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In our tireless and dedicated effort to manufacture high-quality precision parts, and maintain a reputation for accuracy and on-time reliability, Advanced Precision Machining’s (APM) Colorado machine shop relies on an assortment of Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines in our facility. In today’s modern machine shop, CNC equipment typically consists of multi-axis milling machines, lathes, routers, and grinders, but also more advanced technology such as electrical discharge machines, plasma cutters, and water jet cutters. With origins dating back to the 1950s, what was known first simply as “numerical control”, lessened the need for constant operator attention and took the machine tools out of the hand of machinists, and allowed for first-of-its-kind automation. Today, the punch tapes associated with numerical control have given rise to advanced computing technology, programming languages, and computer-aided design (CAD) capabilities, making CNC technology an integral part of most manufacturing processes.
At its core, CNC involves the use of computers to control the various machine tools listed in the first paragraph, and they function through the use of numerically controlled computer programs, most often written in a CNC machining programming language called G-Code. G-code sends the signals, or directions, to a piece of machining equipment on the shop floor directing such essential functions as cutting tool speeds, spindle position, feed rates, and all other coordinated movements. Today, most modern CNC systems have become highly automated and quite complex, augmented by the addition of CAD and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) programs. Due to the complexities involved with modern machining, CNC machinists have evolved to become skilled in all aspects of drawing and design, code writing, and equipment operation. When all is said and done, however, a precision machined part, in the end, is only going to be manufactured as well as the programming that was input to create it. Because of its importance, APM would like to provide a short primer on some common CNC programming methods.
As stated, CNC machines require a set of precise programming instructions to control nearly every aspect of the milling and machining process. After a CAD drawing is first drafted, the actual programming code (G-code) is created in a language that the CNC machine will understand. The program is then loaded into the microcomputer, or controller unit directly on the machine where it is stored in memory, then tested for accuracy. A CNC machinist next loads the required tools and material, then the computer directs the machine to perform the cutting operations according to the programmed instructions. Given the critical nature of CNC programming, let’s briefly examine three of the most commonly used methods: manual, conversational, and CAM programming.
Manual (non-conversational) CNC Programming
Conversational (shop floor) CNC Programming
Computer-aided Manufacturing (CAM system) CNC Programming
The description and methods shown for developing the CNC programs all have developed their own specific niche in the precision machining industry. They of course have a comprehensive list of additional pros and cons surrounding their use, and as most CNC machinists can tell you, their preferred use comes down to not only specific machining needs but also personal preference. Be sure your machine shop chooses the optimal CNC programming method to deliver your parts accurately, on time and on budget.
Need help with an upcoming project? APM’s reputation for quality parts, on-time reliability, and exceptional customer service cannot be matched! We're happy to discuss any machining needs you have. Call us at 720-797-1469 or send us an email.
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 and a partner began 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.