December 27, 2010
Better Times Ahead For Manufacturing Technologies?
Please note that contributed articles, blog entries, and comments posted on MCADcafe.com are the views and opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the management and staff of Internet Business Systems and its subsidiary web-sites.
| by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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A lot of estimates that I've seen lately from CAM software and service vendors, their customers, and some analyst firms indicate that 2010 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for revenue. In fact, indications are that this year might approach the previous record, which occurred in 2005, when purchases reached their peak before a four-year period of decline that showed signs of ending earlier this year.
So what's caused all this possible reason for optimism? Actually, a number of factors. First, anything to do with the viability of manufacturing and production, including CAM, is very dependent on the global economy and the demand for goods to be produced. Second, the level of spending on technology in general is key to the demand for CAM software and services, and that has been on the rise. Third, the number and types of production machines that might require CAM software and services, and to what extent they might be required has also seen an increase in deliveries and installations.
Keep in mind that last year was an especially bad year for machine tool sales, and the software and services that run the machines typically lag months behind the machines in terms of sales, but things have picked up this year. This points to a probable good late year for CAM revenue.
So, with the indicators pointing a positive direction, most CAM vendors are cautiously optimistic about sales and growth for 2010.
As far as trends in specific CAM technology areas go, two of the hottest continue to be software that facilitates automatic feature recognition (AFR) for faster and easier generation of tool paths and programming multitasking machine tools with multiple spindles, turrets, and operations. The functions and benefits of both AFR and multitask machines are fairly intertwined. Finally, relative CAM software prices continue to fall, making it not only more affordable, but also providing a quicker tangible return on investment that can make it an easier sell to management. CAM software today is somewhat analogous to what so-called mid-range CAD software became about a decade ago - capable,
easier to use, and priced for a wider customer base.
Automatic feature recognition is the capability of a CAM software application that saves time and minimizes errors by directly reading CAD models and recognizing 2D features, such as holes, pockets, and even turned features. Because this type of software is typically rules-based, through automated processes, it helps you automatically map out a strategy for optimizing machining operations. Some AFR software can recognize features and deal with different sides of a part, minimizing or eliminating multiple setups once the part is on a machine. To further minimize multiple setups, ideally, AFR can be used in tandem with multitask machines that can handle multiple machining operations.
Multitasking machines are a means for companies to capitalize on technology, because they are highly automated and can reduce manufacturing time and scrap, as well as overcome the persistent and growing dearth of highly-skilled machinists. These machines can turn, mill, drill, tap, and perform other machining operations in a single setup, thus minimizing the sheer number of setups and possible errors associated with manual operations. However, programming a multitask machine can be a very complex proposition, especially synchronizing tool paths with minimal or no manual editing intervention required once the program is entered into a machine.
Multitask machines continue to evolve, and so must the software that runs them. Currently, dual turret and dual spindle machines are prevalent, but some vendors say they have programmed six-spindle machines with several different turret and tooling configurations, and providing up to 22 axes for machining, thanks to articulated arms. Again, programming multitask machines is no small task, but the labor saved makes manufacturing companies, especially those in North America, more competitive.
Virtually all CAM companies are working to develop software that makes machining more efficient by exploiting high-speed machining on conventional and multitask equipment. These same CAM vendors are also attempting to take as much pain out of the increasingly complex task of programming as possible. Of course, their goal is to make their customers as competitive in the world arena as possible. How successful the CAM vendors are ultimately depends on how successful their customers are, and this year's indicators seem to be pointing toward success for both parties.
In North America, even after a sharp downturn, manufacturing still accounts for approximately 20 percent of the economy, over 60 percent of its exports, and over half of its total research and development expenditures. While these are impressive numbers, are they enough to maintain the position and prestige of innovative manufacturing practices in North America?
