3 Axis CNC Milling
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Software is the real secret to this little gem. The software in broken
down into three basic portions; CAD, CAM, and Control. Take look at the
next section for a brief description of each and jump to
more details on this page. Software can cost you tons of
time and money so make sure you spend as much time in
the process of finding software as you do in hard parts
for the machine. I have tried most of the major DIY CNC
Software tools out there and I have highlighted what are
the best in my opinion for my machine.
1) CAD [Computer Aided Design]
Is a precision drawing tool that uses the computers mathematical power
to design and document 2D and 3D objects.
2) CAM [Computer Aided Manufacturing] is a subsequent
computer-aided process after computer-aided design (CAD). The model
generated in CAD is then input into CAM software, which is used to
create Machine Code that is read by the Control Software. The most
common machine code is G-Code, the basic code for all CNC operations.
3) CONTROL Control Software is the interface
between the human and the machine. It reads the output of the CAM
package, normally G-Code, to be translated into machine movements to
create the part you designed in CAD
| This is the
software that it all starts in. In order to do anything
with a computer controlled machine you need to have a
drawing of the part you want to create. Historically
this has been a 2 Dimensionally drawn part. New tools
are allowing us the designers to model them in 3D now as
software that you choose all depends on what you are
looking to do and how complicated the part needs to be.
For most all the designs I have been working on of late
the 2D drawing capability has been more than adequate.
I have been using
a few different tools and in the end it does not matter
what you use but the key is that it can generate a
Vector based drawing and NOT a raster based drawing like
Paint or Photoshop etc.
The two large tools
on the market are
Solid Works. These are the industry leading tools
but they also tend to have industry leading price tags
as well. I needed a tool that gave me good features and
a good value for my limited budget. The two I use most
Google SketchUp. They are great tools for the types
of designs I am currently creating and they are great
tool is a big decision and I suggest every person look
at all the options out there. Each tool behaves a bit
differently and there will be a learning curve that you
will need to factor into your decision. Reading the
reviews and threads on
www.cnczone.com has proven to be a must in helping
me learn about the tools that are out there that simply
don't turn up on the front page of a Google search.
| Now I have been
working with CAD tools for years, even decades if you count
high school and college work. When it comes to CAM tools I
am very new to this and have learned that a lof of how well
your machine performs depends on the G-Code you "feed" it.
You will encounter folks who
can simply write G-Code off the top of their head and have
the machine whip out a simple part. I am NOT one of those
people. I need to have a good tool help me through the
process and I think the one I am using now is the easiest
CAM tool on the market. Frankly speaking it is one of the
best windows based tools I have used period.
Ok so what it the
name of it already you are saying at this point. It is
Vetric Ltd's Cut 2D this is the only CAM tool I am
currently using. It allows me to import the designs from
my CAD tools directly and then start working on the
visualization of the part. By choosing different cutting
tools, depths and you can create a representation of
what the part will look like once it has been machined.
the other outstanding feature is how easily it allows
you to simulate the tool paths ( G-Code ) and lets you
determine the order of machining based on tool size,
path importance, time etc. I can't sing the praises of
this tool loud enough.
| Now on to the final
part of the 3 piece software puzzle. The control software is
where the rubber meets the road. We have designed our part
in CAD, generated the G-Code in CAM and now we are ready for
this Control Software to take that G-code and create our
I must admit I
went through a quite a few different vendors on this one. I
started with KCAM
by KellyWare and I
have been happy with it...in the beginning. I am now using
ArtSoft along with
a screen set plug-in from
CNC Woodworker called
MACH3 2010 Screenset.
The main issue I
encountered had to do with the way the stepper motors
are driven by the driver board and how that is
ultimately controlled by the software. Not to bore you
to tears but in short the KCAM software was only able to
run my machine at about 20 IPM ( Inches Per Minute ).
During the machining process if I tried to go any faster
with KCAM I would end up with lost steps and stuttering.
I do not experience this at all with MACH3, and I can
run my machine at speeds that make me nervous, so in
other words I have plenty of head room for more
performance once confidence in my machine skills grows.
One other thing I want to
mention is for those folks doing circuit boards, PCBs,
or any other type of design that would come to you in a
GERBER format*. KCAM does a great job of importing
GERBERS and allowing you to machine your boards quickly.
My plans are to keep both software suites available and
use the one that works for the situation at hand best.
* Go here to learn more about
GERBER and PCB
Alright, there you
have it, my take on the software you need and the
particular ones I chose. I am sure there are others out
there and possibly some real gems that I have missed but
for now this setup is working very well for me and isn't
breaking the bank. I am sure that in the years to come
there will be more solutions that will start to push all
these processes into one tool. For now I am really like
the separation as it helps me with each stage of the
design by putting in solid stop and starting points.