Sunday, October 30, 2016

Fusion CAM Challenge

Fusion CAM Challenge

Pretty much immediately after the IMTS show ended in September, the Fusion CAM challenge, part two, was announced. This contest had a significant grand prize, a free pass to Autodesk University.

A 3D model was uploaded in the Autodesk Fusion library, and people had a little over a week to do what they want to actually make the part. They could modify the model, make changes, scale the part, whatever. Users could be as creative as possible. The original part is shown below:

Fusion and Autodesk HSM users are incredibly creative, abd there were a large assortment of parts submitted through the Instagram hashtag #FusionCAMChallenge.

Although the contest has ended, the hashtag still sees some action on Instagram: Follow this link to see some images with the tag.

You can see Curtis Chan's blog post on who won the challenge here: Fusion 360 Blog

Challenges like this really allow others to see the creativity of the manufacturing community, as well as build community. 

Autodesk employees get in on the action too. In this case, we decided to mill the shape into a clock. Our mill is the Tormach 440 PCNC. This mill is small enough to fit inside your garage or basement, yet powerful enough to mill metals like steel and titanium. This mill has a travel of approximately 10x6 inches, so we picked up some 1x6 walnut wood to make a clock with a 5.25" diameter.

Starting with a 3/8" mill, we rough the back side, including milling a pocket for the clock mechanism.

After roughing the top, we switch to a 1/4" flat mill. This was first used to automatically re-rough some areas that the 3/8" tool was too large to fit into. After that, we use the same tool to profile the shape and finish the horizontal flat faces.

This is an important feature. It usually works best to rough with a larger tool, because it is sturdier and you can have higher SFPM removal rates. Then use a smaller tool just for the areas left over. This approach normally allows for shorter overall run times. 

After the automatic re-roughing, we used a ball nose to finish the "F" of the clock. Drill a hole for the stem and it's finished. 

All told, a person with just a little experience with Fusion could program this clock and mill it in a pretty short amount of time. Download Fusion and create your own Fusion CAM Challenge. Below are some images of the clock.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Delrin Soft Jaws - Part 1

Is it possible to make soft jaws from plastic materials like Delrin? How much will they deform when tightening a vise? Will they work well enough on parts where you are taking light cuts?

While looking for small blocks of material that can be used for milling some sample pieces, we found some Delrin which was the correct height and thickness. They only needed to be cut to length, and have the counter bore holes added.

We did this easily in Fusion 360 and performed the milling on the Tormach 440. We'll continue this discussion later, once we have a chance to test them on a real part.

Until then, here's a little video of the machine in action. 

Follow the progress on Instagram. Autodesk.mfg account or my personal account.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

IMTS Part 1

Today's post is going to be a really short one. We are at the IMTS show in Chicago this week. You can find us at the Autodesk booth E-3222. One goal is to be able to do some follow up posts after the show, what's new, what was drawing excitement, etc. But until then, my good friend Lars from used a day walking the show to put together a video for everyone. 

Take a look and enjoy

Monday, September 5, 2016

First Look - Zen Labs CNC Mill

Guess what? We have a small CNC mill here at the Zen Labs. It's a Tormach 440. Capable of milling hard materials like steel. 

I made a very rough video showing the mill, and doing a simple engraving. We will have more detailed updates in the future, but I was excited that everything was working, and wanted to get a quick video up.

See the video here:

What should we mill? Post your ideas in the comments. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

3DConnexion SpaceMouse Pro and CADMouse Review

Over here in the zen labs, we have been using several of the 3DConnexion products on our desktop system. Specifically we have been using the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless as well as the CAD Mouse

3DSPaceMouse Pro and CADMouse

SpaceMouse Pro Wireless:
This device ships with a cable that you can plug into a USB port on your computer, the other end has two USB fittings, one where you can use the included dongle for the wireless functions, and a shorter USB cable for charging. 

3DConnexion claims the device can work for up to two months on a wireless charge (40 hours a week), but I've never run it that long on battery to test it. However, it seems to work for a week without any problems. 

