Not long ago, computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacturing (CAM) were worlds apart. Design engineers relied on CAD to create their models, and manufacturing engineers took those sometimes imperfect models and used CAM software to drive the machines that turned the designer’s ideas into finished parts.

Now, cost concerns, time-to-market pressures, and tough global competition demand that engineering design and manufacturing draw closer. While it’s too soon to call it a marriage, there’s plenty of evidence of a stronger relationship between design and manufacturing, says Carl White, director of Manufacturing Engineering for Autodesk, the world’s largest CAD company. He shared his thoughts on this evolving CAD/CAM software environment with IHS Engineering 360 contributing editor Larry Maloney.

Maloney: Are the lines between the CAD and CAM worlds beginning to blur?

Carl WhiteCarl WhiteWhite: In some companies, not much has changed from the old days when design and manufacturing were clearly distinct. But increasingly, as designers embrace new tools like 3D printing, there’s more awareness of manufacturing issues. Rather than relying on someone else to mill a prototype, design engineers can now do it themselves on a 3D printer from their own CAD models. More CAD software packages also are integrating CAM functionality. Good examples of this are the Autodesk CAM products, which allow users of SolidWorks, Inventor or Fusion360 mechanical design software to create high-quality tool paths directly within the CAD environment. For many engineers, the fewer software packages they have to learn, the better.

Maloney: How is Inventor, Autodesk’s principal 3D modeling tool, changing to make the design engineer’s model more manufacturing ready?

White: Inventor emphasizes functional design, which includes design accelerators. These are rules-based engines that automatically generate more precise design of specific parts, such as gears or shafts. Another feature that we’ve added is design checker, which automatically monitors your design against preset standards and manufacturing rules. The checker alerts you to design features that hamper manufacturability, such as too many hole sizes or undercuts that require special tools.

A couple years ago we had a design engineer, a manufacturing engineer, a CAM programmer and a machinist sitting around a table. The design engineer said, “Nobody touches my design once wants it leaves my desk.” The manufacturing engineers said, “We’ll I’m sorry, but I sometimes have to alter that design to make it more manufacturable.” The CAM programmer and the machinist added that they, too, often had to make more changes. This is a situation that companies have to correct. In the world today, the ability to shave time between design and manufacture is vital.

Companies can no longer tolerate back and forth handoffs and fixes between design and manufacturing. What we software developers are trying to figure out is: “How do you create a complete manufacturing picture, and how to you push more manufacturing knowledge into the design arena?

Maloney: What prompted Autodesk to make major acquisitions of CAM companies, such as HSMWorks and Delcam, one of the giants of the CAM industry?

White: It was a matter of looking at what more we could do for our engineering customers, beyond our core CAD software products. We spent the last four years building a high-quality simulation and analysis portfolio, with the acquisitions of Moldflow for injection molding design and NEi and Algor for finite element analysis. At the same time, we’ve been building our portfolio of product lifecycle management (PLM) packages, such as cloud-based PLM 360 and Vault software for managing data, processes, projects and staff. The next logical step for us was manufacturing and CAM.

We actually had a good start on this sharper manufacturing focus with another Autodesk software product called Factory Design Suite, which helps companies create the layout for factory processes and production lines.

Maloney: How does Autodesk’s acquisition of HSMWorks and Delcam affect the relationship with existing CAM software partners, such as SolidCAM, Gibbs and Vero?

White: We don’t believe there’s been any impact. As we prepared for December’s Autodesk University training and networking event, we expected participation, as in past years, from SolidCAM, Gibbs, and Vero, among others. So we continue to work closely with these companies.

The CAM field has distinct segments, with plenty of room for niche CAM products. For example, there’s the integrated CAD/CAM sector, which is served by our HSMWorks software. That solution fits well with such design tools as SolidWorks, Inventor, and our cloud-based Fusion 360 product. Engineers who know very little about machining can get up and running fast with HSMWorks. It’s also very useful for job shops that are constantly changing their machining to handle a wide variety of jobs. On the other hand, Delcam software targets high-precision, high-volume, and multi-axis production jobs. Delcam, for example, can generate a tool path for cutting an auto bumper mold that weighs as much as a car.

Maloney: Are we moving towards the day when we will see a single product that fully integrates both CAD and CAM functionality – much like the recent trend of including more analysis functions in 3D CAD packages?

White: We think that HSMWorks, which lets a user program two-and- half axis machining, is already delivering this combined CAD/CAM functionality. In addition, our Product Design Suite Ultimate includes in one package such functions as design, simulation, visualization, data management, and tool-and-die modeling. Certainly, some engineers want to do it all, but there are also many companies that still have engineering specialists for different functions. Our goal is to provide different levels of software, depending on a company’s needs.

Maloney: What’s behind Autodesk recent investment in 3D printing, including a new 3D printer and a new open software platform for 3D printing?

White: It’s hard to find a company that isn’t thinking about 3D printing, whether it be generating plastic prototypes from 3D files or metal parts from laser sintering and other processes. Companies are embracing 3D printing as an essential step in prototyping. However, 3D printing is still in its infancy as a tool for production parts, and there are two reasons for that. First, the technology takes too long for high-volume production, and the material science involved has yet to be sorted out. The failure rate in 3D-printed structures also is very high, which underscores the importance of analyzing a CAD model and ensuring adequate structural support prior to hitting the print button. Even in more sophisticated 3D printers that target the professional market, there are wide variances in the types of powders used, operating speeds of printers, density of metal structures and much more.

Autodesk’s recent moves in 3D printing are aimed at addressing such questions and reducing failure rates. Our new 3D printer, the Ember, will serve as reference hardware for companies developing 3D printing technology. It runs on Spark, our new open source 3D printing software platform. In addition to making these development tools available, Autodesk has set up a new $100 million Spark investment fund to encourage companies and entrepreneurs in the 3D printing field. We’re challenging the engineering community to use Ember and Spark to improve 3D technology printing and the materials essential for its success.

Maloney: Given the trends we’ve discussed, will successful engineers increasingly be people who can tackle both modeling and manufacturing challenges? It seems a bit like the recent focus on “mechatronics,” where engineers are expected to be skilled in mechanics, electronics, and control systems.

White: I think industry is going to develop engineers with both design and manufacturing knowhow faster than it has mechatronics engineers. When you talk about developments like 3D printing and the increasing use of composite materials, the manufacturing process is driving design. The old way of designing things isn’t going to cut it. In this new “maker” economy, you’re seeing more and more engineers and entrepreneurs who can’t wait to buy a machine tool and start prototyping and building their own product. They are designers and builders.

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