Machining  |  Tooling  |  Workholding  |  CADCAM/CNC  |  Environment  |  Metrology  |  Subcontracting  |  Industry Sectors  |  Comment/Opinion  |  Services

13 July 2011

Delcam - recent and forthcoming developments in overview

Andrew Allcock attended Delcam's regular press update, this year held in Milan, to get a broad overview of the company's business and product developments (extended online article)

It's been almost three years since the UK's Delcam gathered representatives of the European press together, and that may account for what was quite a deluge of news and product updates (see extended online article).

First, though, it is worth pointing out that this UK company, owned by its employees, has completed a decade as the world's leading CAM specialist. The latest NC Software and Related Services Market report from leading analysts CIMdata shows that, in 2009, Delcam again had the highest vendor revenues of all the CAM-centric companies.

The report also confirmed that Delcam has the largest development team in the industry, with 165 people working on the company's CAM software. Only two other companies employ more than 100 CAM developers: Siemens PLM, with 121; and Dassault, with 110. Furthermore, the CADCAM specialist was reported to have shipped more industrial seats of CAM software than any other supplier during the year.

And having welcomed its 35,000th customer last year, Delcam expects to sell to its 36,000th this year. Over 220 people are employed at Delcam's Birmingham headquarters, with more than 300 in the company's overseas subsidiaries, as well as 250 more in its international joint ventures.

Image: Delcam's Birmingham HQ

The past 10 years have seen Delcam increase its market share significantly, with this being driven, it says, by three factors: growth in the sales of Delcam's established PowerMILL and ArtCAM systems; the acquisition of the FeatureCAM and PartMaker families of software; and the addition of new programs, in particular the Delcam for SolidWorks integrated CAM system, plus dedicated software for the dental restorations and orthotics. (Orthotics is the business of creating footwear insoles to alleviate medical problems (poor gait or pressure issues) or enhance comfort/performance (sportwear).) Indeed, the company's healthcare business has grown 102% in one year, with dental growing 50% and orthotics by more than 350%.

With all its various products (see box item for a near-complete run-down), cross fertilisation between them has become an increasing feature. This sees PowerMill capabilities being employed within FeatureCAM and Swiss auto and mill-turn software package PartMaker, and also behind the scenes in its DentMill product, for example. In similar vein, the company's design software, PowerShape, is also a 'companion' software element for Partmaker, while CopyCAD is now part of PowerShape Pro, supporting not just reverse engineering (CopyCAD), but also re-engineering (through PowerShape).

Other capabilities of its software, such as the ability to overlay simple user interfaces onto PowerMill, for example, using VB scripts and such like, means that it can create a product like DentMill, which can be employed by those with no CNC programming experience. Automation of standard products for customers is also possible, such as with FeatureCAM at bevel gear maker Danieli, Italy, where the system, which also involves PowerInspect, requires just a few button pushes to generate CNC programs for a Mazak Integrex e-500H multi-tasking mill-turn.

And the delivery of solutions that draw on all the company's products and expertise are what underpins the recent creation of Delcam's Advanced Manufacturing Solutions division. Customer-centric solutions and not product are the focus, says the company. This move is also intended to increase the number of Delcam products employed by its customers. "Too many customers have only one Delcam product," says Delcam marketing manager Peter Dickin. It is also a way for the company to gain a foothold in companies, typically larger OEMs, that may have a corporate software policy that excludes Delcam. In support of this move, a more consistent branding approach for its products is underway, while new websites are being created.

This move follows the creation of Delcam Professional Services earlier this year. The primary focus for DPS is to work with clients, mainly in the aerospace and power generation industries, to improve their manufacturing processes by increasing productivity, improving accuracy and shortening lead times. This makes use of Delcam's in-house machining facilities, alongside its programming skills. The use of adaptive machining, the company's combination of machining and inspection technologies, is a key technology within DPS.

