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CAD/CAM Software

As technology in the CAD/CAM sector continues to evolve and improve, Rob Fletcher takes a look at the latest packages and how they could improve your output and bottom line

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The Grain Sign Company has maximised the potential of ArtCAM Pro Software from Delcam, creating high-quality products that have made it famous the world over

Profits me hearties!

While the introduction of new and exciting technology may be regarded as a mainly positive thing, at the same time it has the potential to raise customers’ ambitions when it comes to producing the final product. What may previously have been a straightforward project could well turn into a more advanced one, as the customer is all too aware of what can be achieved using new technology.

It is here where tools such as computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software come into play. Many sign-makers are already taking advantage of such software, using it to boost their production processes in order to meet the many varied demands of the modern customer—be it 2D or 3D production.

With this in mind, what new products are available on the market and how can they specifically help sign-makers improve output?

Optimising production

UK-based Vectric is one company that supplies CAD and CAM software to sign-makers in order to allow them to create 2D and 3D signs and signage-components with CNC routers.

Vectric claims its software can be used to help produce a range of signage, such as this example of exterior lettering. Picture courtesy of Brian Quinter

James Booth, commercial director, says the combination of effective software and a solid CNC router offers a number of benefits to the user, outlining five areas in which sign-makers can benefit—optimised material yield, error reduction, design flexibility, repeatability and accuracy.

Leading on from this, Booth explains that Vectric has a number of software options on offer—with these solutions suited to businesses of all sizes.

“From extensive experience in the industry we know a lot of software products were aimed at large organisations but not small- to medium-sized businesses—or even hobbyists—using CNCs. So, we decided on a different approach that we believe provides the right products and business relationship that’s a better fit for most.”

With this in mind, Booth goes on to highlight the two Vectric options best suited to sign-makers—VCarve Pro and Aspire, which have both recently been upgraded. VCarve Pro is a production CNC-routing package that enables users to import or create their own 2D design data using a range of drawing and editing tools, before choosing from a selection of toolpath options to cut parts.

Vectric’s VCarve Pro production CNC-routing package enables users to import or create their own 2D design data using drawing and editing tools, before choosing toolpath options to cut parts

Booth comments: “The machining options offer excellent control on the basic 2D operations such as profiling, pocketing and drilling along with the ability to create more advanced 2.5D shapes using texture carving, v-carving or prism carving coupled with time saving tools such as automatic inlay options and toolpath templates. For most sign-makers, this would provide a complete software toolbox for their day-to-day work as well as more complex jobs.”

Aspire features the same interface, workflow and 2D/2.5D feature as VCarve Pro, but also offers a set of functions to import, edit and create 3D relief models along with toolpath options to ‘rough’ and ‘finish’ these parts.

“Aspire provides the complete solution for making either 2D or 3D signage with your CNC router,” Booth explains, adding: “There is an easy and economic path for customers who to start with VCarve Pro and then have the option later to add more 3D capability to their CNC work.”

Aspire provides the complete solution for making either 2D or 3D signage with your CNC router

In addition, Vectric also owns a company called Vector Art 3D, which provides ready-to-carve 3D clip art models. These models can be scaled and adjusted to fit certain jobs before being ‘toolpathed’ using the free Vector Art 3D Machinist software from the Vector Art 3D website or other 3D programs.

Another example of how Vectric software can help sign-makers produce accurate forms of signage. Picture courtesy of Charles Eck

Booth expands on this by explaining that Vectric offers customers the chance to download any software before actually purchasing it, as well as access to training material online. He says this approach allows customers to get to grips with the software properly and ensure it is the right solution for them.

He adds: “There is a limitation on what can actually be cut with the trial version but it has full access to all the functions in the program allowing our customers to use it to ensure the software does what they want, that they know they can learn to use it and that it will communicate correctly with their chosen CNC.”

Tailored solutions

Software solutions provider Delcam also has options on offer to companies in the CAD/CAM sector in the form of its popular ArtCAM series. ArtCAM is a range of software packages that can be tailored so that sign-makers can create a range of applications such as 2D engraved plaques and light boxes, and highly detailed 3D signage.

Rebecca Freemantle, marketing manager of ArtCAM, comments: “ArtCAM comes with an array of strategies to help maximise output and take on new orders.  There is a long list but one of the key elements from a design aspect is that it comes with over 600 pieces of free clipart should sign-makers wish to quickly add 3D elements to their sign.

