So, You Are Shopping For CAD and CAM?


I wrote this just after SEU2012 and never got around to publishing it till today.  If it is of interest to you readers this will touch on a bit of what I have gone through in selecting programs I choose to put my own money into and my observations on competing softwares that could have been contenders.

I truthfully have no idea yet what the integration with Geometric will be like but based upon a thirty day trial of Camworks I had and the feedback from people in the industry I respect about Geometrics reputation as the go to guys for this kind of stuff I believe this will be a good integration. Some of these CAM comments I make below are based on what I fully expect from my CAM software vendor.


For my Canadian  money printing follower here is the novella for the day EH!! 🙂

While I had not intended this to be a post when I began this reply the more I thought about it the more I thought it should be. I rely on actual users to help steer me in the right direction. Now users and pretend users can steer you wrong so it is not a primary decision maker for me but it is important. I research the users I listen to by the way as there are individuals out there who talk a good superficial line but apparently don’t use the programs they pontificate on. They  never produce work for you to see in a webex or in files to share to demonstrate just why they say what they do so I learn to weed them out. Since I am a small job shop I tend to look to other small job shops for my information.

How good is support, can they work with your files without seeing them before with confidence and produce a good part or tool path? Is the company stable and not about to do stupid things to their customers whom they really don’t care about anyway? Do problems get fixed and is geometry creation and good cam paths with users in mind the goal of the companies you are considering doing business with? Salesmen are at the bottom of the food chain most of the time when it comes to reliable information and you have to do some homework if you are going to protect yourself from them and bad choices. Due diligence is needed and never be in a hurry. You will have to live with what you choose in money and time.

Just as an aside here. In 1997 Geometric was the first company to integrate CAM with SW. They evidently liked something they saw there and time has proven this to have been a wise choice for them. This same company is now deciding to be the first to integrate with SE and I think they see in SE just what they saw in SW when SW was on its way to becoming the ProE giant killer.  I think they see the rise of SE and the demise of SW as history repeats itself again with another company that has become to arrogant to consider its users needs first.

So, on to the rest of the story.

Submitted on 2012/06/30 at 5:06 pm

I’m a fairly inexperienced CAD/CAM user from Sweden presently working with Alibre CAD professional and a 2D CAM system called PrimCAM. I also make what I draw using a Datron M25 milling machine and what I do is mostly “bed-of-nail” test rigs for embedded electronics or casings for other type of test equipment. Also custom-made heat sinks happen from time to time.
I export my Alibre work as DXF to PrimCAM, and as you can understand I either have to update both in Alibre and PrimCAM if I change something. If the change is of major kind, I’ll do best starting over.
This has worked ok in the past, but now as my rigs tend to be more and more complicated I’ve came to a point where I need to update my software tools to be more efficient.
I don’t really need true 3D milling capabilities as I see it now, I guess what they call 2 and a half D milling covers my needs. I also don’t need the absolutely most efficient strategy for milling my parts since I don’t do mass production – but it needs to be fairly clever tool paths generated so the part doesn’t take 40 minutes to manufacture if it could have been done in 20…
I find Solid Edge to be a strong competitor for the CAD part of my work (also most expensive) compared to Inventor, SW and another French system called Top Solid. It’s the Synchronous Technology and Live Rules that I like but other than that (but it seems like a big advantage) I don’t know if the differences are so big. Some people seem to like the interface better in SW but I guess that’s of less importance than ST. I would appreciate comments on choice of CAD – is SE the way to go?
I also want to ask what you know about Siemens CAM software. The company that offers me Solid Edge also offers (NX) CAM Express Foundation and CAM Express 2.5 Axis Milling Add-On. From what I understand it’s fairly integrated with SE and seems to be powerful enough for my needs. But compared to CAMWorksXpress it’s very expensive, about $6300 compared to the campaign price of $750 for CAMWorksXpress. But in my experience you quite often get what you pay for, but in this case it might be that NX CAM Express is more than I need.
Don’t know if it’s proper behavior to ask questions like this here, but I’d surely appreciate if you (or someone else) would respond to any of the questions embedded in the text above.

Submitted on 2012/06/30 at 9:19 pm | In reply to Lars B.

Hi Lars,

Some significant things are happening in the CAD world right now. Solid Works is a company that has stopped listening to it’s customers and many users are going to leave soon. Here is a link to the most popular SW blog and you can see for yourself what many long time power users think. They are also going to be changing the geometry kernal for SW from Parasolids which Siemens owns to CGM which Dassault owns. With this many years of legacy files it is not going to go well. They are also going to try to implement direct editing and force parts or maybe even all the program to work off the cloud which is by itself in my book sufficient reason to either leave if I was there or not buy if I was looking. Add to this the joy of bad translations for quite some time as they fix the kernal change. Remember, this is the company that still can’t get Catia 4 to communicate completely with Catia 5. SolidWorks has the most users today but this is going to change over the next two years or so. Even this advantage to users will go away. NO direct editing in SW and I will not work any other way. They have this move face thing the sales guys will try to convince you is the same but they lie when they do. SW does have a number of integrated CAM programs some of which are quite good and there is associativity there although to what degree you can alter your part and regen I don’t know. If you totally destroy features nothing will regen past a certain point and then Feature Recognition is what you would be looking for to make major edits easier in your CAM plan.

