Woodworkers, including everyone from cabinetmakers to closet makers to carvers, greatly depend on the reliability and simplicity of their CAD programs. In turn, software design companies are continually enhancing their products and making them easier to use. These products can significantly boost productivity and the good news is they no longer require purchasers to have an engineering background. Perhaps the only dilemma is deciding which product to go with.
Here's a look at some of the latest offerings:
Everyone knows that time equals money. Mary Shaw, marketing manager for Delcam, says the most significant benefit of design software is saving time. While work done by hand can take weeks or months, a software program can shorten that span to hours and days. And having basic designs on hand eliminates the need to start from scratch for subsequent projects.
"You can create new designs by saving older designs," says Shaw. "You save time because you can manipulate things you've already done. If something is done by hand, it's difficult to get the exact replica of that design and then repeat it over and over again.
"With a 3-D program, you have the design forever, and the next time you go do something for a customer, you may just want to tweak the end a bit. You can create a grapevine or add a Celtic wave or change the molding. With a mouse-click, you have a new design within seconds."
Autodesk Inc., 111McInnis Parkway,
CNC Software Inc.,
Delcam, 275 E. South
KCD Software, 1252 Route 28,
Point, OR 97502. Tel: 800-204-0913.
Vectric Ltd., Unit
ArtCAM 2010 is the company's latest software design package. It features a completely new interface and is geared more toward artisans than engineers, according to Shaw. For example, it allows users to maximize their design space by putting frequently used icons on the toolbar and hiding those used less often. Further improvements have been made to the sculpting tools.
On the machining side, a great deal of underlying technology has been incorporated into ArtCAM from PowerMILL, Delcam's CAM system.
"We've increased the CPU memory inside the program so that when you send the tool paths to the router, the calculation speed time is much faster because it's working with the faster computers available today," says Shaw.
Joe Valasek of Heartwood Carving Studios in Eugene, Ore., specializes in doing ornamental carvings and creating architectural accents in residences, businesses and even luxury motor coaches. His shop has five employees and runs seven CNC machines to carve sheet goods made of wood and MDF. He has been using ArtCAM Pro for about 10 years, the most advanced of the ArtCAM family of products. He attests that annual software updates are extremely important in running a specialty business like his.
"We keep our software products updated. We find that because this is all we do and it's our only business, we want to have the latest capabilities out there. It doesn't make a lot of sense not to," says Valasek.
Valasek had been a sculptor for many years, specializing in relief work, when he first began searching for a way to quickly reproduce his relief carvings. He looked at many products before settling on ArtCAM.
"It's revolutionized what someone can do. Before, the only way you could make these kinds of things was to sit down with a chisel and a block of wood and 10 years of experience," he adds.
In March, Autodesk launched its 2011 AutoCAD software products, including AutoCAD 2011, a 2-D and 3-D design and documentation platform, and AutoCAD LT 2011 for professional 2-D drafting and detailing.
"In the 2011 releases, we have continued to invest in increasing drafting productivity and have added a strong set of new 3-D modeling features for conceptual design that will help millions of AutoCAD users worldwide take their designs further," says Guri Stark, vice president of AutoCAD and platform products.
AutoCAD 2011 gives designers more advanced conceptual design tools as well as increased flexibility and control when designing in 3-D. A few include new surface modeling tools, which enable users to easily create smooth surfaces and surface transitions; inferred constraints enable designers to define constraints as they draw; and TimeSaver tools, previously available only to customers on Autodesk Subscription, are now available to all AutoCAD users.
AutoCAD LT 2010 gives users the ability to generate a PDF directly from the software, which facilitates sharing with colleagues or clients. Also, users can pull a PDF file into the software and draw over it. AutoCAD LT is different from traditional AutoCAD in that it does not have 3-D modeling or visualization tools. It also doesn't have custom programming options, nor is it available for networking licensing. While AutoCAD is more of a large-company solution, AutoCAD LT is suited for single users, says the company.
AutoCAD LT sells for $1,200, while AutoCAD sells for about $4,000.
Siskiyou Products offers Cabinet Pro CNC for making fast mortise and tenon joints for blind dado construction.
