Delcam PowerMill 9.0

15 January 2009

With its reputation for handling the complex world of Mould and Die-based machining, it came as some surprise to learn that the latest release of PowerMill is all about Production Machining and making the everyday jobs easier. Al Dean reports.

Product PowerMill 9.0
Company name Delcam
Price £6,500

Delcam is something of a legend among CAD/CAM vendors as far as I’m concerned. Born at the very start of the 3D revolution back in the 1970s, it was the first organisation to cut metal based on 3D geometry and the cycle of innovation has continued. The company does things that no-one else touches, whether that’s in terms of covering the full design and manufacturing process from conceptualisation and physical form capture, through design/engineering, into machining or out the other end into inspection.

So what’s brand new and incredible about this PowerMill release? The answer is not a huge amount that’ll make headlines, but for those that use the system on a day to day basis or looking to adopt a new CAM tool, then the real truth is this is a major release – simply because the core concentration has been on making the easy things much easier.

Mould and Die involves incredibly complex machining tasks when working on the core and cavity, but when creating the mould base and other relatively simple odd jobs, being able to handle them quickly and efficiently makes a great deal of sense. There are a number of changes to the user interface in this release that help make this happen, so let’s run through them to kick things off.

The first is the way a stock or billet size is defined, which can now be done with a simple width, length and height, rather than the cryptic offsets used in previous releases. Tool selection has been worked on to ensure that the folders functionality (which lets the user categorise different types of tools into folders in the job browser) is now available when selecting a tool in the operations dialog. Also on the subject of tool definition, tapered tools can now be defined in terms of dimensions relating to the lower-taper diameter and an angle, which matches the information used in cutter catalogues and means the user doesn’t have to work it out with trigonometry.

The final update to user interface and interaction I’m going to cover relates to both geometry selection and geometry display. Firstly, a model selection tool can be used to simply ‘paint’ over the required faces in order to select them (particularly useful when worked with the invert selection command). Secondly, geometry can now be blanked/unblanked. This is a hide-like command, but it maintains any user selections made within the geometry, which means complex face sets can be selected much more easily – particularly when used with keyboard shortcuts.

Following on from user interaction, perhaps the biggest general update is the addition of geometry creation tools that would have previously required a license of PowerShape (Delcam’s modelling system). The system now allows the creation of basic wireframe sketches that are often required to get a job done, whether for splitting faces, creating boundaries or just adding additional details. The usual array of lines, arcs, and curves can be created and have commands like trim/extend, filleting of curves, work-plane and grids available as required – all used with the intelligent cursor that’s been a part of PowerShape for quite a few years.

Adding intelligence to CAM

As we’ve discussed, this release sees concentration placed on production machining tasks rather than complex surface machining. There are a couple of updates that are generically applicable which are intended to add intelligence to the whole process and make it more efficient by extracting as much data from both the 3D model and the associated tool libraries, so the user doesn’t have to.

Dialogs have been cleaned up with more interactive selection of geometry for extracting values from data, so fields are populated with a couple of clicks instead of invoking measuring tools. Another good example is the improvement to the Cutter/Tool database, whereby cutters can now be categorised (and their associated speeds and feeds) by material, making selection much easier as the system defaults to the cutters available for that material once it’s been set in the project file.

In general terms, there’s much greater support for creating custom equations (referred to as Expressions), in which different values can be intelligently linked, allowing customised intelligence to be added to tool-paths and operations, whether that’s having the step-over as a function of the cutter diameter or something more complex. All of the parameters that can be used are fully documented in the PowerMill help so they can be quickly located.

New toolpaths

No CAM-related review would be complete without a whistle stop tour of new machining operations and enhancements made to existing tool-paths, so let’s run through the highlights.

There’s been a lot of work done on the handling of holes and threaded forms – something that’s common in all manner of machining tasks and represents a seriously time consuming task in many mould and die focussed systems. In terms of threading, this update sees changes made to how PowerMill handles internal thread milling, allowing the user to generate a tool-path that creates threaded forms with multiple passes to reduce the chance of chatter and also improve the finish of the end-result (by removing smaller amounts of material with each pass).

Because of the nature of many parts of the CAM workflow, PowerMill is highly suitable for parallelisation, so the adoption of multi-core workstations can provide real benefits

In terms of holes, the last release saw work done on improving standard perpendicular hole machining, but this release extends this to handle holes cut into non-planar surfaces. It features auto-recognition tools, as well as specialised operations to add a milling operation as a starting point for each subsequent operation.

