At a recent presentation where he described some developments in his company's CAM software, Delcam product manager Mark Forth spoke of two clear trends in the way machining centers are being used today.
For one, high technology is moving into a broader range of applications. The costs of both high speed machining centers and five-axis machining centers are falling, while five-axis machining and high speed machining are also appearing in smaller-footprint machines that are easier to integrate into existing production operations.
Another trend is that shops are increasingly focusing on "high confidence" machining. In the increasing number of applications where labor is the most expensive resource, shops aim to develop machining processes so predictable that the machining centers can be trusted to run "lightly attended" (with the operator performing some other task while the machine is running) if not unattended altogether.
Both of these trends have direct implications for CAM software. High speed machining and five-axis machining can truly become more accessible only if features of the CAM software can make these technologies easy to apply. And high confidence machining is possible only if the software's verification capabilities can rigorously simulate how the cycle will behave once the program goes to the machine.
Delcam has been developing CAM features such as these for die and mold shops for some time. Among die/mold shops, the company's "PowerMill" software is well known. And if there is one clear trend for the company right now, it is to move its own technologies beyond this established niche into a broader range of applications as well.
One new application in which the company's software is finding a foothold is aerospace machining. The integration between the company's machining software and inspection software—also originally developed for toolmaking—represents a strength in aerospace applications, where parts are not only complex but also carefully documented.
The company is also improving its offerings outside of CAM. Established in the machining of complex shapes, Delcam is strengthening "PowerShape" and other related software products that are used to design these forms. Competing software companies offer better solutions where relatively simple geometries are involved, but Delcam hopes to offer the most effective package when it comes to designing and producing parts that are geometrically complex.
The CAD and CAM integration is part of what provides the critical mass necessary to serve another market: larger enterprises. An emphasis on toolmaking kept Delcam focused on smaller shops. Now, some larger manufacturers are seeing the value in straying from a "house" software system to make room for a second CAD/CAM system that has a particular strength. In addition, some of the CAD/CAM systems that might have filled this role have disappeared in recent years, creating opportunities. Delcam says many of its best prospects today are not newcomers to 3D CAM, but instead users of some existing 3D system that is no longer being updated.