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Piecing Together the Machine Shop Components of Milling and Machining Software

May 5, 2022by Gerry Dillon

To the uninitiated eye, a glance inside any modern machine shop will reveal a wide array of high-tech equipment ranging from multi-axis milling machines, lathes, routers and grinders, to electrical discharge machines, waterjets and plasma cutters. While this list is undoubtedly essential to the day-to-day operations of any facility, it’s Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) and the associated software, complemented by advanced programming languages, that’s at the heart of precision manufacturing processes. Today, most modern CNC systems have become highly automated and quite complex, augmented by a host of software suites, but a precision machined part in the end is only going to be as good as inputs used to create it. Thankfully, there is now a vast array of digital tooling utilities being used to augment and boost CNC milling and machining operations.  

At Advanced Precision Machining’s (APM) Colorado machine shop, we now have cutting-edge equipment at our fingertips, combined with the critical software necessary to make our business successful. In our tireless and dedicated effort to manufacture high-quality precision parts, and maintain our reputation for accuracy and on-time reliability,our CNC machinists have evolved to become skilled in all aspects of software drawing and design, code writing, and machine tool operation. In addition to the purchase order, scheduling, accounting, inventory and payroll software programs that are common to most businesses, the certified machinists at APM must heavily rely on a natural progression of software suites dedicated to one-off or batch production of precision machine components. When combined with CNC’s programming language referred to as G-Code to direct essential machining functions, the end result is a high-quality part. From the initial design phase, to final output, the following software utilities are standard protocol and used by almost every machine shop. Because of their importance, APM would like to provide a primer; Here is a brief look.

CAD Software

The CNC milling and machining workflow process begins with the implementation of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software technology that allows for a 2D or 3D model rendering of a part to be manufactured. CAD allows CNC machinists and machine shop customers to digitally create, modify, analyze, and optimize the design of any component before actual milling and machining work takes place. The precision machining process itself can be expedited as CAD software allows for a part’s materials, tolerances, and dimensions to be analyzed in advance. Diagrams and drawings, or even solid models using 3D printing technology, can be viewed and modified prior to production.

CAM Software

Once a part is mocked-up with a CAD rendering, it now enters the toolpath and CNC machine programming phase. Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software is now utilized to better organize the CNC machining process. In simple terms, CAM takes the geometric models produced by CAD software and generates a series of codes (g-codes) that are fed into the control software on CNC mills and CNC lathes for example. Machinists rely on CAM utilities to form machining strategies enabling workflow efficiency. Selection of stock, dimensions, tool designation, speed and feed settings, and streamlined tool paths can all be programmed into CNC machining centers. CAM works in conjunction with CAD to achieve the desired precision part results.

Simulation and Verification Software 

When code is converted in the CAD to CAM process, errors may present themselves in precision machining operations. This is not a good thing! Modern machine tools are complex, and programming errors can result in damage to expensive equipment, wasted bar stock, and loss of time, money and productivity. Simulation and verification software is used to better write, analyze, and improve functions before milling and machining begins. Code simulators and verification programs provide a good graphic replication of how a CNC machine will perform, and what will be produced.

CNC Machine Control and Other Utility Software

 Modern CNC machines consist in part of the machine tool assembly itself, and its computer numerical control system, with control software acting as the heart of the system. Most CNC machine centers, including APM’s new Hyundai multi-axis CNC turning center, rely on OEM software built into the machine that converts CAM programming into the motions of precision machining. PC-based software also exists that allows for a desktop computer to act as a control unit, although this is more common among hobbyists. Utility packages work in conjunction with control software to monitor performance, output, and capabilities such as part feed and speed. 

Want to learn more about  modern milling and machining software, or to put its power to use for your next precision manufacturing project, contact the expert CNC machinists at APM’s Colorado machine shop today.

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About Advanced Precision Machining

APM provides comprehensive manufacturing services; from blueprint and prototyping, to machining and inspection. In their state-of-the-art machine shop, fully certified CNC machinists offer a full range of services featuring the latest CNC mills and CNC lathes to cut steels, composites, aluminum, plastics, and exotic metals. For additional information or to request a quote, please visit our website or call 303-776-1910.

by Gerry Dillon

Gerry Dillon is a co-founder, current owner and certified CNC machinist at Advanced Precision Machining (APM), a full-service machine shop located in Longmont, Colorado. Gerry has over 30 years of precision milling and machining experience under his belt.