Face milling now has an explicit, efficient process, rather than using an area clearance operation, which wasn’t the easiest way to face off a part. 2D curve machining is now incredibly easy and when combined with the new geometry creation tools, allows the user to get from a basic 2D sketch of a part to a fully-machined 3D form in no time at all. Also on the 2D machining side, cutter compensation can now be included on all operations and visualised/previewed. On the subject of curve machining, the tools for using wireframe geometry in 3D operations have been improved, allowing the user to work on the basis of either sketched geometry or surface edges to create boundaries in which to limit operations – this will prove invaluable for many, particularly those carrying out trimming or profiling operations.

Advanced Operations

OK, let’s move onto more advanced tool-path types. Constant Z operations now understand the concept of stock models; so fresh air cuts are reduced as the system knows where material remains, so just cuts that.

There’s a new surface projection option that cuts in a spiral. Previous releases would have used a constant z operation with radial links to change each level, which gives a witness line where the cutter disengages/re-engages with the material – this now uses a spiral that’s in constant contact with the material so the witness lines don’t appear.  This also has the benefit that because the tool is constantly engaged with the material, the cutting times are reduced – a double whammy of benefits.

There’s a new corner machining option which adapts the toolpath strategy where cavities narrow dramatically. Now the system cuts each wall independently then combines the two to create the narrower cuts at the base of the feature – all with the goal of reducing cutter chatter.

While the core concentration for this release is lower-end machining, that’s not to say that 5-axis work hasn’t had a look-in. This release sees the introduction of Azimuth smoothing into 5-axis simultaneous tool-paths. While this is rather difficult to describe in text (there are some videos on the develop3d.com blog), what it does is smooth out the movement of the part, the table and the cutter head, to create a more fluid motion, rather than the often staccato like tool-paths that are generated when the machine tool reaches its limits of movement. These can, of course, have a derogatory effect on surface finish. The new smoothing algorithm has been plugged into every 5-axis toolpath within PowerMill so machines will undergo less stress and create better quality parts.

Performance updates

Alongside the interaction and operation related updates to this release, PowerMill 9.0 also sees work done under the hood to tie software improvements with rapidly advancing computing power available in workstations. Because of the nature of many parts of the CAM workflow, PowerMill is highly suitable for parallelisation, so the adoption of multi-core/multi-CPU workstations can provide real benefits. While tests are always idealised, Delcam is quoting figures that see dramatic reductions in dead-time while waiting for calculations to process and make the system work more efficiently. At the front end of the programming process, there is model loading, which for a mould and die-focussed application is a big part of the job, with highly complex models. Compared to the previous release, PowerMill 9 can load a two-metre long car bumper mould dataset with 4,707 faces with 50% of the memory previously required (down from 364Mb to 177Mb). Conversely at the other end of the process, toolpath calculation times for finish machining of complex geometry can still run into hours.  By optimising how and where in the process point distribution is calculated (which controls surface quality of a part) and running on two CPU cores there is around a 35% speed increase, while doubling that to four cores can calculate the job around 60% faster. As we said, these tests are idealised, and the exact gains are highly dependent on the operation that is being calculated among many other things, but speed improvements are going to benefit every existing user.

Conclusion

PowerMill has a reputation for mastery of Mould and Die, a complex industry in terms of both the geometry that needs to get machined and the toolpaths required to do it. The last few successive releases have seen a lot of work done on user interaction and interface that makes the process both easier and more intelligent. This is true for all Delcam products.

PowerMill 9.0 tackles those less complex jobs that are an intrinsic part of the process that can take just as much time, whether that’s basic roughing and milling, as well as things like hole machining, creating and machining basic 2D geometry.  There’s also a healthy dose of updates to the surface machining operations, along with the azimuth smoothing that’ll make 5-axis operations become a thing of beauty (yes, such things exist). Along with the core improvements in support for multi-core/CPU workstations, the PowerMill 9.0 release offers something for everyone.

One thing that did spring to mind when concluding this overview is that CAM offers a more easily justifiable return on investment for adoption of a new release that many CAD applications. By improving the NC programming process, through the use of intelligence, there comes a point where metal is starting to be cut in a much shorter time frame. Then, once machining begins, the toolpaths are more efficient, are easier on the machine tool and generally the part gets finished to a higher surface quality in a shorter space of time. And on that basis alone, it’s worth a look, for both existing and potential new users.

 

Comments on this article:

HI:
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THANK YOU

Posted by ASAD-B on Monday 08 2010 at 03:24 PM

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Posted by mohsen on Monday 14 2011 at 09:11 AM

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Posted by basit on Monday 27 2015 at 09:07 PM

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