A challenge in manufacturing is communicating the designer’s intent to the manufacturing team. In a previous blog post, we’ve covered programming 3D features using the CAMWorks Library features and color-coded surfaces to automate the bulk of 3D programming. This blog will expand upon that process and give you more detail on building a process around the concept we refer to as CAM by Color. We’ll give you the why and how DEVELOP utilizes this process to design and program parts as a team.
Using this “Paint-by-Numbers” approach allows our design team to communicate the look and feel of a feature to our manufacturing team. This process required an upfront investment of time and communication between our designers and programmers. Each team had goals and desires that were not always aligned with each other. Both teams desired mechanical functionality and ease of manufacturing, but the design team desired certain surface finishes and textures, while the manufacturing team prioritized dimensional accuracy and reliability in programming. Before implementing this system, communicating these goals between the teams was tricky and could lead to undesired results.
The key to this system lies not in one CAMWorks or SolidWorks feature alone but in utilizing both tools intelligently and fully. Within SolidWorks, our designers use a few essential tools that remove the burden of communication.
Our designers are tasked with applying materials to each part as they design. Telling our programmers which material and tool library crib they need when programming. Next, the designers are tasked with applying tolerances to any critical features. Our programmers can then utilize CAMWorks TBM to automate the accurate machining of those features. Finally, our designers use colors to features that have been defined in our design style sheet. These features have associated CAMWorks Library features that are stored within our TechDB.
Our programmers use two key features within CAMWorks to carry through the designer’s intent and satisfy both teams’ goals. The first tool that they utilize is Tolerance Based Machining. This tool is incredibly powerful, but much like the TechDB, it requires an upfront investment of time and knowledge to function effectively. Once the designers have toleranced a feature, the programming team knows that they must use TBM. TBM is not used as often as Library features within our product line, but this step saves us considerable time reprogramming and re-machining features. The lynchpin in this toolchain is undeniably the CAMWorks Library. This tool allows you to save feature conditions, TechDB strategies, and toolpath parameters for future use.
These two tools significantly reduce the burden of communication within our team and automate repetitive programming tasks. As we mentioned in our prior blog post about the CAMWorks Library, this has promoted design homogeneity, but it has also dramatically increased our programming throughput.
Getting Started with CAM by Color
To get started programming with the CAM by Color method, you’ll need to build your feature library with operations that correspond to the colors you and your design team agreed upon. At the end of this blog, we’ve linked a demo part that covers some basic features you might want in your library. We’ll walk through building a Library feature for the 2.5D feature labeled “Air Framing.” This is a common feature in industrial design and is a great place to start automating your workflow.
We’ll start by running AFR to detect the Irregular Pocket feature. Once the feature has been recognized, generate the operation plan and make any changes to the tool path parameters that are needed to achieve the desired results. Now select the “Create Library Object” button in the CAMWorks toolbar. Select the irregular pocket feature and the desired toolbox location, give it a descriptive name that coincides with the design/programming documentation, and click “Save.” The operation and tool paths are now saved to your toolbox and can be inserted using the “Insert Library Object” command.
When you insert a library object, CAMWorks will open a file browser to navigate to the toolbox folder that you saved the library feature. Select the feature and click “Open.” A new dialog box will open, prompting you to select the setup reference, here you can decide if you’d like CAMWorks to create a new setup or use an existing one. We’ll select an existing setup, then within the Geometry References section, we’ll choose the profile of the feature we’d like to machine and any depth references if required. Click “Insert” to create the feature and generate the operations. CAMWorks will then begin the process again by opening the file browser. If you wish to insert another library feature, you may start again by selecting the feature and repeating the process. If you are done, you can click “Cancel” and close the “Insert Library Feature” dialogue box.
You can now continue to create library features based on the color-coding that your team determined at the beginning of the process.
Implementation of this workflow is straightforward, reducible to three fundamental principles; Preparation, Documentation, and Maintenance. Preparation requires that your design team and your programming team meet and determine the features and functionality common amongst the majority of parts. They then must decide the tolerancing scheme to be used, the colors to associate with library features, and what materials will be most often used in your products. After all the criteria have been defined, each team must create the required tools and processes. Your design team will need to create templates, SolidWorks library features and set default settings to their desired values. The manufacturing team will need to optimize their TechDB, adjust TBM settings to match their desired machining strategies, and build out their feature library.
Documenting this process is critical. Your documentation should contain what the features look like and notes on how to apply them, how to use the tools within SolidWorks and CAMWorks, and best practices for design and programming. This document will serve as a key for your programmers, a guide for your designers, and a learning resource for new team members.
Finally, maintenance is critical for a smooth workflow. Maintaining the documentation, Feature Libraries, TechDB, and CAD libraries is an ongoing process essential to keep your workflow smooth. If your design team has changed a feature’s look and intends to carry the change forward, your programming team will need to update their libraries to reflect that change. Visa versa is true as well; when your manufacturing team has changed their process, it must be driven back to the design team. With any lasting change comes a change to documentation as well. If maintaining this toolset is left out of your workflow, it can easily lead to a rotten foundation that will slow your team down and cause more wasted time and rejected parts.