Manufacturing companies know full well that they must equip their workforces with tools for anticipating, identifying, and solving problems. These same companies must respond to regional and global trends in product demand and adjust their product development processes accordingly. On top of all this, manufacturers must be aware of what's going on in the many links that comprise the raw materials-to-marketplace supply chain, as well as overall business practices and the business climate, the state of education for attracting future workers, domestic and foreign government policies - the list could go on and on.
On the “people” side, progressive manufacturers are increasingly replacing their historical top-down management structure with team approaches that encourage input from the factory floor regarding product and process improvements. On the “tool” side, there are indicators that point to the fact that overall spending is rising for computer software, hardware, and production machines in what many manufacturers believe will fulfill the promise of technology-induced gains in productivity and profitability.
The price/performance ratio has increased dramatically in the past few years with regard to many aspects of the overall corporate IT world, including hardware and software. However, IT specific to manufacturing (we'll narrow it to CAM tools) has also made great strides in terms of capabilities, while at the same time, has tried to overcome the misconception that it is too expensive, difficult to learn and use, and may not integrate well with existing systems and processes.
For CAM tools it's almost as important to what not to base a purchasing and implementation decision on as it is what to base the decision on.
First, realize that regardless what a vendor says in its advertising and marketing literature or what a salespersons says verbally to you in your office, there is no such thing as a CAM product that does everything for everybody. The ideal CAM system should be well-suited for both beginning and experienced programmers - it should guide new users, but streamline the process for experienced users. Also, because no one CAM product fits all needs out of the box, ensure that it is customizable and can be tailored to your production machining practices and the types of parts you produce, even as those needs change, and they will.
Second, don't be overly swayed by just the capabilities and features that are available in the CAM tools you are evaluating. It's easy to get overly optimistic when demoing a product and rashly thinking that it will solve all of your machining problems. Take a step back and you'll be able to make a more rational decision as to whether the CAM tool is right for you while avoiding possible buyer's remorse.
Third, during any demonstration, if at all possible, insist that you test your parts and machining processes with the CAM software you are evaluating. Any software can and will look like the ideal choice in the hands of an experienced application engineer with his or her parts. It can be, however, quite a different story if the CAM product (or person conducting the demo) hesitates working with or encounters problems with your parts. Better to learn these lessons up front before making a commitment you may be sorry for later.
Fourth, evaluate CAM products that are used widely in both industry and education. Finding qualified programmers to code your machines will be easier because you will have a larger pool of technical and practical talent to pull from.
Lastly, determine if the CAM product you are evaluating is expandable and scalable. In other words, although it may meet your current needs, make sure you won't outgrow it in several months or a couple of years. The vendor should be able to help in this regard and offer an upward migration path as your needs and requirements grow.
In the increasingly competitive manufacturing environment, it is more important than ever to have the right tools for the job - a task that grows more complex, but also more vital.
Here's to a good 2011 for the manufacturing industry and the technology hardware and software vendors that support it!
A Letter to the Editor The following is an email we received regarding the previous MCADCafe Weekly article on Mechatronics:
In your “Addressing the Challenges of Mechatronics” article, you failed to include modeling fluid power components as part of mechatronics.
We design and build low volume specialized off highway equipment that have hydraulic cylinders to actuate steel structures. We have used FEA for many years but spend more time calculating the forces and force vectors than doing the FEA. Over the past 15 years I have tried several kinematic and dynamic modeling tools to simplify defining the forces and vectors for FEA, but none are capable of accurately or cost-effectively simulating a simple hydraulic cylinder actuating a structure.
My last frustration was with Simulink. I have tried Dynamic Designer (now part of SolidWorks) and before that Working Model 2D and 3D. I have had several Webex demonstrations from other software companies only to find none provide a simple hydraulic cylinder model that a person can input industry available information into to define the cylinder bore and rod size, the stroke, the operating pressure, the flow volume going into it and an acceleration/deceleration rate.
It is a shame that fluid power is the bastard child of the design community but we cannot build the infrastructure we depend on for food, clothing and shelter without it driving off highway equipment.
