This post is going to reflect upon the people I have met in direct employ by CAD and CAM authoring companies who support, write code or manage the outfit. But first some history of where I have been and my experiences. Also keep in mind while Autodesk has a huge range of software offerings my only concern and where my comments are directed to is metal cutting.
My very first bit of software was Surfcam’s 2D Free. A short-lived program for me since right after I got it Surfcam ended it and it became a $4,500.00 buy it to use it cost for basic mill and lathe which I did. In came a fellow by the name of Earl Thornton who was selling VX which was a design and machining all in one program around 2005 or so. The problem was now you have a CNC machine and a CAM program how do you feed the CAM program. Why with CAD of course and to me 3D and working off of shapes made immediate sense. Lots of 2D CAD shops at that time and this shop never entertained the idea of running CAM with 2D.
With the exception of Earl the rest of the VX CADCAM employees were unknowns to me to be able to know what they did as hobbies or for personal entertainment. Earl was good and today has moved on to Powermill at a company that makes auto floor mat molds with endmills so small at times I don’t see how they make them. Earl always had real life practical experience from the first time we met on.
Next got involved with involved with Solid Edge which became my design program of choice from the initial release of ST1 up until this very day where I quite happily use ST8 and intend to do so for some time.
The Solid Edge people were ones that did become familiar to me and it was surprising how many had actually been there since Intergraph days. They were passionate about what they did. Many of them, especially the programmers I met had hobbies on the side. What I saw though was primarily their CAD work done on their own time because they were fascinated with using it. Don’t recall any of them who were machinists though.
One day while running a user group meeting in Huntsville and Solid Edge and two Var’s who were good at door prizes were also there. Never forgot that as Jeff Walker was handing out prizes I won a Starrett caliper. Turned it down since door prizes needed to go to attendees. His comment was as he handed it out was that I was probably the only one there that knew how to use them.
I also remember things like Dan Staples who was really good at running and developing design software but lived there with tunnel vision. One day I ran into him in Huntsville where he made a derogatory comment about “my” Karsten Newbury basically interfering with the orderly progression of SE. At the time I had been pushing for integrated CAM software with the idea that unless you had an actual manufacturing solution you were just a part of the puzzle. And after all CAD was created solely to feed CAM in the aircraft industry.
Still believe to this day that design software in and of its own is useless stuff until something is made from it. Yes the only real true purpose and end goal of design is to produce something and if that does not happen it is purely an academic endeavor. The focus from Dan on down was in many ways CAD-centric and it was a fight to change that attitude. Karsten Newbury, tip of the hat to him and Don Cooper, both understood the idea of manufacturing. Neither of them work there now and back into obscurity SE goes.
CAMWorks which was the next major bit of software bought and it was a nightmare. The only one I met from Geometric who was really good was Mark Bissel. He had actual machining time and got it. I was there to see him argue about common sense workflow things with CAMWorks leadership only to be shot down every time. The rest of the CAMWorks people met were part of the problem. I swear cubical CAM software developers who have never cut metal or observed in person the end results of their programming are the bane of a machinists day and the backbone of Geometric’s CAM programmer base. Woe unto you who enter into the world of CAM software where those who author it don’t use it and the company does not own a single piece of equipment to test what they created on. And then add to that ignore you if they possibly can when you come to them with show stopping problems.
Such was the case of CAMWorks almost all the time I was involved in it. We, that is the users, were the problem for why CW did not work right. WE never followed proper modeling procedures and so WE were the reason for our tales of woe. Of course proper modeling was laughable with Solid Edge ST since any way you got there was OK but that statement became CAMWorks end all be all defense against angry customers for some time.
By the way as an aside here. I had current seats of Volumill inside of CW4SE and HSM at the same time a little over a year ago. At that time with same feeds and speeds and machine and material and end mills Volumill never won against Adaptive clearing. Most of the time it lost by a significant margin and at best came merely close to Adaptive. HSM 3D Adaptive is today’s premier high speed machining tool path generator and if you doubt it try it for yourself. Seeing makes a believer out of you. There is no comparison favorable to CW in regards to ease of use either.
Now all this has been a lot of verbiage to get to this point but I want no doubt in anyone’s mind the process and experience traveled through before getting on board with Autodesk because of HSM.
