What is Brep you ask?

Brep or boundary representation is a way of defining geometric forms using edges, faces and vertices.  The advantage is that these edges are stitched together, so with the addition of surface data, this too can be stitched into a complex solid model.

Entities such as cone, plane, torus, cylinder and sphere can be easily represented by Brep technology as their intersections and edges can be exactly calculated. The result is a solid model defined by its edges. With Nurb surfaces, the edges are not so exact, as different CAD systems will have small calculation inconsistencies which can result in microscopic gaps between surfaces. Additionally, surfaces have direction, so this may be pointing in the wrong direction. With Brep, these edge gaps can be stitched together and surface direction modified to form a solid entity.

For STL data, the representation is mainly through triangles and quadrilaterals which approximate to the surface. Smoothing techniques in Brep, which work on the boundaries of these elements, can help to improve the surface topology by reducing the number of triangles required to define a component.

The majority of CAD systems use Brep technology so translation between different systems using the same technology is considerably easier. Other advantages include the ability to carry out sophisticated analysis of the geometry to determine volumes or surface areas, for example. Sescoi’s WorkXPlore 3D mark-up and analysis software uses Brep technology, enabling it to import CAD models from a wide range of systems and, because it can find edges very easily, it can give accurate dimensions and volumes. For imported STL files, it can also smooth and simplify the result to give a better representation of the scanned part making it much easier to interrogate and use.  Good stuff this Brep technology….

 

Sharing technical information in the field

DREAMLINER BOEING 787 ANAFor companies which manufacture and/or maintain complex equipment, ensuring that the information about part numbers, latest designs and specialist knowhow is up to date can be a very difficult task.

Aircraft maintenance is a good example.  Here the engineers are located in the field and need easy access to current data about maintenance schedules and components, the correct way of installing parts and need to feedback information so that other engineers can learn from what they have found and their latest experiences.  The requirements for a system like this include the ability to operate across the internet, interpret design data from multiple sources, interrogate the design data so that the engineer can double check what he or she is working on, view assemblies to see how everything fits together, work from a central repository of data so it’s all up to date, and record comments about condition and new techniques. With this type of system, companies can learn from their most skilled employees and share that information so that new designs or methods can be optimized, saving time and money and improving service levels.

All Nippon Airways Co., Ltd (ANA) uses WorkXPlore 3D to distribute and share design information for the maintenance of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in Japan. It particularly liked the lightweight and low cost format of the software which makes it fast, intuitive and affordable.

The same requirements exist for many companies that want to improve their service efficiency. Having the right information at the engineer’s fingertips can make a big difference to productivity. Let us know how field maintenance works in your company and what solutions you have found….

 

Are apps relevant to CADCAM?

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has just paid $1 billion for Instagram a small app company that has yet to turn a profit. Facebook is known for its anticipation of web trends and one wonders what this could mean to CADCAM users and if we could learn anything from it.

As the engineering demographic gets younger, the use of smartphones, tablets and social media is bound to increase. Apps let users go directly to the applications they use most and allow them to carry out dedicated tasks without having to search the Web.

Because they are designed to be light and efficient, the speed of operation is much quicker so that you can complete a dedicated task in a much shorter space of time and without the distraction of all the other irrelevant information on the Web. Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg’s vision is that each of us will narrow down our use of the Internet to the topics which interest us and that random surfing from one site to another will become a thing of the past.

Using a bit of imagination about how this might benefit CADCAM users could be very productive. Certainly applications like view mark-up and analysis of CAD data would benefit from this type of approach, and maybe some CAM functionality could be split off into small apps. One possibility might be tool library and tool reordering. You could maintain your tool library in the app, which could be linked to your CAM and ERP system. When you find that a new tool is required, either through a new job or low stock levels, the app could order it from your supplier – just an idea!

Perhaps this type of approach could be a halfway house to cloud computing, which requires very fast broadband speeds to manage the large data files common in CADCAM and without some huge investment in infrastructure is unlikely to be a reality for some time.

 

Clouds and CAD CAM Software – Part 2

In Part 1, we examined what the “cloud” is, and one of its biggest uses, as cloud storage. This week we will examine Cloud Computing and how it relates to CAD & CAM software. First, let’s look at how things have come full circle.

