From Russia with CAD
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8 Aug 2011

From the Prague Spring to a Siberian summer

Dmitry Ushakov

JETCAM, the leading company on the global market of nesting and material lifecycle management software for sheet metal and aerospace industries, transfers part of its software product development to LEDAS

When the troops from the Soviet Union and its satellite-states occupied Czechoslovakia in 1968, it had some far-reaching consequences for the global CAM industry. Disappointed with the unbearable lightness of being that hung over the country after the Prague Spring was suppressed, the most freedom-aspiring Czechs and Slovaks left the cuckoo’s nest and scattered all around the world. One of them was Ivan Stern who immigrated to Australia with a year-old son. It’s difficult to say how hard for his fight for the place in the sun of the Green Continent – Ivan is reluctant to talk about that time. In 1980s he already was a partner in a portable computer manufacturing firm, where he met a young Australian programmer Bill King. In 1986 they decided to start their own company - JETCAM, which became a trend setter in automating nesting of sheet metal and composite materials because of a then revolutionary technology of program design for NC machines.


Talking about NC machines, most of us mean mechanical processing of solid-metal blanks using lathes, drillers and millers. However, manufacturing sheet-metal products also can be automated. Punching, laser, water-jet and plasma cutting, forming, welding – all these operations have been long performed on NC machines supplied by several leading global manufacturers – AMADA, OMAX, TRUMPF and many others.

Punching machines are devices of the most impressive complexity: using tools of various profiles they can punch sheet metal creating holes of various shapes. Due to high flexibility, productivity and precision, these machines are ideal for small series, as well as mass production of sheet patterns of any complexity. However, designing NC programs for such machines is far less trivial than, for instance, for a laser cutter. To punch a particular shape it is necessary to select the right set of tools, determine the right sequence of using them (the last punch must close the shape), place the shapes on a sheet in an optimal manner (providing enough space for hole-punching without creating long sagging metal strips), etc. As a result, a manufacturing engineer must solve a whole bunch of interrelated tasks; each of them is not a trivial one.

Ivan and Bill decided to free CAM engineers from this headache once and for all, by making all tasks fully automated, and they are getting to their goal step by step. Initially the JETCAM system enabled users to draw a 2D profile in an interactive mode (or import it from a DXF file), associate it with specific tools creating component parts. The new unit (a geometric component representation with associated machining operations) is called a component. Components are positioned on a sheet according to the optimal nesting algorithm, then the sequence of their general processing is optimised and the CNC program for the machine is generated.

JETCAM interactive flow chart

Obviously even this interactive mode ensures sufficient automation and saves significant work time for a manufacturing engineer. Stored Engineering Knowledge Technology - a database of machines, tools and processing methods - plays the key role in the process. Once created for an enterprise (according to the available machines in the workshop), the database is then used for interactive or automated component development under the given pattern.

JETCAM Stored Engineering Knowledge Technology

The quality of the algorithms plays the key role in achieving optimal nesting. JETCAM uses a high performance nesting module that secures the best results amongst all known solutions. A near-optimal solution that JETCAM comes up with in five minutes many its competitors cannot discover for hours. Consequently, engineers need additional preproduction time, and companies spend extra money because of considerable material waste. Applying the high performance nesting module can save up to 10% of materials!

High-performance nesting in JETCAM

Upon implementing an interactive component-creating mode, developers wanted to fully automate the whole process. To this purpose, two levels were identified: SCAP – Single Component Automatic Processing – from a CAD-file to CNC program, and RCP – Remote Control Processing – a fully automated processing of a banch of components and orders for their manufacturing.

Remote Control Processing in JETCAM

JETCAM has always been and remains a pure CAM-system. Apart from punching machines it can be used to automate laser and water-jet cutting, composite materials cutting, etc. Ivan Stern is sceptical about usefulness of integrated CAD/CAM ńsystems (although JETCAM has a somewhat rudimentary geometry drawing sub-system): designers should design, while CAM engineers should be responsible for manufacturing. These are different professions that require completely different tools. A CAM engineer should not plunge into the CAD-part and equally a designer should not correct anything in the CAM-part. And what about associativity? Is it possible that when small changes are made to a CAD-model, a CAM engineer would have to plan manufacturing processes all over again? Ivan does not see a problem here because in JETCAM the whole production preparation can be made fully automated. Moreover, even a tiny change in geometry can often lead to a completely different production plan and a CAM engineer would not benefit from using the earlier plan.

JETCAM proves that this philosophy is right in practice, with over 12,000 licences granted to enterprises in more than 80 countries around the globe. Its customers include such well-known names as Embraer, Bombardier Aerospace and Red Bull Technology. JETCAM is a true customer-driven company: development of CrossTrack, a system to manage orders, materials and assemblies, was initiated upon customer requests. Together with JETCAM Expert it forms an automated order processing system that independently generates a CNC code for any machine.

CrossTrack diagram

In spite of all unique advantages of JETCAM that gives this system the absolute technological leadership among similar class solutions, there is room for improvement. For instance, punching machines still lack reliable automated destruction of the given area with tools from the given set; so far laser, water-jet and plasma cutting can be programmed only at right angle to the sheet surface; some graphic elements of the user interface seem obsolete according to the present-day standards, and so forth. On the contrary, CrossTrack is just at the very beginning of its journey to the customers and therefore intelligent choice of scalable architecture is required as well as quality implementation of its multiple functions and their exhaustive testing.

Fortunately the above and many other improvements will be soon implemented as JETCAM and LEDAS signed a Cooperation Agreement, under which Novosibirsk experts will develop these functionalities and provide general support regardng JETCAM and CrossTrack code. The arrangements were made when LEDAS top executives visited Monaco (the Headquarters of JETCAM):

David Levin and Ivan Stern on the balcony at JETCAM headquarters in Monaco
and in course of a return visit to Novosibirsk:
Bill King, David Levin, and Ivan Stern in Novosibirsk Technology Park

Ivan Stern and Bill King visited the Technology Park in the Academic town of Novosibirsk, which is under construction but some parts are already functioning. They were especially interested in the Engineering Support Centre, which, in particular, accommodates “GARS” Ltd. – a company that does cutting of a wide range of materials. Cutting is done on TruLaser 1030, a laser-based cutting machine made by Trumpf of Germany, a water-jet cutting device - OMAX 5555 (made in the USA) and NC guillotine - EcoCut 1030 (EHT). The workshop also includes a bending machine - TruBend 3020, also from Trumpf

Sergey Soloboev (Uniscan) shows the model of Novosirbisrk Technology Park to Ivan Starn (JETCAM) and Alexey Ershov (LEDAS)

The Technology Park in the Academic town of Novosibirsk ("Academpark") is a unique place to foster international cooperation in development of modern CAD and CAM systems: following Bricsys, Ivan Stern also recognised it. Other CAD/CAM/CAE-vendors are next in turn: more and more companies tend to realise the advantages of quality outsourcing in Novosibirsk for their high-technology solutions.

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