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“Automation is not new, but its effective use throughout the entire product development process – from ideation to design to CAM programming through factory floor execution – is now having a significant impact on businesses around the world,” says Sreenivas Ramaswamy, Technical Sales Manager - India ASEAN ANZ, Autodesk India.
What are some of the latest technological innovations in CAM software?
Among the CAD/CAM technologies, two significant advancements come to mind. They are:
Are there any emerging trends or technologies in CAD/CAM software that you believe will have a major impact on the industry?
For years, the acronyms CAD and CAM have been somewhat misleading. Sure, traditional CAD/CAM software provides tools to help designers and manufacturers, but the ‘A’ (aided) in CAD and CAM often feel a little underwhelming. With the emergence of technologies, such as Machine Learning, Generative Design, Automated Modelling, and Automatic Collision Avoidance for CNC machining, we are entering an era when the ‘A’ in CAD and CAM really does mean ‘aided’; freeing workers from some of the more repetitive processes, allowing them to focus on what humans do best – innovate and succeed. For many years, the very best CAD/ CAM tools have only been accessible via high-end enterprise solutions.
The cost of implementation can be extremely high in terms of both time and money with large upfront payments and ongoing annual fees. This often means these elite tools are out of reach of smaller businesses that could truly benefit from using them. More recently, CAD/CAM software suppliers have moved away from these expensive perpetual licences to offer flexible subscription-based options. These offer many advantages, including a significantly lower entryprice point, which frees up capital to invest in other equipment (such as tooling and fixturing) that can help a business become productive sooner. Additionally, subscription licensing provides greater levels of flexibility, as designers and manufacturing engineers can access enterprise-grade tools and capabilities as and when needed – and only pay for what they need when they need it. The most flexible CAD/CAM products available today can even be accessed daily, monthly, or annually – allowing VSBs and SMBs to unlock tools that can have an immediate impact on their day-to-day business, all without the vast, upfront expense associated with enterprise-grade contracts.
What role will Cloud, AI, and Machine Learning play in the future of CAM software?
There’s no denying the impact of Cloud, AI, and Machine Learning on the world right now. These technologies will continue to accelerate and offer greater benefits in all areas of life. For designers and manufacturers, this technology already offers huge benefits. For example, the use of spindle-mounted probes and in-cycle inspection routines can be combined with intelligent software fixture alignment that can automate the setup of heavy or non-prismatic parts on CNC machines. Likewise, CAD/CAM software can already define accurate digital twins of CNC machines that can be used to produce collision free 5-axis toolpaths automatically for greater peace of mind.
We see automation continuing to evolve in the years ahead. For example, there’s a growing number of CAD/CAM products that can combine the power of Cloud Computing with AI Machine Learning to fully automate CAM programming. The most capable software products can allow the user to select the 3D CAD model, and then use the AI algorithms to automatically choose the right tools and strategies to machine the part – all with minimal human input. This level of automation greatly improves the programming of simple parts and frees up workers to focus on more challenging or profitable work. At the same time, it can help onboard new workers, shortening learning curves and allowing them to become productive sooner.
The use of cloud-based AI and Machine Learning will allow more complex and disconnected processes to be joined and completed more easily. In fact, technologies like Generative Design are already being used by mainstream manufacturers. These tools can create hundreds of manufacturing-aware models using parameters such as materials, loads, interference geometry, production volumes, and different methods of manufacture – revealing designs that the human brain may never have considered. While this may seem daunting to many, the truth is that AI-based CAD and CAM workflows are already being used to assist manufacturers to remove the waste in both the parts we produce and the methods we use to produce them. As more and more businesses wake up to the need for sustainability, technologies like AI-based CAD and CAM will automate manual tasks, resulting in reduced cost and waste, and less negative impact on the world.
How does Autodesk’s CAD/CAM software address concerns on sustainability and eco-friendly practices?
At Autodesk, sustainability is central to everything we do. It underpins our ability to create technology that improves energy and material productivity. We take sustainability seriously and lead by example with our own operations, advancing sustainability business practices, and supporting every employee to make a positive impact. Our latest impact report is proof. It shows that our financial grants, software donations, and technical training, among other aspects, support many entrepreneurs and innovators on the frontlines of solving today’s most pressing social and environmental challenges.
Focusing on Autodesk CAD and CAM solutions, we have countless examples of manufacturing customers, like Pembree in the UK, who are using Fusion 360 to design and make better parts that have less impact on the world. In this case, the Pembree team is using a Makersite add-in that works inside Fusion 360 to instantly calculate the environmental and cost impacts of their mountain bike component designs. As much as 80% of the ecological impact of a product is locked down in the design phase. Therefore, the design phase of a product is the first and most necessary stage to get more sustainable goods into the world successfully. With access to a library of more than 300 materials, the Pembree team can instantly see the impact that design changes will have on material and energy costs, and access guidance on compliance, risk, health, and safety issues.
What is your overall outlook for the CAD/CAM software industry?
In recent years, there has been a drive towards ‘lights-out’ manufacturing that keeps productivity high and has humans doing higher-order, creative work, uncovering better solutions by pairing human expertise with insights from data. We foresee an increasing focus on the use of AI-based tools to make sustainability a central part of the world of design and make. As we have already discussed, sustainability is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ but a ‘priority’ for product manufacturers, customers, and to governments that are implementing a sustainability policy. We predict an increasing reliance and use of AI-based tools that influence the design of the products we use and the processes that are used to make them.
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