Don’t Fall Prey to CAM’s Weakest Link
An ever-growing list of industries, from tool and die makers, to automotive and aerospace firms, is using computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software to speed production and boost efficiency, but as with any technology, there are certain issues, aka pain points, to watch out for. Alan Levine, managing director of OPEN MIND Technologies, a major player in the CAD/CAM space, has written an article for Aerospace Manufacturing and Design discussing CAM's "weakest link," which Levine asserts is usually the post-processor. The article takes a look at the various approaches that can be used to effect better outcomes.
Levine presents CAM as a three-step process:
The first is importing digital data models, whether from inside design groups or outside customers and vendors, most often called the pre-processor. Then there is the toolpath planning and calculation process, or the processor, and finally the communication from the CAM software to the machine tool language called the post-processor.
It's the final step, the post-processor, which can be problematic. Levine traces CAM software products from their Air Force-funded roots in the 1950's to the various implementations: the three-axis demo to multi-axis machines to the 5-axis demo.
When purchasing a post-processor, machine shops are advised to carefully consider their options as it can influence their overall success with their CAM software as well as the the machine tool. According to Levine, the following three questions will help make an informed decision:
Are these post-processors documented?
Is there technical support with such a post-processor?
How wise is it to obtain a free post-processor if the typical 5-axis post-processor sells for approximately 1% of the cost of the milling machine?
Levine cautions that "only in rare cases should a post-processor be considered plug-and-play. Even with the same software (post-processor input) and machine tool/controller (post-processor output), there may be many controller options or user preferences that require adaptation or configuration to the post-processor."