Dear Desktop Engineering Reader:
The good news is that manufacturing seems to be making something of a comeback in the US. All sorts of offshoring headaches the Cassandras predicted happened: Supply chain nightmares, more rejected products, big transportation costs, rising wages overseas, ripped off IP, language snafus, usurious local tariffs, sluggish ECO response times, collaborators becoming competitors, ad nauseam. In short, the total cost of goods sold did not offset the wages saved.
The bad news is that the decline in manufacturing trudged on for a generation. A lot of the people with the skills are sipping iced Ensure in Los Cabos or pushing up daisies in Peoria. Voc Ed is teaching people how to run CAD or Excel, but not necessarily CAM and mills. So there’s a shortage of trained machinists out there. And, for many of you at small and mid-sized outfits and even large ones, there’s even more bad news. A simple syllogism has popped up in the heads of a lot of honchos fed up with the hassles of offshoring and outsourcing: You design parts with Inventor or SolidWorks, CNCs make parts, ergo, you can make parts on a CNC. Egad.
So, what do you do now? First, recognize that the boss’s idea isn’t all wet. The business pains of outsourcing are real. The cost of new machining technology has gone down while capabilities have gone up, and there’s a large used equipment fire sale from all the shops that went under during the past decade or so. Still, CAM software is not CAD, and designing a part and making one were traditionally two different careers. Be that as it may, the second thing to do is recognize that CAD and CAM can work together tool in toolpath, and you can learn to make the hard copy happen without going nuts.
Today’s Check it Out link takes you to an outfit called SolidCAM. These guys have been developing CAM software for 30 years. SolidCAM, InventorCAM and the standalone SolidCAM CAD/CAM suite are the flagship products. But now what they’re really starting to get into is training a new generation of CAM-capable design engineers who can run the machines. We’ll get to that. Here’s a quick rundown of the software.
As you guessed, SolidCAM and InventorCAM integrate with SolidWorks and Inventor, respectively. Officially approved partners and all that. Their CNC programming toolsets look and feel like the CAD system’s as much as possible, making the learning curve shorter. You define, calculate and verify all your machining operations without leaving the CAD environment. They can handle programming 2.5- to 5-axis machining, high-speed surface milling, wire EDM, etc. Nothing seems to be missing. Their models are fully associative, so your toolpaths update when you make a part change. There are no import/export hassles, and you don’t have to learn some CAM system’s idea of a CAD application.
The key for you CAD guys tasked with machining as well as people weary of CNC programming is something called iMachining technology. Basically, it has a wizard-based technology — patented, BTW — that makes defining cutting conditions easy by calculating the cutting conditions for your toolpath automatically. You give it your toolpath, and stock, tool material and machine specifications, and it then derives your optimal feeds, step over depths and widths, and cutting speeds. For you old hands, the company says iMachining can save you 70% or more in CNC machining time and extends tool life dramatically.
OK, great. But you still do not know how to run the machine. That’s where SolidCAM’s training comes in, and they offer support in all sorts of forms.
First, they host a lot of webinars showing you how to use SolidCAM and InventorCAM. They can train you hands-on. And they have all sorts of video tutorials. After you click the video link on the SolidCAM landing page, look to your left. There are more videos. They all seem less than 15 minutes long. Topics range from the basics to advanced operations. No matter your relationship with CAM, they’ll give you a great idea what these applications have to offer, especially the iMachining technology. You can also sign-up for an online demo.
And here’s something else for you people new to that CNC machine. My contact at SolidCAM tells me that they’re working on videos that show you how to clean and maintain a CNC machine, set up the tooling, and so forth. So keep this message around and check back in a few weeks to see what’s available.
Thanks, Pal. – Lockwood
Anthony J. Lockwood
Editor at Large, Desktop Engineering