Microvellum Users Assess New Version

      An extensive and detailed look at the powerful drawing-to-cutlist integrated application's traits and quirks. August 29, 2005

I own a very high-end cabinet and millwork shop that specializes in elaborate residential projects and some custom commercial work. We have 20 employees total. I have owned CabinetVision software since the late 1980's and have wrestled with the problem of limited drawing capabilities since the beginning. Currently, I create all of our shop drawings in AutoCAD 2004. After the submittals have been signed off, one of our detailers then re-enters the basic cabinets in CV (overlaying a CV DXF export to compare to the CAD drawing to eliminate sizing errors) and the other detailer handles the special/custom pieces in AutoCAD and exports them to Alphacam to run on our CNC Router.

About two years ago, when we changed our production from a Beam Saw/CNC P2P to a Nested-Base CNC Router, we looked into Microvellum and Pattern Systems to see if we could switch to an all-inclusive drawing and part-creation program. I really want/need to work in an AutoCAD environment. At that time, we concluded that both MV and PS were not going to work for us. PS was not flexible enough and MV was too limited/underdeveloped at the time. So, I forked over another chunk of dough for CV's Nested-Base Screen-To-Machine solution. To CV's credit, from day one (literally) it has worked very well. I have not experienced any of the nightmares that the salesmen have stated are so common. And while I am very happy with the CV-to-CNC part of our operation, we have had to wrestle with this awkward and inefficient AutoCAD (for shop drawings) and CV (for cutlisting} combination.

So, here I am again looking at MV and PS to see if we can make the leap. We have evaluated PS and do not feel too good about that choice. Now we are about to begin our evaluation of MV, but only have a little while to go before the next price increase. I am looking for input from current MV users to help me make an informed decision. The MV salesman states that we will absolutely love release 6, that the older versions were nothing like this (apparently a lot was added to this version). He admits that when first released, it had quite a few glitches (which he states are now cleaned up).

I cannot endure the sort of nightmare that glitchy/prematurely released software creates. Again, to CV's credit, the glitches have been very minor in recent years and the versatility of the product has increased. You just cannot draw anything remotely professional with it. I am primarily interested in high quality 2D submittals (3D renderings are very secondary).

Here are some questions:

Does the current (cleaned-up) release of MV version 6 work well with your CNC machines - especially those of you doing nested-base? Do you get errors, wrong part sizes, overlapping tool paths, wrong tools, conflicts, etc?

Can you show doors on your elevations (instead of simply a flat slab door), as I need to show customers which doors are multi-piece and which are not? If not, do I add rectangles manually in 2D to simulate?

Can you easily change all door reveals (sides/top/bottom/vertical/horizontal)? Can these reveals be changed dramatically (sometimes we need a door to overlay an adjacent cabinet by many inches or completely)?

Can toe-kick side/front/rear setbacks as well as heights be easily manipulated and does the associative machining for hardware work well, or easily? Also, can mouldings be easily run around the cabinets (crowns, light valances, wood top edge details, furniture base mouldings), and are cabinet sections (vertical cross-sections) easily done, without having to pull a cabinet off the wall to do so?

Can we build a door catalog that allows for various frame widths and panel types? Can we show these on the shop drawings? Will they show accurately? Will the parts be listed correctly if we need to build all of the doors? Will the overall size be correct if the doors are purchased?

Can doors be made with unique stile/rail sizes for finished end and wainscot types of applications? Can applied panel mouldings be shown correctly/listed?

When you re-section a cabinet (re-configure drawer fronts, for instance), do the drawer box parts and drawer guides move with the drawer fronts automatically, or do you have to manually do a lot of this? If they do automatically adjust, can this be easily overridden, when required?

Can we have different drawer box construction methods for different hardware and can different drw boxes and hardware be used in the same cabinet?

Do drawer box depths (not heights) and drawer guide lengths change automatically when the depth of the cabinet is changed? Can this be easily overridden when we need to leave room behind a drawer box for a wire chase/elect/gas/etc?

Does all of the standard machining work properly (construction boring - we use confirmats, line boring, hinge boring, drawer guide boring, dados, pockets)?