Less visible directly to its customers than all this is Delcam's involvement in European research programmes, but the company is an avid fan. Highlighted at the gathering in Milan was its involvement in six projects, three of which are RECLAIM, SAVING and COMET.

RECLAIM is really focused on the aerospace and automotive industries – the repair of turbine blades after bird strike, for the former, and the damage to turbochargers, for the latter. In both cases, blades need metal on, but the final shape is not the original CAD shape, as blades 'move' over time. A process of find, remove, deposit and blend is required, with tolerances of -0 to +0.020 mm typical. A prototype machine and software is expected to be developed by the end of the year.

SAVING is aimed at reducing aircraft weight via the use of additive manufactured parts. A 100 kg saving in weight is worth 4.5 million litres of fuel over an aircraft's lifetime – for Virgin Atlantic, with 30 long-haul aircraft, that's £2.5 million/year. Delcam is developing software to support design optimisation for additive manufacturing – the creation of 'Aero' structures, for example.

COMET is the use of industrial robots for high-end machining. Fundamental issues to be overcome are the lack of absolute positioning accuracy; the lack of reliable programming and simulation tools to ensure right-first-time machining, once production commences; and, due to their compliance (lack of stiffness), cannot withstand the effects of process forces. The intention is to create a system that has absolute accuracy of better than 0.050 mm.

Participation in such projects feeds back into products, of which Delcam clearly already has an extensive portfolio.

Box items

The Delcam product roll-call

PowerMILL 2012 taste - including video, below

FeatureCAM 2012




Research projects

Box item 1

The Delcam product roll-call

PowerMILL – CAM software for high speed and 5-axis machining (6-axis for robots)

FeatureCAM – Feature-based CAM software for milling, turning, mill-turn and wire EDM

PartMaker – CAM software for turn-mill equipment and Swiss-type lathes

Delcam for SolidWorks – Integrated CAM system for SolidWorks

ArtCAM – Artistic CADCAM software suite for decorative applications

PowerSHAPE – Data exchange, file repair and modelling for manufacture software

PowerSHAPE Pro – Product design and reverse engineering software

Delcam ToolMaker – Tooling design software

Delcam Electrode – Electrode design and manufacturing software

Delcam Exchange – Data exchange software

PowerINSPECT – Inspection software for metrology devices

PowerINSPECT OMV – Inspection software for machine tools

PowerINSPECT PartAligner – Part alignment software for portable arms

NC-PartLocator – Part alignment software for machine tools

NC-Checker – Software for checking machine tool set-up

OrthoModel – Modelling software for orthotic insoles

OrthoMill – Machining software for orthotic insoles

DentCAD – Design software for dental restorations

DentMILL – Machining software for dental restorations

CRISPIN – Software suite for design and manufacture of footwear

CRISPIN Orthopaedic – Software suite for design and manufacture of orthopaedic footwear

PowerMILL is Delcam's flagship product and provides 'the engine' for other products, such as DentMIll (sec later), with 5-axis machining strategies incorporated into both FeatureCAM and PartMaker.

The new 2012 release to be previewed at EMO, Hanover, 19-23 Sept, will include a number of new strategies for 5-axis machining, together with more general enhancements to make programming faster and machining more efficient with the best-possible surface finish.

The most important new option is 5-axis flowline machining. With flowline machining, the toolpath is divided between a pair of drive curves in a constant number of passes, rather than having a varying number of passes with a constant stepover. The toolpath will have its start and end passes on the drive curves, with the intermediate passes blending between them.

Image: Flowline machining will give smoother results

This approach gives smoother results since it ensures that each pass travels over the full length of the area, rather than leaving the part, or making major changes in direction, during the pass. It produces a better surface finish on the part and minimises wear on the cutter and the machine tool.

In PowerMILL, flowline machining can be applied across part of a surface, across a complete single surface or across multiple surfaces. In addition, intermediate curves can be added between the boundaries of the area to give even greater control over the toolpaths. These might be needed for particularly complex fillets or when machining gently-curved surfaces to a smooth finish.

