MCAD Tech News #99 (June 12, 2003)11 Jun, 2003 By: Joe Greco
This past week I was invited by Delcam (http://www.delcam.com), a CAD/CAM solution provider based in Birmingham, UK, to join other editors and analysts for a look at its latest software--in Milan, Italy. (How could I refuse?)
Though fairly well-known in the U.S., Delcam is much more prominent in Europe, where the majority of its 8,000+ customers are located, along with most of its 320 employees. The company's roots can be traced back to the computer numerical control (CNC) research that started at Cambridge University in the '60s. By the '80s, a viable product was available for market.
As its name implies, Delcam started out as a CAM developer, and its current flagship product for this market is called PowerMILL. Over the years, the company introduced software for surface modeling, followed by PowerSHAPE, a hybrid program that utilizes both surface and solid modeling. One of the main points Delcam wanted to convey at the event was how the company had taken modeling to the next level with its Total Modeling solution.
The Total Modeling solution, according to the company, gives users the freedom to create and work with any type of geometry necessary to complete a job. Part of this solution is a product called ArtCAM. We were shown the latest version, ArtCAM Pro 6. Like programs such as Adobe Illustrator, it can produce line art and also work with scanned images. ArtCAM works with Delcam's software to design items more easily than in traditional CAD systems. For instance, ArtCAM can embellish a bottle design created for an orange drink to help meet the client's request that the top of the bottle be made to resemble an orange (with its familiar bumpy surface). The software can also work with bitmaps; during the presentation, a bitmap image was scanned into ArtCAM and then turned into a 3D bump map for PowerSHAPE to create the effect. Other aspects of product design, such as labels and logos, were also generated in ArtCAM and affixed to the virtual bottle. The software also features sculpting tools to tweak the resulting model.
Another program demonstrated was CopyCAD, for turning scanned 3D data into either polygonal models for Rapid Prototyping, FEA, or NURBS surfaces for CAD modeling. With CopyCAD, it is possible to wrap complex 3D logos and artwork onto surfaces and create tool impressions from a scanned component.
These supplementary programs have been enhanced; so has Delcam's main component of the Total Modeling solution, PowerSHAPE. For instance, the company showed a dramatically upgraded Morphing tool that worked similar to think3's Global Shape Modeling command. This Delcam tool can define a new curve and have the model deformed to match the new shape. What was also impressive was the speed. I thought the system was very responsive running on a 1.8GHz laptop with 512MB of RAM. While the machine benefited from a top-of-the-line NVIDIA graphics chip, it was still impressive to see all these sophisticated functionalities on a portable computer.
Delcam also showed its latest version of PowerMILL, featuring improvements to its five-axis routines, including its swaf machining capabilities. Its software for part inspection, PowerINSPECT, has also been updated, according to the demonstration we saw.
While PowerSHAPE's tools seem quite robust, my viewing of the demo indicated to me that the software has a user interface that can use some improvements. Though, for the most part, it seems to follow Windows standards, it also has the same characteristics that I have seen in other European programs, such as extremely lengthy menus and commands that appear disorganized. I should be receiving a copy soon, so I can report on its user interface in greater details.
Integration is another challenge facing Delcam. While the surfacing and solid modeling capabilities are well integrated into PowerSHAPE, ArtCAM and CopyCAD are both separate products, whose results have to be imported to PowerSHAPE via Delcam's own format. It is good that these products can be purchased individually, but it would be nicer if they also worked inside the PowerSHAPE application. This would lend itself to applications having a similar user interface; however, at the moment, there are inconsistencies.
The other challenge for the company is not a technical one, but a financial one. A fairly recent trend in the CAM industry is the advent of low-cost CAM products from companies such as MecSoft (http://www.mecsoft.com) and OneCNC (http://www.onecnc.com), as both are now offering three-axis CAM solutions in the $3,000 price range, at about 20 percent of the cost of similar offerings from Delcam and other established CAM players. The representatives of Delcam noted that these products have not affected Delcam's product sales. They also added that, compared to CAM solutions from Dassault and EDS, its primary competitors, most of the potential users still see Delcam as a low-cost alternative.
It was good to see the updated products as well as the new offices of Delcam Italia. There was even a visit to Regro, a Delcam customer and one of Italy's leading automotive mold manufacturing companies. It will be interesting to see how the software progresses over the next few years and how Delcam faces the challenges, while battling tough economic conditions.