Does the custom machining work properly (manually inserted special holes and routes)? Can these holes/routes be given 'intelligence' to parmetrically adapt as the part/cabinet changes? We currently have our 3/4" applied backs bored with 5mm holes that have eliminated the need to drill/countersink the backs manually. Can MV accomplish this automatically with a 'user-created-standard' or similar means (if not globally)?

Can MV put each type of part on a separate layer? Can we turn that layer on and off? Can we change a part from one layer to another?

Can we move parts from nest to nest? Add parts to a nest? We do a great deal of matched-grain work with specailty veneers - how well does MV deal with this issue?

I have seen an ad that mentions common line too paths for nested-base or something similar, which reduces machining time significantly. Is this what I think it is (a common path for two parts)?

If so, this sounds great. For accuracy, we would need to update the tool diameter in MV's tool catalog each time we changed tools, before exporting, but I would not mind at all. Is this true, and does it function properly?

Can we add comments to a part, cabinet, room, or job? Do those comments show up on a report (for assembly/finish/install)?

How good are the reports? Can they be customized? CV has a really poor report system with almost no flexibility. We would love to have (or develop) really comprehensive assembly/finish/install reports, including as many comments as we want (some cabs/parts need a lotT of explanation).

I know this is long, but as I have been reading the forums, I haven't found enough specific input from actual Microvellum users about how satisfied they are with the software, so I am hopeful that I get some good responses. I am not interested in comments about other software in this post, just MV users. This is another big investment and more importantly, a big change in our approach and I want to make sure that this is the right time.

I truly feel that it is a question of whether or not Microvellum is ready for us, not the other way around. If it is not, I would rather wait it out and stick with our awkward system that does function, for now. I understand all too well that nothing will do everything for everybody; the question for me is whether or not the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks. My gut feeling is that Microvellum, ultimately, does seem to be the right software for us.

Forum Responses
(CAD Forum)
From contributor G:
I've been a MV user for about six months, and purchased my first CNC machine about 4 months ago. It has been very educational, to put it kindly.

First of all, I think you are asking exactly the right questions. I think getting information from actual users is more valuable than anything else. Some salesmen will tell you anything to get the sale, but they really don't understand the program and what it can do.

As far as your questions:

1. While version 6 has cleaned up many of the issues with version 5, there are still quite a few bugs that are primarily related to the library. Version 6 included a face frame/beaded face from option to the standard library. I still don't have a working library for face frames/beaded frames. But, since 95% of what we do in cabinetry is frameless, it hasn't been huge for me. But, I have a beaded face frame job coming up in a few weeks, and won't be able to use MV unless they get me the new library. I've been waiting for the new library since the new release, and seen nothing that works yet.

Concerning how it works with my CNC, we're finally getting to the point of relying on the data from MV. Most of the issues are related to my post for our machine. The center line nesting, part sizes, tool paths, etc are working very well. I've had quite a bit of issues with taking that information to G-code. I've worked with MV for a couple months to get my tool file tweaked correctly. I wouldn't say it is flawless now, but I'm finally getting close to what I expected. My main issue now is with custom parts we create. The program seems to be very delicate when it comes to defining tool paths. I think once we understand the nuances of the program, it will be fine.

All that said, I still think MV will do more for me than other programs. I'm working in AutoCad, and getting G-Code, drawings, material lists, etc all in one program. Although there are several programs within the MV suite, I'm not importing/exporting data to another CAM program. My experience with that process makes me think it would cause more problems than I've faced with MV.

2. Yes, you can show different door styles in your elevations (done several different ways). You can set your door style up as a global variable (any new cabinet created would be that door style), or change them on specific cabinets. But, you can also add them manually if you want (a nice part of working in AutoCad). There are some limitations on door style. If you have a custom arched style, you would probably be better off drawing them manually into the elevations.

3. Door reveals are easily changed (for the project, or on an individual cabinet).

4. It depends on how you construct your toekicks, but the program is very flexible in letting you determine setbacks. We build our toekicks separately, so we make them a separate product.

5. Associate machining for the hardware works very well, and easily.

6. Moulding can easily be run around cabinets, but if you're not drawing in 3d it's probably faster to just draw them manually with AutoCad commands.

