Top Ten things to Consider When Evaluating CAM

We’ve all experienced it. You’re looking to buy a new car, television or phone, and you want the right information to help you make a good decision. You start looking at the nice, glossy info sheets and web sites that describe the products, and get lost in a pile of facts and figures that start to sound the same. So you do the logical thing – you test drive the car, look at a display of different televisions, and check to make the sure the phone is compatible with your service. In short, you make sure the product fits you, not make yourself fit the product.

The same is true when selecting a CAM package. Whether it’s Mastercam or any other CAM package, here’s s a quick list of the top 10 things to consider to help make sure that your CAM fits you:

  1. Your shop as it is today.? What machines do you have? Are they being used to capacity? Could they be used to capacity if you took a different approach? Do you want or need a single package to run them all, or do you prefer specialized packages for specialized situations?
  2. Your shop as it will be tomorrow.? As we all know, change in inevitable. It’s managing that change that makes the difference. Where should your shop be in two years? In five? Do you hope to bring in new and different machines or to do broad types of new work with the machines you already have? Looking at a software’s track record of growth and expansion can help you judge if it will give you what you need, when you need it.
  3. Your computer.? This one is sometimes overlooked, but a relatively small investment in the latest desktop PC can make a dramatic difference in getting your software to make the most of your expensive machine tools.
  4. Who’s programming? ?Do you have experienced CAM programmers on the floor, or will the software need to be learned by a beginner? Is there an existing pool of programmers in your area who know a specific package, and can you draw on them?
  5. Software training.? As with hardware, a comparatively small investment can have a dramatic return. What training options are available for the CAM software? Local? Book-based? Via the web?
  6. Demo bits vs. real chips. Demo parts are made to look good and to show off great new features. But the real test is with work that’s similar to your own. Ask to see programming that is as close to what you do as possible. You’ll be able to see firsthand how easy the software is to use, and whether or not it can do what you need.
  7. CAD and translators. ?You may not design your parts, but it’s a safe bet that you’ll be expected to accept a wide variety of CAD files and maybe do some CAD work for machinability. A robust CAD engine and the ability to read whatever CAD files you encounter can go a long way to making your CAM software perform at its peak.
  8. Maintenance. ?Keeping your software constantly up to date can help give you a competitive edge. Check to see what the CAM software has for a policy – is maintenance mandatory or optional? Or do they not offer any maintenance choices?
  9. Stability and longevity of the CAM company. Will they be there in one year, five years, or more and continue to improve and invest in their own technology? Do they have a commitment to supporting the next generation of programmers?
  10. Your local representative. This is one area that isn’t discussed much, but can turn out to be one of the most important elements of your decision. Ask around. See what other shops say about the local CAM rep. In a future post we’ll offer some tips on evaluating this crucial element of your CAM choice.

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