Speed Up CAM Programming with the FeatureCAM Plug-in

FeatureCAM Plugin for RoboDK

CAM programming can take ages…

You want to get good, working G-Code as quickly as possible. But usually, you spend hours fiddling with settings and repeating the same actions again and again in your CAM software.

Programming is a particularly important step if you’re interested in using CAM as a basis for robot machining (a great method to improve your machining flexibility). Programming a machining robot can be very easy and you don’t want to slow down the process at the stage of generating your G-Code.

FeatureCAM is a great solution to speed up G-Code generation and improve the quality of your machined products.

We have recently released a brand new RoboDK plugin for FeatureCAM which integrates these two powerful programming tools. Together, they let you go from CAD model to finished product quickly and easily when using robot machining.

Let’s have a look at FeatureCAM and the new software.

What is FeatureCAM?

FeatureCAM is a Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software from Autodesk, the company that also makes Inventor and Fusion360 — both of which also have RoboDK plugins.

The main purpose of FeatureCAM is to automate your programming workflow when designing NC code. It aims to speed up your programming process whist improving machining consistency and efficiency.

The software achieves this through a combination of feature recognition, built-in intelligence, and knowledge-based machining.

What’s FeatureCAM Good For?

As its name suggests, FeatureCAM’s strengths lie in how it handles features on the models you create in your Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software. By using advanced feature recognition and other tools, the software is able to improve the speed and quality of G-Code generation.

The 3 key aspects that set FeatureCAM apart from other CAM software are:

  1. Feature recognition — The software scans your 3D model and automatically identifies a list of common features (e.g. holes, bosses, pockets) and generates all of the information necessary to machine the part with a CNC machine (or robot).
  2. Built-in intelligence — The software can automatically make programming decisions for you based on the recognized features. For example, milling of a path will often include a roughing pass and then a finishing pass of the tool. It will also set the speeds, tools, etc that are necessary to machine that feature.
  3. Knowledge-based machining — The software can generate an entire workflow automatically for your part, which you can customize and save for future machining products. To achieve this, it includes a catalog of tools and materials, each with its own set of machining properties. You can create your own custom materials and update existing ones.

Ultimately, these features all combine to allow for fast, efficient, and consistent programming of your machining operations.

What’s the Difference between Fusion 360 and FeatureCAM?

Both FeatureCAM and Fusion 360 are CAM softwares created by Autodesk.

So… what’s the difference between them?

The biggest difference is the primary purpose of each of them:

  • Fusion 360 is a cloud-based CAD software with integrated CAM functionality — see our Fusion 360 article for more details.
  • FusionCAM is solely dedicated to CAM. It takes a 3D model that you develop in your CAD software and generates G-Code programs that can be used by a CNC machine or a machining robot. It includes tools to improve the G-Code generation, which sets it apart when compared to simpler CAM programs.

Until very recently, Fusion 360 and FeatureCAM were entirely different products. However, as of January 2020, they have been combined. If you purchase a new license of FeatureCAM it will come packaged with Fusion360 and be named “Fusion 360 with FeatureCAM.”

Introducing… the New RoboDK Plug-in for FeatureCAM

We already have a good selection of RoboDK plugins for some of the world’s most popular CAD/CAM packages (including SolidWorks, Inventor, and Fusion 360). Like these existing plugins, the functionality is controlled by a standard set of buttons that are visible in the plugin bar.

The FeatureCAM plugin includes the 5 standard buttons for CAD operations (plus a new “About” button):

  • Auto Setup — This creates a new project within RoboDK, along with your 3D from within FeatureCAM and the machining path.
  • Load Part — Sends the 3D model directly from FeatureCAM to RoboDK
  • Load NC Program — This loads the machining program from FeatureCAM into RoboDK. If you are using multiple machining tools, it will create a new program for each tool.
  • Generate Robot Program — This allows you to generate the robot programs within RoboDK without ever needing to leave FeatureCAM, which will speed up your workflow.
  • Settings — Customize the plugin by changing tolerances, scales and the exported file type for 3D models. You can also define the names that objects will have when they appear in RoboDK.

Is the Plugin Right for You?

If you’re already using FeatureCAM then the new RoboDK plugin is an absolute must. If you haven’t tried RoboDK yet, the plugin is a perfect excuse to give it a go! You can get a free demo version on the downloads page.

If you haven’t tried FeatureCAM yet, but you’re using RoboDK, you might be trying to decide if it’s worth investing in FeatureCAM. It certainly is an impressive piece of software and has the potential to streamline your CAM programming for all types of machining (not just robot machining). You can get a demo from the FeatureCAM website, where there are also some pretty good videos which demonstrate the key functionality of the software.

If FeatureCAM doesn’t look right for your needs, you can always check out Mastercam which is also compatible with RoboDK.

How to Get Started Using the New FeatureCAM Plugin

The best way to test the new plugin’s capabilities is to try it out for yourself!

Download the latest version of RoboDK (if you haven’t already) and check out the documentation page, which explains all the functionality of the plugin in detail.

What are your opinions on FeatureCAM? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or in the RoboDK Forum.

Alex Owen-Hill

About Alex Owen-Hill

Alex Owen-Hill is a freelance writer and public speaker who blogs about a large range of topics, including science, presentation skills at CreateClarifyArticulate.com, storytelling and (of course) robotics. He completed a PhD in Telerobotics from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid as part of the PURESAFE project, in collaboration with CERN. As a recovering academic, he maintains a firm foot in the robotics world by blogging about industrial robotics.

View all posts by Alex Owen-Hill

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *