Cutting Tool Engineering
May 2010 / Volume 62 / Issue 5

CAD/CAM belongs on the shop floor

By Ken Wright

CAD/CAM software technology has come a long way at the same time that computer technology has progressed light years from where it started. But the prevailing mindset keeps this technology off of the shop floor. Why do such old and archaic ideas persist in manufacturing? Of course, as long as a CAD/CAM workstation remains in an office for use by the engineering and design staff, that’s OK.

In many small and medium-size job shops, toolmakers and machinists don’t use CAD/CAM technology. That’s odd, because it’s the toolmakers and machinists who are knowledgeable about material removal.

I know of numerous incidents at several major corporations that illustrate the need for CAD/CAM technology on the shop floor. There have been hundreds—if not thousands—of occurrences where faulty toolpath data got shipped to the shop floor, with disastrous results.

Two decades ago, a large manufacturing company that had just embarked on using CNC equipment for the first time decided to program these machines with computers. Because a computer was to be used, the company felt that meant only computer programmers should use this technology. What a disaster! Tools broke and burned because of crashes and incorrect speeds and feeds, and parts were scrapped because of inaccurate approaches and an overall lack of proper material-removal techniques.

Metalworking professionals sometimes have an old notion that if the programming was done on a computer, it must be right. But they forget that all the computer is doing is responding to a command or request from the person using it.

As time progressed, attitudes, of course, changed—not! A major mid-sized manufacturing firm hired two CAD people a few years ago to learn a CAM software package and produce code for CNC metal-removal equipment. In this case, it only took about a week for the company to realize the consequences of these CAD people having no knowledge of cutting tools and metal removal. Understand that when they were hired, they were not expected to know anything about machining. Because they had a CAD background, management decided that was all that was necessary.

In both cases, management finally realized that toolmakers and machinists should be producing toolpath data because they know the most about cutting tools and metal removal.

Now, let’s actually learn from the mistakes of the past. The lesson is this: The computer is just another tool. Because productivity is one of the key factors leading to profitability in a machining environment, and because productivity gains are most likely if the tool is in competent hands, it makes financial sense to put the computer out on the shop floor.

So why not give toolmakers and machinists a new tool to be productive? Put those laptops on the workbench or cart where the action is and train the practitioners of material removal to make the best use of them.

Those uses include:

CAD/CAM programming;

Wireless communication between the computer and machine;

Tracking machine utilization; and

Editing programs. CTE

About the Author: Ken Wright is president of Keller North America Inc., Northville, Mich. For more information about the company’s CNCplus CAM software, visit, call (734) 756-5838 or enter #360 on the I.S. Form.

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