CAD and CAM are so frequently lumped together that many people outside our industry have a difficult time separating the two. “CAD/CAM” has become a single catchall phrase for two very different processes; modeling and machining a part. That line becomes even more blurred with the powerful integrated CAM software available to today’s SolidWorks users.
Some companies struggle to separate the two. They may feel their designers shouldn’t touch CAM either because they won’t get anything out of it or they’ll never be able to program correctly.
That train of thought is understandable. It might be time to reconsider those two preconceptions.
“CAM doesn’t do my designer any good.”
A good SolidWorks user can create some amazing designs, and fast. What benefit could there be from letting them use CAM in any way?
Talk to any machinist and they’ll let you know that one of the most common issues in their workflow is the ability to manufacture the part efficiently due to a poor design. They may receive a part or assembly and realize that some small component of if makes the machining job either dramatically more difficult or next to impossible. In many cases machinability issues like this can be corrected with small cosmetic or internal changes to a part that won’t impact the look or function but will yield a part that is faster and easier to cut.
By letting your designer use – even just “play” with – your integrated CAM software you increase the likelihood that those small changes and tweaks will be made during design. With a little familiarity and knowledge, the designer can much more easily understand the manufacturing issues thus minimizing rev changes saving time and money (and save that back-and-forth with the shop that can easily escalate time and costs).
“My designer doesn’t know how to machine.”
This is certainly often true. Many companies rightly prefer to have their designers be expert designers, and have their programmers be expert machinists. They are both different disciplines that require their own skills.
Fortunately, integrated CAM lets you make the most of your in-house machining expertise in ways that help your experts in both areas.
- Associative – or linked – cutter paths. When you model a part in SolidWorks and then make a change, the model updates. The same concept applies to integrated CAM packages. Your machining expert can program a part and make sure it’s ready to be machined. Is there an engineering change? No problem, your designer can make the edits and then simply regenerate the cutter path. The CAM software sees the edits and modifies the existing tool motion to accommodate the new change.
- Library of “best practices.” Most integrated CAM software offers the ability to create a library of machining operations. These include tooling, tool motion, machine feeds and speeds, depths, and other critical choices that an NC programmer makes. Your machining lead can set up these libraries tailored to your company, covering common projects and including all the operations needed to complete a job, but with one essential piece missing – the model to be cut. A designer can then apply these pre-generated operations to a new model, letting your designer get the benefit of your machinist’s expertise. In some cases the operations may need some small adjustments to accommodate unique features of the new model, but it can definitely help give your programmer a jump start by delivering a CAD file with cutter paths already applied. It also helps give your designer a better understanding of part machinability, which leads back to our first point above.
So, if you have an integrated CAM package, think twice before you insist the line be drawn between your design and programming people. The more your designer understands the machining process, the faster your parts will come off the machine. And that’s a win for everyone.