Ye Olde Mainframe

While I may be dating myself with this statement, but one of the first CAD workstations I used was actually not really a workstation. It was a graphics terminal, hooked up to a mainframe computer. The actual computer was behind some locked doors in some windowless room, while CAD operators accessed the computer via a terminal. In this case, it was a graphics terminal, rather than a text only terminal, so that one could see the CAD graphics.

Calculations were not performed on the terminal, but rather on the mainframe in the other room. Data files were stored there too.

Typical manframe and graphics terminal

Mainframe and Graphics Terminal

Workstations Ahoy!

Eventually, workstations began to replace mainframes and graphics terminals. Dedicated Unix workstations could perform CAD CAM calculations faster, with greatly enhanced graphics capabilities, all for a lower overall cost. Graphics calculations as well as the necessary CAD and CAM calculations were all done locally, on the workstation’s CPU. Files may have been stored locally or on a file server elsewhere.

Eventually Windows PC based workstations became powerful enough in both CPU calculations and graphics capability to replace most Unix workstations in the CAD CAM fields.

Unix and PC based workstations

Unix and Windows PC based workstations

Cloud Computing

So then, cloud computing is kind of going back to the graphics terminal, centralized calculation model of the mainframe example above. Calculations are done on the computers in the cloud, files are stored in the cloud. Your computer acts as a graphics terminal to view and use the data. Often, your internet browser is used as the interface for your program running in the cloud.

For many applications, this model may work fine, but how well does it work for CAD and CAM today? To answer that question, let’s look to a popular cloud based graphics application, Google Earth. This is a wonderful product that is very fun to use. For a product like this, cloud usage for data makes perfect sense, as it would take too much storage space, approximately 70 terabytes,  to store all of the images for the whole planet that Google stores.

However, if you’ve used Google Earth, you’ve probably seen images like the one below: This is where the terminal, your computer, is waiting on data from the cloud, Google, before showing you the final image.

Blurry Google Earth waiting for more data

Blurry Google Earth waiting for more data

Imagine this happening with your large CAD part all the time. Waiting for the image to get clear. Now you understand why, for the time being at least, advanced CAD CAM products that are CPU and graphically intensive would not yet utilize cloud computing.

Even a medium sized (36 inches) but fairly complex mold like the one below can require over 3 gigabytes of data when you consider stock model conditions, dozens of cutterpaths, actual B-Rep data, tessellated data for display purposes, etc. Even with a very fast internet connection, there would be considerable delay if all of the computing and data information came from the cloud.

Medium sized mold

Medium sized mold

 

Today, it would be difficult to perform complex CAD and CAM on large parts via cloud computing. This is not to say that in the future, things won’t be different. The one thing we can rely on is change! What are some current uses of CAD CAM and the Cloud that you can think of? DO you see Cloud Computing becoming important in CAD CAM? Leave a comment below.

 

 

How to Overcome the Manufacturing Skills Gap

Today we have a guest blogger. Derek Singleton is an ERP Analyst and writes for the Software Advice Blog.

How to Overcome the Manufacturing Skills Gap by Derek Singleton

These days, the manufacturing industry is finding itself in the media spotlight. And the coverage as of late has been fairly positive. Manufacturing is showing signs of growth and there have been several stories of manufacturers re-shoring their production from abroad.

Amidst the positive news, there’s been a negative point: manufacturers are leaving jobs open because they can’t find people with the right talent. According to a recent Deloitte report, as many as 600,000 jobs remain unfilled because of a skills gap.

A significant amount of media attention on the skills gap has focused on what is driving this deficit. In my opinion, the much more important thing to focus on is how we can overcome the skills deficit. I think we can get over it in three ways:

  1. Expand educational partnerships with industry;
  2. Reintroduce corporate in-house training programs; and,
  3. Get young people interested in manufacturing again.

The first two strategies will help solve the workforce needs of today while the latter will help solve those of tomorrow.

Expanding Educational Partnerships with Industry

One of the best ways to deal with the manufacturing skills gap is to expand partnerships with educational institutions such as technical colleges. These partnerships offer an existing network that is ready and able to equip people with the skills they need to fill an open job.

