Once again, IMTS soon will be upon us. Although it has long been the premier U.S. exhibition for machine tool builders, it only recently has become the leading U.S. show for CAM software vendors. This evolution occurred because of the decline in other conferences and the recognition that this exhibit attracts tens of thousands of potential buyers totally focused on manufacturing operations.
Most of the significant worldwide vendors of CAM software will make the financial and time commitment to exhibit at IMTS this year. In addition, some smaller non-U.S.-based vendors will use this show as a vehicle to explore or enter the North American market. As in 1998, a hall in the convention center will be dedicated to CAM software exhibitors. This provides buyers with convenient one-stop shopping. Some vendors also will exhibit in the general machine tool halls.
CIMdata encourages readers of this column to visit IMTS and these CAM software vendors. The show provides an excellent opportunity to better understand the vendors and review the latest in software product capabilities. For those contemplating additional software seats, replacement of an existing product or a first time purchase, a visit to the CAM software hall is a must.
If one has been a “Rip Van Winkle” for two years, or has not seriously considered the state of CAM software technology since the last IMTS show, he or she will find that considerable change has occurred. As in most relatively mature industries, the progress has been evolutionary, not revolutionary. No major disruptive technology has been introduced in the past two years to make all other products obsolete, but many suppliers have made substantial headway on a variety of fronts. You could make these observations:
- The large CAD/CAM vendors have become major forces in both markets. Concurrently, some CAM-centric vendors are focused on specific market segments.
- More non-U.S.-based suppliers are impacting the North American market.
- The evolution to Windows NT as the de facto industry standard platform for CAM software is nearly complete. Most user interfaces to CAM products are Windows compliant.
- CAM software continues to become better structured and easier to use. The learning curves for users are being reduced.
- Most CAM-centric vendors now offer solid modeling software for manufacturing modeling.
- Some CAM software is being developed specifically for use by machinists on the shop floor to generate tool paths or to modify tool paths previously created.
- Application-focused product suites have been introduced for specific types of users, such as moldmakers. Also, more specific application products are offered.
- CAM software continues to be more automated. As one element of this trend, a number of knowledge-based machining products have been introduced.
CIMdata studies show that 40 percent of software sales are to existing accounts. If you are adding software and are considering alternatives, the primary issues are whether or not a vendor has the most appropriate software to match your individual requirements, and if it is the type of company with which you want to do business.
The most commonly employed techniques used to assess product capability are witnessing product demonstrations and, if appropriate, conducting a trial usage of the software. In addition, one can conduct benchmarks, talk to other users of the product, obtain product commitments, and so on. Clearly IMTS provides the opportunity to see multiple product demonstrations. However, be sure a demo relates to your specific type of work. You may also prepare some specific but quick tests to measure performance or functional capability.
In addition to viewing demos, IMTS also offers an opportunity to better understand the vendors. When a company attends IMTS, taken with the size of its exhibit area, both can be indicators of the company’s available resources and commitment to the CAM software market. Talk to management and marketing people in the booth. Understand the sales structure and process to provide customer support. Assess if the supplier is one that will be responsive to your needs. Obtain names of reference accounts. Establish the company’s business focus and whether or not your company size is within its target market. If so, future product developments will more likely match your needs. IMTS only comes once every two years—take full advantage of the opportunity.