7. Cabinet sections (in all three planes) are easily created. Version 6 is doing a better job too. You can be hatched automatically if you want. My only complaint is that the level of dimensioning is not detailed enough for me, but we add them in manually if needed.

8. In my opinion, the door portion of MV is a little weak. You're basically only given a few doors styles to use. But, one of the more powerful and important aspects of MV is the flexibility it gives you in creating your own variables. We intend to create our own door library, where we choose cope/stick, raised panel, and door edge profiles as options (global variables) for the job.

9. Part sizes for stiles/rails are already part of the program, and there are options for the doors and finished ends. To get applied mouldings on the doors, I believe you would have to create your own subassembly. Like many things, it can be done but you would have to create it. But, other programs I've used wouldn't even give you the flexibility to create the option if you wanted it.

10. MV is exceptional when it comes to re-configuring drawer and door sizes within a cabinet. The depths change associatively, but can also be manually overridden. There are options for each drawer height and depth, and there is a calculator within the program to assist in the drawer heights.

11. Yes, you can use different drawer box construction for different hardware. It's not an option in the program, but again the program gives you the flexibility to change drawer construction for the job or for particular drawers.

12. Yes, drawer box depths change with the depth of the cabinet, and can easily be overridden.

13. The machining works very well. We also use confirmat construction, and have had no problems with locations etc. We had issues with the G-code being wrong, but that was a problem with the tool file. One thing I would have done differently is make sure the post processor (tool file) is available for my machine. If your machine is common, then this wouldn't be an issue. MV might already have a post for your machine. They didn't for mine, and it's been a pain to get right.

14. Custom machining also works very well, but as I stated before it has nuances that need to be learned. They can be set up parametrically if needed.

15. Applied backs are a variable, and can easily be changed. I'm not sure how you would get the holes in the back, but MV's tech support could help you with that.

16. MV uses a layering system. I'm not sure if the program can do what you're asking.

17. Parts can easily be moved, copied, or added to nests (unless you used center line nesting to create it). It's actually very easy, done with standard AutoCad commands. MV does have grain matching available. But in instances where you need to move parts around, it's very quick and easy.

18. Common line nesting is exactly what you think it is, and works very well. You can also add tabs to the common line nest for small parts, if you need to.

19. Comments can be added to parts, cabinets, phases and jobs. I'm not sure if all show up in all reports, but I know the part and cabinet comments show up in the reports I use.

20. MV uses Crystal Reports format within its program. The reports cannot be changed unless you have that program. I feel the reporting part of MV could be improved to add more flexibility.

21. You didn't want to ask, but I'll answer anyway. Curved die-walls and other specialty items is where MV shines, in my opinion. There are standard library items for die-walls with many options already set up. But, MV gives so much flexibility in creating your own library. Plus, if you want, the product you create is parametric and can include any variables you want.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with MV. There has been a steep learning curve, and some of that has been bugs within the program. The problems I've had with these bugs, and the face frame/beaded library, are more than offset by great flexibility. It was important to me to work within AutoCad as well. I've also really enjoyed using one portal to get my drawings, cut lists, and G-code.

Just be ready for a steep learning curve, and I would suggest taking training. We went to their Colorado office for training. If I were to do it again, I might have done it on-site to work out some of my tool file issues.

From the original questioner:
We are looking at right around $30,000 +/- for the various MV modules, post, nested optimization, additional seats, training, and one year support-upgrades. You need AutoCAD to run MV and I believe this runs about $3000 a copy or so. It seems CV and PS run about the same when all is said and done.

From contributor K:
We are a prior user of CV Solid Manufacturing for CNC. We purchased MV recently and had the trainers come in to our for three days of training. We are a small operation with two men in the office and seven in the shop. As with most small businesses, the owner must wear way too many hats and this can limit your ability to make immediate use of new technology. About the time we completed our training, we received several large commercial projects which had to be built in a short amount of time. Hence, we were unable to make any headway with the program for about 6 months due to being overwhelmed with production requirements.

