An alternative to full-blown CAM

July 28, 2011 6:59 am

By Michael Deren

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I’ve used a variety of software during the 30-plus years I’ve been involved with manufacturing. That includes standard products for creating documents, spreadsheets and databases, and, in order of appearance, packages for handling material requirements, manufacturing resources and enterprise resource planning. CAD/CAM software, however, tops my usage list.

The first CAM “package” I used was the APT programming language, which had no graphical interface. You wrote the program, sent the information via a slow modem, plotted the points on a multiple-pen plotter and then received the machine code. I never exceeded 3-axis programming. Programming capabilities have come a long way since then, including ones for 5-axis and multitask machining, Swiss-style turning and wire EDMing.

CAM software, these days, is often priced in the vicinity of a lower-end motorcycle or compact car—sometimes a luxury car! Last year, I needed to purchase a CAM package for our facility and contacted several well-known and reputable developers. Prices ranged from $12,000 to $16,000 for two seats of basic mill/turn software that did not include 5-axis contouring. Trust me though, if you do a lot of programming or mold and die work, the price is well worth it.

After researching how much programming we actually do at our facility, the cost wasn’t justifiable. The programs for our standard products have already been written. We may make 10 to 20 newly designed parts annually.

I decided to keep looking and found a few CAD/CAM packages online from $1,500 to $3,000 that would handle milling and turning. For wire EDM, I would have to wing it. Unfortunately, the customer support was terrible; I received no replies to my e-mails and phone calls. The downloadable product demos showed products with promise. But what good is it if I can’t speak to anyone?

Then I Googled “wire EDM programming software” and found a software package from Kentech Inc. that looked like it would do what I wanted, including milling, drilling, tapping, ID and OD grooving, boring, turning—even C-axis—and wire EDM programming. However, it does not provide 3-D verification or use solid models. The software outputs code compatible with Fanuc, Okuma, Fadal and Haas controls. Much of the programming is done by filling in the blanks. It will output code via Fanuc canned cycles or long hand, where every step is listed.

When I contacted the developer about its CAM software, the company promptly replied and fully answered my questions. By completing a brief online form, I was able to view a demo or have a WebEx one-on-one demo of the KipwareM milling, KipwareT turning and KipwareEDM wire EDMing software packages. Waterjet programming software is also available. Besides CNC programming software, the company offers business, training and conversion software.

After purchasing two seats of the software for about $1,000, which included unlimited technical support and didn’t require maintenance agreements, I reviewed the online training and was up and programming. Upgrades are available for $35 to $145, depending on the software. Upgrades happen every year or so.

Although this software is adequate for our purposes and can be used on the shop floor, it is not for everyone. I’ve worked for companies that needed the high-dollar packages to effectively compete. But if you are looking for low-budget CAM software and aren’t performing 5-axis machining, check the Web for alternatives to full-blown CAM packages. CTE

About the Author: Mike Deren is a manufacturing engineer/project manager and a regular CTE contributor. He can be e-mailed at[email protected].


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