PowerMILL has offered an optional module for automated machining of blades, blisks and impellors for some time. This module has now been enhanced with the addition of a spiral machining strategy. This keeps the cutter on the surface of the part for the complete operation and so gives more even tool loading and a better surface finish.

Image: Spiral machining for blades delivers a smoother finish

Another new option that will help to give better results during five-axis machining is the ability to control the angular point distribution. This option can be used to keep the machine tool moving smoothly when there is rapid angular change in one of the rotary axes of the machine tool. The problem occurs mainly when moving around sharp corners but is also important when the machine is operating near a vertical tool axis. If the machine tool is near the gimbal lock position, small movements in the tool-axis vector can result in large movements in one of the axes.

In both examples, smoother tool axis changes can be achieved by increasing the density of the points in these areas. The user can specify the maximum angle that the tool axis can move between points. Extra points are inserted automatically to ensure the specified maximum angle is not exceeded. This gives a more even movement of the machine and so gives a better surface finish, with no risk of dwell marks. The smoother motion also reduces wear on the machine.

A more general enhancement is the ability use Bezier curves rather than polylines when sketching geometry in PowerMILL. Bezier curves give smoother boundaries, patterns and drive curves, and so enable better quality toolpaths to be produced.

Other enhancements include more control over the clearance distances applied to the cutter and its holder. This is especially desirable when machining vertical faces, as a smaller clearance can be set for the shank, while still allowing a larger clearance for the holder. It allows the shortest safe cutter to be chosen, with no risk of collisions. Using shorter cutters will usually allow faster machining and minimise chatter so giving a better surface finish.

In addition, thread milling options have been added, and workplane editing, and Z-height selection and limiting, have been made easier. It has also been made easier to obtain measurements, including distances, angles and directions, from the part model and enter these values into forms automatically. Finally, the use of the PowerMILL macro language to programme repeat operation has been extended to give users more options to customise the system for their particular needs.

FeatureCAM 2012, to be previewed at EMO, will see a number of enhancements to make FeatureCAM even easier to use. For example, a range of keyboard shortcuts have been added, including isometric view options, that will allow faster programming. It has been made easier to select multiple items from the operations tree and to move all the features in a group, for example, a network of holes. In addition, warning or error messages can be displayed simply by hovering over the relevant icon in the Operations List.

Toolpath editing has also been made much easier. Toolpaths are displayed more clearly, selection of toolpaths has been simplified and an "undo" option added.

Target part comparison has been extended to cover multi-axis milling operations. This allows the user to compare a model of the desired final shape with the shape achieved by the programmed toolpaths. It provides a quick check of any material remaining on the part, and of any gouges or collisions. Previously, this option was only available for 2- and 3-axis operations.

The most important improvement for increasing machine productivity comes from further developments in the use of stock models to cover 2D features, including bosses, sides and slots. The models allow the user to visualise the stock remaining after each operation. This makes it easier to eliminate air cutting and so generate more efficient toolpaths with reduced machining times. The models also simplify the selection of the most appropriate tools for rest-roughing and finishing operations.

A number of extra options have been added to the tooling database. This database is a key part of the automation in FeatureCAM as it allows the optimum operating conditions to be associated with each tool. In most companies, the database is developed by the most experienced user. It then ensures that even inexperienced operators use safe and efficient cutting parameters. The new options in FeatureCAM 2012 allow more variables to be specified, including maximum cut depth and the optimum ramp angles.

Fully-automated de-burring and chamfering, when programming 2- or 2.5-axis parts, was added in FeatureCAM 2011. Tool selection for this operation has now been improved, to avoid unnecessary tool changes.