I did however spend a little free time looking around in the program in an effort to become better acquainted with the program and to develop a plan of attack regarding the customization I would need to create in order to accomplish what I desired. We too needed to do many of the specialized things you are asking for, and while the program is capable of doing just about anything in any way you choose to do it, there can be a tremendous amount of work necessary to create the flexibility that you are looking for.

The true beauty of MV is the almost limitless flexibility. We are a non CNC shop, probably one of the few running MV, so I can't speak to the machining issues, although I have heard mostly good things about MV's machining abilities and very little negative from the other users who are utilizing the machine links.

As to your specific questions, these have been my experiences:

1. I don't know about the CNC accuracy of parts, but our parts list are always 100% accurate unless I fail to set up a cabinet correctly when creating the library. I do know that all of the machining is drawn on our parts when looking at a 3D view of the cabinet and appears to be accurate.

2. It is possible to visually show any part of any door style in its correct location, shape, and size. The program comes with a very limited door library if you will, but you as the end user can very easily create any variation of door that you desire with total flexibility.

3. Door reveals may be changed at your discretion to any value you desire within the entire job or within an individual cabinet. You could set any reveal to any dimension you wish, even overlap the adjacent cabinet entirely.

4. All toekick values are set for the job as a whole but may be changed within any individual cabinet at any time.

5. I have't used the associative machining.

6. Mouldings can be applied to cabinets drawn in 3D much easier than with CV. You simply select the profile you desire from the list of mouldings and then pick the points you want the moulding to follow. The moulding library contains the entire AWI mouldings list and you can add any thing you can draw in ACAD. The mouldings look quite nice, not like the renditions found in CV and are very easy to produce. Once again, if you can draw it in ACAD, it's available. For 2D mouldings, I use a block of the profile and place it at the corners of the cabinets and then extend the horizontal lines from corner to corner.

7. Cabinet sections are a piece of cake. You simply select the cabinet you wish to section, choose where to place the section drawing and the location of the section cut within the cabinet, and it is done.

8. Your door catalog is something you must create to suit your needs. There is a basic five piece door that comes with the library that you can use as a starting point. One of my biggest complaints with CV was the inability to modify the part size of an individual door without creating a new door product with the specific modification you needed. Then you had to figure out how to keep the bazillion different door variations in the catalog straight.

I set up my door and drawer front subassemblies so that any part on any individual door can be changed at any time and all other affected parts are automatically updated as well. Additionally, I have just one door subassembly that is used to create all of the various door styles and panel types. It contains all of the parts necessary for any combination of parts and simply turns the quantities on or off as they are needed. No more catalogs with 150 different door variations. The individual parts will draw correctly, the cut list is accurate and the overall finished door size is accurate if you wish to outsource.

9. Once again, the door part sizes can be changed on an individual basis for doors, wainscot, and finished ends. Applied moulding can be included within the door subassembly, sized with a simple formula, have the quantity turned on and off automatically as required, and have the mouldings drawn accurately on the elevations.

10. When sectioning a cabinet, the drawers and slides do move with the drawer front automatically and can be manually overridden with each cabinet.

11. You can use different hardware and different drawer construction methods within the same cabinet.

12. Drawer box depths as well as heights and slide lengths do change automatically and can be overridden on a drawer by drawer basis.

13-18. I don't have any first hand experience with the CNC hardware machining functions.

19. Unique comments can be added to each of the following areas - cabinets, parts, sub-assemblies, and subassembly parts. Any of these comments can be visible on any report you choose. Depending on the amount of space you have available on the individual reports, the comments could be quite lengthy.

20. The canned reports that ship with MV are very basic, but lay a very good foundation for other reports to be built upon. You will need to purchase Crystal reports in order to make changes to the reports or create your own from scratch.

From contributor J:
I have just completed the last of the setup in a shop where I live I am still navigating through the nuances of the more custom aspects of the program. I have yet to find anything with a bit of patience. I was a PS user for many years and find the ease of set up for subtle changes that are found job to job to be very easy with one piece of advice. Get to know the Globals, Tooling and Tokens. The key to success for us thus far has been in being able to adjust the variables within these to fit the job. Most of us are, after all, custom fabricators working to meet our clients requests. MV is an incredibly flexible and powerful engineering data tool at the disposal of anyone prepared to use it to meet those needs.

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