VERICUT simulation software answers University challenge
Loughborough University’s Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering has an enviable reputation of teaching, which is combined with strong links with leading industrial companies to create the opportunity for its students to graduate with exceptional engineering skills and real life application experience. One of the supporting links between academia and industry is provided by CGTech’s advanced CNC simulation and optimisation software, VERICUT.
All of the degree programmes offered by Loughborough University are accredited by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, and the Institution of Engineering Designers, so they meet or exceed the ‘industry standard’ for graduates gaining a blend of academic and practical skills.
The Manufacturing Engineering degree is a niche course with a wide variety of core subjects that need to be covered. Part of the second year includes a six week module, which takes the students through the process of designing a component through to manufacturing it.
“Loughborough’s Schools of Engineering are amongst the best in the country and therefore attract high calibre students with high grades,” states Robb Doyle, CAE Systems Development Manager. “However, students do get a wakeup call here because they need to pay attention to detail. The course has ‘zero tolerance’ marking, just like the real world. In industry, you do not get a pass for getting something half right, which makes the student focus. It is part of the problem with the education system, achieve a 75 per cent mark and everybody thinks they are doing well. However, all leading industrial companies would be focusing on the 25 per cent that’s not right.”
Teaching in small groups of around four or five students allows Robb Doyle to cover the design to the manufacturing phases of a product or component in depth. The groups work on each step in rotation, so everyone sees the whole process. He explains: “In the six week module we take a physical component and reverse engineer it, using the resulting solid model to take measurements and create a core to mould the part. That introduces the students to our CAM system, Siemens NX, and they write out process plans to show methods and tooling used to create the part. This takes around three weeks so they don’t get to see VERICUT too early. They will use the simulator in the CAM system and I let the students tell me when they think they have the program correct.
“I jokingly ask them to place their £10 notes on the table when they think their parts programs are correct. In all the years we have been running this course not a single student has ever got it right first time. Some have been close with just a few errors, but VERICUT will always find some issues. VERICUT looks for technical errors first of all such as feeding the cutting tool in at rapid rates. We want zero errors on the status line, but I am also looking to make sure it is dimensionally correct. They have the original model and we use the Auto Diff function to make sure it is 100 per cent correct. If it is just a little bit wrong, it is 100 per cent wrong.”
As an integrated study programme the students write a straightforward CNC program, which is run in the university’s machine shop. So they learn to program in G code before going on to automated code generation using the CAM system.
Loughborough University has used VERICUT since 1994, and the engineering department currently has 25 licences of the very latest version of the software running on high quality industrial standard hardware with dual screens. Although its machine shop has a Hurco vertical machining centre fitted with a fourth axis that has been modelled by CGTech, the majority of colleges and universities have little or no multi axis CNC capability. This creates a disparity between industry and academia.
CGTech Managing Director, John Reed, says: “Full VERICUT licenses are available to educational establishments and training providers for a fraction of the commercial price. We offer a year-long license which can be renewed for subsequent years at the same low price. The license allows the use of VERICUT on multiple machines on a college network. The software is not restricted in performance or functionality, but must not be used for any profit generating activities.”
VERICUT is offered with a whole series of advanced machine tool models, including 5-axis machines that students can use in the virtual environment. “Of course, there are other simulation packages available but they do not provide enough information and feedback on what is happening in the processes. With VERICUT I can show the students a whole lot more,” says Robb Doyle.
Many machine NC control systems also have simulation systems, but they suffer from the same problem. They simulate the intended tool path and not the resultant tool path from the post processed NC code, which is what drives the simulation in VERICUT.
A final year option to focus on CAD/CAM allows VERICUT to be used much further. For example, from a business management point of view, knowing how long a part will take to manufacture allows more accurate costing and also helps forward planning of the machine tool resources. And, before any project work goes to the machine shop for cutting it has to pass through VERICUT first as a 100 per cent quality check, which mirrors the practises in industry as leading companies will go the extra mile and use VERICUT to protect their processes and production equipment.
The latest version of the software, VERICUT 7.1 features significant enhancements to reduce the time required for students and teachers to easily develop, analyze, inspect and document the CNC programming and machining process.
One new feature that is helping this is a standalone Reviewer. This collaboration tool allows 3D simulations to be shared with anyone in the educational environment without the need for a VERICUT license. The Reviewer can play forward and backward while removing and replacing material. Error messages and NC program text is highlighted when a collision on the stock or fixture is selected. A tool path line display is optional. The user can rotate, pan and zoom just like normal VERICUT, and the cut stock can be measured using all the standard X-caliper tools. The Reviewer file can be saved at any point in a VERICUT session.
Cutting conditions are shown in the status display and available when stepping through the program using NC Program Review. The feature shows detailed information about the cutter’s engagement with material, including: axial depth, radial width, volume removal rate, chip thickness, maximum surface speed and contact area. Of course, this data can be exported and used for materials science and mathematics units.
With the VERICUT report enhancements, users can preview and customise report templates to include features such as pictures and videos and links to files and websites. These reports have become increasingly valuable for VERICUT users to share CNC machining process information across study groups.
Most leading engineering companies are exceptionally well organised and spotlessly clean. However, the view of engineering for many is a dirty one. So, Robb Doyle knows he has a challenge to educate people about what engineering entails and to make it exciting. “Advanced software packages like VERICUT help keep engineering exciting, and the software has been a driver behind the vast improvements we see in the manufacturing environment, taking the development and prototyping stages into a virtual world,” he concludes.