Image: Fully sutomated deburring is a FeatureCAM capability

Other improvements include a new option to automatically counterbore holes before drilling, the ability to have a negative leave allowance (such as a fitting allowance) for turning or wire EDM to produce undersized features without remodelling, and much improved performance on the largest part files with hundreds of thousands of entities

Delcam has launched the 2011 version of Delcam for SolidWorks, its integrated CAM system for SolidWorks. This new release includes comprehensive options for the programming of turning and mill-turn equipment, alongside the company's industry-leading technology for drilling and two- through 5-axis milling. This expanded range of strategies will allow users to program everything from lathes up to mill-turn equipment, more quickly, more reliably and more easily than with other integrated CAM systems.

Delcam for SolidWorks combines the benefits associated with Delcam's PowerMILL and FeatureCAM CAM systems.

Image: Delcam for SolidWorks incorporates elements of PowerMILL and FeatureCAM

ArtCAM – An integrated design to production solution; artistic software able to take 2D artwork and produce 3D shapes, a recent introduction to the four-package range is ArtCAM Express, offered at £99, to invite more to try it. It is available via dedicated website and also throughia Amazon. It is aimed at 3D model suppliers and machine suppliers. And having started with ArtCAM, users can add additional modules.

Image: ArtCAM Express is offered at £99

PowerSHAPE – A major move has been the adoption of the Parasolid 3 solids kernel within the package; direct import and export of Parasolids data is, therefore, possible. The incorporation of Parasolid is a big deal because there are over 2 million end users employing the technology, while over 40% of CAD solid model are said to employ the format.

Image: PowerSHAPE now incorporates Parasolid

Toolmaker, a tailored version of PowerSHAPE, draws all the same benefits, with these listed as: 5x faster solid modelling operations; faster import/export of Parasolid data (no conversion required); smaller model sizes; faster filleting; and more complex filleting situations supported. For Toolmaker, all standard catalogues have been rebuilt as native Parasolids. The full benefits of Parasolid have not yet been exploited, says Delcam, so further benefits are on their way. Emphasised was the fact that both PowerSHAPE and ToolMaker retain all their surface modelling capabilities.

Another development for PowerSHAPE is the incorporation of CopyCAD within PowerSHAPE Pro. CopyCAD captures the design intent of a part, not just its geometry. This is especially beneficial when the part to be copied is damaged or worn, or when a design change is needed, Delcam underlines. PowerSHAPE Pro can now be the reverse engineering front end for any Parasolid-based CAD system, it adds.

Healthcare and orthotics – Delcam's Chris Laurie offered that mass customisation is the future for orthopaedic shoes, dental restorations, maxillofacial implants/prosthetics, general implants, prosthetic limbs and more. These will all be required to support an aging population.

To support mass customisation, reverse engineering is required and Delcam has worked with a number of advocates in several fields, such dentistry, surgical device manufacture, maxillofacial reconstruction and biomechanical engineering, to develop both hardware and software.

The requirement in both cases, for dentistry and custom orthotics, was for easy-to-use software having a simple interface, plus the necessary hardware to capture information. CNC milling programming software, DentMILL, is a highly customised version of PowerMILL (using Windows Presentation Manager for orthotics), although the company's PartMaker also features in the dental arena for the programming of turned parts for implant components (bone screw makers also use PartMaker). Indeed, some 80-90% of OEMs in the dental market are said to be using PartMaker.

On the hardware front, in the case of orthotics, the company has developed its own foot scanner and associated software, iQube; for its dental scanning system, iMetric, it worked with a Swiss third party, Imetric 3D GmbH.

Image: iMetric dental scanner

Image: Delcam developed its own foot scanner and associated software

Delcam has also written Delcam Dental Manager software to manage the business workflow between practitioner, lab and machining service. A similar product for orthotics is in the offing.

Already the company claims to be the world's largest supplier of open CADCAM systems for dental restorations.

The automation and improvement of a previously lengthy and costly service is achieved with Delcam's developments, driving down the cost of products and, potentially, allowing a larger market to develop. For example, Mr Laurie suggests that while designer orthotics are the preserve of football players today, tomorrow it might be that the man in the street can also benefit at low cost.