Many CAD/CAM products include support for this product, the ones I have used are Autodesk Fusion 360, Autodesk Inventor, and Google Earth. The latter of which is pretty fun with this device. 

Besides the puck for dynamic visual motion, the SpaceMouse Pro includes many buttons. On the left side are Esc, Ctrl, Shift and Alt, so that you don't have to move you hand back to the keyboard to press one of those. On the right are buttons labeled "T", "F", "R", fit plus two more. These buttons by default do Top, Front and Right views, fit the screen, the other two will toggle lock and unlock rotations and the last will roll the view. 

Four larger buttons adorn the top of the unit. All of the buttons of this unit are programmable, and I programmed the top four to perform the two main isometric views, delete and undo. You can also program the speed your parts rotate based on the amount of input on the puck. When programming the buttons, it's best to bring up the programming menu from within your software product. Buttons can be programmed differently based on what application is currently on top.

Button Menu - SpaceMouse Pro

Working with and getting accustomed to using the SpaceMouse Pro is simple. After a week, you'd never want to go back to not having it in your CAD package if you do any 3D design. I can work on my model with the mouse, and rotate the part as needed, moving the hand to the keyboard fewer times. 

This device took a little longer for me to get used to. It's a little larger than most Logitech mice I use, and I was hitting the middle mouse button when I thought I was pressing the right mouse button. Also, this mouse is not cordless, causing you to revert to old habits to keep the cord from getting in the way.

That's right, this mouse is a three button that also has a scroll wheel, one additional button behind the wheel, and two buttons by the thumb rest. I use those to go forward and back in web pages. Since it is a three button mouse, you can program a function for the wheel button press separate from the middle mouse button. In my case I usually have it set to fit the drawing, especially if the scroll wheel is still being used as a zoom.

One thing I noticed right away with the CADMouse was how smooth it seemed to work. They claim 8200dpi and I can believe it, especially when paired with the mouse pad made for it.

Button Menu for Chrome

These products from 3dConnexion make your job easier. Sure you can get everything done without them, but if you do a lot of CAD or CAM, they make your work easier. You do become accustomed to the devices quickly, and would be hard pressed to give them up once used to them. We give them a thumbs up here at the zen lab. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Getting volume and mass in Fusion 360

This is going to be a real quick entry today.
Here at the Zen labs, we were working with someone that is milling a sample part for us utilizing Autodesk Fusion 360. We were wondering how much the finished part would weigh, but were unsure how to find that value in Fusion. 

It took just a minute on the Fusion forum to find this information, and we made a quick video showing how to do it. I hope you enjoy, sound not required.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

CADCAM Hardware and DDR3vsDDR4, cooling, overclocking

Recently we did a blog article considering professional vs commercial grade video cards for CAD/CAM use. I thought we would use today's article to discuss some information on CPU's and how to get the most out of them for your CAD/CAM applications.

Fortunately there exists a tool you can download, made by HSMWorks, specifically for benchmarking CPU performance when calculating CAM cutterpaths. Like HSM CAM software, this benchmark takes advantage of multi core calculations. This benchmark has been around for a few years, but is still applicable to hardware today, and successfully runs on Windows XP to Windows 10. 

You can visit the HSM CAM forums thread where others have shared their results from this benchmark and the hardware they are using.

Reasonably fast laptop:

Here is the result of a Dell M6800 laptop with a 5th generation core i7 with a base CPU clock of 2.9Ghz. The overall rating is 650, where the higher the number the better.

An even Faster Desktop:

Here is the result of a 4th gen Intel i7 4790K cpu with a base clock of 4.0Ghz. This one topped out at a rating of 740 (more on that later)

DDR3 Memory vs DDR4:

We had access to one of the latest Intel CPU's, the 6th gen Intel i7 6700K. This is not an exact apples to apples comparison to the one above, but it's as close as we can get. The CPU is one generation newer, at the same 4.0Ghz clock speed, but with DDR4 memory instead of DDR3. 