"It takes about two minutes to define a given part to accept either a mortise or tenon or both," explains marketing director Eliana Jimenez. "After that, highly custom cabinet designs are automatically configured for the appropriate parts to be machined with accurately placed mortise and tenon joints. No special tooling is necessary: a standard compression tool that you would normally use to cut out your parts is all that Cabinet Pro needs."
Stephen Ferguson, who runs a custom cabinetry shop called JDG Inc. in Eugene, Ore., started using Cabinet Pro nine years ago and bought the Cabinet Pro CNC version four years ago. Initially, he was drawing by hand and then started looking into software options.
"A big factor was that it was affordable because I'm a small shop. A program with a lot of flexibility was also important because I make custom cabinetry and CabinetPro has a lot of flexibility for the custom shop. Also, I needed something I could use as a presentation tool to the customer and something that could give me accurate cutlists."
Furguson says the program saves him a great deal of time and material.
"I wouldn't be able to write to my CNC without it. It's changed how I build cabinetry because using the CNC allows for more flexibility and you're able to do things that you couldn't do otherwise or that are not feasible time-wise," says Ferguson.
Other benefits he enjoys are being able to show customers the 3-D color drawings of what the finished kitchen is going to look like. The program is extremely helpful with estimating as well.
"What I've noticed is that because I'm a one-man shop, it saves me time in the cutout of parts by about 30 to 40 percent, but I was relatively quick at that before. What it really helps with is saving me about 60 percent of the time in the cabinet assembly because I'm able to do things that make the assembly so much easier. That's where I've really noticed the time savings verse the part cutout," says Ferguson.
As far as the learning curve goes, he says it depends on the person using the program. He says there is a foreseeable challenge for anyone wanting to switch to another brand of program.
"I would describe the learning curve as very hard to predict from person to person. I know some people that have struggled with it. I know others that have had it up and running in a few days. Also, if one person already knows another program, they would probably struggle more than somebody starting out fresh because they don't do something they're already used to," says Ferguson.
SA International currently offers EnRoute Version 4 software, a CAD/CAM program that allows woodworkers to create designs and tool paths they can output to CNC machines. It is ideal for anyone who wants to do decorative millwork, architectural aspects of cabinets and other paneling. EnRoute product director EJ Nodurft discussed updates to the program's Productivity Suite of tools that will be introduced at IWF 2010 in Atlanta.
"The new Productivity Suite is a design tool with EnRoute, featuring rapid-texture capability that allows you to do 3-D texture in 2-D time. This feature means it takes less time to cut a piece and that amounts to less production time," says Nodurft.
"What will be new at IWF is the specific functionality of it - that you can trim it to a specified contour automatically which will help reduce the amount of time you have to design and cut the part. Another improvement in the product is a program called Boxster that allows you to design a base cabinet."
Specialist software developer Vectric recently introduced Aspire and VCarve Pro for CNC routing and dimensional wood carving.
"Cabinetmakers and CNC wood carvers are always looking to grow and expand their businesses by offering customers new and interesting products and services," says company spokesman Tom McKenzie. "Offering custom, high-quality CNC routed moldings, mantels and millwork is a natural fit for most woodshops because they already have the core software skills. The Vectric software products make it quick and easy to convert projects and designs into beautiful carved products."
Aspire includes all the tools needed to draw and create new projects or to work with customers CAD and graphic designs from software such as AutoCAD, CorelDraw, SolidWorks, and other programs.
A new interactive "scissor trimming" tool for faster vector editing has been added to Aspire 2.5 and VCarve Pro 5.5, while owners of CNC machines fitted with rotary four-axis and indexer attachments will now benefit from the new wrapped rotary axis toolpath functionality in Aspire and VCarve Pro, which is used for designing and cutting spindles, fluted columns and barley twists.
KCD Software offers a flexible, multi-tiered suite of software products that take the woodworker from design, pricing and cut lists to CNC construction. This selection includes the new Version 9. Product manager Ken Frye says the company's "Software to Build On" line of offerings allow woodworkers to select and build on their programs over time.
"The significance of the different packages from KCD is that they can be purchased separately and added on at any point. So an individual that might not want a CNC router can get the design version and not have to purchase the cutlist version," says Frye.