The Week's Top MCAD News Items
At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the news items that were the most viewed during last week.
ANSYS SpaceClaim Direct Modeler software. Since 2009, SpaceClaim has been available as an option to ANSYS customers, and this new version further enables simulation engineering teams to address business, engineering, and geometry issues in 3D. ANSYS recently released ANSYS 13.0, the latest version of its engineering simulation technology suite. ANSYS SpaceClaim Direct Modeler 2010 SP1, which is compatible with ANSYS 13.0, brings 3D solid modeling to analysts who work in a 3D world but do not want to become experts in traditional, feature-based CAD systems. According to
announced new enhancements to
the companies, it enables product development and design engineers to create and modify 3D geometry models without needing to learn complex and expensive CAD systems. As a result, simulation can be conducted earlier in the product development process, where it can have the most impact on performance, cost, and time-to-market.
GstarCAD, a provider of 2D/3D CAD software announced the release of functions for GstarCAD2011-a group of 3D solid model commands-SOLPROF, SOLVIEW and SOLDRAW. SOLPROF expands users' visual effect for real-time operations and practical exercises. As plan, elevation and section drawings of a 3D model are frequently drawn engineers and designers in the field can place the visible contour profile, invisible contour profile and so on of a 3D model in the different layers and can set different view directions such as front view and plan view in the model space by SOLPROF. SOLVIEW transforms 3D solid models to 2D engineering drawings. By using SOLVIEW, designers can use orthogonal
projection to create new viewports, and automatically generate new layers for visible lines, hidden lines and section lines in the viewport, setting proper view orientation and scale. Real-time section views of user-defined shear planes of the model are created and filled with patterns, thus realizing the visualization of 3D model section and forming projection views. SOLDRAW creates 3D solid model contour profile and section views.
Dassault Systèmes announced that its subsidiary Exalead, a provider of search-based application platforms, released CloudView 360, an extended package of CloudView modules developed specifically to integrate information from legacy CRM, ERP, HR enterprise applications, PLM systems and web content. Built around Exalead's CloudView version 5 search technology, CloudView 360 adds semantic processing and information mash-up capabilities to enable, simplifies and accelerates complete views of enterprise status and direction. CloudView 360 extends its core capability by semantically relating key business activity relationships such as customer relationship records, past transactions and
customer service dialogs. Results of user queries can be mashed-up into dashboards and real-time executive summaries that include traditional charts and graphs, descriptive extracts, key facts, relationship graphs and web-oriented representations such as word clouds.
German tool maker Formenbau Kellermann GmbH reduced lead times by more than 20% after investing in high-end VISI software and installing a palletized production process with a zero-point clamping system. The company has become a partner to the automotive industry providing complex single- and multiple-component tools for high-quality plastic parts such as intake manifolds, oil modules, air filter housings and cylinder head covers. The milling and electrical discharge machining (EDM) departments are equipped with two HPM1350 U and HPM 1850 U 5-axis milling centers from Mikron/AgieCharmilles and one 5-axis Huron EX machine. In addition, there is a Mikron HSM 700 milling machine for
electrode production, an AGIE 100 wire EDM machine, three vertical eroding machines (Exeron, Hansen), as well as numerous manually operated machines for additional milling, drilling and grinding operations. Process automation is a specialty of Formenbau Kellermann and this starts with the tool design. Components, such as pressure plates or guides, are uniform in all tools. addition, there is an in-house company standard for design, as well as a standard component catalog. The CAD/CAM software of choice at Kellerman is VISI from British manufacturer VERO Software. "As a progressive company, we had already invested much earlier in 3D," explained Sabine Kellerman, an engineer for the company.
"Prior to our switch to VISI in 2003, we worked with ICEM DDN, a product that had been on the market for many years but could no longer compete with modern systems."
Jeffrey Rowe is the editor of MCADCafé
and MCAD Weekly Review. He can be reached at
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-- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.