Interestingly, the score was 905, a full 22% improvement. Likely due in large part by the newer chip architecture, and also in part by faster memory. Knowing which did how much in this particular test is beyond the scope of our Saturday fun.

More Cores:
Different CAM systems are better than others at utilizing multiple core CPU's. In the event of HSM, it is designed very well for multi core computing. In fact, a 12 core system (6 cores hyper-threaded), running at 20% lower clock cycles will generally outperform the 8 core system (4 cores hyper-threaded).

Prior to this 4.0Ghz DDR4 i7 machine, the previous record holder on the forum was a 12 core system from 2.5 years ago, with a score of 834.9, faster than the 4.0Ghz DDR3 machines best score. The take away here is that more cores are better, at least on well optimized software.

One interesting thing we discovered was a lot of variation in the score on the 4th gen 4.0Ghz 4790 chip. One time the score was 740, other times 710, then 705, then 715, etc. 

What we discovered was that at times, it was not running all 4 cores at the maximum speed all the time. Sometimes it would drop the speed of the individual cores during extreme calculations, based on the temperature of the CPU. 

This begs the question, what would happen if we installed a better cooling solution on the CPU? in the pictures below, the one on the left shows the default heat-sink and fan on the CPU. On the right, we installed a simple all-n-one water cooling solution to the CPU. This utilizes a larger fan, radiator, and water cooling. 

The immediate benefit is that the better cooler allowed the CPU to stay at the maximum speed, all of the time. The throttling of the speed stopped, allowing for the maximum performance all of the time. From there, for those that are comfortable, you can apply a slight overclock for even greater performance.

Overclocking the 6th gen i7 just a couple percent allows for a pretty safe performance rating of 924.

The take away here is that if you don't have a decent cooling solution on your CAD/CAM box, you may not be getting the full performance, even if you don't overclock. While a water cooler may be overkill, make sure that you have a high quality cooling system on your CPU.


With well optimized CAM software, more cores probably provide the most bang for the buck, faster cores are better. DDR4 vs DDR3 memory may provide some benefit, but you have to switch out a lot of components to do this, at considerable expense.

However, to get the maximum performance out of your current solution, make sure you have a quality cooling solution.

Edited to fix some technical errors.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The CAD for CAM wars are dead! Long Live AnyCAD

The CAD Wars are Over!

OK, that's kind of a peculiar statement, especially since there still exist several big players in the CAD marketplace, and a handful of smaller ones. What we mean is that many people have already selected their CAD design system, and they likely don't want to change. Unless it's a situation like Fiat buying Chrysler and causing a shift from one standard to another.

However, when it comes CAM, the landscape is a little different. At one point, there was literally over 40 CAM partner products for SolidWorks. Many CAM programmers and job shops don't use one of the main CAD design systems for their CAM, but rather a non-integrated solution. 

Data translation has historically been a tricky issue, that has gotten easier and more reliable over time. But it's still not perfect.

The benefits of an integrated CAD/CAM system have been discussed ad nausea. There are HSM CAM solutions for two of the most popular CAD design systems readily available (for Solidworks and Inventor). However, what about the job-shop that has customers using a variety of different systems? 

AnyCAD not only allows you to read in various different CAD formats, but what it does different is special. It maintains the associativity between the different formats. See the video below from our friends at 

Now, here is an example of AnyCAD in a CAM environment from Design & Motion. Part associativity can be maintained, making CAM programming changes easier.

Naturally, depending on how much you edit the model, will determine how much you need to change your CAM parameters before calculating the cutterpaths. For example, if the size of the part changes, and you may choose to update the initial block of material being used. 

You can see how to Navigate Translation Issues in a webinar hosted by Engineering.COM.
This webinar is January 26, 2016 at 2:00 EST. Sign up at the link here 

If you miss the webinar, I believe it will be available online. I'll update this blog with a link to it once available. 

Jan 27, 2016 edit: You can view the recorded webinar, here