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MecSoft's RhinoCAM Software Review, Pt 1

By Daniel Dobrzynski, March 14, 2013

We can deduce from the RhinoCAM name that this product embeds CAM (computer aided manufacturing) functions embedded in the Rhinoceros MCAD software. Rhinoceros is commonly known as "Rhino," and is from McNeel & Associates.

Rhinoceros (Rhino) is a stand-alone CAD package that specializes in free-form non-uniform rational B-spline (NURBS) based 3-D modeling. It is commonly used for industrial design, architecture, mechanical and automotive design, marine design, jewelry design, CAM, rapid prototyping and reverse engineering, multimedia, and graphic design. Its popularity is due to its multi-disciplinary functions, low learning curve, relatively low cost, and its ability to import and export over 30 file formats. The native Rhino format is 3dm.

From now on, I'll focus on reviewing RhinoCAM. RhinoCAM 2012 runs completely integrated inside Rhinoceros 4.0 as well as the Rhinoceros 5.0 products. (MecSoft also has interfaces for SolidWorks and Alibre, as well as export plug-ins for Inventor, SolidWorks, and SpaceClaim. The company also offers VisualMILL and FreeMill as standalone CAM software packages.)

Figure 1: Example of a 5-axis milling machine simulation on a blade

I want to be clear that RhinoCAM is a plug-in that completely includes the functions of VisualMILL; it is not a standalone application. To run it, you need Rhinoceros, which costs $995. You would buy and license RhinoCAM independently of Rhinoceros (Rhino).

New functions in RhinoCAM 2012 include new core technology for 5-axis continuous milling module, powerful new tool path generation methods, hole-making operations, and T-slot processing. Also new in RhinoCAM 2012 are also several simulation modules that range from individual working steps up to simulation of the complete milling machine.

An add-on module nests parts with rectangular and True Shape nesting of parts to be machined.

 Configurations Available

RhinoCAM 2012 comes in four configurations:

Figure 2: Example of 3-axis work within the RhinoCAM environment

Figure 3: A 5-axis example

Definitely in the CAM Field In the CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) field, it was always said that simple or inexpensive software solutions were applicable only for performing basic operations, and users usually reached limitations quickly. I wrote that about VisualMILL for SolidWorks; well, here we have another product that contradicts this rule in some aspects, and it's RhinoCAM.

Compared to a stand-alone CAM system like VisualMILL, I found that RhinoCAM saves me countless hours because I can work on native Rhino design data, and this require no data translation; in addition, I am notified of design changes immediately. Being integrated with Rhinoceros means that I have just one interface to learn, also saving me time.

As their other's products, MecSoft emphasizes that RhinoCAM is very strong in three principal areas: easy to use, powerful, and affordable - in addition, they say, it is unbeatable in its range. Well, all that sounds impressive, right? And so I decided to analyze whether these claims are valid. Here is the results from my testing:

Easy to Use. I verified the complete user interface integration, with all of VisualMILL's common functions embedded in the main toolbar of Rhino. The machining operations browser and tools browser are fully integrated in the Rhinoceros. This means that all major CAM functions are available in the familiar same user interface. All models are rendered inside Rhino windows, such as animations of toolpaths, cut materials, and machine simulation. Because of the integration, all geometric CAD changes are reflected immediately on the CAM toolpath, and it can be regenerated with a simple button click.

Powerful. As with VisualMILL, RhinoCAM offers the range of functions from simple to complex, and the machining capabilities range from 2- to 5-axis. These are applied to native Rhino ".3dm" geometry. It comes with many free post processors with the option to customize them and so generate our own PP. So I agree with the power claim.

Affordable. The combination of Rhino/RhinoCAM is promoted as one of a lower-cost CAD/CAM program, with quick ROI (return on investment). This point is easy to check by comparing prices and features between similar products; however, features are relative to the needs of each customer, and so you will have to decide if it is economical and productively acceptable for your kind of work.

