The traditional, old-school way of proving out new toolpaths involves carefully studying the backplot in the Cad/Cad system, followed by a ‘dry-run’ the machine – running the program without a part, while overwriting both the programmed feedrates and rapid rates. If the dry run is successful the next step is to run the program again in wax, or comparable material, to see actual cutting taking place. If all goes well the next step would be to run the toolpath very carefully on a real part. This is a very time consuming process and it often requires careful cooperation of both the machine operator and the programmer.
A properly configured virtual machine will behave exactly like the real one, enabling the programmer to not only prove-out the part on one machine, but also try it on multiple machines. This process assures the best, most efficient process can be developed. The programmer is able to try different cutting strategies, fixturing, and machines without ever leaving his desk.
A conservative 8 hour running cost of a good 5-axis machine is approximately $1000. Every hour used on non-production prove-outs is costing a shop money. The machine will sit idle if programming changes are necessary during a prove-out, costing even more money and putting extra pressure on the programmer to get it going. Mistakes are likely to happen more frequently under pressure. Crashing a 5-axis machine is a tragedy on the real machine, but it is merely a change in approach on a virtual one. The cost of a spindle regrind, scrapped part, the time it takes to get the machine back and running will vary, but it will never be cheap, dwarfing the cost of a simulation software which can prevent it from ever happening.
You can use your 5-axis machines conservatively and you can ‘play it safe’ by running only a portion of their capabilities, but playing it safe will not get you all the benefits of this equipment. Today’s fighter pilots learn how to get every ounce of capability out of their state of the art equipment first by using a flight simulator instead of the real thing.