If you have ever used a CNC machining tool, you would know how important the associated tools are for the CNC machine to work. The vises, grips, cutters, holders, tool heads, drawbars, and more complete the CNC machine, and they form the physical tooling part of the whole machine.
However, there is one more aspect of the machine which is just as important – the “digital tooling” of a CNC system. The CNC software is required to make the hardware of a CNC system work, and you think of it as digital tooling for the machine.
Here’s what this digital tooling does and why it makes for the central part of the CNC machine:
The CNC software that feeds the G-code into your machine is your digital tooling. If it weren’t for this software, you won’t be able to run the programs according to your designs.
There is no one software included in your digital tooling packet. It includes various software and systems required to complete the whole process of manufacturing a certain part. The CAD/CAM software has also advanced to be able to add G-code to CNC machines.
Let’s take a look at the CNC software and learn how they work and fit into the digital tooling box.
CAD/CAM Software as Your Digital Tooling
Whether you have a CNC lathe, mill, router, or some other machine, there is a typical workflow process followed by the CAD/CAM software to complete the task.
CAD software makes the 2D drawings and solid models that serve as the starting point from where the CAM software picks up and produces the G-code to run the CNC machine accordingly. Other than CAM, there might also be a Slicer software that feeds the G-code to the CNC system or a 3D printer.
Mechanical CAD programs are mostly used in CNCs rather than architectural CAD software. Some most popular CAD names for the CNC machine include AutoCAD, Inventor, Solidworks, Rhino3D, and more.
Other Software in CNC Digital Tooling
Slicer software is similar in function to CAM software but is a bit more complicated and used for 3D printers.
There are other CNC programming apps associated with work related to G-code such as G-code simulators, G-code editors, G-code verification software, and more. Another inclusion in the digital tooling kit is the CNC control software which takes the G-code and provides the right electrical outputs, so the CNC could move in the correct order to manufacture according to requirements. It could be separate software or come in a combination of software and hardware.
Then there are CNC Utilities which are used for calculating feeds, speeds, and many more functions. There are several shop floor and manufacturing software as well which help in taking inventory, predicting job costs, managing operations, and more functions associated with the manufacturing process via a CNC machine.
What should you look for in CNC software?
So, how do you choose which software to buy for your digital toolkit from among the many options available today? This is especially complicated with different software performing different functions. You may not know which software function a certain CNC machine needs for optimum performance. Read on to find out what attributes you should look for in CNC software for your CNC machine.
Free and Paid
Take a quick look at CNC software for machines, and you will be bombarded with hundreds of results. There will be AutoCAD, AutoDesk, and other latest software. Some will work online through cloud computing, while others will need to be downloaded onto the computer.
However, the critical distinguishing factor between most of these options will be the price of the digital tool. The pricing could vary. There are free ones as well as paid ones with a one-time fee. You might be tempted to jump on the first free option you land upon. But here’s what you need to remember before taking the plunge with either free or paid software.
Your machining tools and the outcome will only be as good as the codes running the machines. The G-codes will be as good as the programs or software they are created on, no matter whether you are using a CNC lathe or a mill. This doesn’t imply that all free tools are bad. But your focus must not be on the price rather the quality of work they can provide you. The fact is, a free program with a buggy code can ruin your products and lead to more costs incurred than saved during the purchase.
Paying a small fee at the beginning might be worth all the effort, time, and money you will save later in the manufacturing process.
2D and 3D
Your choice of software will be strongly influenced by the kind of machine you are using and the resultant need. If you are designing in 3D, the CAD programs that work best with it will be different than if you are working with 2D designs.
There are some CNC software that support working on 3-axis, while others work better with 5-axis machines or multiple axes. You would want to consider that as well.
Feeds and Speeds
Advanced feeds and speeds software help with calculations for the final G-code that gets fed into the CNC machines. Other than a CAM program for dealing with the G-code, it could be good for precise measurements to install a feeds and speeds program.
Separate or Combined
CAD and CAM can be separate programs and can be all-in-one programs as well. Look into which one suits your needs the best. A centralized option may not always work the best. You need to audit your skills and output required and then make the decision.
Digital tooling is just as significant, if not more, as hardware tools. Softwares and programs need to be in top shape as well if you want the output to be precise and accurate. Most people won’t pay much attention to choosing software.
Don’t leave it to pricing only. Choose your digital tools with caution. They are going to run your hardware.
Share your favorite CNC software that you added to your digital toolkit.
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