Thus, it appears that MecSoft is accurate in its claims.

The first step is to install Rhinoceros, and then afterwards RhinoCAM. I found the process is intuitive without any complications for simple users.

Brief Introduction to Machine Programming

Before I introduce RhinoCAM, I want to repeat an overview of the steps programmers must always follow in preparing parts for machining. These help us see how well RhinoCAM operates in each step.

  1. Load the part model ("part" refers to the geometry that represents the final manufactured product, in any of the formats listed above)
  2. Create the stock geometry
  3. Set the machine zero point, with respect to the machine's coordinate system
  4. Create or select the tool(s) needed for machining
  5. Set the feeds and speeds
  6. Set the clearance plane for the non-cutting, transfer moves of the cutter
  7. Select the machining regions to contain the cutter to specific areas
  8. Select the machining operations, and set the parameters
  9. Generate the tool path
  10. Simulate the tool path
  11. Output the G-code, which is read by the milling machine

(User may have to repeat some or all these steps for subsequent operations.) Let's see how RhinoCAM handles these steps.

The Capabilities of RhinoCAM

 Now, let's get to work as we begin the process of generating and machining parts with RhinoCAM. Right from the start, I found that it had a user-friendly Machining Operations browser for setting up and creating a sequence of machine operations (steps 1 through 3 of my list, above) and to simulate the operations (step 10 of my list). I was able to do configurations quickly, as they were quite logical in procedure.

Figure 4: This example shows the Machining browser and tool path editor

For the machine tool definition (step 4), it's possible to configure by Manual Definition or Load From File.

When defining the machine tool manually, I verified that there are many necessary options, which means this will not be simple for some users. Keep in mind, however, that we tend not to constantly configure machines, and so the time spent selecting the correct settings will save complications and delays in the future - even if the initial setup takes a long time. The settings depend of the number of axes (3 to 5 axes) and the kind of configuration: Table or Head for 4-axis and Head-Head, Head-Table or Table-Table for 5-axes. The General parameters allow the settings of Tool Change positions and Translational Limits. For 4- and 5-axis machine types, there is also the Primary Axis (4th axis) and Secondary (5th axis) Parameters that include options to set the Rotary Center, axis (x, y or z), and angle limits.

In the second case of loading machine tool definitions from file, it is possible to load them from the included library that contains predefined machine, such as 5-axis Okuma MU400VA, DMU 100T and 70V, Hermle HC800U, Integrex, diverse Roland models, and generic head/head, table/table and head/table machines.

Figure 5: Machine tool definition in RhinoCAM

Next is step 5, where I need to chose the post processor. As in VisualMILL I was pleasantly surprised, because a wide range of post processors are available that support most of the popular machine controls, such as Heidenhain (several models), Haas, Deckel, Mori Seiki, Maho, Mitsubishi, Okuma, Siemens, and Fanuc (several models).

Figure 6: The post processor library

We users, however, always ask for more, maybe because we like to have a diversity of models for certain drivers, such as Mazak and Siemens, among others. Anyone in the field of CAM know the high cost of processors if we buy it them versus the great effort, time, and complications involved in building them ourselves. This is why I must confess that I was a little shocked (in the best sense), because I found a feature that'll help us a lot: the RhinoCAM Post generator creates new post-processors or to customizes existing ones. It uses file name conventions, extensions, editor (Notepad, by default), and a complete set of options to personalize the post, such as block format, units, modes, motion, circle and helical/spiral definitions, feed rate and tool change format, spindle convention, multi axis output way, cycles, variables - and many others.

Figure 7: The post processor generator

The next step is the stock definition (step 2), and for this I need only input the corner coordinates, dimensions, or else directly copy the model's bounding box.

Figure 8: RhinoCAM stock selection

After it I found the Align the Part and Stock function easy to apply. Then I needed to specify the material type for the stock geometry; the texture visibility can be controlled by users.

