Presenting IC, from evolution to innovation: Photo 1

Presenting IC, from evolution to innovation

Not only a modern interface and extreme ease of use: the IC software is a concentrate of technology and experience, as explained by Filippo Bostrenghi, Intermac software director.

Over 7,000 packages installed in 180 Countries: iCam is the most widely used CAD/CAM software in the world for applications relating to glass, and the numbers prove it. Experience and reliability are the keys to the software's popularity and have driven Intermac to create a software package that's even better, IC. As is suggested by the play on words (I see) the software has taken a leap forward, from the interface, which is now even easier to learn and more intuitive, to the optimal use of processing power, to achieve no-compromise functionality and flexibility when programming. We asked Filippo Bostrenghi, head of software development for Intermac, to take us on a behind-the-scenes tour of IC.

Where did you start with IC?

"The starting point was itself an innovation since we kept development focused on ease of use. Machine software is often developed by engineers “for engineers”. The result is applications that are very rich in terms of functionality, but with an approach and a modus operandi that loses sight of the people who will actually use the software. The learning curve is therefore very steep. Our new approach to development had already made life easier for users with B_SOLID. But to reach the level of simplicity achieved by IC - i.e. just 5 buttons for the work done on a daily basis - development had to be even more research-based. Thanks to our direct experience with customers, we systematically studied how operators use the software and figured out which actions are the most frequent. We then focused on the steps that are executed most often for everyday operations, such as importing files, taking measurements on the field, or machining models that need to be parameterised. By standing shoulder to shoulder with customers who use iCam and B_SOLID on a daily basis, we collected several thousand cases of use over time. The experience helped us detect characteristic patterns of use: i.e. whether designs are created from a series of measurements or the user already has a completed model that needs to converted to machine language. That's how we were able to achieve the current level of simplicity, responding to our customers' actual needs and priorities. While ease of use was the objective, we also needed to satisfy more demanding customers who have extensive programming experience. These two apparently contradictory needs highlight the strength of IC, which incorporates iCAM but also offers a simplified interface. For the main operations, which account for 80% of cases, 5 buttons are all the operator needs, while for the remaining 20%, where advanced programming is needed, the user simply clicks a button to access an advanced version of the software with all the functions necessary for the most complex projects. Rather than merely restyling, we took up the challenge of simplifying the most frequent functions and did away with complex steps that end up being useless for most everyday operations".

Presenting IC, from evolution to innovation: Photo 2
Filippo Bostrenghi shows IC features during the last edition of Vitrum in Milan.

What are some examples of key innovations in IC?

"The software was created using iCam as the starting point, but to create a “5-button interface” we needed to produce innovative algorithms: from recognising work contours with one click, to automatically excluding the title block and correcting flaws that are often present in the drawings received by our customers. With just one click the software is able to autonomously determine what elements of a complex design are necessary for the machining operation. It's an exceptional outcome: the customer moves from a sheet with lines, drawings and text to the piece that needs to be machined. The feat is achieved by very intelligent algorithms, which took significant effort to create. These days, when a user creates a piece, the software rotates it automatically, making it easier to load. This little feature, which makes the operator's work easier, is yet another result of having studied how customers use the software: in the vast majority of cases, in fact, the user places the piece on the side that's squared up. To perfect this function, it was tested on over 3,000 sample pieces from customers, who were decidedly satisfied with the feature right from the first beta tests".

The software architecture is innovative as well.

"Definitely. In order to achieve such a simple interface, we needed technological tools that could do the job. Which is why we adopted the graphic library that is most widely used for high-performance interfaces, with the additional benefit that it isn't confined to Windows. In the future it may also be extended to MacOS, Linux, Android and the Web. Since we needed to develop a new interface, we opted for a tool that would open up future possibilities. But we didn't stop there. For optimal results, we needed to separate the interface from all the computing done by the software. With the new architecture we are free to decide what technology to use for the interface at any given moment, allowing us to make the most of cutting-edge programming languages. In addition, all the actions taken by the user are stored, and the software is able to repeat all the steps in a few seconds - thanks to a powerful log playback function - making it easier for us to provide the customer with assistance. This feature will also make interactive training possible, with the software acting autonomously on the basis of these commands. There are also significant implications for the Big Data produced, which will help us develop increasingly intelligent functions based on how customers use the software. IC is, therefore, innovative in terms of the development strategy, the architecture used and, last but not least, the interface adopted, which is reminiscent of a smartphone app, with hamburger or kebab-style menus at the top: concepts so widespread that anyone can grasp and use them without requiring special training. For those already familiar with our machines, the new 5-button interface reduces training time to 5 or 6 hours, without the user needing to know how to navigate CAD software".

What's in store for the future?

"We are already working on additional automation of the CAM component, using intelligent algorithms to process the project on the basis of the design. We are simplifying additional elements, introducing the ability to recognise increasingly complex designs and machining operations and thereby significantly expanding the use of the  simplified version of the software. These days innovation isn't about producing software that offers more features, it's about simplifying features to the point that they are accessible to all. In our line of work, customers are very attentive to the economic side of things, and we work with them every day to optimise investment costs. When a customer purchases a machine, he generally also considers the cost of having an operator with an average to high skill level: this is sometimes a very elevated cost for the business. IC is such a simple software package that an operator with standard skills is sufficient, which means lower costs for the customer. Furthermore, the simplifications introduced significantly shorten the planning phase compared to the past and set a new standard for the market".

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