Software Technology Is More Versatile, Efficient and Simplified

Software suppliers are working diligently to provide moldmakers with relevant but easy-to-use solutions that speed processes and lower costs.

It is almost impossible to keep pace with technological advancements today, especially where software is concerned. So, MoldMaking Technology reached out to representatives of several software providers that serve the industry to offer a glimpse of the current trends and new developments in CAD/CAM, simulation and job-tracking software.

Making CAD/CAM More Versatile and Efficient
Recent trends in machining and automation have spurred advancements in CAD/CAM software capabilities that are helping moldmakers remain competitive in the global marketplace. MoldMaking Technology asked a few CAD/CAM experts to share their perspectives.

“The biggest trend I have seen is the move to five-axis machining,” Ryan Weekes, North American sales manager for CGS North America, Inc. (Ontario, Canada), says. “CAM software companies now work closely with machine tool and cutting-tool companies to develop easier ways to control the tilt direction of five-axis toolpaths. As creating these toolpaths becomes easier, programmers are less resistant to doing simultaneous five-axis toolpaths.” 

Alan Levine, managing director of OPEN MIND Technologies USA Inc. (Needham, Massachusetts), says, “Additionally, machine controls, such as those from Heidenhain, FANUC and Siemens, have new capabilities and improved performance. Importantly, CAM software strategies enable the use of shorter cutters, which improve feed rates and produce better surface finishes.”

Casey Goodman, marketing and inside sales manager for Tebis America Inc. (Troy, Michigan), says that mold designs are becoming more complex, and the use of multi-axis, 
simultaneous milling machines is more commonplace, particularly in the automotive industry, which puts more emphasis on the ability of the person using the software. “Automating processes in mold manufacturing is becoming more crucial and necessary for companies to stay competitive. It is also one way to overcome the skills gap,” he says. “Automation is achieved by setting standards and establishing machining templates, then measuring those standards and adjusting them as needed. The benefit is that less experienced employees do not have to learn complete software programs, but can grow into them while still meeting management’s expectations.”

Manufacturers are now looking at ways in which they can work smarter and not harder, according to Clinton Perry, product marketing manager at Autodesk, Inc. (San Rafael, California). “In tooling, two trends deal with automation and interoperability,” he says. “Using automation, mold and die manufacturers can convert their best CNC machining practices into a suite of intelligent macros and templates that can be automatically applied to families of parts. Automation enables the creation of high quality, predictable CNC machining code with minimal human input and risk of human error.”

Regarding interoperability between software, Perry, who is based in Birmingham, U.K., says that traditionally, design and manufacturing software were only designated to one or two steps in the entire part-design process. As a result, workers were making any needed changes manually during the other steps, ultimately introducing the potential for error. “Now, we are seeing the ability to make a change in one area, and then that change is triggering a dynamic update across the entire workflow,” he says. 

Perry adds that, increasingly, manufacturers are using the cloud to improve levels of collaboration within their organizations. The ability to share interactive, 3D representations of designs and manufacturing processes enables these teams to interact with key stakeholders (including the end customers). 

Shawn Schwartz, sales and services director-Americas for WorkNC by Vero Software (Southfield, Michigan), agrees that automation is a key trend in moldmaking. “Programmers are utilizing software to make those toolpaths that do not have to be manually edited or tweaked. Machinists are using workholding and fixturing tools to reduce setup times and make the transitions between machines easier, and they are using palletization so that pickup and repositioning is eliminated,” he says.

As for advancements, Alan Levine of Open Mind Technologies USA says that CAM software provides a platform for change and that suppliers continually provide updates, including the latest capabilities in graphics, toolpaths, probing and simulation. “In the toolpath area, for example, the application of conical barrel cutters to planar, ruled and shaped surfaces provides huge benefits for reducing cycle times by as much as 90 percent or more and enhancing cutter life. This offers advanced blending techniques to help meet critical mold-surface finish requirements while avoiding undercuts or cusps at the blending of different cut regions,” he says. Ryan Weekes of CGS North America also calls out CAM companies’ adaptation of circle-segmented tools or barrel cutters, which are specifically designed for five-axis machining. “These tools have a large radius on a small tool, the purpose of which is to enable much larger step-downs to produce a smaller cusp while not driving up the cost of the tool with a large amount of carbide,” he says. “In the right application, these tools will increase efficiency and surface finish. For moldmakers to use these tools effectively, the CAM software must drive the toolpath in a very specific motion to utilize the largest part of the radius.” Vero Software’s Shawn Schwartz says that WorkNC recently introduced a new version of a planar roughing tool and improved it to require fewer cutters so that finishing times are much faster. “It also is able to do that in the Z-level finishing, which is critical for mold and die,” he says. 

Clinton Perry of Autodesk Inc. says that using new technologies like machine learning to review an application and match it against the right manufacturing process, and combining it with cloud computing for on-demand computer hardware, enables moldmakers to quickly evaluate all possible design and manufacturing options. As a result, the moldmaker not only makes a part, but engineers the right part in the shortest amount of time while using the proper material and the processes that the application requires. 

Making Simulation Software More Adaptable
Though simulation software has been around since the late 1970s, its breadth of use in moldmaking continues to grow as new mold building technologies take hold within the industry. Simulation experts say that simulation software is becoming easier to use and more diverse in its application to meet the increasingly diverse needs of moldmakers.

