Freesteel Blog » Adaptive

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009 at 10:58 am - - Adaptive 5 Comments »

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (“Members consider the consequences of their work and societal issues pertinent to it”) ran the Westec 2009 trade show in Los Angeles, which finished on 2 April 2009.

Blogger Derek Goodwin visited the Mastercam booth there and reported:

I ran into Mike Macarthur, national sales manager for Robb Jack corporation and he showed me some incredible video on his iphone of 1/2″ diameter endmills cutting 1″ deep at 75 inches per minute in 6Al4V titanium, using Dynamic milling, he has promised to forward some links and a presentation, so look for this in a future article.

Now things are gearing up for the sister-show, Eastec 2009, in Springfield MA on 19 May 2009, and Mastercan’s has made its press kit available.


Their new “Dynamic milling” technique looks a lot like our old Adaptive Clearing strategy, which we invented in 2004.

Obviously, it can’t be the same code, or we would have seen some sort of a contract relating to it, got paid a tiny stipend for fixing on-going bugs, and so on. Still, those people at Mastercam have managed to produce a finished product without all the usual embarrassing intervening stages of half-baked flawed and buggy versions that you tend to get in this line of work. They must be much cleverer at programming than we are not to experience all the same set-backs and mistakes. I’d like to hear from them — the people who coded it; not the be-suited managers.

We, at Freesteel, are in eager to share the extremely limited CAM programming expertise there appears to be in the world, and we intend to lend support to any other programming team who is attempting to unnecessarily replicate our work, rather than follow the cheaper and more reliable option of buying the code from us. Programmers must have maximum freedom to pursue whatever apparently irrational course of development they feel is right because — who knows — they might actually be better than us at writing algorithms such as this. It’ll give us something to compete against. Otherwise we’ll get lazy and work on other things.

That’s why a couple of years ago we gave a DLL copy of the Adaptive Clearing algorithm to Delcam so they could bind it into their into the internal development versions of their products and better experiment against it while they were writing their own version.

Since they do not appear to have done this, it can only mean that Delcam don’t feel that this clearing algorithm adds any value to their products. Which is fine. It’s probably the attitude of most of the major CAM companies, most of whom won’t even go that far. Their recommendations of the worth of any strategy doesn’t only depend on whether or not they’ve got it, does it?

Without an organization of any kind representing the interests of users of CAM software, it’s impossible for the ordinary joe to see through the totally self-serving information that comes out of all corners of the business.

Still. It’s not as bad as the financial “industry”. It’s only software, not people’s livelihoods.

Friday, August 22nd, 2008 at 9:38 pm - - Adaptive 2 Comments »

“This is the boss’s son; he’ll be working his way up from the bottom over the next two weeks.”

I’ve always wanted to use that sentence. Fortunately, neither my employment with NC Graphics, nor NC Graphics itself lasted long enough for this morale-obliterating situation to come to pass.

However, announced at Surfware on 1 July 2008:

Stephen A. Diehl has been named President and CEO of Surfware, Inc., developer of SURFCAM® CAD/CAM systems.

“I am proud and happy to announce that my eldest son Stephen will take over as Surfware President and CEO of Surfware, “says Alan Diehl, founder and former CEO of Surfware, Inc. “Stephen has been working with me behind the scenes for several years and more recently, full time at Surfware.”

But I’m not here to pick on the elements of shouldn’t-be-admired experience gained working in the vast global swindle and misallocation of capital of which the real-time trading of stocks, bonds and swaps for Fortune 500 companies is but part.

My attention was actually grabbed by a 19th of August announcement of a Notice of Allowance signifying that their patent application has been examined and is allowed for issuance as a [software] patent.

I blogged about this back in November 2005. The links to the patent pending pages on the US Patent Office webpage seem to pull out random patents now (for a Jet nozzle mixer and a Classification-expanded indexing and retrieval of classified documents thingie) because the Office’s website is absolutely shite and inexplicably avoids the use of the handy centuries-old unique-id system provided for these documents by the patent number. On the other hand, my European Patent Office link from three years ago does still work, because it does.

