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[June 16, 2014] Take a peek inside any CNC machining facility, and you will find a host of cutting-edge software programs being run to improve the productivity of the business itself, and more importantly, the milling machines at the heart of the precision manufacturing industry. Thanks to advancements in technology, there is now a vast array of digital tooling utilities being used to augment and boost CNC machining operations. The modern machine shop, including APM in Colorado, now has at their fingertips the critical software necessary to make their business successful. In addition to the purchase order, scheduling, accounting, inventory and payroll programs to name a few, today's CNC machinists rely heavily on a natural progression of software suites dedicated to one-off or batch production of precision machine components. From initial design, to final output, the following utilities are standard protocol and used by almost every machining center. Here is a brief look:
The CNC machining workflow process begins with the implementation of CAD, or computer-aided design software, technology that allows for the rendering of a 2D or 3D model 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 milling and machining work takes place. The precision machining process itself can be facilitated as CAD allows for a part's materials, tolerances, and dimensions to be analyzed. Diagrams and drawings, or even solid models using 3D printing technology, can be viewed and modified prior to production.
Once a part is mocked-up with a CAD rendering, it now enters the toolpath and CNC machine programming phase. CAM, or computer-aided manufacturing software, is utilized to organize the CNC machining process. In simple terms, CAM takes the geometric models produced by CAD software and generates a series of code (g-code) that is 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 make the process reliable and more efficient.
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 milling machines 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 machining centers, including APM's Hurco's VMX 50, 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.
For more thorough information on modern CNC machine shop software, or to put its power to use for your next precision machining project, contact the expert CNC machinists at APM's Colorado machine shop today.
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. Before making his home in the United States in 2000, Gerry was born and raised on the emerald isle of Ireland and took an interest in milling and machining from an early age, ranking #1 in the Irish National Apprenticeship Program. In 2005, he partnered with his friend and colleague, Kirk Tuesburg, currently APM’s machine shop manager, together launching what’s grown into a leading Colorado machine shop. Gerry brings over 30 years of machining experience to the shop floor, and is certified in all aspects of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing.