Trends in NC software: CIMdata shows efficiency, effectiveness are industry goals.

Author:Christman, Alan
Position:Software report 2009 - Cover story - Company overview
 
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The NC or CAM software market remains viable, the underlying technologies employed continue to evolve, and users are able to effectively support more complex and advanced machine tools, increase their productivity and produce higher quality parts. NC programming systems date back to the 1960s and are relatively mature.

However, based on interviews conducted by CIMdata at the recent IMTS trade show in Chicago, many of the vendors providing this software are expanding their business focus, acquiring other vendors, and experiencing double digit revenue growth in 2008.

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The fundamental driving force for the growth in the industry is the intense worldwide competitive environment being faced by manufacturers. It commands continuous improvements in processes, operations, methodology, technology, and a culture that meets and exceeds expectations.

There are also demands on producers for product innovation and aesthetic appeal; increased product functionality, performance, and usability, and a longer useful maintenance-free life for products.

Concurrently, the number of skilled and experienced workers is on the decline, and at the same time, owners and shareholders insist on steadily increasing revenues and profitability. Manufacturers are caught in this confluence of forces that places an onerous squeeze on owners, managers, planners, and workers to effectively compete in a global economy.

One approach producers are taking is to increase their purchases of more advanced and complex machine tools to lower costs, improve quality and shorten turnaround times. In 2007, worldwide machine tool purchases increased by 16 percent over 2006.

The primary objective in CAM software is to improve user productivity and product quality by producing software that is easier to learn and use, more automated, more process-oriented, and more tightly integrated with other elements of PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) such as product design, PDM (Product Data Management), digital manufacturing, and factory automation software.

Ten of the key industry trends, as observed by CIMdata, are summarized below:

Trend 1

Greater use of multi-task machines -Machine tools are now often multi-functional, multi-spindle, multi-turret, and/or multi-axis. CIMdata is aware of machines in production with as many as 22 axes. These tools are becoming increasingly complex to program and utilize. The introduction, acceptance and support of this type of machine tool is viewed by most NC software vendors as the single most dominant trend in the industry.

Performing multiple operations such as milling and turning on a single tool, and often in a single setup, typically results in increased productivity, faster turnaround, improved part quality by avoiding transfer of components from one machine to another, reduced floor space, and reduced part inventory.

Multi-task or multi-function machines come in a variety of configurations. Mill turn machines, in which both milling and turning occurs on the same machine, is probably the most common. Four-axis lathes, in which cutting is performed by two turrets operating concurrently on a part on a single spindle, is also routinely used in turning operations.

Another variant being employed includes machines with two spindles (main and sub) and a B-axis spindle, enabling milling and turning operation on both the front and back face of a part.

Each spindle acts as a workpiece holder allowing multi-axis machining on either the front or back face of the part.

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An entire operation including milling and turning on both the front face and the back face can be completed in a single setup when a sub-spindle is used. A sub-spindle moves over to the main spindle, picks off the part, and becomes the clamping spindle for subsequent machining.

To effectively utilize these multifaceted machines requires specialized software to program the tool movement, simulate the operations, and post process the output. Simulation of the movements is extremely important for an operator to visualize the machining sequences, avoid collisions, and optimize the operations.

CAM software must provide individual control of each turret, together with turret synchronization and accurate cycle time calculation. Sync and wait marks are added to obtain the desired concurrent operation.

CAM Software vendors such as Missler Software, Gibbs & Associates, Planit Holdings (EdgeCAM) and DP Technology have focused on providing support for this type of machine tool.

Trend 2

Five-axis machining--This type of machining has been used for many years in applications such as aerospace and turbine blade manufacture. However, its use is increasing significantly across many application areas, including moldmaking, as it is replacing the use of three-axis milling in a number of situations.

In many parts of the world, such as Europe, it has become a mainstream...

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