You can read the entire 38 pages of gory details on-line there. The provisional applications were filed in April 2004. Think: if all the work and expense that went into writing this patent and applying for it had instead been applied to working on the code itself, maybe they wouldn’t have had to spend the last four years “taking it to new levels of excellence”.

The announcement explains:

The origin of the patent application goes back to early 2002 — Surfware’s R&D Department. Robert (Pat) Patterson came up with the core idea for engagement milling, and he and Surfware co-founder Alan Diehl, set out to develop it into a workable product. Within one year they had developed two different versions of TrueMill, both covered in patent applications.

Over the next several years, the pair went on to supervise the project based on their core ideas, with some assistance from the SURFCAM product manager. In 2005, the initial patent application for engagement milling was filed with the co-inventors listed in alphabetical order, without regard to their actual contribution.

So that’s why when you search for “surfware” on the USPTO website (I’m not wasting time with their deeplinks) you get:

  • Application: 20050246052, Filed March 2, 2005: Coleman, Glenn; (Cave Creek, AZ) ; Diehl, Alan; (Westlake Village, CA) ; Patterson, Robert B.; (Bellevue, WA)
  • Application: 20050256604, Filed April 22, 2005: Diehi, Alan; (Westlake Village, CA) ; Patterson, Robert B.; (Bellevue, WA)

Back in 2005, Glenn Coleman was touting the benefits of Truemill in his capacity as Surfware’s Vice President of Product Design.

Also around at the time doing the same thing in his capacity as Vice President of Worldwide Sales, was Domenic Lanzillotta.

And then there was Dr Evan Sherbrooke who was Systems Architect. And there was Terry J. Sorensen who joined in May 2006 and became CEO of Surfware in December 2006, even though he was not Alan Diehl’s son.

Meanwhile, in Scottsdale (Phoenix) Arizona, in October 2006 Mike Coleman (probably no relation) announced the appointment of Domenic Lanzillotta as Vice President of Worldwide sales, and Greg Dare as Director of Marketing at TekSoft. Lanzillotta was formerly Vice President of Worldwide Sales for Surfware, and Dare was formerly Director of Marketing for Surfware.

In September 2007 TekSoft announced a new toolpath strategy, called the Adaptive roughing strategy providing the ability to cut using the full depth of the tool and safely running machines at optimum speed to reduce machining time up to 40% over conventional roughing with less wear.

A friend who went to the EMO 2007 trade show at the time saw it in action. In an interview in the same month, Mike Coleman said:

“Rather than pretending that a couple of guys in the back room can come up with everything that we need, we buy our HSM algorithms from a third party that devotes 10–15 programmers to developing just the HSM modules,” he says. This third party can afford to invest more in the module than most other developers because selling it to companies allows it to amortize the cost over a larger user base.

The two of them, Dare and Lanzillotta seemed happily installed at the TekSoft trade show booths in February 2007 at SolidWorks World (in same room as HSMWorks) and March 2007 at Westec.

Westec 2007 had breasts

In early 2008 Lanzillotta moves to Planit to sell Edgecam software from Thousand Oaks California.

At some point around then, Sorensen introduced his new marketing department with Steve Crane as the Director of Marketing [I have his business card – he told me I was crazy], Steve Myers, Sales Engineer, and Bryan Sullivan, Media Relations Manager.

Then in April 2007, Sorenson, Sherbrooke and Glenn Coleman show up with their new business model attempting to market a new algorithm called VoluMill, which goes on-line in October 2007 from Cave Creek (Phoenix) Arizona.