One partnership that’s done a great job helping individuals revamp their skills set is Tooling U. Tooling U is an online training program that provides curricula on everything from CNC machine programming to welding–two skills that happen to be amongst the highest in demand. They partner with industry experts, manufacturing firms, and education institutions.

Since being founded, Tooling U has helped more than 100,000 people adapt to the new skills of manufacturing. These partnerships should be expanded because they’re already a proven model of training.

Reintroduce Corporate In-House Training Programs

Beyond expanding educational partnerships, manufacturers should focus on creating their own in-house training programs. Apprenticeship and in-house training can help manufacturers get talented people up to speed quickly.

Unfortunately, the last few decades have seen a steady decline in apprenticeship and in-house training programs–mostly due to budget constraints. However, a recent study by our neighbors across the pond suggests that manufacturers should re-invest in these programs.

In a UK study, roughly 80 percent of surveyed UK manufacturers said that their apprenticeship program makes them more productive. A full 83 percent said it would help them fill their future work needs. This suggests that manufacturers here don’t necessarily need people with the exact skills they’re looking for, they just need talented individuals that are ready to learn.

Get Young People Interested in Manufacturing Again

Of course, overcoming the skills gap in the near-term doesn’t do much if the next generation is disinterested in pursuing manufacturing. In order for the youth to consider a manufacturing career, they need to be exposed to it in a way that’s fun and educational.

I recently came across a program called STEM Goes to Work that I think does a great job of this. STEM Goes to Work is a program that coordinates classroom lessons with tours of a manufacturing facility. The tours give students the opportunity to see their various manufacturing career opportunities and learn about what it takes to land one of those jobs.

To add an element of fun, the students are often given a challenge that is specific to the facility they’re visiting. For instance, when students toured a gear manufacturing facility, they had to figure out how to make functional gears out of Styrofoam.

Sure these programs don’t teach manufacturing-specific skills explicitly. But they help kids learn to think critically, which is crucial for picking up any skill later in life–whether it be in manufacturing or another industry.

About the author: Derek Singleton covers the manufacturing industry for Software Advice. You can visit his website here. If you would like to leave him a comment on the article, visit the original article at: Three Ways to Overcome the Manufacturing Skills Gap.

CAD viewers – When CAD is too much

CAD software is a multi-billion dollar industry in the global economy. CAD software packages range in price from very low to very high. Functions available in the CAD packages also varies greatly. However, there is a subset of people that need some capabilities to view a CAD model, yet may not need to create or edit that model. In other words, they need to view the CAD model.

CAD viewers – look but don’t touch

There exist several CAD viewers in the market place, each with their own target market that they serve. For example, some viewers only work on 2D drawings, other viewers may be better suited for architectural work. If one is thinking of a viewer that complements both CAD and CAM software, then a viewer needs to incorporate some functionality that could be useful in a manufacturing environment.

Some functions which may be useful in a viewer in a manufacturing environment include:

  • Ability to load 3D CAD data, including assemblies
  • Ability to do advanced measurements, both linear and radial.
  • Easy curvature and draft angle analysis.
  • Simple part comparisons, to see engineering changes in revised parts.
  • Ability to make notes for collaboration with others.

CAD Viewer for Enterprise Environment

Basically, a CAD viewer allows one to load in a supported CAD file, and look at or “view” the design data. Some viewers allow simple measurements, others may allow for the sharing and collaboration of notes. Viewers can make a lot of sense in an enterprise environment by:

  • Low cost alternative to providing a full CAD system to engineers and managers, that only need to view design files.
  • Viewers with analysis functions are useful for the quoting and estimating staff.
  • Viewers can be used by documentation departments for creation of manuals.
  • Viewers can be useful to maintenance personnel when looking for the right 3D part.
  • Viewers with collaboration capabilities can be used in communication with customers and contractors.

There are other uses for CAD viewers also. Enough uses in fact that there is a viable market for just CAD viewing software.

CAD Viewers Input

Some CAD viewers are CAD system specific, meaning they can only read in one type of file. Some CAD viewers allow for the input of multiple file types. As a tool for engineers, estimators and others, having the ability to read in multiple file formats becomes a useful tool. Obviously in a manufacturing environment, you would want to read in files from popular CAD systems used in manufacturing.

