CAM: Getting Better and Going Cloud

Delcam PowerMILL collision
checking for five-axis machining color codes near misses (depending on user-specified clearances). A detailed display shows the location of near and actual collisions.

(Above) The conventional toolpaths for roughing out a pocket. Lots of straight-
line cuts to maximize cutting. This approach is fine, but it requires balancing engagement angles and feedrates, which tends to increase machining time. (Below) The toolpaths generated by Vortex, Delcam’s high-efficiency roughing strategy. Vortex produces decidedly unstraight toolpaths with a controlled engagement angle. The results: shorter cutting time, more consistent volume-removal and feed rates, and longer machine and tool life. Vortex can be used for 2- and 3-axis roughing, 3+2-axis area clearance, and for rest machining based on stock models or reference toolpaths.

Autodesk’s acquisition of Delcam in February hasn’t affected the latter from introducing new versions of its software for computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). That should continue for the foreseeable future because the word from Autodesk (San Francisco, California; is that Delcam Ltd. (Birmingham, UK; “will operate as a wholly owned, independently operated subsidiary of Autodesk, with no significant changes planned for Delcam’s business.”

Proof of that commitment can be found with Autodesk’s first notable CAM software acquisition in October 2012: HSMWorks ApS (Copenhagen, Denmark; Both HSM and Delcam have and continue to have CAM packages integrated with Autodesk Inventor, a solids modeling system. Both also have—and continue to have—CAM packages integrated with SolidWorks 3D CAD system from Autodesk competitor Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corp. (Waltham, Massachusetts;

While it’s a bit strange to see “Autodesk” and “SolidWorks” together on Autodesk’s Delcam and HSMWorks websites, it sure hasn’t stopped new versions of the software from coming out.

Powerful and feature-ful
In September, PowerMILL 2015 from Delcam ( will add to the efficiencies produced by Vortex, Delcam’s machining approach for repetitive roughing and rest-roughing. Vortex-generated toolpaths maintain a constant load on tools by using a controlled engagement angle to cut deeper than conventional toolpaths. The resulting higher feed and material-removal rates, according to Delcam, slash machining time by up to 70% compared to conventional toolpaths. The machines also run at nearly constant feed and volume-removal rates, which helps extend both machine and tool life.

In version 2015, PowerMILL can generate toolpaths that approach a part from outside the stock at the cutting height for open pockets or where previous cuts exist. (The conventional approach has tools dive down to a surface or ramp into the material.) Second, the default feedrate of non-cutting moves will double. Last, the roughing algorithm requires fewer lifts per toolpath slice. Obviously, overall cutting time depends on a part’s shape, but Delcam predicts machine cutting will be about 20% faster than earlier releases of Vortex.

PowerMILL collision checking for five-axis machining uses color codes to warn of near misses, depending on user-specified clearances. An improved display of collisions and near misses helps operators locate these problems. Another improvement is an improved algorithm that automatically sets the most appropriate angle for raster finishing in each region of the part. (Previously, operators manually selected each area and specified the angle.) This improvement, which existed for steep-and-shallow finishing and face milling, is best suited for finishing a series of pockets aligned in different directions.

The 2014 R3 release of Delcam’s FeatureCAM feature-based CAM system also has multiple enhancements. For instance, a new command makes mir-roring entire parts and projects easier by supporting parts to be milled with multiple set-ups, including 2.5D, 3D, and 3+2-axis configurations. Both “move” and “copy” options can mirror (i.e., reflect) all the features within the part or project relative to a user-specified plane, line or axis. Another new item is “Thread Mill Hole,” which combines the creation of holes, pockets, or sides with thread features. Machine programmers can apply a range of preset threads for standard depths of drilling and thread depths, or they can create their own thread combinations. Within FeatureCAM’s user interface, tools appear in a tools window oriented the way they will be on a specific machine tool. 

FeatureCAM add-ins are also improved. For example, the Port Cavity Addin helps when machining standard cavities. To use, this macro is first “taught” the standard features from a template block or sample part, then a feature-recognition module applies the template to similar parts. In R3, the Port Cavity Addin is integrated with FeatureCAM’s Part Library. This integration helps machine tool programmers quickly create features and standardize mach-ining processes (tooling and strategies). This is useful, for example, when defining standard hydraulic connection cavities (such as SAE and Sun). 

CAM is up in the cloud, too
Back to HSMWorks. The 2014 version includes a new option to enable chip thinning mode for the face strategy; a reduced feedrate option for turning parting; new parameters to calculate ramp surface speed and ramp feed 
per tooth; support for sideways pattern grooving for turning profile grooving; a new drilling cycle for reducing feed and speed before breaking through a hole; added support for overriding work offsets within jobs; more realistic machine simulations; and a new version of HSMWorks’ adaptive, high-volume, roughing technology that, similar to Delcam’s Vortex, uses constant tool engagement and optimized cutter paths to reduce cycle times and both tool and machine wear.

In April, 2014 Autodesk began offering all of that as three versions of workstation-based Inventor HSM—an integration of Autodesk Inventor with the CAM kernel in HSMWorks. Inventor HSM Express 2015—free!—creates 2- and 2.5-axis milling toolpaths from all versions of Autodesk Inventor (purchased separately). The second version, Inventor HSM 2015, can generate toolpaths for 2.5D, 3D, and 3+2 milling machines as well, and it infuses Inventor with customizable post-processors and a CNC editor for tailoring machining programs to specific CNC machines. Subscription prices, which include Autodesk Inventor 2015, range from $310 per month to $2,470 per year. Last, the “professional” version, which debuts later this year, adds 5-axis/multi-axis milling to the mix. “Pro” (including Autodesk Inventor Professional 2015) goes for $465 per month to $3,700 per year.

HSMWorks and Delcam’s CAM products are now part of Autodesk Fusion 360—a broad-, cloud-, and subscription-based CAD/CAM system with Autodesk Inventor at the core. Subscriptions for Autodesk Fusion 360 range from $40 per month to $300 annually. Cloud CAM yields solid CAM software benefits, including easy installation, fewer IT headaches, reduced system costs, and access to information anytime, anywhere. Integrated with CAD, the entire cloud-based system lets designers, engineers, machinists, and other team members easily collaborate across departmental, corporate, and geographic boundaries. Moreover, they can easily move back and forth through design, engineering, and machine programming throughout the design-to-production process.