Automation can be vital to your operation. Consider how programming helps drive the system.
According to SME:
Manufacturing Engineering: What are some of the biggest trends affecting CAM users?
Chuck Mathews: The biggest challenge our customers face is the limited availability of qualified personnel to fill engineering and shop-floor positions. Lack of qualified personnel has led to a demand for innovations in CAM that drive knowledge capture in programming, the simplification of machine setups and the automation of shop floor operations. We see an accelerating trend of shops using more complex CNC machines, particularly those that offer higher levels of automation. We see leading shops employing more horizontal machining centers with multi-part workholding, mill-turn machines with multiple spindles and turrets, and Swiss-style CNC machines. These trends place greater demands on CAM programmers who, in turn, ask more from their CAM suppliers. We are addressing these challenges through our ongoing collaboration with machine-tool manufacturers. In cooperation with these OEMs, we build Digital Machine Packages that provide postprocessors with digital twins tuned to drive the advanced features of these CNC machines, assuring that our customers obtain the high-quality, edit-free G-code programs needed to take full advantage of their machine’s capability.
ME: What are users looking for most to efficiently produce quality metal and additive parts?
Mathews: When users are dealing with higher-mix, lower-volume additive manufacturing using powder-bed fusion machines, getting the build right the first time improves efficiency. This requires careful consideration of the part geometry when choosing support structures and the nesting and orientation of workpieces within the build chamber. We provide additive process simulation to aid these preparation processes. From there, the models are passed to our build preparation software to create files for the additive machine and G-code program for subsequent CNC finish-machining processes. For robotic additive manufacturing and hybrid CNCs—those with both additive and subtractive capabilities—having the additive and subtractive programming capabilities within one software package, such as ESPRIT, provides the most efficient workflow and optimal chances of first-time success.
ME: Advanced capabilities like feature recognition can speed manufacturing. How are some of the newest ESPRIT CAM features, like the patent-pending machine-aware algorithms using digital twins, helping boost user productivity?
Mathews: ESPRIT’s machine-aware technology uses a digital twin of the machine, tooling, workholding and workpiece to provide efficiency in programming and shop floor operations. By producing higher quality G-code programs, machine setup times are shortened through reduction or elimination of program proveouts. This is a result of ESPRIT’s machine-aware program verification, which automatically ensures avoidance of collisions. With this technology, optimal rapid positioning between cuts is automatically calculated while the given CNC machine and its capabilities are considered. With an awareness of the machine, tooling and workpiece, ESPRIT’s ProfitMilling and ProfitTurning high-speed cutting cycles reduce cycle times up to 75 percent while improving tool life up to 500 percent by ensuring consistent loads on the cutters and optimizing the movements and speeds throughout the cut.
ME: Automation has vastly improved CAM functionality. Do you see any significant expansion of artificial intelligence (AI)-type functionality or any other automated features in CAM?
Mathews: We are clearly on a path towards autonomy with CNC programming and shop floor operations. This journey from assisted through automated, and ultimately towards autonomous programming and shop floor operations, will evolve over the coming years, most significantly due to the adoption of robotics and AI, including machine learning. Today, with our Intelligent Machine Control and Asset Management solutions, we are moving towards a closed-loop system where shop knowledge is captured and self-learning emerges. With ESPRIT, we have already seen advances with the AI Engine and Digital Twin for the automation of programming tasks, and our KnowledgeBase for capturing best practices. The adoption of AI within the CAM and CNC world will only accelerate in the coming years as the technology matures.
ME: How are the additive capabilities in ESPRIT CAM improving part-making capabilities?
Mathews: We use an agile software development methodology with a laser focus on delivering customer value via continuous software releases. The most visible, valuable and active area of our development is with digital machines and postprocessors in support of the latest CNC models and controls. We believe the industry should place more focus on the postprocessor because CAM systems that output high-quality, edit-free G-code pay dividends by simplifying programming and, most importantly, by improving overall CNC machine efficiency. We continually work on automating the workflow within the software on our journey towards autonomy, while also bringing significant advances to the software with new cutting cycles for the latest cutting tools and many other features that our customers consider valuable to their work.
ME: What changes has the 2020 merger with Hexagon brought about or will bring about to your ESPRIT CAM user base?
