ALPHACAM Integration Helps Smart Factory Ethos
Enhancements to Automation, Clamps, Nesting and Solid Machining in Latest Release
An array of new and enhanced functionality, and seamless integration with other software packages, ensures the latest release of ALPHACAM stays at the forefront of helping manufacturers create Smart Factories, in line with Industry 4.0.
Updates to the Automation Manager in ALPHACAM 2021 assist users to prepare jobs for processing as well as managing them.
Product Manager Chip Martin says the order of layers and machining styles can now be modified. “The order defined in the layer mapping setup will be used for applying the toolpaths, and users can now control the order of the toolpaths while defining how the part will be machined. However, the Machining Order option can still be used for ordering operations by tool.”
Automation Manager now shows the list of parts that could not be nested, so the operator can either cancel them or process them in a future job. An option to create a new job containing only the parts that could be nested is also available for further automation.
Enhancement to the user interface provide full control on which part properties the operator wants to see. “In previous versions, users could only see the part names, and needed to click each part individually for more information. Now they can see key details such as height, quantity, if the part is nested, and any of the part’s properties.”
The new Folder Watcher allows jobs to be processed autonomously via Automation Manager. Chip Martin says this tool is ideal to use in both a well-established manufacturing process, as well as where orders are created through ERP software or any other system outside ALPHACAM. “It watches a folder, and as soon as an order is created, it automatically processes it using Automation Manager without the user having to do anything.”
Moving on to CAD – Geometry Node editing has been improved to allow multiple elements to be converted to a single line or arc. Prompts will also appear about node selection when two or more nodes overlap. It’s also possible now, to break and join one or multiple paths without having to leave this command, making it a more complete tool for modifying and fixing 2D geometries.
ALPHACAM’s heavy investment in machining solids directly, without the need to create geometries, has led to a major improvement regarding automation. “Previously, it’s not been possible to automate this, as the solid faces to be machined always had to be picked manually. But in the same way that geometries in layers can be machined using Machining Styles, solid model faces can now be added to layers. Machining styles are created from a variety of operations, and users can easily machine solid faces in that layer without having to manually select the faces.”
A new option to Optimize Toolpath Overlapping significantly improves material usage in nesting. It allows toolpaths around different parts to overlap, provided the tool doesn’t cause any damage. Additional distances are applied where required to protect the parts, while still allowing the toolpaths to overlap. He says the new option also brings notable nesting improvements when tools with a larger diameter are used inside the part, but a smaller tool is needed to cut the outer shape. “In earlier releases, nesting would use the largest tool to define the overlap between parts, to avoid toolpaths damaging other components. Now, the nesting engine uses the outer tool diameter to define the overlap.”
Another enhancement enables solids to be nested with their geometries. “As nesting is a 2D solution, it’s not yet possible to nest parts containing workplanes, but as solids can now be placed in the nested sheet it’s possible to machine the solid after it’s been positioned there. Toolpaths can be applied directly to the solid and solid faces and the user can even carry out another operation to extract geometries from the solids, and then machine those geometries. It means that after nesting, it’s possible to machine geometries and solid features using more than 3-axis.”
Using a new project manager page called Clamp Insert, clamps and fixtures can be dragged and dropped into drawings, and then an XY location chosen to insert them. Once they’re in place, ALPHACAM automatically reads the material thickness and places the clamp at the correct Z level. “It’s also possible to define if the clamp will be positioned below or if it will be holding down the material, and allows the user to rotate the clamps on insert,” says Chip Martin. He adds that this is part of a long-term project making it easier to use clamps in ALPHACAM, and that future releases will extend it to more complex clamps with several movable components, such as rails and pods.
NCSIMUL Essential has been integrated into ALPHACAM, replacing the external simulator in the router and mill modules, giving the ability to simulate 3 to 5 axis toolpaths and machines with movable clamps.
Another new innovation is Casebuilder, which is the result of a partnership with CABINET VISION. It was created specifically for small to medium-sized woodworking companies, and is used for quickly designing cabinets and case goods…and then with the click of a button processes the parts and generates NC code using ALPHACAM.
Chip Martin describes it as an easy-to-use order entry software tool for manufacturing kitchen and commercial cabinets. “With minimal set-up users are quickly designing and sectioning cabinets, and outputting ARD files directly to ALPHACAM, for output to NC routers. Cabinets can be configured individually, including the quantity and position of doors, drawers, shelves and roll-outs, and then the system automatically generates ALPHACAM drawing files for all the components.”
Finally, another integration; this one with WORKPLAN and nesting offcuts. ALPHACAM connects directly to a WORKPLAN server and uses the materials in its database, meaning the operator knows the exact amount of material in stock to run a job, as well as making it easier to manage offcuts.“Users reserve sheets and define which offcuts will be generated by the job. Confirmation that the job has been processed, is done using WORKPLAN’s windows tablet application. The main material will be deducted from stock, and the offcuts added to the database, where they’ll be available for future jobs.”