"You'll make sales with this software because it is easy enough to use to make a very beautiful presentation to the customer. Then when the customer wants it, you can click on all of the pieces you need to build the cabinetry. It's real easy. The whole idea is we find that we're working with people in many cases who aren't so technical with the computers."
Version 9 also includes a 3-D Express view, product libraries for Osborne Wood Products and Adams Wood Products, custom countertop edges and the ability to import 3-D DXF mesh files.
Frye says Version 9 gives woodworkers the ability to import architectural details such as turnings and corbels. Frye also mentioned a specialized program called Doors Plus, which is specifically designed for the traditional and CNC door manufacturer. Doors Plus includes a ready-to-use library of doors, drawers, wine racks, fluted pilasters and valances, along with the ability to create custom designs.
CNC Software Inc.
CNC Software Inc. offers Mastercam, a Windows-based CAD/CAM software for two- through five-axis routing, milling and turning; two-and four-axis wire EDM; 2-D and 3-D design, surface and solid modeling; and artistic relief cutting. In March, a new Mastercam X4 Routing Application was launched that is notable for its engraving capabilities.
Mastercam X4 Router now includes engraving as a standard part of its powerful design and NC programming package. Highlights include standard chiseling, embossed images, combined chiseled/embossed images and inverse embossing for mold work.
It's easy to engrave any TrueType font with Mastercam, according to the company. The operator can use V-groove cutters with any angle. Mastercam Router X4 also has nesting drag-and-drop support, allowing woodworkers to perform automatic nesting with just enough manual intervention to achieve the best possible result in the least amount of time.
Microvellum Inc. offered up CabinetMaker Version 7 in June. CabinetMaker combines the power of AutoCAD 2011 with the performance and intelligence of Microvellum, creating a simplified, easy-to-use, front-end tool for designers and an efficient production tool for residential kitchen, bath, closet, and storage system manufacturers, says product manager Clay Swayze. He adds that Microvellum will be demonstrating this new technology in Atlanta at the IWF show in August.
"This new cutting-edge software features simple room layout tools, Quick-Draw 2-D functionality - creating 2-D shop drawings from 3-D rooms instantly - photo-realistic rendering, ViewCube technology, allowing for easy navigation within your drawings, professional quotes, nested-based optimization, advanced part-processing technology, CNC G-Code generation and much more," says Swayze.
The program features built-in room component libraries that include ranges, dishwashers, fixtures, TVs, plants, wall art, cookware and other items to bring your drawings to life. It enables users to choose from manufacturers such as Viking, Wolf, Whirlpool, Kenmore, Frigidaire and Kitchen Aid.
"With a wide variety of machining and construction methods available within the user definable project variables, CabinetMaker allows you to truly wrap the software around the way your build your products. For even greater customization, the CabinetMaker product library includes the complete line of Osborne Wood Products island legs, corbels, table legs, furniture feet and wood onlays," adds Swayze.
Planit offers an extensive portfolio of design and manufacturing products that represents a range of complete CAD/CAM solutions, from professional design software for planning through advanced manufacturing software to control any CNC machine. Woodworking products include Alphacam, Cabinet Vision, Cabnetware, Jobsite Companion and S2M Center.
Cabinet Vision has been one of the most popular software tools for woodworking professionals since 1983, and the Cabinet Vision Solid product line is now widely recognized as a major technological advancement for the woodworking industry, according to the company. The products use solid modeling technology to create true 3-D presentations of the final product on screen, while simultaneously generating the necessary information for the shop floor. The latest Version 5.0 contains functions such as grain matching, simplified primary user interface, sub-end part configuration, and 12 new sketch options for PhotoVision.
Alphacam is used in the manufacture of many types of components, from simple routed parts to complex, five-axis furniture components. The emphasis behind the development of Alphacam is to boost productivity, reliability and flexibility in various woodworking companies - attributes that will help increase profitability. New and updated features for AlphaCAM 2010 R2 include cylindrical parallel 3-D machining strategy, Z-contour roughing strategy for 2-D pocketing, rough/finish options to produce multiple roughing cuts and wraparound geometry functionality.
This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue.