Will Integrated CAM Yield More Manufacturable SOLIDWORKS Designs?

14 Jun, 2017 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Sandesh Joshi, a former member of the SOLIDWORKS R&D team, expects the coordination of CAD and CAM in the upcoming 2018 release to have a significant effect on product design.

One of the hot topics at the SOLIDWORKS World 2017 conference, which was held in February, was the introduction of SOLIDWORKS CAM. Currently in beta and scheduled for release in SOLIDWORKS 2018 this fall, the 2.5-axis milling and turning computer-aided machining (CAM) solution is powered by CAMWorks from HCL Technologies and will be integrated into SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD software. (Interested parties can register to take part in the beta test.)

According to SOLIDWORKS, “SOLIDWORKS CAM … allows you to integrate design and manufacturing processes under one system to evaluate designs earlier in the process … It leverages the rich content in the 3D CAD model to speed up product development and reduce error-prone, time-consuming, repetitive manual steps in the current development process, like programming CNC machines.”

Sandesh Joshi believes that the integration of CAM has the potential to be as “revolutionary” as the launch of SOLIDWORKS itself, which changed the CAD landscape when it brought a mid-range product to engineers’ desktops two decades ago. “It could change the industry in a big way,” he said.

Joshi, currently CEO of the CAD outsourcing firm Indovance, spent six years as part of the R&D team for SOLIDWORKS. Now, his clients are buzzing about the forthcoming CAM integration. “I do see the excitement in the industry,” he said.

‘Everybody Will Have Access’

Because SOLIDWORKS is one of the most widely used CAD platforms, the new release will bring CAM functionality to a large number of users, including many who haven’t had it before. “Suddenly, CAM will be ubiquitous,” Joshi predicted. “Everybody will have access to CAM, and that will improve overall design and manufacturing.”

This change will be especially notable for designers who are usually well separated from the shop floor, and may not even have a manufacturing department within their company. “The designers often don’t know about [CAM], or need to know about it,” Joshi observed. “[With this release,] there’s going to be a lot more CAM awareness and usage.”

Adding a CAM tool to complement SOLIDWORKS is by no means a new idea; CAMWorks is a currently available add-on product that can run inside SOLIDWORKS (and Siemens PLM Software’s Solid Edge) as an embedded solution. CAMWorks is one of many “fully integrated” third-party CAM tools offered by SOLIDWORKS partner companies.

The 2018 release, however, will mark the first time that SOLIDWORKS itself is providing the CAM product as part of its design solution. What has been a “pretty disintegrated” landscape thus far may give way to a more consistent one where more engineers and designers use the same CAM solution, and could even foster the evolution of a common CAM standard, Joshi believes.

Joshi supports empowering designers to apply CAM “way up the design cycle.” If they can perform “sanity checks” early in the design process, and get instant feedback on their designs as they work, the end result will be designs that are manufacturable. “Potentially, integration might mean that you are able to view manufacturability in real time,” he speculated.

In a post on the SOLIDWORKS Blog, Michael Buchli, senior SOLIDWORKS product and portfolio manager, said, “Having integrated CAM capabilities is becoming more important than ever; especially when efficiency is involved. For example, users want to be able to check their components for manufacturability earlier in design process. Using an integrated CAM system makes it easier to learn and understand how your components will transition from bits to atoms.”

Currently, designers have an understanding of the concepts of manufacturability, but lack the tools they need to get that feedback, Joshi believes; “Intuition is not enough to make sure [a design is] manufacturable.”

Learning Curve

A lingering question is how much training will be required for designers to take advantage of the new CAM product. “[The amount of] training depends on how easy to use the product is going to be,” Joshi noted.

Once they get into the habit, however, “I expect design practices and designs will improve automatically, [as integrating CAM feedback] will become standard operating procedure while designing,” said Joshi. Similar to moving from 2D CAD to 3D, this fundamental change will become an essential part of the workflow, he believes. “Once designers move to the next level, it’s a one-way ticket — you cannot go back. … It will save a lot of time, and improve products across the industry as a result.”

Reshaping Workflows and Workplaces

Will bringing CAM capabilities into designers’ workflows affect the distribution of duties among companies? “There are manufacturing companies that are reluctantly doing CAM,” Joshi observed. “They would be happy to focus on manufacturing, rather than employ one person or a small team to focus on CAM.”

In response to SOLIDWORKS CAM, manufacturing companies may wind up doing less CAM, or they could bring in more design: “It’s hard to say which way it will go.” However it plays out, tighter integration of CAD and CAM will relieve stress in the industry, and improve design overall in the long term, Joshi believes. His clients often have trouble finding and retaining CAM talent, resulting in an undersized department that causes bottlenecks, so they will welcome CAM and CAD working together, he predicts.

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