by Barb Schmitz, Senior Editor
There have been many hardware advances on the manufacturing side of product development. Increasingly sophisticated machining technology is becoming more affordable and accessible, and as a result, more and more companies are bringing technology, such as CNC machines, in house. Having the capabilities to create prototypes quickly in house saves significant time to market over the traditional process of outsourcing to machine shops.
Another exciting new technology poised to radically change the landscape for manufacturing forever is the 3D printer, which enables manufacturers, as well as hobbyists and would-be inventors, to quickly create physical prototypes with the push of a button. The prices of these machines and the materials they use have plummeted in recent years, putting the technology in the hands of anyone with an idea and a desire to convert that idea into a reality
New technologies demand new methodologies
As more and more companies are turning to rapid prototyping and manufacturing to cut turnaround time for prototypes and customized one-off parts, the necessity to provide product data in the form of 3D models is increasing.
Three-axis and up NC programming, rapid prototyping, mold design and sheet metal manufacturing now require 3D models that can be referenced to create NC toolpaths, SLA molds and sheetmetal flat patterns with proper bend allowances. These systems require input generated in STL format, which can be easily output from 3D models by saving models in that format.
For companies still creating designs in 2D, problems await. When manufacturers have to “rebuild” 2D drawings in 3D, problems often rear their ugly heads downstream. When mistakes are made translating 2D designs into 3D, the resulting part might not meet its original design requirements. In addition, when drawings are tweaked to work for manufacturing, those original 2D drawings are often not changed, so if referenced later, problems again arise.
Automate CAM with CAD-integrated solutions
CAM is the component that enables engineers to turn their design into a physical part on a CNC machine. With traditional CAM software, the workflow is completely different than the workflow in CAD, making it difficult for engineers to use. Yet, with more and more companies bringing machining capabilities in-house, the ability to use and understand how to generate toolpaths has become more important to engineers.
To make it easier for product designers and engineers to take 3D CAD models straight to manufacturing, many fully CAD-integrated CAM software solutions are now available, typically sold by partners of CAD vendors through their reseller channels.
Single-window integration for CAM means that engineers and designers can launch the CAM app from within their CAD program. When design changes are made, these updates are automatically made in downstream manufacturing applications as well. As a result, accuracy of design data is also maintained because the CAM application creates data by directly referencing the 3D CAD model.
Integrated CAM software also enables designers to assess the manufacturability of products early in the design process. “Integrated CAM helps expedite the manufacturing process by helping engineers and designers gain early insight into the cost, performance and manufacturability of designs,” said Aaron Frankel, marketing director at Siemens PLM. “It also enables easy optimization of designs for maximum manufacturing efficiency by reducing manufacturing steps, improving efficiency of tooling, reducing machining times and maximizing shop floor equipment utilization.”
Mending fences: Integrated CAM facilitates concurrent design
By integrating CAD and CAM, companies seek to solve the traditional disconnect between designers and their manufacturing counterparts. Design engineers have a reputation of simply “lobbing” CAD models over the wall to manufacturing without regard to the efforts required to prepare those models for manufacturing, creating tensions between the two groups that have hampered processes and prohibited truly collaborative design efforts.
Traditionally, even though both teams are working on the same design, they use different tools that don’t speak the same language, which requires manufacturing to translate the design data they receive from one language to another. This requires them to import and possibly repair the geometry, which creates delays and increases the likelihood of errors.
“The design and manufacturing process is not a one-way street,” said Craig Therrien, a product portfolio manager at SolidWorks. “There are always many iterations back and forth, so every time a designer makes a change, that cycle of importing and exporting begins again. Data translations and conversions add extra steps and introduce potential errors.”
When both teams can work in parallel through an integrated design and manufacturing process, they can react faster to design changes. By using a master model with associativity, users can update their mold design, NC programs, electrodes and setup sheets every time the CAD model changes. Associativity makes design changes go faster and simple changes can be updated automatically— they don’t require reprogramming because they automatically re-adjust. More than one designer can work on the same tool at the same time, and you can start NC programming before the tool design is completed.
“Seamless integration of CAM software into the design process can be a huge help in addressing time-to-market issues,” said Brian Thompson, vice president of Creo Product Management at PTC. “If the manufacturing and design engineers are working with the same data, then early visibility into any manufacturing issues is easy, and the resulting collaboration will allow the team to catch and correct manufacturability issues before they hit the production floor.”
Fully integrated CAM packages enable users to easily automate CAM to help lower costs, increase productivity and speed time to market. Because these solutions work directly with 3D CAD data, there is no need to translate or recreate designs for manufacturing, reducing the chance of errors. Many were also designed to follow more of a CAD-like workflow, making it easier for engineers to learn and use.
While integrated CAM software helps to identify manufacturing issues early in the design process, the benefits continue once products move to production. “Once the design is in production, the benefits of a single, associative data model continue,” said Thompson. “Any changes to the production design are automatically propagated into the manufacturing toolpaths, enabling incredibly quick implementation of product design changes into the manufacturing process.”
An integrated approach to CAM also greatly reduces the traditional disconnect between the two processes—design and manufacturing—by providing an integrated platform that serves the needs of both. “Communication barriers are removed with this approach and processes are smoothed out, reducing cycle times while improving quality,” said Therrien. “It also eliminates the need to import/export/repair model data, improves data accuracy, promotes concurrent design and reduces overall costs.”
Integrated CAM opens doors to new rapid manufacturing technologies
The combination of powerful 3D modeling, CAD-integrated CAM apps and affordable machining technologies, such as 3D printers, has created new opportunities and radically changed the way people think about design. If you can think it and design it, you can now build it.
For design engineers, 3D printing means faster turnarounds on physical prototypes, the ability to make parts that were impossible with traditional manufacturing techniques, and a way to quickly create one-off configurations for truly customized final products.
Using an integrated approach to CAM also will enable users to quickly take advantage of “next-gen” manufacturing equipment, such as new generations of hybrid additive technologies that can both build up and machine metal.
The combination of CAD-integrated CAM software and new advanced rapid manufacturing technologies packs a mean productivity punch. Not only will it help to bridge the gap between design and manufacturing teams, but will also speed time to market for new products while cutting down on errors and the costs associated with them.
Siemens PLM Software