13 Jun 2012
University challenge for Vericut software
CNC simulation and optimisation software provides a supporting link between academia and industry
Loughborough University’s Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering has an enviable reputation for high teaching standards; it also has strong links with leading industrial companies and creates opportunities for students to graduate with exceptional engineering skills and real-life application experience. One of the supporting links between academia and industry is provided by the CNC simulation and optimisation software Vericut.
All of the degree programmes offered by the university are accredited by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, and the Institution of Engineering Designers. They meet or exceed the ‘industry standard’ and ensure that graduates gain an optimum ‘blend’ of academic and practical skills. The Manufacturing Engineering degree is a niche course that covers a wide variety of core subjects; the second year includes a six-week module that takes students through the process of designing a component and then manufacturing it.
Robb Doyle, CAE systems development manager, says: “Loughborough’s Schools of Engineering are among the best in the country, so they attract high-calibre students. However, students do get a wake-up call here, because they need to pay attention to detail. The course has ‘zero-tolerance’ marking, just like the real world; in industry, you do not get a pass for getting something half-right. That is part of the problem with the education system: achieve a 75% mark, and everybody thinks you are doing well, whereas all leading industrial companies would focus on the 25% that’s not right.”
Teaching in small groups of around four or five students allows Mr Doyle to cover the design-to-manufacturing phases of a product or component in depth. The groups work on each step in rotation, so everyone sees the whole process. “In the six-week module we take a physical component and reverse-engineer it, using the resulting solid model to take measurements and create a core to mould the part. That introduces the students to our CAM system — Siemens NX — and they write out process plans to show the methods and tooling used to create the part. This takes around three weeks, so they don’t get to see Vericut too early.
“They will use the simulator in the CAM system, and I jokingly ask them to put a £10 note on the table when they think their part program is correct. In all the years we have been running this course, not a single student has ever got it right first time. Some have been close, with just a few errors, but Vericut will always find some issues. The software looks for technical errors first of all, such as feeding the cutting tool in at rapid rates. We want zero errors on the status line, but I am also looking to make sure that it is dimensionally correct. Students have the original model, and we use the Auto Diff function to make sure that it is 100% correct. If it is just a little bit wrong, it is 100% wrong.”
Loughborough University has used Vericut from Hove-based CGTech (www.cgtech.co.uk) since 1994, and the engineering department currently has 25 licences of the very latest version of the software; this is run on high-quality industrial-standard hardware with dual screens. Loughborough’s machine shop has a Hurco vertical machining centre (fitted with a fourth axis) that has been modelled by CGTech; most colleges and universities have little or no multi-axis CNC capability, which creates a disparity between industry and academia.
CGTech’s managing director, John Reed, says: “Full Vericut licences are available to educational establishments and training providers for a fraction of the commercial price. We offer a year-long licence that can be renewed for subsequent years at the same low price. It allows the use of Vericut on multiple machines on a college network. The software is not restricted in performance or functionality, but it must not be used for any profit-generating activities.”
Vericut is offered with a whole series of advanced machine tool models, including five-axis machines that students can use in the virtual environment. Mr Doyle says: “There are other simulation packages available, but they do not provide enough information and feedback on what is happening in the processes; with Vericut, I can show the students a whole lot more. Many machine tool CNC systems offer simulation, but they simulate the intended tool-path and not the resultant tool-path from the post-processed NC code, which is what drives the simulation in Vericut.”
A final-year option to focus on CAD/CAM allows Vericut to be applied more broadly. For example, from a business management point of view, knowing how long a part will take to manufacture allows more-accurate costing; it also helps forward planning of the machine tool resources. Furthermore, before any project work goes to the machine shop for cutting, it first has to pass through Vericut as a 100% quality check; this mirrors the practice of leading companies in industry, which ‘go the extra mile’ to protect their processes and production equipment.
The latest version of the software — Vericut 7.1 — features significant enhancements to reduce the time required for students and teachers to easily develop, analyse, inspect and document the CNC programming and machining process. One new feature is the stand-alone Reviewer. This ‘collaboration tool’ allows 3-D simulations to be shared with anyone in the educational environment without the need for a Vericut licence. The Reviewer can play forwards and backwards while removing and replacing material. Error messages and NC program text are highlighted when a collision on the stock or fixture is detected; tool-path line display is optional. The user can rotate, pan and zoom just like normal Vericut, and the cut stock can be measured using all the standard X-caliper tools — plus the Reviewer file can be saved at any point in a Vericut session. The cutting conditions are shown in the status display and are available when stepping through the program using NC Program Review. This feature shows detailed information about the cutter’s engagement with the material, including axial depth, radial width, volume removal rate, chip thickness, maximum surface speed and contact area. This data can be exported and used to help students with their materials science and mathematics ‘units’. Enhanced reporting lets users preview and customise report templates to include features such as pictures and videos, as well as links to files and Web sites. These reports have become increasingly valuable, as they allow users to share CNC machining information across study groups.
Mr Doyle says that, despite most leading engineering companies being very well organised and spotlessly clean, the perception of engineering for many people is of dirty factories, and he knows he faces a challenge when trying to enlighten people about what engineering entails. “Advanced software packages like Vericut help to keep engineering exciting, and the software has been a driver behind the vast improvements we see in the manufacturing environment, taking the development and prototyping stages into a virtual world.”