enforcement of company standards across the board. There is an important audit trail that can be followed specially when dealing with critical parts. Operators tend to plan by operation or tool and not in terms of the entire process.

Gibbs: This isn't an either/or proposition. Certainly a manufacturer could chose to operate their facility purely as either an on-line or offline configuration, but then they would be missing the true advantage and power of the collaborative online/off-line configuration.

Diehl: Although a standard for certain vertical production machining applications, on-line program faces some serious impediments: Expensive machines are not cutting when an operator is programming the part at the control. This is obviously costly and wastes increasingly valuable production time. While some machines can be programmed with the tool operating, the operator may not be able to run additional machines. Worse, the operator cannot adequately monitor the functioning machine in order to catch potential problems and correct them before tools are broken or metal is scrapped. Off-line programming is more productive, less prone to gouging and damage, and more efficient.

Aber: On-line programming is most effectively applied in the tool room/model shop environment where production volumes are low and re-use, with variation, of the program is also low. Perhaps the most beneficial solution could be obtained with a hybrid system that applies on-line and off-line programming methods integrated across the company as machining requirements and organization bounding permits.

Werner: On-line programming appears to work for jobs that have very few different machining operations, simple setups, and the machining time is not critical. Off-line programming is appropriate for jobs requiring specific complex modeling for manufacturing, multiple setups, multiple operations, complex fixtures, or when machining time is critical. When a company is deciding whether or not to use on-line programming to eliminate a perceived problem such as a programming bottleneck or quality issue, they have to make sure they aren't simply hiding the problem by moving it to the shop floor.

Simpson: In mold, tool and die manufacturing, the complexity of the surfaces being machined and the toolpaths generated require the programming to occur off-line. However this off-line programming occurs on the shop floor rather than in CAD offices. Shop floor machining not only reduces lead times and programming costs. It also introduces greater job flexibility and harnesses the skills of machine tool operators.

Mathews: On-line programming is an efficient way to program simple parts, while off-line programming opens the door to more comprehensive programs and machining.

Marinac: Some tool shops prefer the single integrated database approach to enable engineering changes -- these shops require off-line programming. Other tool shops want to completely eliminate NC programming from the technical office--these shops have implemented shop-floor (on-line) programming. In the Mold, Tool and Die industry there is 50-50 split in the end-user needs.

Groves: Off-line programming is generally more beneficial in situations where programming is reasonably complex and good visualization is required. On-line programming is usually best suited to simple jobs that can be programmed quickly on-line.

McCoy: Off-line offers greater flexibility but these systems will become more widely available on controllers with compute capabilities, providing on-line editing.
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Comment:Software gurus take a look at millennial industry trends.
Author:Kalman, Sara
Publication:Tooling & Production
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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