Computer Numerical Control machines are used in the manufacturing industry, and by entrepreneurs and hobbyists, to cut, shape, and finish raw materials like metal, wood, and plastic into functional components. CNC machines are told what to do by computer. So, the first step in manufacturing parts with CNC machines is to create a design with specific software.
The Components of CNC Machines
CNC machines can be easily purchased from reputable companies. Check out Revelation Machinery’s website for an excellent selection of lathes, press brakes, lasers, presses, and more. CNC machinery consists of three main elements: the machine, the controller, which is comprised of both the computer and a program, and the software.
The Main Software Programs Used by CNC Machines
To get started in designing components, you first need a CAD program in which you can create drawings. You then need to feed the drawings of the designed parts to a CAM program. The program then analyzes your CAD drawing and outputs the information as G-Code for the machine controller. G-Code is the basic computer language that tells CNC machines what to do. Once the G-Code has been generated and fed to your CNC machine, the tool will be ready to make your component. Alternatively, you can use slicer software instead of CAM software.
CAD packages are the software you will spend most of your time with, so you must choose the software carefully. It will take time to master drawing components with a CAD package, but you will get there with time and practice. The most commonly used CAD software packages for CNC machines are Autodesk’s AutoCAD and Inventor, Dassault Systems’ Solidworks, and Rhino 3D. There are also some fantastic cloud CAD software packages such as Onshape and Fusion 360.
There are numerous CAM software packages available. The most popular ones are MeshCAM, which is undoubtedly the easiest to use, and the very powerful HSMWorks, which is also available in the cloud of Fusion 360. Other excellent CAM software for CNC machines includes OneCNC and Mastercam. You can get integrated software packages that contain both CAD and CAM, such as Fusion 360, but most people prefer separate packages.
Specific CADCAM Software
There are also specialized CADCAM packages that aim to solve specific problems. The advantage of such software packages is they can offer features and UI that are easier to use and more powerful because they are only focusing on one problem. An excellent example of this type of software is Gearotic Gear Design.
Other Types of CNC Software
Many other kinds of CNC machine software are available to help facilitate processes. Firstly, numerous G-Code-oriented software is available for CNC programmers, such as G-Code editors, G-Code verification software, and G-Code simulators. There are also a variety of CNC utilities available for things like calculating speeds and feeds.
CNC control software serves as the front panel of a CNC machine. OEM turnkey controllers are hardware and software solutions built into the machines by the manufacturers. The control software can also be retrofitted to older CNC machine models to update their capabilities. Alternatively, PC software can be used to turn a PC into a machine controller. Popular PC software includes LinuxCNC, TurboCNC, DeskNC, and Artsoft’s The Mach series. Such programs are popular with CNC machine hobbyists, but OEM turnkey controllers are generally better for performance and capabilities.
Another software type is carving software. Basically, carving software simplifies CAM by converting bitmap into G-Code. Bitmaps are ideal for things like engraving and sign making. The only problem with bitmaps is they are flat, so they do not convey depth information. Therefore, the program has to make assumptions based on the pixels’ tone or color in the bitmap. But if your aim is to create ornamental parts rather than precision components, carving software can save you a lot of time because it is much easier to come up with a decorative design than with a CAD drawing. One of the best carving software packages is MeshCAM Pro.