We have come a long way since the introduction of software applications which can reap healthy rewards in machining, metrology and manufacturing CNC machines. Syed Shah takes you back on a spin down memory lane.
These days there are many types of software products and the perhaps one of most interests to the metalworking world are application software solutions which come in the form of CAD applications in a variety of applications on the machine floor. These applications allow users to complete one or more tasks. From industrial automation all the way to computer games, application software products are everywhere, impacting our lives for better or worse.
Back in the world of metalworking, the introduction of application software products has resulted in higher productivity and the ability to produce complex parts with tight tolerances.
Hands Off Process
In modern machining, computers have taken over in a big way. With the advent of CNC machines, the playing field has changed drastically. Computer-aided CNC machines, however, has evolved massively from the 1960s to the present day. Today’s CNC machines are arguably more reliant on software compared to their predecessors.
Though there are pros and cons about the ‘new age’ machines, even the staunchest supporters of manual machines cannot deny that they have pushed the envelope well into the micron level. The success of modern machines can partly be attributed to the proficiency of CAD/CAM and their integration to the manufacturing process.
CNC machines Computer-aided design allows simulation that is crucial for engineers in selecting the right processes and anticipate any potential hiccups along the way. Changes can also be made easily following discussions between designers and engineers, making it an important tool prior to the prototype phase.
Computer-aided manufacturing, on the other hand, is a tool used by engineers and machinists in manufacturing or prototyping product components. It uses designs from CAD programmes and turns them into CNC code to drive the machine tools to manufacture the actual physical parts.
Human Judgement Out
Application software solutions in addition to making a big splash in the field of machining have also made considerable in-roads into the realms of metrology. When parts become more accurate, measuring devices have to be one notch higher in terms of accuracy. In order to stay ahead of their machining counterparts, software solutions are used to ensure metrology keeps pace with machining.
As such, to accommodate the rapidly changing scene, application software products are programmed to define the different types of features they measure.
For instance in CMM, the constant emerging technologies in probing are always changing the way customers measure their parts. Software solutions are adapted to process tens of thousands of points to give a better representation of the actual part compared to probing a few points in the past. It is used to calibrate the probing system, control its motion and handle large amounts of data.
The PC-DMIS CAD++ from Wilcox Associate is a typical software that aids measurement. Makers of sheet metal parts, in particular automotive manufacturers, face a set of measurement requirements and difficulties. Their parts are hard to measure and they have to deal with rare types of features and dimensions. In this case, software applications are used to aid measurements.
Usage of software products opens the door to manual CMMs in some of the most demanding applications. Manual CMMs, particularly articulated arms, though mechanically simpler and oftentimes portable, face a criticism of being limited in terms of capabilities. With application software solutions, they are enhanced, increasing their operating range.
Leave It To The Computers
Application software solutions can be deployed to plan and maintain the whole production cycle. This holistic approach manifests itself as Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). From planning, design, realisation and service, software products are used extensively.
Defining the needs of the customer is always a good starting point. From this, major understanding in terms of process parameters can be formulated. This stage is necessary to give designers and engineers alike a brief idea about the product.
When that is done, actual designing, tolerancing and prototyping of the product starts. The main tool used for design and development is CAD programmes where simulation, validation and optimisation tasks are carried out. Various tasks like geometric tolerancing analysis and stress simulation are done using computer programmes.
Once the design of the product’s components is completed, the next step will see the method of manufacturing defined. Process plans are formulated and toolings are designed using integrated or separate CAM software.
The final phase of the lifecycle involves managing of in service information. It includes providing repair and maintenance support. Although PLM runs in phases, they are closely related and cannot be viewed in isolation. A major part of PLM is the co-ordination of and management of product definition data.
Application software products has stretched its considerable muscle and imposed itself of many aspect of the metalworking industry. From the looks of it, the industry has a soft spot for this particular approach.
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