CNC Programming in the Digital age

cnc programming

It is an exciting time for advanced manufacturing, there are many evolving innovations, advancing manufacturing with a web of digital technologies. The amount of information and tools available to help manufacturing is amazing and at times overwhelming.

Computer-aided design and manufacturing software (CAD/CAM software) have made it possible to innovate and produce new products with less error and greater speed, compared to the decades before. When I started CNC programming, I used a paper notepad, a pencil and calculator. I would create the process program outline on the note pad, select my tooling from various tooling catalogs, and jot notes about speeds, feeds, and depth of cuts for the tools I selected.  Then I would refine my outline to specific tool paths for the process program; calculating, writing, erasing, re-calculating, re-writing and mentally visualizing the process until my tool paths were complete on the pad of paper. Then I would manually input the hand-written code into the machine, set the machine up, perform a dry run of the program to “simulate” the process and catch any errors in code I missed or created. That was a very long process compared to using the CAD/CAM tools available now in the industry.

VT CNC Programmers

Currently, most of the top tier CAD/CAM systems will dramatically reduce the time it takes to create a process program through a type of AI (artificial intelligence) called knowledge-based programming or machining. Knowledge-based programming is a method of creating and inputting process strategies into the CAD/CAM software. The software uses the knowledge it is taught for processing a workpiece with the best practices for the specific application; what tools to use, speeds, feeds to run the tools and any other parameters needed for the program process. The CAD/CAM software uses this knowledge to automate the programming of repetitive processes. Here is an example of how knowledge base programming works, if I want to create a strategy for a ¼-20 tapped hole:

I create the strategy by in-putting information into the specific area of the software that is used to store or set the machining knowledge. The information that is input for the ¼-20 tapped hole are the tools like a spot drill, tap drill and tap, with specific parameters I want used with the tools during the process like speeds, feeds, depth of cut etc. After I have created this strategy, the strategy can be used in the future by the software. The software will then be able to automate the selection of tooling and machining parameters in the future when a process has a ¼-20 tapped hole.

Another exciting tool is the IIot (Industrial Internet of things), which makes it possible to speed the manufacturing process up even more, because majority of the tooling needed for machining is available online instead of looking through stacks of catalogs as I did before. I can find a tool online, get the specific machining parameters and a model of the tool for simulation within the CAD/CAM software from most tool vendors.  The available data from the IIot can be used to help the CAD/CAM software create the machining process from proven processes and use the tool model to help simulate the processes with a high degree of accuracy before ever putting the process on a machine. The IIot has an enormous amount of information and tools available from data collection systems, machining calculators, and web-sites to transfer information for manufacturing processes.

All the information and software can be overwhelming. It takes a lot of learning to utilize and benefit from the digital technologies that help improve manufacturing. Each software has its own uses, methods, and degree of complexity that must be manipulated to achieve desired results on the manufacturing floor. To take advantage of the digital revolution in manufacturing, don’t be complacent. Explore and learn the possibilities of these tools, because the technologies evolve fast and are becoming more interconnected. Complacency with the use of these digital tools will only create a loss of the competitive edge.