Which CNC Control Software Should I Use?

You have purchased the long-awaited CNC outer, and can’t wait to start working with it? Please do not rush so that an expensive CNC machine does not turn into a pile of metal before at least doing something.

First, you will need to select and carefully configure CAM software (Computer-aided manufacturing), a special program that works with CAD projects prepared for your machine. In the CAM software, we indicate exactly how to process the workpiece: type of cutter, machining depth, spindle speed, set the zeros of the real coordinate space, etc. CAD (Computer-aided design) – design software. It allows creating 2-D and 3-D models based on given data and edit them.

The CAM software converts digital objects into machine-friendly instructions in the G-code format. G-code is a direct control program for CNC routers – a set of commands for equipment. The control program includes a sequential set of frames, each of which is responsible for one step in the machine operation.

Ready-made instructions for machining workpieces are a chain of individual G-commands. The main commands are called preparatory, there are exactly 100 of them: from G00 to G99. For example, linear interpolation, function G01, is used to enable the working tool to move parallel to the axis. To start the operating mode in the inch system, function G20 is used. To switch to millimeters, the code G21 is used. Using the commands converted to G-code, the following occurs:

  • linear and circular movement of the working elements of the machine with a certain speed (adjustment of the rotation direction, correction of the diameter or radius the tool movement);
  • execution of typical sequences (standard holes and threads);
  • setting parameters: machine coordinate systems, work planes, working tool speed, feed speed.

G-Code is the most common language understood by CNC machines. In addition to G-Code, languages such as OpenSBP, HPGL (Hewlett-Packard Graphics Language), Cutter Location (CL) Data, APT are applied.
CAD / CAM is often delivered as a single software package. The most popular and functional CAD / CAM programs are complex and require operator training. Do not try to immediately install the “most popular CAM”. Try first to make a few details with a simpler package. What you learn along the way will facilitate the conversion to more functional and complex software.

To ensure the compatibility of the CAM-software with the machine and the correct processing of the resulting code, sometimes it is necessary to use the “Post” or “Post Processor” software. If you do not use the appropriate post-processor, then you can get a g-code that looks good but gives irrelevant results when it starts on the machine. Before choosing a specific CAM, be sure to watch the instructional videos on working with it to master the basic concepts. To ensure efficient operation on a CNC router, you need to learn to “think like CAM”. This will help to better understand what actions the machine performs when it processes the part, what commands and in what sequence it should receive.

CAD software can be classified into programs for 2D and 3D modeling. But many programs can create both 2D and 3D models.

Examples of CAD software for 2D modeling: Corel Draw (for art products), QCAD, AutoCAD (for exact details). The main file format of a 2D model is .dxf.

Examples of CAD software for 3D modeling: 3ds Max, ZBrush, Fusion 360, FreeCAD, SculptGL, Blender (for art products, the main format of 3D model files is .stl – you can purchase this type of model on our website), AutoDesk Inventor, SolidWorks (for precise details – technical products, the main file formats are .stp, .igs).

Examples of CAD / CAM software (you can create a model and generate a control program in G-code):

  • ArtCAM,
  • Vectric Aspire,
  • PowerMill,
  • MasterCAM,
  • Fusion 360,
  • SolidCAM.

In addition to CAM programs, there are machine controllers that transmit, for example, computer mouse movement directly to the machine controller. Here is the list of the most popular controllers:

  • LinuxCNC
  • Grbl
  • Jedicut
  • PyCNC
  • Mach3, Mach4
  • NC-Studio
  • Inkcut
  • Universal Gcode Sender (UGS)

The main file formats for the machine controllers in the G-code are .tap, .nc, .cnc. For direct control of the CNC router, a stand is used (in fact it is an autonomous control unit of the CNC machine with a display) or remote control (DSP controller). Thus, a typical process of creating the parts consists of the following steps:

  • CAD is used to design a model;
  • Additional programs optimize the CAD result for manufacturing on the machine;
  • CAM analyzes the CAD design, receives data from the machine operator (for example cutter, machining mode, zeros of the coordinate system) and draws up G-Code control commands for the machine controller;
  • the machine controller, on the basis of the commands received from the G-code, activates the corresponding electrical circuits in the desired sequence and with the specified duration, which forces the machine to perform the work on processing the workpiece provided by the program.