“ArtCAM also comes with a number of machining strategies to give the best machining finish and time. For example, if a sign is too big for the CNC machine it can be cut up into smaller relief slices that can be pieced together after machining. Multiple signs or pieces can be automatically nested in the optimum position on the material to prevent material wastage.

“Additionally, ArtCAM allows the user to simulate how their machined sign will look. This gives them the opportunity to make any amendments prior to machining, preventing time or material being wasted.”

Delcam has three products in the ArtCAM range that have been designed to help sign-makers—ArtCAM Express, ArtCAM Insignia and Art-CAM Pro.

An example of the type of work that can be produced using Delcam’s ArtCAM software. Picture courtesy of Image Technique

ArtCAM Express is an entry-level option that can be upgraded with additional modules so that the sign-maker can tailor it to match their needs. The solution also comes complete with over 600 free 3D models.

ArtCAM Insignia is an introductory 3D modelling and production machining package that Freemantle says allows sign-makers to quickly convert vector drawings or bitmap images into 3D relief artwork with a click of a button.

Finally, ArtCAM Pro is a more advanced option that offers of 2D and 3D design and machining strategies that Freemantle claims help create, ‘stunning and complex designs whilst reducing time and material wastage’.

Freemantle also reveals that the company is currently in the process of testing the next release of ArtCAM. She explains that the new solution features a host of new developments that will allow sign-makers, ‘even greater design freedom’.

Freemantle adds: “By purchasing a product that is regularly developed with both new and improved functionality, fully supported by the development company and the ability to upgrade to more powerful solutions effortlessly, sign-makers can feel secure in accepting any new and challenging customer orders.”

Exciting future

SAi is another company that provides CAD/CAM solutions to the sign-making, digital printing, screen printing and CNC machining industries. Jurgen Verhulst, application specialist for sign-making products, said the firm’s SAi EnRoute flagship software solution is an excellent option for companies in this sector.

Verhulst explains: “SAi adopted an end-to-end approach in its development of EnRoute and has packaged features in five different product levels so that users have what they want, but not what they do not need. From software for basic 2D sign-making with design tools, to the advanced versions for 2D and 3D work, and CNC plasma, waterjet and laser cutting machines, EnRoute packages offer easy, intuitive interfaces, fast and efficient vectorising, and efficient nesting for minimum material waste.

(Above and below) Jurgen Verhulst, application specialist sign-making products at SAi, says the firm’s EnRoute software solution can be used to create a range of signage

“The full EnRoute product range comprises five levels: Basic, Plus, Pro, Fab and Fab Advanced. Sign-makers can choose the software most suitable for their businesses with the knowledge that they can upgrade when they decide to expand their services and not have to change suppliers.

“SAi’s website contains a large number of tutorials, videos and user stories to help users get the most from their software and equipment and provide insights into what is possible.”

Verhulst expands on this and explains that SAi also has options available for companies in the 2D, non-CAD/CAM market. For this industry sector, Verhulst highlights SAi Flexi sign-making software, which he claims delivers a complete all-in-one solution for design, RIP, printing vinyl cutting and print and cut. The product can also be used with the Cloud for off-site viewing and editing.

Looking towards the future of CAD/CAM, Verhulst believes that the market is only set for further growth and companies in the sector are in for an ‘exciting’ period.

“Sign-making and related CAD/CAM markets are in an exciting period,” Verhulst comments, adding: “Economic pressures as well as those from customers who prefer dealing with single suppliers, are seeing signs of convergence, with the addition of services, a broadening of customer bases and the provision of ‘more than signs’.
“SAi continues its research and development, and works with customers and equipment manufacturers to ensure that its software users achieve optimal results from their equipment. Exciting new materials, techniques and applications continue to appear.”

O Factoid: Using CAD/CAM to route signs is a form of subtractive bas-relief carving. The oldest known prehistoric use of this technique is a title shared by two Stone Age works of art dated 23,000 BCE. O

Picking up on this last point, it does seem that the CAD/CAM sector is brimming with excitement at the moment, complete with a host of new, innovative technologies. With this in mind, is it time your company bolstered its own CAD/CAM credentials in order to take advantage of this exciting market?

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