After I set the "where," I need the "how": defining the sequence of steps for cutting the part (steps 6 through 8). This is achieved through the Machining Objects browser that allows tools management, machining regions, and knowledge bases.

Figure 9: Machining Objects browser

I next define one or more setups, depending on the orientation; the part needs to be aligned in the same way as it would be fixed on the machine tool for cutting. This can be set in different ways: either to machine coordinate system; align to active construction or plane; set orientation parallel to XY or Z world; or about XYZ axis rotation angle.

Figure 10: Setup in RhinoCAM

In my opinion, this whole definition process quite simple, although this may be different according to your experience. I needed only to define the logical first step in the setup, the Work Zero position.

Figure 11: Setting the work zero position

Now that I have gone through all of the definitions listed above, I start generating the sequence of machine operations. As in VisualMILL, in RhinoCAM the number of options to generate machine operations can be difficult for new users to do rapidly, but generally the process becomes faster dramatically as you gain experience with the product, and know the relevant points to be modified.

Figure 12: RhinoCAM 2012's browser

Nevertheless, the environment is friendly and easy to use. Changing the sequence of operations, for instance, requires just a simple drag and drop operation. However, these lack (as in VisualMILL) icons corresponding to their type, which would be a great visual help to users - similar to the Objects browser and Machining browser. Instead, each operation is represented by the same folder icon, along with the name of the operation. When there are many operations, I found that it took me longer to visual locate specific types. A workaround is to always maintain a standard methodology for generating operation names.

Machining Operations Types

I'm not going to make a long description of all the features of the product, but you might appreciate an overview of the types of machining operations that RhinoCAM has. I hope I do not bore you with the long list below!

  1. 2-1/2 axis used for prismatic or extruded parts. Can be applied the follow milling methods:
  • Facing to machine closed regions

Figure 13: 2-1/2-axis facing operation

  • Pocketing to machine completely closed regions (inner or outer regions).
  • Profiling to machine open and closed regions by tracing along one side of their contours. It is possible to also use Form Cutters that use their own cutter profiles.

Figure 14: 2-1/2-axis profiling operation

  • V-Carve Roughing uses a larger cutter to remove material before a V-carve operation is performing.
  •  V-Carving machines sharp corners with a V-bit, like for letters and signs.
  • Engraving is for text or logos on finished models.
  • Chamfering create chamfers of sharp corners using a taper bit.
  • Hole Pocketing cuts large holes with milling tools.
  • Thread Milling cuts threads using thread mill tool, internal or external.
  • Slot Milling cuts slots using the T-Slot tool.
  • Re-Machining uses a smaller tool to remove uncut material after a previous operation that was a facing, pocketing or profiling.
  • Hole Making uses these strategies: standard, deep, break chip & countersink, taping, and reverse boring. Is possible to optimize the tool travel according to the direction, angle and cut pattern, and to base the hole selection on size, color, layer, and order of creation.

Figure 15: Hole making

  1. 3-axis used for complex sculpted shape machining.
  • Horizontal Roughing roughs out the material in horizontal layers using constant Z cutting; it works very well in RhinoCAM.

Figure 16: Horizontal roughing

  • Horizontal Re-Roughing machines only the material that wasn't removed in the previous horizontal roughing operation.
  • Plunge Roughing removes material faster while lengthening the tool life. It makes a series of overlapping plunges to remove cylindrical plugs of material.

Figure 17: Plunge roughing

  • Plunge Re-Roughing machines the areas not machined by previous plunge roughing operation.

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About the Author

Daniel Dobrzynski is a expert in the CAD/CAM industry with over 27 years' experience as enterprise consultant. He has worked as a designer (mainly in automotive & aerospace areas of big companies), CAM programmer, post processor generator, advance machine builder for CAM simulation, PLM administrator, methodology and procedures creator. He has more than 20 years as a CAD/CAM/CAE certified trainer. More...

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