April 21, 2008
Alibre Introduces 3D Parametric CAM
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Alibre, Inc. announced the Alibre CAM product family, the first fully integrated 3D parametric Personal CAD/CAM solution that is accessible and affordable for manufacturers and machine shops of any size, even individuals. The Alibre CAM family of Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software products is integrated within Alibre's Alibre Design 3D parametric CAD software that offers the functionality of products like SolidWorks, Pro/ENGINEER and Autodesk Inventor at a price anyone can afford. Alibre CAM strengthens Alibre's product offering to include an integrated CAM system at a lower price than alternative products providing just CAD or CAM alone.

Alibre CAM products provide 2 1/2 to 5-axis CNC milling fully integrated into the Alibre Design interface, with complete parametric solid modeling of parts and assemblies and automated creation of 2D drawings and Bills of Materials (BOM). All components of the integrated solution are associative to the solid model, meaning that an update to a model automatically updates other related components. So when a part model is edited, all assemblies that use that part will automatically update, all 2D drawings of that part will automatically update, and now with Alibre CAM, the toolpaths created for that part will also automatically update.

Building on the success of Alibre Design Xpress, the first and only free 3D parametric CAD application that has been downloaded over 500,000 times since its release in August 2005, the entry-level member of the Alibre CAM product family, Alibre CAM Xpress, will be offered free of charge to a select group of manufacturing professionals. This initial group will then be authorized to invite colleagues and partners to also get Alibre CAM Xpress at no charge. Unprecedented in the CAD/CAM industry, Alibre CAM Xpress is the first and only 3D parametric CAD/CAM system available for free.

"Alibre CAM and Alibre CAM Xpress are going to disrupt the stagnant CAM software market," declares Greg Milliken, CEO of Alibre. "Today most CAM vendors are dependent on CAD vendors, so they either throw in their lot with a single vendor, or they try to ride the fence by working loosely with all of them for fear of upsetting anyone. They are so afraid of doing anything that will upset the status quo that they've relegated themselves to the table scraps of big CAD companies, such as a listing on their partner page and ticket to an annual user conference. Worse, with few exceptions, customers either get taken to the bank with an 'integrated' solution from one of the big guys like

Siemens/UGS, Dassault and PTC, or they settle for working with a hodge-podge of solutions from multiple vendors, or they have to give up real CAD capabilities altogether just to be able to afford the CAM software. Alibre is changing the status quo by providing a single, integrated parametric CAD/CAM solution for the mainstream machine shop at a fraction of the price of anything else on the market."

"Very, very impressive," said Mark Ecklund, President of Ecklund Engineered Products. "I have the whole process working from design to part. I designed a motorcycle triple clamp in Alibre, ran toolpaths in Alibre CAM, sent the posted G-Codes to a HAAS machining center and pressed the start button. The part has over 50,000 lines of G-Code and it worked perfectly the first time! It really is a complete design to finished part solution. Thanks for this product."

"At Tormach, we're dedicated to making high-quality CNC machinery affordable to the individual," explains Greg Jackson, CEO of Tormach LLC. "With Alibre CAM, the team at Alibre is showing a strong commitment to making powerful 3D design and manufacturing technologies that were once exclusive and 'high-end' available for everyone, even the individual."

Alibre CAM runs only inside of the Alibre Design user interface and can be purchased as a bundle with Alibre Design, or as an add-on to a previously purchased version of Alibre Design. The Alibre Design product family includes four versions: Alibre Design Xpress (Free), Alibre Design Standard ($995), Alibre Design Professional ($1,495) and Alibre Design Expert ($1,995).

Alibre CAM products provide a wide range of milling operations including profiling, pocketing, facing, v-carving, engraving and hole and thread milling, as well as a variety of roughing and finishing operations such as horizontal, parallel, and radial. Hole making operations such as drilling, tapping, boring and reverse boring are also supported, along with animated toolpath simulation. All Alibre CAM products come with numerous post-processors as well as a custom post-processor generator. The Alibre CAM product family consists of the following four products:

Alibre CAM Xpress; Add-On Price: Free. The entry-level version of Alibre CAM providing basic 2 1/2- and 3-axis milling that is being made available free to a select group of manufacturing professionals who can then invite other to obtain the product. Alibre CAM Xpress was formerly known simply as Alibre CAM and was bundled only with Alibre Design Expert.

Alibre CAM Standard; Add-On Price: $1,000. Industrial-strength 2 1/2- and 3-axis production milling system integrated with Alibre Design. Toolpaths are fully associative to your Alibre Design models.

Alibre CAM Professional; Add-On Price: $2,000. Includes the features of Alibre CAM Standard, adding 4-axis milling and advanced simulation operations for higher productivity and more complex shape machining.

Alibre CAM Expert; Add-On Price: $4,000. Includes Standard and Professional features, and adds 5th axis indexing (3+2 indexed machining) and many advanced machining operations and toolpath generation strategies for demanding production environments with sophisticated machining requirements.

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

Alibre has always had an interesting product line that is quite diverse, both in terms of cost (free and up) and associated capabilities, and the new CAM products should add positively to the mix. At the various price points, the Alibre CAD and now CAM applications are targeted at small- and medium-sized businesses for parametric modeling and machining, and associative 2D drafting and detailing.

Alibre CAM appears to be a capable 3D milling package built with CAM technology provided by MecSoft, makers of VisualMill. This product line could find a wide range of homes from manufacturing, prototyping, and hobbyist applications where the operator may not necessarily be a professional machinist. It comes available with several manufacturing methods and includes 2.5 and 3-axis milling, and approximately 50 pre-built post-processors. If Alibre has solved the CAM ease of use puzzle for “casual” CAM users, they will really have something.

With Alibre CAM you can define tool paths and run machining simulations on part models from directly with Alibre Design Expert. Once your simulations are complete and toolpaths defined you can output G code to your machine tool and start cutting parts. Sounds easy enough . . .

The significance of integration really comes into play when you have a design change to make, since the toolpaths are parametrically associated to the part, meaning that when you change a part, the toolpath updates automatically.

Alibre CAM is not MecSoft’s first foray into the CAD world, as a couple of years ago it helped launch RhinoCAM 1.0, a CAM plug-in that is integrated in Rhino. This plug-in is a general purpose machining program targeted at general machinists. RhinoCAM includes 2-1/2 axis, 3-axis, and hole making operations. This 2-1/2 and 3-axis solid/surface/STL manufacturing system is based on the MecSoft VisualMill CAM engine It comes with hundreds of post-processors and a post-processor generator that lets you create user definable post-processors. Like Alibre CAM, this product, too, is well-suited for the rapid-prototyping, hobby, and educational markets where ease of learning/ease of use
are major requirements.

I have spoken with Greg Milliken, CEO of Alibre a number of times over the years, and he always says that the company has several things in the pipeline that will be announced in the coming months, and Alibre CADM is testimony to this ongoing statement. Designing for manufacturing is not easy, and modeling for manufacturing is even harder. Alibre CAM appears to provide the freedom, control, and accuracy to model a lot of things and then manufacture them and its tooling directly from the same model.

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-- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.


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