Contributing Editor Patrick Waurzyniak discusses software trends with Open Mind Managing Director
Manufacturing Engineering: Alan, what are some of the latest technical trends you see currently in CAD/CAM software?
Alan Levine: All industries today face increasing pressures to reduce costs and provide higher quality products. These business principles also apply to manufacturing, and, by extension, to the contributions from CAD/CAM software. Depending on the production mix, the biggest impact may be defined through programming or shop-floor efficiency.
Programming efficiency is critical for a few reasons. There is a well-documented skilled labor shortage, even with an increasing emphasis on apprenticeship and training programs. Improving the user experience, saving best practices through a macro database, and advanced automation techniques are sought by customers and provided by the hyperMILL CAD/CAM software suite.
Shop floor efficiency is a presumptive capability of CAM software but is not always provided to end users. Achieving collision-free and time-efficient toolpaths is obvious, but processes should also produce high-quality surface finishes and make blending mismatches between operations imperceptible in order to reduce or eliminate post-machining manual processes. The attributes are accessible and achieved with a single click, also meeting the goals for programming efficiency.
To greatly reduce test cuts and programming iterations, hyperMILL Virtual Machining adds a level of security via its advanced checking and confirmation. Some of the highlights of Virtual Machining include G-code simulation and understanding the machining intent. Other highlights include not flagging false collisions from unmodeled features such as chamfering a sharp edge, and collision checking while considering the machine environment.
There are also several hyperMILL Virtual Machining Optimizer functions that improve linking moves and optimize clearance planes. Additional functions include the ability to react to constrained linear axis limits or rewind situations due to limited rotary axes, and automatically select the preferred five-axis angle variants.
Together, these functions enable users to produce high-quality parts and achieve the planned return on investment. Virtual Machining promotes a high standard of CAM programming, and then can simplify programming by managing linking and other Optimizer functions. Most importantly, manufacturers can plan their business with assurance and satisfy their customers.
ME: What do you think CAD/CAM users are looking for most out of their software today?
Levine: CAD/CAM users and manufacturing management are seeking efficiencies as mentioned above. That said, traditional comparisons and benchmarks are not always sufficient motivation for a user to change software and achieve productivity gains.
Users can easily change cutting tools or workholding devices, or even machine tools, while still utilizing pre-existing manufacturing technology. But software tends to have a larger obstacle to change, due to personnel training, accessing stored company standards and legacy files, and proven postprocessors. So, it is often the innovative company that can see the benefits of maximizing its software implementation. That same logic would indicate that changing software to obtain programming or machining gains can produce a strategic advantage.
ME: What are some highlights of the latest version, hyperMILL 2022.1?
Levine: Open Mind provides a variety of functions in each release to address customer needs and overall market trends. Some of the highlights in 2022.1 include a break-edge function for contour milling, a combined pocket milling together with a finish path allowing cutter compensation, and increased efficiency for 3D plane machining. Also, there are enhancements to five-axis radial machining (blow molds) to better handle steep areas and to adapt to three-axis machines as required.
Extensions to the mill-turn capability include more streamlined programming and simulation processing and management for machines with main and counter-spindle configurations.
Other features include improved linking logic for hyperMILL Virtual Machining for five-axis table-table machines, as well as Virtual Machining capability for Additive Manufacturing processes, where machines often have limited axis ranges. Improved tool database organization, and enhancements to CAD functions and the hyperCAD-S Electrode module, are also offered.
ME: Additive technologies have made tremendous headway in the machine tool market in recent years. What’s new for additive in CAD/CAM, and what will users find in Open Mind’s latest Additive Manufacturing capability option?
Levine: Open Mind focuses on toolpaths for machines with Directed Energy Deposition (DED) process. This process may seem to be more complex than Powder-Bed Fusion (PBF) but provides many technical benefits for produced components. DED can readily handle repair or repurposing of existing components, multi-axis application, and multi-material builds, all without the need for designing, building and later removing support struts that are often required in PBF.
As with all hyperMILL toolpath strategies, when using additive manufacturing field testing is required in addition to internal development, simulation and quality assurance. While we work with many machine builders, universities and end users, Open Mind has had intensive collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tenn. to test software parameters and build parameters, variant strategies, and more. From this work, the hyperMILL Additive Manufacturing cycles have extensive testing on multiple machine platforms and applications.
Also, for finish machining applications on components made with DED or PBF processes, and many other manufacturing applications, Open Mind added a Best Fit function to adjust computed toolpaths to align with a series of probed reference positions. This adjustment may be needed to account for thermal deformation that can occur during additive manufacturing. The Best Fit module works in combination with hyperMILL Virtual Machining, so that the adjusted toolpaths are collision checked against the in-process stock condition.
ME: What industries are best taking advantage of your software today?
Levine: Our hyperMILL software has many solutions targeted to specific industries, but for the most part the toolpath strategies can apply to a broad-based set of geometry models. Our focus on high-performance manufacturing solutions rather than targeted industries means we are less impacted by industrial cycles.
For Open Mind’s business, traditional CAM industries such as aerospace and automotive (mold and die) remain strong. Many recent hyperMILL enhancements benefit the mold-and-die industry, such as rest machining enhancements, blending techniques, cycle time reductions utilizing hyperMILL MAXX Machining and conical barrel cutters, and high-precision surface finish techniques. Further, a new specialty solution for blow molds has been developed by combining our core techniques and a dedicated interface.
ME: How does the CAD/CAM business climate look currently, and specifically what do you see for CAD/CAM in 2022?
Levine: The manufacturing industry has been at high utilization following societal COVID-19 shocks. Impacted sectors such as automotive (chip shortages) and commercial aviation (reduced travel) are poised to return. Machine tool deliveries will increase, partly due to making up for recent supply chain issues, and also due to higher purchasing volumes. Our customers are not overly impacted by delayed delivery of capital equipment.
The post-COVID era will alter processes for manufacturers and associated commercial suppliers. Manufacturers are reducing the use of offshore subcontractors, thereby increasing production requirements at home. And expected progress on U.S. infrastructure funding should increase the activity of heavy equipment manufacturers and produce overall business improvements.
CAD/CAM suppliers have enhanced the use of remote technology to offer virtual demonstrations, training and customer service. These changes provide greater efficiency and the ability to increase service delivery.
Additionally, customers are buying higher technology machines (five-axis, mill-turn and additive) and higher value brands within these machine categories. Such machine purchases often lead to consideration of CAM software systems that best align with their machine investments. For example, with hyperMILL CAD/CAM software, users have proven strategies they can use to maximize the capabilities of their high-end machines.
Many companies within the CAD/CAM software industry have gone through ownership change in recent years. The outcome of internal changes brought about by these changes is yet to be determined. But the CAD/CAM industry and high-value products should continue their recent strong growth through 2022.