That gives them about 6 months to write their new algorithm and release it. I observed it in December 2007 while at the Euromold trade show. It uses the neat but flawed idea of hosting the algorithm on their servers and arranging for your CAM system to transfer the model to them, generate the toolpaths, and transfer the results back. It’s a nice idea. The payment is by a monthly service plan rather than, say, per metre of toolpath calculated. We’ve made a much more sophisticated implementation of this, and could have given them the code if they’d asked. It seems that users are not quite as excited by it all as we are, so the innovators all need to work together to create the interest.

Not that any of this happens, mind you. Now I’d thought that VoluMill had basically died as so many on-line things do, but there’s a non-spam message from June 2008 on the forum:

Question: I am a hobbyist user. and although the up-front cost is zero, have you considered a plan which limits the number of tool-paths that can be generated in a month, or maybe a per usage charge?

As a hobbyist I am not so much interested in the aspects of saving time as I am in a good quality tool path. It appears that your paths work well on machines that can not accelerate quickly since they try to maintain a constant velocity.

Answer: At this time we have not received a level of interest that would make it a high priority. However, if the level of interest in such an option increases we will address it accordingly.

That answer is from Joe McChesney, Product Manager. It’s a closed user forum, so I can’t post a message telling the questioner that we’d happily give him a free copy of the Adaptive Clearing algorithm in return for some user feedback and movies.

Given what they achieved in terms of development in their first six months, what have they been doing over the past year? Also, I’ll eat my hat if they have any customers using their service at all. You can see the client source code activity here.

Back to the evil software patents — the filing of which is as much of a waste of programmer time as technical blogging like this — I asked someone about it at Euromold 2005 and took action. I received effective confirmation about it from their General Counsel of Surfware Inc in February 2006. According to the Patent Office rules:

Each individual associated with the patent owner in a reexamination proceeding has a duty of candor and good faith in dealing with the Office, which includes a duty to disclose to the Office all information known to that individual to be material to patentability in a reexamination proceeding.

So that’s all right then.

Not that the Adaptive Clearing algorithm has anything but superficial similarity in intent with TrueMill or VoluMill. But when has that ever been an excuse to avoid grief? The real defence is that the world at large hasn’t found it particularly interesting, so there’s no money worth arguing about.

The fact is, we should all be talking and working together on this. The market does not seem to have taken to new technologies, such as constant engagement milling, as it ought to have been. There are significant savings to be made in production machining by applying something like this, even if it was a very temperamental and unstable release. However, I don’t see evidence at the trade shows of it ever being used by the machine tool vendors, say. The only place it gets exhibited is on the stands of the CAM companies that sell these algorithms, and nowhere else. This is an issue.

With a market that is as conservative as it is, it makes it very difficult to get anywhere, because the dominant CAM companies can keep flogging their ten year old systems at the same high prices, invest nothing into development, and pocketing all the profits for as long as it takes users never to notice.

Ultimately the problem is with the users and their level of interest. They’ve got lots of better things they need to do than care about the software, and none of them seem to show any curiosity whatsoever as to what goes into it. The vendors spin this line about how there’s all these programmers at work in a back room you can’t talk to, and the company has all its secret special valuable algorithms that are extra good works of genius better than the science behind General Relativity, and I don’t think they actually need to bother with these fairy-tales. So few people question it. All the company needs to say is:

“Yes, we sacked all the programmers last year, and we’re down to our last guy who knows how to compile the system for new versions of the operating system. We pay him well to stay. No you won’t get your bugs fixed, because at this stage of development everyone seems able to work around the issues that remain without too much hassle. We’re certain that no one is going to come along with anything new and better because they won’t be able to afford the years of development that it took to get ours up to this stage. Back when our product was being developed in the 1990s it was possible to make money with fewer features and with something that ran slower on the machine, and at that time we were still re-investing the money and keeping lots of well-motivated programmers working on it to get it ahead. Now we don’t need to do this, because we believe that the development gap is too wide for any new start-ups to be able to bridge it with us competing against them while they are still in their early days. We know you, the customer, will not give them a second thought until they have everything we do and twice as good, and they’ll always go out of business before that happens. Today and tomorrow, we own this software. It is indeed stagnant. And if you want it, you can take it at the price we like, and I’ll be able to afford a nice car and continue filling it with gas to drive back and forth across Arizona until this economy goes completely into the ground because we’re not able to tell the difference between producing stuff and making money. Thank you very much.”

