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September 17, 1998

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Autofact '97:  Integrating design and manufacturing


Cimatronit 9.0 targets molded plastics design with new features: parametric surfaces and feature-based solids (left), automatic meshing (below) with direct interfaces to filling analysis, and Intelligent NC.


We live in a so-called information age. And in case you haven't noticed, the newest buzzword for business and electronic equipment-information technology, or IT-is achieving a much broader scope. For example, at the SME-sponsored Autofact '97 conference held in Detroit, exhibitors trumpeted the ways they could help manufacturers use information to make products more efficiently. Billed as a resource of information technology (there's that phrase again) for the manufacturing enterprise, the event covered a wide range of products-from workstations and design software to rapid prototyping units and CAM packages.


Surfcam version 7.0 features automatic Z-level roughing and finishing, parting line generation, and an SAT file translator for directly importing Acis-generated solid models.

     Perhaps the IT analogy fits. We do live in a world where design engineers produce a great deal of electronic information. Managing and making the best use of the data could be considered an information technology of sorts. The bottom line, however, is that these computer-based tools aim to lower cost, raise productivity, and shorten the concept-to-production cycle.One of the more intriguing aspects of this year's Autofact conference was the number of solid modeling software providers now interested in partnering with both mold filling and analysis vendors. It seems product designers are sending requests for easier translation and interoperability between part design files and various downstream steps-filling simulation, finite-element analysis, mold design, and machining.
     On the CAM side, developers are focusing their efforts more closely on two areas: specific operations required for injection molds and ease of use. Complex cavities often require three- to five-axis milling operation as well as the equally complex CAM software to create those toolpaths. Developers want to build in greater functionality while also simplifying tasks for users.

Euclid Styler is an advanced free-form modeler from Matra Datavision that quickly shapes sculptural parts and creates the outer skin.


     Finally, this group of software vendors continues its general shift toward plastic part design and manufacture. It would be difficult not to recognize the fantastic growth, both current and future, for molded products in markets such as automotive, medical, consumer goods, even IT. Following are products and news gleaned from the show that target design for injection molding.

Solids Pack More Punch
Taking an active role in Autofact, SolidWorks Corp. showcased its newest release, SolidWorks 97Plus, as a package targeted toward molded part and tool design.


Prospector knowledge-based machining software from Cimlinc offers to reduce the time needed to produce a roughing program, so that moldmakers can use plunge roughing on a routine basis for maximum metal removal in the shortest time.

"This is a priority market for us," says CEO Jon Hirschtick. "To that end, we've improved overall shape definition, added draft capability for parting lines, and a cavity feature that allows mold designers to take a part and make the corresponding cavity more easily." Other features for molded part design include part scaling for shrinkage, Part Advisor from Moldflow integrated into the package, and a partnership with Ansys' Design Space that will give designers the answer to "Will this part break?" without the need for a finite-element mesh.


Delcam's PowerMill 2.4 can handle Nurbs-based machining methods. Used together with PowerShape, a new 3-D modeler for surfaces, the software promises to reduce machining time by up to 40 percent.

     Currently, the software incorporates sweeping and lofting functions for free-form shapes, blending for faces, and thin shelling capabilities. Mold base libraries now available may possibly be supplemented with materials databases in the future, according to Hirschtick.
     Although Autodesk was not an exhibitor, the company did appear as a partner in the Microsoft booth. The newest offering, Mechanical Desktop release 2.0 (AMD), which was written for Windows95 and NT, runs only on those systems to take advantage of greater computing power. Dominic Gallello, vice president of the Autodesk Mechanical Market Group, tells IMM that the combination of platforms and the new Acis 3.0 solid modeling kernel boosts AMD shape description features significantly. For instance, the new release contains a parametric-Boolean, or combined, feature that allows designers to take a blank body and tool body, position them relative to a mold base, then cut and join to create the mold design. Also, shelling, blending, and surfacing are now parametrically tied to the solid model. "This is the first step in tying solids to surfaces," says Roger Mollon, director of MCAD component technology for Autodesk.
     For part designers, Moldflow's Part Advisor has also been integrated with AMD. And a full context-sensitive GD&T (geometric dimensioning and tolerancing) package should improve 2-D drafting as well.


Sanders Prototype displayed ModelMaker II, a desktop 3-D modeler that creates tooling-grade patterns in thermoplastic with layers as fine as .013 mm.

Driving CAM to New Heights
Several years ago, Cimatron Ltd. targeted NC for mold building as a focus for developers of the Cimatron modular CAD/CAM package.


Cad.Lab developed Eureka Mold as one of the modules within Eureka Gold 97, an integrated surfacing and solids CAD product that contains interfaces to Mastercam, Moldflow Part Adviser, and Cosmos analysis software.

Autofact '97 attendees saw the results of that effort in a new module called Intelligent NC, which combines current technologies such as automatic NC, knowledge-based machining, and knowledge of stock remaining to create faster NC programming and more efficient machining. "Automatic NC helps companies to develop a library of machining strategies, resulting in one-button NC," says Dan Marinac, president. "Our knowledge engine analyzes geometry and determines machining strategies for similar areas. Together with the knowledge of stock remaining, this allows cutter movements to be optimized and ensures full gouge checking." The intelligent NC module is also configured for two- to five-axis machining.


TopMold, from Canadian supplier Missler, integrates the TopSolid CAD package with fully associative mold solids and surfaces along with libraries of standard elements for moldmakers.

     For moldmakers who want to prepare CAD models prior to machining, Delcam offers a 3-D modeler called PowerShape. Together with the company's PowerMill CAM package, the new software can receive a model from another CAD system, create features such as fillets, split, and draft surfaces, then translate the resulting mold design to NC code.
     CNC Software introduced Mastercam version 7 with enhanced 2 1/2-axis machining. "Geometry and toolpath are now linked," says president John Summers, "so that when either information is changed, an updated toolpath can be generated instantly."

Crunching numbers, CAE-style

Selecting a CAD/CAM/CAE system can get complicated rather quickly. There are numerous packages available offering similar features. In addition, the specific needs of your organization must be part of the decision-making process. For a comprehensive look at current CAD wares, take a look at The CAD Rating Guide, Fifth Edition, by Bradley W. Holtz (available from the IMM Book Club). As for integrated packages, the following figures from Daratech Inc., a market research firm specializing in the CAE industry, show the ranking of software popular with OEMs and designers in the U.S.

Total Sales    Market ShareCompany      (million $)        (%)Parametric Technology      850            10IBM ETS                815             9.6Autodesk Inc.              603             7.1Intergraph Corp.           500           5.9Dassault Systemes     332   3.9SDRC           321           3.8EDS Unigraphics            222             2.6
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