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Delcam’s FeatureCAM leads to solar-powered success

SST uses FeatureCAM to machine the parts it needs for its unique solar technology

Delcam’s feature-based machining software, FeatureCAM, is being used by Southwest Solar Technologies in Arizona to develop prototypes for a novel solar power generation system that could overcome the problems presented by other systems.

"Photovoltaic-panel systems produce only intermittent power when the sun is available, while steam turbine-based technology requires large quantities of water, a particular concern in arid regions,” explained SST Founder and Chief Technical Officer, Herb Hayden.  "At SST we are working to engineer a highly efficient and durable Concentrating Solar Power technology that will solve these problems.”  The company’s TurboSolar Power System consumes minimal water and other environmental resources while generating grid-ready energy from the sun.

SST comprises a small team that consists of a number of engineers across several disciplines - including electrical, mechanical and software engineering.  Its leadership team includes experts from all of the industries required to bring a start-up company from inception to a viable entity.

It started with Mr. Hayden, a recognised expert and advocate of solar energy.  He spent more than 15 years directing the solar research and development programme for Arizona Public Service.

The TurboSolar Power System combines a solar-concentrating dish with a purpose-built gas turbine engine.  Early last September, SST announced the successful on-sun testing and proof of concept of the system.

Zoltan Farkas, design engineer, does most of the programming to machine the unique parts needed by SST.  "I chose FeatureCAM for our machine shop because I was very familiar with the software from my employment and education at Arizona State University,” he said.  "It is so flexible that we can easily import 3D models from other programs into it.  It is an intuitive software package and, when you are building products with holes, pockets and 3D surfaces in an R&D environment, there is no quicker way to do this than with the Delcam package.”

Paul Thomas, electrical engineer for the company, had to learn FeatureCAM the hard way when Mr. Farkas was fully occupied with producing components.  "I needed to see what the tools would do in a simulation and, when I came to Zoltan and told him what I wanted to do, he was so busy that he handed me the discs and told me to go for it,” Mr. Thomas remembered.  He was up and running as a new FeatureCAM user, with no training, on his own in just a couple of days.

"I like the fact that you can change posts quickly, and that you can modify the post-processor to put out custom g-codes for a different machine so easily,” Mr. Farkas added.  "When you are in a start-up environment, machining, designing and bringing products to market has to happen yesterday.  The speed and ease of use of FeatureCAM help us to meet this challenge.”

04 April 2012

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