What a breath of fresh air HSM was. In fact it was my original recommendation for integration with Solid Edge https://solidedging.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/solidworks-and-hsm-works-and-why-not-hsm-edge/ until Autodesk screwed that one up. With Intuitive and simple to use and tons of behind the scenes logic built into the program that just worked for all my 3axis milling no matter what the part complexity. Lathe was and is pretty crude compared to other programs but still does the basic things my shop needs. This shops requirements are pretty simple compared to mill turn or four and five or more axis parts. In other words this shop probably represents 80%+ of the job shop metal cutting market. There you go, a number I just created with no way of verifying it but that seems to be the way it is in the shops around here.
Over the two past years where I have become privy to behind the scenes decisions and the people involved in making them at Autodesk and HSM it has been a complete eye opener into what a true manufacturing ecosphere entails. It’s primary requirement is the involvement of those both in charge and as coders and support in actually producing things with the software. Yes I mean with their own hands.
I think I can talk about this little story. If you were with HSM and Carl Bass wanted to meet with you to buy you out what do you think would be his first question to you? Well whatever you think it should have been what it became was a question on HSM 5 axis posts. As it turns out Carl runs and programs himself. I think he picked HSM as Autodesk’s first CAM acquisition based upon personal knowledge of the product and I bet he had a seat and had used it himself on his own equipment. I do not know of any other major corporate software honcho who has his perspective on manufacturing based upon personal hands on experience to truly understand our maker problems.
Hearing about Carl as a story was great but the advisory meeting was an entirely different animal. Sitting in a room with perhaps sixty or so individuals as we introduced ourselves and what exactly we did I was amazed. Amazed at how many actual Autodesk employees involved in Fusion360 and HSM had desk top or Tormach or metal-cutting something residing in their homes and garages. I thought to myself as people spoke up how unbelievably high was the percentage of Autodesk dudes who were real-time metal cutters.
The talk about Pier 9 and what was coming up. Bass himself has enough CNC equipment to be his own personal test lab and now they have the Pier to add to it. More capabilities coming and testing for how it all works and works with various tools to better refine the CAM programs is ongoing and continuous as far as I can tell.
Yeah that’s right. Gobs of these guys USE what they are a part of creating.
Here is a prime example of what I had run into before HSM with CAMWorks for example. They sent one of their support guys to my shop to cut parts using SE and CW4SE on my brand new VF4 to have video for the upcoming SEU. The first picture I call “Why Carve When You Can Trench”. Their guy shoved a Helical endmill at rapid speeds right through the work piece. Before I could hit the big red button it had flown through four cuts and how it survived is a mystery to me.
The second one is the famous CW demo car and represents the best finish he came up with before we quit trying. Keep in mind I am watching all this and stunned by what Geometric sent to my shop as expert talent to create video for a new product launch The third represents his best finish on one of CAMWorks timeless never changed demo models. It took two plus DAYS before I told him we were going to do it my way primarily with a bull nose end mill and not a ball end mill. This was his best finish and of course the bull nose was far superior to the experts ball nose choice. I have kept these pictures because this whole experience was surreal and little did I know at the time indicative of what would also be my future experiences with these clowns.
Attention all you software authoring companies. Don’t make customers who hate you because of how you treat them. They will never forget.
In contrast all the guys I have met with HSM are sharp. They were I am quite certain fully vetted by people who knew what they were looking at before they were hired. I have never had bad advice. As a matter of fact the only two bad experiences I have had since I have been on board with Autodesk HSM is the garbage support model from Hagerman (Moving to Selway will solve the support problems and if you cut chips for a living and use HSM or Fusion I recommend you check them or Nexgen out. Selway in particular sells CNC machines and machining software and they get it.) and the advent of subscription only for new customers. (Sorry guys I could have said Inventor HSM Pro but I love HSM and not Inventor which it is attached to.) It has also taken time to get on the ball with some long-term shortfalls but I believe they know what they are and have and are hiring people to fix these problems.
Even Delcam was a disappointment to me. I looked at Featurecam before Delcam was bought out by Autodesk and sad to say the local rep could not do 3axis parts. His comment was they had not trained him yet to do so. My thought was you work on any sort of commission you better darned well learn what you are TRYING to sell.
Of them all in my own personal experience only the Autodesk, HSM and Fusion people have really impressed me as being knowledgeable and hands on with the end goal of a machine shop owner. To make parts and more money per part at the end of the day.
Another great post.
Thanks Al, I enjoyed being able to write it.