Mathews: ESPRIT is now part of a smart manufacturing portfolio that provides an end-to-end workflow for engineering, CNC programming and quality throughout shop floor operations. Our end-to-end workflow uses digital twins of shop floor assets and accurate representations of the real-world environment to provide context to the software with the aim of maximizing overall equipment efficiencies and shop floor operations. A digital thread runs through this workflow—from the as-designed CAD files to the CAM project and G-code programs, and ultimately the shop-floor results. This begins with using Product Manufacturing Information (PMI) within 3D CAD models to accelerate machine programming and quality planning, followed by real-time asset monitoring to help maximize overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). Starting with the as-designed CAD model, we use DESIGNER, our CAD-for-manufacturing solution, for geometry preparation, PMI review, and the design of any custom fixtures needed to hold the workpiece. The CAM programmer then uses the resulting manufacturing model within ESPRIT for CNC programming, toolpath generation, optimization and final program simulation and verification. Digital twins of machinery, tooling and workholding are central to connecting processes and providing the context for ESPRIT to fully utilize the productive potential of sophisticated, multi-channel machine tools. Optionally, G-code programs are certified using NCSIMUL for an additional level of security and confidence, for revisions to the setup, and further program optimization and verification. For quality planning, execution, reporting and analytics, we now offer software and hardware solutions, including PC-DMIS, Inspire and Q-DAS. Finally, our shop floor Asset Management solution is used to monitor and report on the utilization, availability and real-time status of shop floor equipment, including CNCs, CMMs and more. Building a digital thread that links processes from engineering to inspection entails eliminating the practice of working in silos in order to better share and fully utilize critical data.
ME: How has the CAD/CAM business been for ESPRIT, and what’s the forecast for next year?
Mathews: Onshoring is driving extraordinary growth for us and for our customers. We expect this growth to continue, driven by manufacturers striving to shorten their supply chain, produce higher quality products and, as a result, improved margins for the manufacturer.
Rockwell Automation to Acquire Plex Systems for $2.2 Billion
Industrial automation developer Rockwell Automation Inc., Milwaukee, and Troy, Mich.-based Plex Systems, developer of cloud-native smart manufacturing platforms, have entered into an agreement under which Rockwell will acquire Plex for $2.22 billion in cash. Plex, which offers a single-instance, multi-tenant SaaS manufacturing platform, including manufacturing execution systems and quality- and supply chain management capabilities, says it has more than 700 customers and manages more than 8 billion transactions daily. Plex will be reported as part of Rockwell’s Software and Control operating segment, which provides hardware and software offerings for the design, operation and maintenance of production automation and management systems. As part of the acquisition, Rockwell will welcome more than 500 new employees from Plex. The acquisition will be financed with a combination of cash and short-term and long-term debt. Subject to customary closing conditions and completion of regulatory review, the acquisition is expected to close in Rockwell’s fiscal fourth quarter.
Siemens Acquiring FORAN Software
Siemens Digital Industries Software, Plano, Texas, has signed an agreement with Spain-based SENER, a multinational engineering and technology company, to acquire its FORAN software business. FORAN is CAD/CAE/CAM software for the design, construction and engineering of vessels and marine structures. The addition of the FORAN product and team to Siemens brings experience in complex commercial marine projects, defense industry standards and regulation compliance, Siemens said. SENER Group will keep its traditional marine engineering business line, where it offers design, engineering and consultancy services for different types of ships and offshore vessels. FORAN will be added to Siemens’ Xcelerator portfolio. Terms were not disclosed. The acquisition of FORAN is due to close in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Survey Shows Digital Acceleration in Supply Chain is Critical
A new study by ERP developer Epicor Software Corp., Austin, Texas, shows mid-size businesses are bullish on growth fueled by investments in cloud-ready technologies. The study, Epicor’s Insights Report, surveys leaders from mid-size businesses across the manufacturing, distribution and retail industries on the drivers of business growth over the coming year. The survey finds the nation’s most essential business leaders are not simply gearing up for a “bounce back” year but rather are leaning into the accelerating forces of COVID-19 to “leap forward.” The most significant indicator of progress is the radical swing in cloud adoption. In 2020, 25 percent of respondents declared cloud a strategic priority. In this year’s study, 99 percent of those surveyed confirmed they plan to move to the cloud, and 94 percent of them intend to do so this year. The full report can be accessed at epicor.com/industry, along with the summary fact sheet.