I don’t know a lot about Inventor. Those I know say it is not as good as Solid Edge or SolidWorks. However, soon according to the head of Autodesk ALL their geometry creating programs will be working on the cloud. You can’t afford to go there for a lot of reasons and you never want to buy into anything where you can’t get a permanent seat to use. This is above and beyond all the reliability problems you would have working on the cloud and no guarantee of security either. Plus you have no idea how they will treat you in the future so those monthly or what ever fees you will have to pay to rent your data back from their servers which will for sure only go up in cost far quicker than the expense of owning your own stuff.

I did look at TopSolid when the buzz was going on about it a while back. No direct editing worth a flip compared to SE and I will not work with anything that does not have SE’s level of capabilities in this area. I have been spoiled. Cam there looked pretty decent but the GUI was very strange and convoluted to me. The modular like pricing quickly took me way past where I wanted to be and that was the end of TopSolid for me. They have also just been bought out and until time passes no one can say what will happen here. UGS had real problems in the past when they were owned by five different Investor capital companies and decisions that should have been made to benefit users were instead made to pay off investors. Siemens buying UGS ended all that for UGS by the way.

I had integrated CAD and CAM with my old software which is now known as ZW3D. I was not happy there because of lacks in the CAD side for MCAD, primarily sheet metal. This started me looking for a new CAD program and I was evaluating Solid Edge V20 and SolidWorks at the same time. I went to two SW demo days and the logic there never clicked with me. I am sitting there with these guys around me click clicking away and having no trouble and I sitting there saying “how did you do that again?”. SE on the other hand made good sense to me and the work flow I understood quickly. Then SE’s first version of Direct Editing called Synchronous Tech came out. I went to see a demo and watched this guy drag all the geometry associated with the front face of one of my parts that constantly changed around and my jaw hit the table. I wanted that power to edit existing geometry more than anything I had ever seen and it took about 15 seconds for me to decide I was going to have this. ST1 and 2 were pretty rough. ST3 was much better and by ST4 I would recommend it to anyone with confidence. Direct editing is too powerful to ignore and if you are constantly revising parts like I am there is no better way. Plus you import and work on files from other CAD programs without worry. I can edit stuff from SW faster than the author can and it’s kind of funny to prove this to SW users. Assemblies with huge numbers of parts (400,000 plus and yes I mean that) are done in SE and you can create parts in place in an assembly or edit parts in place in an assembly and not have to worry about breaking things. The Parasolid kernal which produces SyncTec has things Siemens does not sell to others so the best iteration of direct editing will only be available through SE and NX. Siemens bought out UGS and they have no intention of changing what they do so if you intend to be in business for a long time there is industry best stability here with the product and management philosophy. Siemens bought UGS a few years ago to assist in making their manufacturing capabilities better and they are all about geometry creation and customer needs. Unlike others who are getting busy doing things they want to and the heck with their customers desires.

Camworks Express would be the way for you to go. Geometric which owns Camworks is going to be the first company to integrate CAM with SE. I saw a crude beta of this at SEU 2012 in Nashville and it looked good. Camworks also has good feature recognition which will help tremendously in part edits. I think this integration will happen sometime this year. I have been holding off on a CAM purchase to replace this clunky ZW3D I currently use until something was integrated with SE and I think the wait is close to being over. NX Cam Express is never going to be fully integrated with SE. This is not conjecture it is the decision of UGS that this will be so. It is also complicated I hear to learn and you have to learn bits of NX to use it because it brings part files in from SE and converts the geometry to the NX CAD file type before the CAM program can work with it.

Alibre opened some doors for you but as you are finding out better tools make for better easier work. Alibre is great stuff to get your feet wet with but has limitations. It sounds like you intend to pursue this long-term as a living and are looking to increase your capabilities which will increase your income with more work because you can offer more to your customers. I don’t like paying for these programs any more than anyone else but there are things I can do with SE that even after four years still make me grin. I can’t believe that I used to think parametric history based stuff was so good. I bring a part into ZW3D to cut and I refuse to edit a part there. Back to SE it goes. I believed with my own time and money that SE was the best midrange MCAD modeler out there when I bought it and four years later it is vastly better. It saves me time and money over what I used to use even though it cost me more. With Geometric integrating soon with SE I would have it no other way. If you are serious about getting better tools for the future I recommend without reservation SE which I have used for four years now so I have experience. With the Geometric stuff I have very little experience but users I talk to say good things and the time I have spent with it in a thirty day trial looked good enough to me to decide to buy it when it is integrated with SE. I would do it sooner but I just can’t stand the thought of having to pay for SW just so I can use CamWorks so I will wait. You never find the crummy sides to a program in a thirty-day trial there is just not enough time. What I have seen though looks good enough and I know that every CAM program out there has problems no matter how expensive it is so there is no perfect choice.

I think the selection of CAD and CAM is a serious issue for users in both up front money and then in time spent to learn. I don’t like sales reps as a result as I have heard more garbage from them about CAM programs in the last half-year and I have become quite cynical about anything that comes out of their mouths. They just want a sale and the heck with you. I know from personal experience the cost and grief and also the benefits of software. What you are reading here today are my conclusions arrived at by spending my own time and money and I hope they are of help to you. You will have to improve your software if you intend to grow and not drag inefficiencies and problems with you though. Good luck and never be in a hurry to make a choice.

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