CNC Design and Control Software for Boat Interiors

Advice on using Rhino software for curved work on boats (particularly the interiors). October 19, 2014

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
I'm a novice at CNC and have a few questions about what is the best solution for our situation. We are a 30 man shop specializing high-end yacht interiors. All our jobs are custom or semi-custom designs. The only panel products we use are marine plywood, or plastic honeycomb light weight sandwich panels which we custom press ourselves. Eighty percent of the cabinetry and ceilings are made are made with honeycomb. The panels are either upholstered, painted, or veneered. The edges are veneered with the same material we use on the faces. On average we will produce two interiors every 18 months. These are on boats in the 100 to 150 foot range.

We just moved into new quarters and the time has come to get a CNC machine to increase our speed and efficiency while maintaining the accuracy for which the shop is known. The machine I am looking at as a 2100*3700mm bed for nesting and a 1200*2150mm area for point to point operations. The reason I think this could be an optimal solution for us is; we make a heck of a lot of flat panels with both straight and curved edges, we do a lot of edge boring for door hardware and we often make hardwood curved beams and stair railing parts.

Our designers deliver the complete interior modeled in Rhinoceres and as 2-D AutoCad drawings. We have been printing the ACad sheets for use on the floor and use the Rhino models for visualization and for extraction of further details as needed. RhinoCam is an add-on module for Rhino and is used right inside the program to generate CAM code and fully associative tool paths.

Have any other members here had experience using RhinoCam or the RhinoNest module? The third-party nesting plug-in sounds a little iffy from the website. There are a lot of posts about bug fixes. The other option is to buy the manufacturer’s suggested option of AlphaCam and CabinetVision. Is CV suitable for a highly custom shop like ours? I used a demo of it a couple years ago and the interface seemed clunky at the time. We have no other NC equipment - just two sliders and other normal shop equipment, and no edgebander! This is an important decision for us, so thanks in advance for your insight and opinions.

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From Contributor J:
I have used a few CNC machines and I currently use Rhino and Rhinocam for various boat applications. Recently I have made use of the capabilities of the system for producing the plugs for the GRP components. The principle of remaining with a file in its native format is always a sound idea and the associativity within Rhino should help you to ensure that the file is always current. I have briefly looked at Alphacam but the fellow running the system said it struggled with splines and most boat shapes are derived from splines. For basic panel processing this may not be a consideration and if you want to explore the 3D possibilities you will need software that can cope. As I understand it Cabinet Vision is primarily for producing rectangular furniture and if this is your primary line of business it should be adequate.

I would advise you to download the trial version of Rhino and Rhinocam to see if it is something you are comfortable with. The CAD side is quite important if you would like to have some independence from your source of design and Rhino gives you a lot of capability for a fairly modest price. Even the basic module of Rhinocam has a surprising range of machining techniques and the tutorials should be useful.

I think you will find a good number of people express a preference for the system they are familiar with as they know no other. If I was spending my own money I would look at Vectric 3D as well as Rhino. If somebody gave me a blank check I would talk to a seller of Mastercam. With respect to nesting be cautious - I nested a job over almost 60 sheets and then spent a long, long time identifying the parts and the sheets they had been nested into. It’s not a huge job to manually arrange components and this may be a good starting point. One other point to bear in mind is that some CAM systems will only work after you develop or buy a postprocessor for your machine. Be sure to ask the seller of any CAM system you investigate whether it will work without any additional purchase.

From the original questioner:

We are in fact using Rhino 5 in the office so it seems a natural fit to install the Cam plug-in as well. Since we are not such a high volume shop, I am thinking that maybe nesting the flat panels manually wouldn't be too onerous. I'm waiting for more details about what software and what postprocessor they include. When I talked to the manufacturer on the phone, he said many of his customers are using RhinoCam, including a couple other boat builders.

From contributor S:
I've been using Rhino/RhinoCam for about 2.5 years and find it to be a seamless and versatile combination. I use it to create geometry for furniture, boat-building, millwork and cabinetry parts and almost never find myself lacking for the ideal machining option in RhinoCam (to say nothing of the near-limitless 2 and 3D abilities of Rhino). I use it on a 4-axis machine - something few other programs are able to fully utilize. It is by no means the ideal platform for exclusive cutting of sheet goods, but is perfectly adaptable to such. I've not used the nesting plug-in, but find doing so manually isn't very time-consuming for most standard parts. As suggested, you'd be well served to demo all of the programs you think might be appropriate and make a decision from there. I did so and found Vectric to be ill-suited to my needs, though there are many on this forum for whom it seems to work well. To some extent software is like anything else, the "easier" they make it, the less control you have over the process.

One comment about the machine you link to: if you do a fair bit of solid wood work and envision yourself using the machine for heavier milling tasks, be sure to get an HSK spindle that is plenty powerful - the steep-taper (ISO/BT) tool connection is weak and troublesome in my experience, and having an under-powered spindle saves you little up front and can cause much consternation later. They list a 9kw HSD ISO 40 spindle as standard - HSD makes an infinite array of spindles, so be sure to get an HSK model that is no less than 9kw - 10-12kw might serve you better.