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Feature recognition: CAD/CAM’s future

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COMPLEX part geometries and demands for rapid product turnaround are making CAD/CAM a critical tool for many manufacturers, especially for production involving NC machining.

But according to Camtek Pacific ’s managing director, Mark Goldfeld, some companies still manually convert designs into NC programs.

“Still, with NC programming, quite a lot of companies very unfortunately, for whatever reasons, don’t have CAD/CAM software and they are creating NC programs almost manually, which is very time consuming,” Goldfeld told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

He claims machine set up is also more time consuming without CAD/CAM as machining routines must be tested on the machine before production can begin.

“Proving the program in the CAD/CAM system is much more advanced because it provides absolutely perfect photo quality solid simulations on the screen…You can see the tool, you can see the features and you can see the part being machined before you go to the machine,” he said.

Goldfeld suggests manufacturers should be aware of the machine idle time costs caused by manual routine testing. “As soon as you stop the machine for any reason, you are losing a lot of money.”

He claims the start up costs of CAD/CAM, once a barrier to system implementation, are now within most manufacturers’ grasp. “Some 20 years ago, computers cost half a million and CAD/CAM packages cost half a million. Today computers cost $2000, very good ones, and CAD/CAM, very good systems cost something like $10,000 to $15,000.

But even with lower costs and improved system capabilities, Goldfeldsays operator skill is the key to success.

“Often machines are programmed on the shop floor not in an office.” He continued that this makes it important for operators to become literate NC programmers.

According to Goldfeld, developments in CAD/CAM, particularly feature recognition, are making programming easier.

“CAD/CAM can now recognise features from the design and apply to them proven machining methods,” Goldfeld said.

He said software is available for certain industries to helps operators translate CAM data into NC programs. “In a particular niche, lets say it is special seals for turning, or even very variable product such as a manifold, that consists of more or less standard features, CAD/CAM can now generate NC programs completely automatically from source to machine.”

Goldfeld estimates around 10% of today’s CAD/CAM systems offer feature recognition, but he expects 70-80% of future systems to offer the function.

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