Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine programming is one of the driving factors behind automation across industries. However, it can be a daunting task as there is no space for error, and a lot rides on it. Read on to learn more about CNC machines, processes, components, and more.
What is CNC Machine Programming?
Manufacturers employ CNC programming to develop a program to control machine tools to perform CNC Machining. It is a subtractive manufacturing process that relies on machines and tools to remove layers of materials from a stock piece to create a custom design. The process is applicable for a wide range of materials, including wood, glass, plastic, composite, foam, and more.
It finds application across various industries. For example, CNC machine programming is used in the telecommunication industry for the machining of prototypes and parts. It is also employed in the aerospace industry for CNC machining aerospace parts.
Before moving forward, let’s take a minute to clear out any confusion between CNC Machine and CNC Machining – the first term refers to the physical machine while the second term refers to the process. On the other hand, CNC Programming refers to creating programs that control CNC machines to perform CNC machining.
The automated nature of CNC machining makes it a great option for manufacturers who demand high precision and accuracy. It is also great for fulfilling one-time or medium-volume production runs. However, it must be stated that CNC machining is not overly simple. A high degree of complexity is involved, and the cost-effectiveness of producing complex parts and prototypes is limited, especially when producing in bulk.
The CNC Process
CNC machine programming is a part of the CNC machining process. Different CNC machining processes may offer different operations and capabilities. However, the basic principles remain more or less the same throughout different processes. A basic CNC machining process includes designing a CAD model, converting it into a CNC program, preparing the CNC machine, and executing the machine operation. Let’s take a deeper look at these different stages of the CNC process.
· Design a CAD Model
The first step of CNC machining involves creating a 2D or 3D solid part Computer-Aided Design (CAD). CAD software allows manufacturers to develop a model of the desire part or product. Once the CAD design is complete, the designer exports it to a CNC-compatible file.
· CAD File Conversion
The second step involves CNC programming. It entails running the CNC-compatible file through CAM software to generate digital programming code that will control the CNC machine. Programmers use a host of programming languages, including M-Code and G-Code. G-Code controls the movement of the machine tools. On the other hand, M-Code controls auxiliary functions. It is also known as Miscellaneous Function Code. Once the program is ready, it is loaded into the CNC machine
· Machine Setup
CNC machines need to be prepared for operation before the CNC program can be executed. It generally includes attaching the workpiece directly into the machine, on the spindles of the machine, into the machine vise, or any other similar holding device. Depending on the type of machining, the operator may also attach other tools and machine components, such as drill bits or end mills.
· Machine Operation Execution
The only thing left to do is to initiate the CNC program, which will submit commands into the machine to dictate tooling actions and movements. Initiating the program will prompt the machine to perform the required tasks to create custom-design parts and products.
CNC Machining Components
During CNC machine programming, programmers write instructions for the machines through a computer connected to the mill. Backed by a complete system of electrical drives and sensors, the computer controls the movement of the machine’s axis. Here are some important components that play a part in CNC machine programming and CNC machining.
- CNC Routers: CNC routers are generally employed in woodwork. They come in different sizes, ranging from a desktop 3-axis configuration to 5-axis configurations.
- CNC Lathes: CNC Lathes are usually programmed by hand. They are designed to rotate the workpiece as different cutting tools create a profile.
- Milling Machines: It is a versatile device that rotates a circular tool featuring various cutting edges symmetrically arranged around its axis. The workpiece is typically held in a vise that moves in three directions.
- Mill/Turn Machines: Milling/Turn machines are used to create spun profiles. They combine the milling and turning process into a single center.
- Plasma Cutters: Plasma cutters use a jet of heated plasma to cut through conductive metals. These CNC machines are highly cost-effective. They also provide great precision.
- Laser Cutters: Laser cutters differ from plasma cutters as they use laser instead of plasma to cut through materials. These CNC machines can be used for a variety of types and thickness of materials, including metal, depending on the laser’s power.
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