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MCAD Tech News #100 (June 26, 2003)

26 Jun, 2003 By: Joe Greco


About six months ago I wrote an article focusing on what I considered an emerging market--powerful, low-cost CAM software (see CADENCE MCAD Tech News #88 (Jan. 16, 2003), "Low-Cost CAM Comes of Age" at http://www.cadenceweb.com/newsletter/mcad/0103_2.html). I found this trend similar to what the MCAD industry went through in the mid-1990s. At that time, applications such as SolidWorks and Solid Edge became the first to offer feature-based solid modeling on Windows, at 20 percent of the price of the high-end systems, while still delivering 80 percent of the functionality. In that newsletter, I discussed CAM applications from companies such as IMSI (TurboCAD/CAM; http://www.turbocad.com), MecSoft (VisualMill; http://www.mecsoft.com), Roland DGA (the ProMill Series; http://www.rolanddga.com), BobCAD/CAM Inc. (BobCAD/CAM; http://www.bobcadcam.com), and IMService (various applications; http://www.imsrv.com). However, I omitted one player--OneCNC (Mill Expert and Mill Professional; http://www.onecnc.com).

Unlike some of these companies that are fairly new to CAM, OneCNC actually has a long history, as it was started by an Australian developer called QARM in 1988 and originally named AusCAD. For the next decade, QARM continued to develop its CAD/CAM technology. In 2000, the company made its U.S. debut as OneCNC and began calling its 3-axis product the One2000 series. Then came Mill Professional, which was priced at $4,500. Recently the company released a separate program called OneCNC XP Mill Expert for $6,500. It not only offers CAM functionality but also has CAD tools, including import/export capabilities and modeling and drawing tools. Recently, I received my copy of Mill Expert, so I thought I'd share my opinion of it (keep in mind that much of the following also applies to Mill Professional).

Using the Product

The program loaded in only a few minutes via a standard Windows install; however, it required the supplied dongle key to be attached to the printer port. This caused a minor problem; it didn't work at first because there was a conflict with my Solid Edge 12 dongle. But the problem was resolved when I stitched the placement order of the two keys. This didn't affect Solid Edge 12, and OneCNC's dongle also work with the other programs I have that still require keys.

Once everything was installed, I launched the software. Unlike some of its high-priced competitors, Mill Expert features a standard Windows user interface complete with familiar menus, icons, and shortcut keys. Even the options to customize the software are what you would expect from a Windows package; everything from assigning new shortcuts keys to customizing the toolbars is handled the same as with a Microsoft application.

Modeling

Mill Expert features CAD tools for generating both solid and surface models. The solid modeling differs from feature-based applications in that users don't start with a sketch, but rather select from one of eight basic shapes, including cubes, spheres, cones, cylinders, and so on. Once the shape is selected, the next step is to determine its size by entering either the xyz dimensions, in the case of a cube, or the radius, if you're creating a sphere. You can also add items such as fillets and chamfers using the same wizard-style user interface; however, they are not parametric.

I found that the wizards make geometry input easy for the new user; however, it can be argued that the wizards also add a few more steps when contrasted with the use of other modeling techniques. For instance, the act of adding a fillet, including specifying its size and placement, takes seven steps in Mill Expert--most MCAD programs can do it in four or five steps.

Manufacturing and Interoperability Tools

After I finished my first simple model, I located the Toolpath command, which launched another wizard. After answering a series of questions regarding the type of toolpath, the tool itself, clearances, boundaries, and other options (such as step-over values), Mill Expert rapidly created and displayed an associative toolpath, which can then be run to verify that the part will be manufactured correctly and gouge-free. This toolpath is associative to any geometry created in the software, meaning changes to the native model will update the toolpath.

I didn't go through the same process in other CAM software, but I imagine that this CAM wizard, just like the CAD wizards, probably added a few extra steps. However, as I am not a CAM specialist, I found them to be really helpful guides. In addition to the easy-to-use wizards, there is a Tip-of-the-Day. It appears whenever the software is first opened, and I found it useful and well illustrated. The software also comes with a Quick Tour CD that loads in under a minute and provides a high level of detailed information, including animations of various functions.

The software handles all the basic machining needs, such as 3D contouring, drilling, tapping, and various types of pocketing. More advanced features include both planer and z-level roughing and finishing, plunge roughing, and custom machining. According to the company, the software also offers unique capabilities including a new function called multi-logic machining, which provides intelligence for automatically switching tools in mid-operation for the most accurate and efficient cutting. Mill Expert can also machine parts based on NURBS. This means that models do not have to be translated into less-accurate polygons.

There are also programs for running lathes and wire EDM machines, as well as software for generating machine-ready G-codes. Each of these products is only $1,995--a relative bargain for CAM software.

Machinists also need robust interoperability tools, besides functions related to cutting material. Currently Mill Expert's translators can work with IGES, VDA-FS, STEP, SAT, and DXF files, as well as import/export directly from AutoCAD and Rhino. I tested a STEP file from Inventor and an IGES from SolidWorks. Both worked fine. The software also features healing tools, if needed. It doesn't, though, do feature-based machining, so importing native MCAD is not a priority; however, the use of neutral formats means there is no associative update, should the model be changed in the originating MCAD system.

Conclusions

Programs such as Mill Expert are proof that low-cost CAM has come of age. Unless you need some of the specialized tools offered by the CAM companies operating in the high-end spectrum of the market, looking into a lower-cost product such as Mill Expert would be a good idea. In addition, OneCNC plans to release both 4- and 5-axis CAM programs within a year.

Relevant Links

CADENCE MCAD Tech News #88: http://www.cadenceweb.com/newsletter/mcad/0103_2.html

OneCNC: http://www.onecnc.com

BobCAD/CAM: http://www.bobcadcam.com

IMService and Vector|32: http://www.imsrv.com

IMSI and TurboCADCAM: http://www.turbocad.com

Roland DGA Corp. and ProMill 3-Axis/ProMill 4-Axis: http://www.rolanddga.com

MecSoft and VisualMill 4.0: http://www.mecsoft.com


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