Manufacturing seems to be making a comeback in the U.S. Blame the headaches of offshoring: 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 and so on. In short, the total cost of goods sold did not offset the savings.
The bad news is that the decline in manufacturing trudged on for a generation. A lot of the people with the skills have moved on. Voc Eds teach people how to run CAD or Excel, but not necessarily CAM and mills. So there’s a shortage of trained machinists. 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 dropped while capabilities have risen, and there’s a large used equipment fire sale from all the shops that went under during the past decade or so. Still, CAM 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. SolidCAM move plenty of software, 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.
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 systems 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 to make them work.
The key for you CAD guys tasked with machining and people weary of CNC programming is something called iMachining. Basically, this is a wizard-based technology — patented, BTW — that makes defining cutting conditions easy by automatically calculating the cutting conditions for your toolpath. You give it your toolpath, stock, tool material and machine specifications then it derives optimal feeds, step over depths and widths as well as 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.
Fine, but you still do not know how to run the machine. That’s where the many forms of SolidCAM’s training come in.
First, they host a lot of webinars showing you how to use SolidCAM and InventorCAM. They can train you hands-on or demo online. And they have all sorts of video tutorials. (They’re working on ones to show you how to maintain your machine.) After you click the video link on the SolidCAM landing page, look left. There are more videos. They all seem about 10-15 minutes long. Topics range from the basics to advanced operations.
Finally, my contact told me that SolidCAM hires only seasoned machinists with a minimum of 10 years of CAM experience for its technical team. So if you’re the CAD guy now doing CAM, you won’t be dealing with CAD support people who don’t know CAM any better than you. If you’re a CAM veteran, you have support staff that understands the world of CAM entirely. Hit the link to learn more.
Thanks, Pal. – Lockwood
Anthony J. Lockwood
Editor at Large, Desktop Engineering