Like I said, it would be nice to come clean in the CAM software industry as to which system uses what kernel and whose algorithm. I don’t think the users actually give a toss enough to make a difference to sales. Some transparency would be really helpful for people like me to find out who in the world is actually still programming these specialized algorithms in order to share tips and find out where the jobs are.

In the absence of this, all I’ve got is this blog-ranting about manager-level machinations within the industry that have nothing to do with actually getting any programming work done. Even communication that’s one-way can be useful.

Friday, May 16th, 2008 at 12:08 pm - - Adaptive

I’m working today. But there is time between compilations of code. I avoided surfing the internet onto anything democracy-related, because then I’d’ve got lost in something interesting and would still be at it at 3am. No chance of that happening when you restrict yourself to the webpages of CADCAM companies.

It’s good to see some of them realizing that the correct format for showing off machining features is the video. Although the quality and content — let alone the lack of sound — is very poor, Delcam has produced a selection to be getting started with. The top one repeatedly shows their user interface interchanging between loops or blobs as it area clearing path goes around corners. Now I know they’ve got a whole machine shop in their building, so why don’t we see how it cuts metal?

MasterCAM has a much better set of videos, although the user interface to them is questionable, and the image is too big. They do give narration and fade nicely between the scenes. Choose Peel Mill in the selection of videos to find a description of their limited trachoidal milling solution, otherwise only mentioned in this press release.

Obviously, both companies haven’t yet reached the state of the art for horizontal trachoidal machining embodied in our four-year-old Adaptive Clearing strategy. If they want to save a lot of time and hassle developing it, they only need to ask. Our rates have been quite reasonable.

WorkNC has 3 videos showing their old Adaptive Trachoidal Roughing. This looks like a retrofit of trachoidalism on a standard offset area clearing algorithm, truncated in the case of a core. At least, like the MasterCAM feature, it shows the capability of this way of machining deeply and cutting with the side of the tool.

I’ve checked out cimatron, solidcam, Tebis, esprit, vero, edgecam, and what became of nc graphics, and none of them seem to have any videos.

There are some on surfware, but the funny thing about it is you can find a far better video of surfcam on youtube, because it’s got music. Just say No to that grinding metal noise. OncCNC has some videos too.

Here is a video of Adaptive Clearing in graphite. And here is a page on HSMWorks where they tell you about Netviewer — a programme that allows someone in Denmark to demo the software remotely on your computer. Why not video one of those demonstrations to make it easier to show up?

Thursday, January 10th, 2008 at 5:43 pm - - Adaptive 2 Comments »

Here is a detail from the base of the ten metre tall metal sculpture Rolling Horse by Juurgen Goentz (2007) on the flank of the Berlin Hauptbahnhof exhibiting atrocious machining on its the panels, including a full cutter gouge where the tool appears to have been buried 5mm into the surface.

Possibly this was in preparation for clearing the next level, which didn’t happen. Normally you helix down, because this type of plunging motion is liable to break the tool, I am told. Nobody I have shown it to thinks it was left on purpose; there is no artistic appeal here.

The rest of the motion looks like an offset clearing strategy with extra segments in the acute corners to knock off the upstands. This is a pattern I have seen on WorkNC. I should have measured it carefully or taken a clearer picture. Whenever you offset the clearing passes by more than half the diameter of the cutter, you create the possibility of leaving triangles of uncut material at the corners of the contour, depending on how big the offset is. The uncut areas are usually triangular with one side being a concave arc, like the area of unpolished floor in the corner of a room that a circular floor polisher cannot reach.

In this example, the offsets look pretty close to the diameter of that mis-cut hole.