WorkXPlore-3D CAD viewer

Seeing the importance in viewers for managers, estimators, engineers, maintenance and others, in both a CAD/CAM environment as well as a PDM and ERP environement, Sescoi had released a 3D CAD viewer in 2008. This CAD viewer is named WorkXPlore-3D. For the website, visit WorkXPlore-3D.

If you are interested in trying an evaluation of the product, you can download an evaluation version here Evaluate WorkXPlore-3D.

For some online video tutorials click Online Tutorials of WorkXPlore-3D.

Do you have need of CAD viewing functions? What functions would you like to see in a CAD viewer? Leave feedback in the comments area.

Optimizing the post-processed NC code can yield big benefits

nc speed toolpath optimization with worknc cadcam I am sure that every CNC machinist would like to chop a further 20% off their cycle times. Well with toolpath optimization you can!

Toolpath optimization programs which sit inside the CAM system and work on the actual post-processed code, which is the ultimate way of making sure that the machine is running at maximum efficiency, can achieve this sort of productivity boost.   The technology uses volumetric analysis to dynamically calculate the amount of material being removed at any instant. That way it knows the load on the cutter throughout the machining cycle and adjusts the feeds and speeds to keep it steady and within the limitations of the cutter. 

Not only does this speed up machining where cutting conditions are good, but for small tools it greatly reduces the chance of a tool shattering when subjected to a sudden shock load. For the engineer, going faster where possible can produce a big reduction in cycle times, while going slower where machining conditions are challenging, increases tool life and eliminates the possibility of tool chatter which will, in turn, make the tooling itself last even longer. 

As well as saving on the cost of excessively worn or broken tooling, toolpath optimization can reduce the chances of producing scrap and also greatly improve the quality of the surface finish. Vibration from toolpath chatter will damage the machine tool itself, and will also adversely affect the finished component through ripples on the surface. 

The optimization process does not stop when the tool is out of the job. By looking at rapid movements and their physical relationship to the job, the system can ensure rapid moves are used whenever the tool is above the workpiece reducing cycle times even more. 

A further advantage of keeping cutter loads constant is that tool deflection is kept to a minimum. The resulting increase in accuracy will make it much easier to produce very high precision parts.

Working with lots of different CAD systems

Working with lots of different CAD systems – for subcontractors and suppliers this can be a real headache and especially if you are working with automotive or aerospace customers that use some of the high-end CAD packages.

In some cases there is no alternative to actually installing one of these CAD systems and employing a very expensive design engineer to run it, which can be justified if the majority your work is in the one market sector and you have to actively participate in the customer’s design process.

Thankfully for most people, CAD translation has moved on enough to make this unnecessary. For CAM systems neutral formats such as IGES and STEP or direct translators for products like CATIA, SolidWorks and Inventor are very reliable, enabling manufacturers to accept data from many different sources without a problem.

Once you have accepted that translators are OK, you can then choose the best CAM system for your application. Even if you have had to install the high-end CAD, transfer of model data is generally one way into the CAM system, so even for these applications a specialist, best of breed, CAM package will provide the best solution, reducing cycle times, improving quality and reducing tool breakage – real tangible savings.

Supply chain collaboration

More and more industries are following the lead of the automotive and aerospace sectors and working very closely with suppliers to achieve consistent high quality, competitive prices, reliable delivery and innovative design. Automotive companies have some very sophisticated communication software to share design data and maintain it at the correct release level, so that the right version of the product is being manufactured. When you consider how many parts go into a car, the design iterations, and the different models of each vehicle, not to mention the spare parts market, it is easy to understand how complex this can be.

On a smaller scale, every company can make use of this type of technology with CAD viewing and analysis software, such as WorkXPlore 3D. Low cost and free versions of this exist, making it practical and cost effective to share design data with many more people inside a company and throughout its supply chain.

It is well known that the largest costs associated with a new product come once the first parts or prototypes are manufactured. Getting the design right before this stage is reached clearly makes a lot of sense. By sharing data, potential problems can be spotted early, new ideas can be incorporated, and cost implications of different design options accurately assessed. Not only does this help to get the product right first time, but it helps to keep costs down, optimizes the design and helps manufacturers get products to market earlier. Not bad for low cost and free!