Gene Granata, Vericut product manager at CGTech (Irvine, California), says that a continuing trend is to educate and energize the moldmaking industry about the prospects of using additive manufacturing (AM) to manufacture better molds and to achieve faster times to market. “As more mold companies move to adopt AM, simulation software is offering more variations of additive motion paths and is attempting to predict heat distortion and material deformation that could pose problems during the build process,” he says. “These advancements are driven by the need to build additive parts that not only have sound functional design, but also have sound structural integrity.”

Granata says that additive building and programming software is becoming more robust. With that, a new trend is emerging for simulation software developers for subtractive and additive processes—software is making it possible to simulate any manufacturing process (additive, milling, turning, welding and so on) in the order used to fabricate the part. This more “global” view of verification can expose potential “surprises” between operations and ensures that the final part (after moldmakers perform all operations and processes) is correct and is made as efficiently as possible. “The need for more comprehensive simulation stems from the fact that many additive processes still require post-process machining to achieve desired tolerances and surface finishes on at least some mold features,” he says. 

Another trend is the emergence of more varieties of hybrid machine tools (machines that can add and subtract material). Hybrid machines can be a mixed blessing, Granata says. While they are certainly more capable than their nonhybrid counterparts, they also have many more functions and NC codes that moldmakers must properly manage. Hybrid machines require different NC programming techniques than those with which most NC programmers have familiarity, and they come with new safety hazards such as dangerous, high-powered laser equipment and potentially caustic powdered metals. “Simulation software makes it possible to test various manufacturing methods and determine which will produce the best part while maximizing use of the available CNC equipment,” he says. In order to do the best job, users will want to choose simulation software that is driven by the same NC code that will drive the machine, thereby ensuring the highest level of verification possible. “We believe the next logical advancement AM adopters will need is the ability to optimize the additive and hybrid processes,” Granata says. “Simulation software is already available to optimize machining based on optimal chip loads, cutting forces and so on. But, what about additive? Moldmakers who are using AM will want to know that they are applying material as quickly and efficiently as possible and within the limits that their additive material and CNC equipment impose. These are perfect tasks for the simulation software of our additive future!”

Tim Lankisch, director of engineering at CAE Services Corporation (Batavia, Illinois), says that developing tools that make products like Moldflow simulation software easier to use enables engineers to test more of their ideas and solutions. Parts manufacturers and moldmakers are continually driven to reduce dimensional tolerances and improve strength characteristics or reduce part weight at the same time. “Those factors typically result in the potential for more part warpage, making the use of simulation critical to predict and correct the dimensional issues that can arise for those challenging parts,” he says. Because of this, the development of simulation software has emphasized improving the quality and ease-of-use of 3D meshing. Additionally, software development has focused on creating and improving tools to help modify geometry to test both design modification solutions and windage solutions to warpage problems. “Partnering with companies that use world-class simulation to identify and solve molding problems is an important part of mitigating that challenge up-front,” he says. CAE offers simulation services for shops, sometimes basing an employee at a customer’s facility to work. “Simulation software vendors will continue to address the speed, accuracy and user-friendliness of their products based on direct user feedback and correlation studies.”

Making Job Tracking More Actionable
In the realm of job-tracking software, the trends and challenges for moldmakers are the same as they are for other types of software. Moldmakers are trying to do more with less. They need accessible data that is easy to use, and they want software that will help them cut costs and lead times. “Whether you use terms like cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT) or Industry 4.0, these trendy buzzwords have one common theme, which is giving users instant access to rich and actionable information,” Sean Brolley, business development manager at ToolStats (Ferndale, Michigan), says. He adds that sensors and live monitoring capabilities are becoming more popular in production facilities, but if companies do not have an efficient way to store and share that information with the suppliers and stakeholders that need it, the information becomes less powerful. That is where the right software platform can make a difference.

Roger Bassous, president of newly-established R.E.R. Software, Inc. (Rochester, Michigan), says that companies are increasingly more interested in tracking their jobs, using an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to better understand their job costs and gain more control over current jobs. “ERP systems are designed to facilitate a lot of the overhead that big enterprise companies face,” he says. “They tend to be extremely expensive, both initially and over the long-term, and data is typically collected manually.” He adds that ERP systems are not quite designed for a specific industry and always require detailed industry software development to integrate with each implemented location. Nevertheless, Bassous agrees that there is a need for job-tracking software in moldmaking because using measurable data to understand past work makes it easier to more accurately quote and plan future jobs. 

Both Brolley and Bassous note that the biggest challenge for mold shops that want to adopt or should adopt a job-tracking software system is making the leap to implementation of the new technology. The answer is simplicity. Both Brolley and Bassous agree that if the software is too complicated and is not built to suit the people using it, then no one will use it. “Cloud-based solutions are becoming much easier to use and even easier to implement,” Brolley says. “Software products these days no longer require downloading or complicated installation because they are hosted off-site, which makes the maintenance process much easier for IT departments. If new versions of the software or enhanced features need to be released, it can happen almost seamlessly without disrupting workflows.”

Bassous also says, “Automation is a critical component. Much of the newer technology of both machinery and software provides for automatic data retrieval. The easier it is for humans to interface with a technology, the easier it will be to adopt job-tracking software.” 

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