CAD-CAE-CAM on the cheap

I'm looking into CAD-CAE-CAM solutions and trying to keep the cost under control. Ideally, the solution would be highly integrated, but I can put up with a good bit of inconvenience to keep the cost down. I've got a good many questions, and was wondering if I could ask the group for help?

CAE - My long-time favorite CAE tool is Matlab and it's front-end, Simulink. I would be willing to change, but would prefer not to since I've got a lot of time and money tied up in it.

CAD - I've much less experience here. I've used Visio Technical (98?, last version before they were bought by Microsoft) and a little AutoCad 12. I'm pretty much an unwritten page here in terms of preferences. Features needed include 3-D, renderings, and good data interchange with other programs. My *really* limited understanding here is that *.DWG files are the ultimate in data interchange? Many of the machine software companies mention NIST's "IGES"; is that an important feature to look for in CAD-CAM or does just *.DWG compatibility accomplish the same thing?

CAM - I've been reading about using software from the Enhanced Machine Controller (EMC) project,

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a PC-based controller board from Servo To Go,
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I'm pretty unclear on how to tie it all together. The EMC software seems to expect a stream of G-code, which I've read a good bit about. Is there a name for the kind of software package that does the very complex conversion from *.DWG or IGES to G-code stream? One vendor is "BobCAD",
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handle this problem, but they seem to offer a CAD program of their own. Perhaps that's only to model the particular piece of the drawing that the mill or lathe is to create in one session?

Machinery - I'd be doing servo and encoder retrofits to a TOS Trencin SN40 16x60 lathe and a Fritz Werner FV2 56" bed vertical mill.

My immediate goal is to lock down on a CAD package that will not be too limiting in terms of my plans I've described above. I'd be very grateful for help in selecting a CAD package, as well as any other advice.

Thanks very much! Dave

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You might want to check into Alibre for at least a portion of your needs:

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It's a 3-D parametric CAD program that includes some form of CAM add-on (Free Mill) in at least version, which I think generates G code for CNC. I found it very easy to pick up the basics of the CAD portion despite never being able to get comfortable with IntelliCAD or DesignCAD. Previusly I'd used various versions of Visio ending up with the 2002 version. Alibre gave me a huge productivity boost and the ability to create parts and assemblies of parts in 3-D is really addictive once one tries it.

They have a fully functional 30-day trial version available for download at the above site and there are some good tutorials in PDF form in the Training or support pages of their web site. I was sold after only a few days with the trial and tutorials. There's a good support group that is minitored by Alibre on Yahoo and they have just started hosting their own web-based forum. The basic package starts at less than $1,000, I think, with annual maintenance about $300 per year. They generally have 2 major updates per year and a couple of minor updates.

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Mike Henry

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