And although the cost of an orthotics installation may be between £60-70,000, the payback can be in months, not years, says Mr Laurie. Already the technology has featured on TV in Spain, the UK and US within a year of its development, it is underlined. In addition, 100 iQubes have already been shipped since launch in May 2010.

Delcam is busy making sure its CADCAM healthcare products are seen by a new generation of medical practitioners by working with a number of institutions: Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine, DeMoine University, Singapore Foot Care, Birmingham University, Bath University, Caledonian University, Sheffield University, Matthew Boulton College, Stafford University, Moscow University.

The company is already thinking about developing mobile apps for the dental market, bringing further innovation to this area.

Delcam is involved in six research projects, three are described in the main article, the other three are: Copernico, e-CUSTOM and FoFdation.

The COPERNICO project - Cooperation Environment for Rapid Design, Prototyping and New Integration Concepts for the Factory of the Future - is seeking to dvelop techniques to help businesses maximise the efficiency of their factories, and rapidly integrate new products and processes.

Research will be driven by real-life case studies provided by the industrial partners. UK power systems group Rolls-Royce has identified three case studies, including the design and layout of its new civil nuclear manufacturing facility. And Italian home appliances group Electrolux will work with COPERNICO researchers to improve the efficiency of its manufacturing facilities and supply chains.
SMEs are also included in the research, with UK tool manufacturer Footprint Sheffield Ltd and Italian automotive supplier Temco both involved.

Delcam is leading a work package in the COPERNICO project that will help to ensure integration and interoperability between CAD, CAM and inspection software, and PLM systems. With the partners involved, Delcam will identify: modelling tools for representing the physical system; tools for management decision making; tools for information systems (PLM).

From this analysis, any gaps in functionality will be indentified that need to be filled to meet the overall time and cost objectives of the project participants.

e-CUSTOM is concerned with developing a web-based Collaboration System for Mass Customisation. It aims to bridge the gap between mass production and mass customisation, engaging the customer in the initial design of the products and realising the manufacturing of these personalised added-value products in a novel, coordinated, eco-friendly and efficient decentralised approach.

Within the e-Custom project, Delcam is developing its new generation of software products to support the design and manufacture of custom orthotic insoles.

FoFdation (Foundation for the Factory of the Future) is concerned with the development of a universal manufacturing information system, based on a data exchange standard that allows disparate entities and their associated devices of a manufacturing system to share data seamlessly in a common format.

There are five objectives:

• End-to-end digitisation of the process, product and machine resources;

• Development of a 'Smart Machine Controller' (SMC) concept, including a 'Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System' (SCADA), adaptive process control and energy-efficient monitoring;

• Realisation of a 'Smart Manufacturing Optimiser' (SMO), using the virtual product information from CAD/PLM and the real machine and on-line process information to adapt process control information to achieve optimal process results;

• Extension of MES systems to a 'Smart Manufacturing Execution System' (SMES) by supporting resource efficiency and sustainability goals and interfacing with 'Enterprise Resource Planning' (ERP) systems;

• Compilation of all information into a common dashboard towards the 'production-to-enterprise' asset integration and overall sustainability management.

The developments will extend existing information processing systems by adding more information about product data, machine tools, tooling and processes, and process monitoring information fed back to shop-floor information systems.

This, it is said, will improve:

• Toolpath descriptions independent of machine tools;

• Machining process simulation based on product and process information;

• In-machine process simulation and validation;

• In-machine process verification incorporating product and tool machine tolerances and inspection plans;

• In-machine process optimisation of feeds and speeds based on product and machine information;

• Feedback of machine and process information to shop-floor information processing and design;

• Integration of process data with manufacturing planning and management.

First published in Machinery, July 2011

Andrew Allcock

This material is protected by MA Business copyright
See Terms and Conditions.
One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not.
For multiple copies contact the sales team.

Supporting Information

Related Companies

Autodesk Ltd

Do you have any comments about this article?


Your comments/feedback may be edited prior to publishing. Not all entries will be published.
Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.