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Is SolidWorks CAM Better Than an Integrated System?

Is SolidWorks CAM Better Than an Integrated System?

CAD-CAM Technology for CNC Manufacturing & Metalworking Machine Shops

For engineers and design companies, it’s not difficult to find integrated computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing technologies. Yet, the announcement of SolidWorks CAM, released in October as a SolidWorks 2018 add-on, has created a small buzz in engineering technology circles. Why? It’s no secret that engineers struggle to create designs that are easy to manufacture while machinists complain about receiving unworkable CAD models.

An imperfect fit

CAM software uses the CAD models to generate the toolpaths that drive computer numerically controlled manufacturing machines. Engineers and designers who use CAM can evaluate designs earlier in the design process to ensure they can be manufactured, thus avoiding product costs and delays. Without CAM, manufacturers can be on their own when programming machines to make the CAD model. And not all those who design in CAD enter design features into CAM to control the machine tools. Without CAM, manufacturers use the CAD design to program the tools themselves.

SolidWorks CAM could create codes for the end machine used for manufacturing.

“The general idea has been that engineers design something and then the manufacturing people eventually figure out how to manufacture it,” says Sandesh Joshi. “With integrated CAM, they’re not as disconnected as that, but there’s still a disconnect. This SolidWorks tool could close that disconnect.”

Closing the CAD/CAM disconnect

Joshi is chief executive officer at the CAD outsourcing firm Indovance. Previously, he spent six years on the SolidWorks research and development team.
The SolidWorks offering could ramp up the number of CAM users by making the tool available to more engineers and designers, Joshi says. The SolidWorks 2018 release marks the first time that SolidWorks is providing the CAM product as part of its design solution.
SolidWorks CAM is “powered by” CAMWorks, in the vendor’s parlance. Before the October release, CAMWorks, from HCL Technologies, was one of many third-party CAM tools available for integration with the vendor’s CAD program.
The solution is fully integrated with SolidWorks so users need not leave the familiar SolidWorks environment, says Mike Buchli, senior SolidWorks product and portfolio manager. It supports feature recognition and can generate machining operations directly from native SolidWorks files or from imported data. Tool paths are automatically updated based on changes to the model.
If SolidWorks 2018 engineers and designers feel they’re working within one integrated systematizer than two separate but connected software systems—they might begin to automatically use CAM and to consistently consider manufacturability as they design the product, he adds.
The vendor’s tool opens the way toward making CAM ubiquitous on engineers’ desktops, much as 3D CAD is now more-or-less used across an industry that once relied on 2D drawings, he said.
The part process from CAD to machining will never be a “one-click process,” Joshi says. But it certainly can become more streamlined through the use of a common CAD and CAM system.
“The difference is engineers would be using CAM as they design so manufacturability is easier,” he says.
“When we build assemblies, we have clash detection. Similarly, CAM gives us red flags for manufacturability right at he design stage, saves a lot of time and money,” Joshi says. “Today all design engineers don’t necessarily deal with CAM, so having access to that will help engineers design for manufacturing way ahead in the product design cycle.
– Recognize certain types of geometry to understand how those features will be manufactured, and how much it will cost to manufacture.
– Read tolerances and surface finishes and make decisions about how to manufacture the product
– Automatically apply best manufacturing strategies so manufacturing processes faster and more standard
– Automate quoting and compare it to traditional methods to ensure all aspects of the part are accounted for ahead of time

Fewer codes in the future?

The introduction of SolidWorks CAM holds the potential for another big benefit for both designers and manufacturers: the possibility of a key to the elusive quest for CNC standardization.If the CAM tool becomes popular among SolidWorks users, Joshi can envision a day when the software automatically produces the G-codes that drive the machines that manufacture the part.
Right now, manufacturers struggle to drive their machining processes directly from their design software. The CAD systems don’t “speak the language” of various machines such as cutters and laser cutters, CNC mills and lathes.
If SolidWorks CAM becomes widespread with designers who already use the vendor’s CAD program, the vendor “could potentially create codes for the end machine used for manufacturing,” Joshi adds. “The designer may not have to worry about that up front, but it makes manufacturing a lot smoother.”

While it remains to be seen if SolidWorks CAM is a step beyond the type of integrated CAD and CAM systems that exist today,CIMdata is certain the engineering software vendor has taken a step in the direction down which the industry must travel to iron out disconnects between engineering and manufacturing and to save manufacturers costs and development time in the future.