Recent years have seen a number of articles on the benefits of closer integration of CAD and CAM. Of course, integrated CAD/CAM systems from a single company have been available since 1972. The new trend is for the integration of CAM systems into CAD software from a completely different developer. The decision for moldmakers is to choose between integrated CAD and CAM or an optimized, stand-alone program for each department.
The closer integration of the two technologies offers obvious advantages to smaller manufacturers of simpler parts, where the product designer will often also be the machine tool programmer. Having a common interface for the CAD and CAM software makes learning the two programs easier, while automatic updating of the toolpaths if the design changes will probably give the correct results.
However, the benefits are less clear for larger moldmaking companies, especially those making bigger or more complex tools, and those using more advanced high-speed or five-axis machine tools. In these organizations, the mold designer and the machinist are likely to be different people working in different parts of the company.
Typically, one will be working in a design office, while the other will be in an office next to the shop floor or even on the shop floor. Both will have developed a high level of skill in their respective areas of expertise and in the software that they use. Improved data translation systems mean that there is now much less likelihood of information being incorrect when transferred between the different programs.
Most importantly, the more complex the mold becomes, the less likely it is that automated toolpath generation will produce the most efficient machining routines or the best surface finish in the final tool.
Updating toolpaths automatically will almost certainly give the correct result for simple alterations—for example, changing the drilling routine after moving the position of a hole in a mold plate. With more sophisticated changes to a complex core or cavity, the optimum result is much less certain to be achieved. This is especially true when using more sophisticated machine tools.
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