Global Business Reports Québec Aerospace 2015 John Nassr, ICAM President, on Adaptive Post-Processing™
Selected quotes from the interview
Could you provide us with a brief historical overview of the company and describe any important milestones that occurred along its evolution?
ICAM Technologies was founded in 1971 to provide programming services to local companies servicing Canadair. By the 1980s, ICAM had specialized in CNC programming software and interfaces between CAD/CAM systems and CNC machines. This link, called post-processing software, was a landmark innovation, as it facilitated efficient translation of information from different CAD/CAM systems to the variety of CNC machines on the market. Since then, ICAM has consistently upgraded its software capabilities and has developed an unparalleled expertise in this field of post-processing. Our software developed over the years to interface with all major CAD/CAM systems and the ever evolving, increasingly complex world of CNC controls and multi-axis machine tools. For decades ICAM has been known for its ability to solve the most complex post-processing challenges.
Through 2010 the company invested heavily in developing machine simulation software, which uses graphics to simulate the output of the post-processor (G-code) before running it on a CNC machine. By 2014 ICAM successfully integrated post-processing and machine simulation into a cutting edge solution – Adaptive Post-Processing™.
What key aspects of the software lend to the improvement of manufacturing efficiencies?
Adaptive Post-Processing™ is new technology developed by ICAM that changes traditional CNC programming methodology by creating a unique integrated environment for the traditionally independent steps of post-processing, tool-path optimization and G-code simulation. This new methodology allows all these steps to be executed simultaneously, permitting cross communication among them. The integration allows for the in-process evaluation of feedback from the post-processor, machining simulator and ICAM’s other tool-path optimization technologies to automatically create an optimized NC program for a target CNC machine. This all occurs in one programming step, allowing users to automatically and efficiently reduce NC programming time and machining cycle times.
This innovation virtually eliminates the traditional repetitive and error prone process used by manufacturers for tool-path creation, post-processing and verification by simple graphic simulation.
The iterative steps of the traditional method most often generate errors between the CAM system, the post-processor and the simulation software, leaving the investigative work as to where the error occurred in the hands of the CNC programmer. ICAM’s Adaptive Post Processing solutions not only eliminate these errors while reducing programming time, but also allow the programmer to “create tool-paths for the part” without much consideration to machine kinematics and without reprogramming the part at the CAD/CAM level for a second or new target machine. The ability of ICAM’s software to automatically find and correct these errors significantly reduces programming time and human errors while allowing for easy movement of part manufacturing jobs between differing machines.
As CNC technology evolves, it is important that ICAM software stays up to date. What are you observing with regards to industry trends and demands, and how is your R&D team addressing them?
Increasingly industry is relying on software to automate manufacturing processes, because programming knowledge among professionals has diminished. Programmers do not have the same depth of knowledge today as they did thirty years ago. This long standing trend implies that over time, more and more programming knowledge has to be built into advanced automation software. ICAM’s R&D team continues to accomplish this with its latest development and release of Adaptive Post-Processing™ technology. Additionally, companies purchase complex CNC machines with average lifespans of 15 years, whereas the CAD/CAM software purchased alongside these machines is typically replaced every six years. Thus, aerospace companies are faced with the challenge of re-developing post-processors for new CAD/CAM systems. Whereas ICAM, as an independent software development company specializes in the continual upgrading and innovating of the link between all CAD/CAM systems and CNC machines, new and old; allowing companies to preserve their ICAM developed post-processors and manufacturing methodologies to protect these investments for the long term. Therefore, an investment in ICAM’s technology lasts the lifetime of the machine tool and not just the CAD/CAM system.
Can you explain the key features of the latest release of ICAM’s Adaptive Post-Processing software?
Manufacturers do not have to go through a long iterative process of repetitively correcting NC programs and testing them, as ICAM’s software automatically adapts the program to the selected machine in one programming step, saving 25-35% of programming time. This is accomplished through the simultaneous execution of ICAM’s seamlessly integrated post-processing, machine simulation and G-code optimization software modules.
Adaptive Post-Processing also relies on SmartPACK, which consists of three new innovative products called SmartPATH (patent pending), SmartCUT and SmartFEED. These products work together to automatically adapt, correct and optimize NC programs based on the parameters and kinematics of the machine and part you are making. The resulting adapted NC program includes more efficient tool/positioning paths and optimized tool motions and feed rates, which when combined substantially increase the speed of part production. The software also improves overall productivity by extending tool-life and improving surface finish quality, while optimizing cutting forces and power consumption.
Can you explain the “adaptive” concept in your solution?
“Adaptive” refers to the automatic changing and optimization of the NC programmer’s original part program (tool-paths) prior to it being used in production on a specific CNC machine. Our software factors in the unique limitations, functions and kinematics of the target CNC machine and recalculates tool paths, resulting in an optimized part program. The software considers all degrees of freedom within the machine and automatically adjusts the part program for the user. This is made possible by SmartPATH, ICAM’s innovative technology that recalculates a more efficient movement of the tool in space, while ensuring that the tool still travels from point A to point B as originally planned, but without collisions. ICAM’s Adaptive solution also keeps track of remaining stock material, during the cutting process, and determines where and when to alter cutting speeds accordingly. This is done automatically within ICAM’s machine simulation software (Virtual Machine™), because it knows when the tool will be in contact with the material in real-time. Developing this technology is natural at ICAM, as we have deep knowledge of not only the CAD/CAM system, but also proper machining practices and part manufacturing as it occurs on the CNC machine.
What is the typical profile of aerospace customers that you are working with?
ICAM primarily serves tier-one manufacturing companies in the aerospace, defense, automotive and energy industries worldwide. These prestigious companies include Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, Ferrari and Alstom. We also serve small and mid-sized aerospace and defense subcontractors, as well as small machine shops.
Where is the bulk of your client base located?
We export 92-95% of our product. However we do work with Canadian companies such as Bombardier, Mecachrome, and RTI Claro. Our prime market is civil and military aerospace in North America. Our headquarters are in Montreal and we have offices in the United States, Tunisia, and China. All software development is performed in Montreal, where we are fortunate to have an abundance of creative engineers.
Looking forward given that you have maintained your strategic position in the market, how do you plan on maintaining this position?
While CAD/CAM systems, machines and robots are evolving, they also have to interface with each other. ICAM successfully bridges the gap between these independently evolving technologies. We offer solutions for multi-axis CNC machines, Universal Holding Fixtures (UHF) and robots. We have a unique edge, because no other company has been able to develop integrated post-processing, simulation and G-code optimization that can run together simultaneously in a single step process. This puts us ahead of the competition and has been made possible through heavy investments in R&D.
ICAM will continue to meet the growing needs of its forward-thinking customers who implement new machining technologies by leveraging our rich experience, expertise and partnerships with major players in the industry, to develop the best CNC programming solutions available.
Do you have any closing message that you would like to leave our international readership?
Parts manufacturers should feel comfortable investing in new CAD/CAM systems, CNC machines, robots and other new, innovative manufacturing machinery, but are well advised beforehand to investigate how each of these will integrate and function within their current manufacturing environment.
These are exciting times for ICAM and our worldwide customer base as we are innovating and creating new intelligent productivity tools that do just that. Namely, efficiently integrating the latest manufacturing technology within our customer’s current manufacturing environments. ICAM proudly concentrates its efforts in these important areas of innovation and automation that have essentially been neglected by the rest of the CAD/CAM industry for years