Auto feature recognition (AFR) technology gives Machine Shop Estimating (MSE) software from Micro Estimating Systems, New Berlin, Wis., more power to analyze parts to be cut by mills and lathes. It also helps the software automatically generate a machine layout and cycle-time calculations to dramatically speed up the estimating process.

With traditional estimating software, an estimator manually enters information about parts, processes, and tools into the system, which often takes hours of process-layout preparation and data input for a complex part. Using AFR Estimating and a solid model from a CAD system, MSE analyzes entities selected by the user and interprets all 2 and 2- 1 / 2-axis features and many 3-axis features. The system automatically identifies the processes to be used and locates the proper tools in the library. Then that process and tool data is supplied to the estimating algorithms.

Craig Hoffmann, Micro's vice president for product development, explains how the new technology operates. "With machining, you follow multidimensional contours and have numerous processes and tools to use. For example, you might rough and finish face mill the part, end mill it, groove it, or turn it. Two major issues complicate AFR Estimating for machining. Not only does estimating for machining work in a variety of planes, it must determine which tool to use. The other issue is transferring the geometry. For example, when machining an oddshaped pocket, simply dealing with length of cut is inadequate because the milling cutter changes direction frequently, and the estimate must include that idle time to be accurate."

The new software also offers tighter integration with shop-management systems. Earlier this year, Micro began a yearlong effort to make data-transfer paths more integrated, and the first effort involved the JobBoss shop-management system. The customer, vendor, and sales personnel files used in MSE are now found in JobBoss. Estimators can access those Job-Boss databases when opening a new estimate without redundant data entry.

For the past decade, the MSE estimate information was available to JobBoss when a bid was won. JobBoss used this data for entering new orders.

"Now information flows in both directions," Hoffmann points out, "with the estimator able to get customer or stock codes and pricing from the shop-management software's database. They no longer need to maintain two stock-code libraries. Purchased item information is also included."