On Machining Strategist, Depocam, HSMWorks, and any other machining kernel that I have had something to do with, the offset Z-clearing strategy checks along each contour, measures the angle of the tightest corner, and offsets the next pass appropriately so as to clear all the material. This means that when the user specifies the step-over, they have to set a minimum and maximum value so that the system has a range to work with. The defaults are minimum = 50% of diameter, and maximum = 90% of diameter. Sometimes there are full-width cuts, which are unavoidable with this strategy, but as long as the minimum is never more than 50% (it won’t let you set it to more), it will clear everything.

This sometimes annoys users who want to give a definitive large value for the step-over and not be troubled with this geometrically compromising min and max nonsense. You will find in the user manuals — particularly for versions of non-MS/Depocam software from five years ago — advice on how to set the absolute offset for the clearing strategy. Users want to set it as high as possible to get the job done in as few offsets as possible, but if they set it too high they run the risk of leaving behind these upstands — and it will be their fault because they picked the number.

If you have a rectangular area whose corners are right angles, my calculations say you can go up to 85.355% of the cutter diameter before you get upstands, because that’s equal to 0.5 + 0.5 / sqrt(2).

The next best thing to choosing the appropriate maximum offset to avoid any upstands (to my knowledge a unique and identifying feature in MS/Depocam, replicated in HSMWorks) is for the computer to notice where they occur and clean them out specially. This is an act of retrofitting a correction onto a flawed strategy. I have seen it implemented in the form of little dashes of toolpath that nip in from the side of a contour one tool diameter away from the corner, and by other dashes that go out from the corner along the bisector far enough to clear all the material. It’s ugly because you get sharp 180 degree changes of direction that are not conducive to smooth high speed machining motions.

The primary example of such retrofitting is in WorkNC, as illustrated on their circa 2004 webpage (hosted by The WayBackMachine shows a change to the WorkNC webpage in 2005, where these detailed and clear drawings of their strategies disappeared, so I don’t know if it’s still what happens.

The best answer is to use our now-quite-old-and-stable Adaptive Clearing strategy to make a lovely swirling finish to the part. No self-respecting artist would pass this clearing strategy up — if they knew about it — because it’s clean, unique, and looks good.

Unfortunately, I strongly suspect that the art of machining of metal is something that working artists just don’t know anything about. They most likely contract out the menial work to some tool shop with its cranky old expensive software and then pay no attention to the process, because if they did they would quickly notice how trivial it was, with an enormous potential for making gorgeous textures and strange mathematical shapes using kinder-garden level programming skills and a few days of experimentation.

I’d like to work with an artist on this one day. I’ve got a lot of ideas they could use. I can’t do it myself because I am not an artist — defined as someone who can sell their art. Anyone can make art; selling is the social certification which is not achievable by me. I mean, I find it difficult enough getting respected for writing software of the kind that very few people in the world appear willing to do.

Also seen on one of the Rolling Horse’s metal panels is this interesting spiral shape:

Analysis of the scouring suggests that it has been done from the outside inwards, which is unusual. The best theory I can find is given on page 4 of the WorkNC Version 18 brochure:

New Spiral Core Roughing Toolpath

We have designed a new roughing toolpath to generate optimised fluid toolpaths on core shaped parts. A feature of this toolpath is the low number of retracts due to a continuous spiral trajectory at each Z level. Machining times are kept to a minimum and tool service life is maximised.

although there is no actual core here. Given the quality of the rest of the machining on this base, its aesthetic appeal is probably accidental.

Still. If the Computer-Aided Manufacture (CAM) industry weren’t so invisible, its software development threads couldn’t have survived in such a stagnated state of mismanagement by the entrenched system of corporations, giving me a chance to beat it with code written in a spare room in Liverpool.

We’ll see how the benchmarks perform when I finally get through with this round of constant scalloping stepover work. Often it gets difficult to keep up the motivation to plug at it day after day. Sometimes it takes a dose of big-headedness to get the will to carry on.