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Powering up the race to market

Article-Powering up the race to market

Developing a product from concept through production used to be a sequential operation. But today?s marketplace has a more urgent set of standards that require a quicker, concurrent development style. Being the first to get a new product to market can spell the difference between success and failure. To compress the product development cycle, all of the significant players in the chain are working together more closely and using CAD/CAM and CAE tools to improve speed and communication.

A suite of software products from Delcam plc (Birmingham, England) targets this trend with accuracy, providing both standalone solutions as well as a continuous bridge from concept and design through tooling and inspection. Called Power Solution, the Windows NT suite replaces the popular Duct program that had become the top seller in the U.K. ?We retained the functionality and power of Duct while making Power Solution products easier to use and introducing solid modeling and NT platforms,? says Tim Mitchell, international sales director. ?We also used the same databases so that existing customers can use the new products in concert with Duct.?

Individual modules in the Power Solution lineup include PowerShape, a hybrid solid/surface modeler and its two adjuncts--PS-Draft for 2-D drawings and PS-Mold for mold design; PowerMill, a two- through five-axis CAM package; CopyCAD, a reverse engineering program; ArtCAM for engraving and signmaking; and PowerInspect for comparing parts or tooling against the CAD model. Used separately or together, these programs can accept data from IGES, Catia, Pro/E, Unigraphics, CADDS, DXF, and VDAFS.

One of the differences between Delcam and other software vendors is its in-house engineering workshop, which contains a Mecof high-speed machining center along with various other CNC machines and a toolroom. Before programs are released, they are tested here. The center also lets customers try before buying and provides extra capacity for tooling customers when they need it.

Another feature that sets this software apart: Delcam bases Power Solution products on its own mathematical kernel, not a standard such as Parasolids or Acis. ?Standard kernels have difficulties describing complex shapes, and they are intolerant of small gaps and overlaps,? explains Mitchell. ?They are also unable to operate without a closed solid or to infer topology reliably when converting surfaces to solids.?

PowerShape?s hybrid modeler lets users switch easily between both surface and solid modeling methods. ?Solid modelers are easy to use, but have trouble with free-form shapes and manufacturing details,? says Stuart Watson, CAD development director. ?Surface modelers can model complex shapes, but are difficult to use. With the hybrid approach, you can get the best of both worlds.?

PowerShape accepts open solids, which can be arranged in a ?quilt? of matching surfaces joined perfectly at the edges, performing like a closed solid. In the surface mode, the software can take wireframe curves and generate smooth surfaces from them. Users can choose between Nurbs surfaces with geometric constraints modeling or PowerSurfaces, which supplies handles to control position and tangency.

?Hybrid modeling also allows us to read in data from almost any source and repair it so that it can be turned into a solid,? Watson says. For example, solids can be built from trimmed surfaces in an IGES file or from surfaces joined together with coarse tolerances. If IGES loses topology, the program shows gaps and overlaps at mismatched edges, detects poorly trimmed surfaces, and stitches gaps. Duplicate surfaces are also highlighted, and can be deleted with a click. For mold design, draft and parting line surfaces can also be generated automatically.

For toolmakers, shop floor programming is becoming a more common way of life. Delcam?s PowerMill CAM software has a short learning curve (about one week training) for that reason. It is also flexible enough to use the machinist?s knowledge of shop floor conditions when creating strategies, and includes toolpath verification. Rather than using a generative knowledge-based machining system, Delcam chose to equip PowerMill with basic process knowledge and tools so that users can customize the program to meet their needs. ?Generative systems are great for repetitive operations, but in toolmaking, every job is slightly different,? says Steve Hobbs, CAM development director. ?We built fundamental rules into the software, then gave users the ability to modify strategies to suit their operations.?

With direct translators for Catia and Pro/E, the PowerMill package also offers more strategies for high-speed machining (HSM). These strategies

allow for reliable gouge prevention and collision checking, elimination of sharp direction changes, use of circular leads and links to gently feed tooling into the workpiece material, and maximized machine usage through faster calculation speed. Using PowerMill and HSM, a large French toolmaker (Sidel) cut machining times up to 40 percent.

In collaboration with another French toolmaker, MPO, Delcam developed PowerInspect, a stand-alone 2- and 3-D surface inspection package suited to complex parts and tools. Used together with CMMs and touch probe arms, the package compares the actual item with the CAD model and outputs visual results in real time using a system of colored dots. It then displays all values that vary from the CAD model.

Reports can be generated as graphics, spreadsheets, tables, and other formats using Microsoft Excel. It can be used with any CAD system, and employs a best-fit option to allow inspection for parts that are difficult to datum.

Pricing for products in the Power Solution line is as follows: PowerShape--$9500; PS-Mold--$3000; PS-Draft--$3000; PowerMill--$18,000; CopyCAD--$12,000; and PowerInspect--$9500.--Michelle Maniscalco

Delcam International Inc.
Windsor, ON
Phone: (519) 974-8088
Fax: (519) 974-8170

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