What is CNC?
CNC Machines – A Quick Introduction, CNC stands for computer numerical control. It’s a term used whenever a computer handles machining operations and includes everything from 3D printers, CNC Router, CNC Plasma Machines to robotic arms. CNC began decades ago with the automation of industrial machinery and has since become much more accessible to a wider public audience. This has allowed people to make their own products in smaller workshops at a fraction of the cost.
How does it work?
A CNC machine is made up of many different complex components. Fortunately, the basic process it follows is simple. CNC Machines have a dedicated computer and a CNC controller which live in their control own box next to the machine. The computer sends codes to the CNC motion controller which translates them into electronic signals. These signals are passed onto motors which move a spindle over the bed of the router. The router moves along separate axes – X-axis (left and right), Y-axis (forward and backward), and Z-axis (up and down). Many CNC Machines also have an A-axis for rotary cutting. As the spindle moves along the bed it engraves and cuts material along these axes.
What can it cut?
CNC Machines are built to cut soft metals like aluminum, hardwoods, MDF, plastics, and high-density foam. If you add a drag knife you can also cut vinyl, paper, and leather. Each material is best cut using a tool specific to that material.
What software do I need?
Our CNC Machines come standard with Mach 4 Hobby (for controlling the router) already installed and calibrated. You also need a vector graphics program CAD (computer-aided design) and a CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) program like any of the Vectric Software packages for the CAD and CAM process.
Convert your design
Once you have a vector drawing, you need to encode the drawing into a language that the CNC machine can understand. This language is called G-code and is made up of simple one-line commands. Don’t worry, you don’t need to encode these commands yourself. Instead, you’ll use a CAM program to encode your drawing for you. We highly recommend you invest in a good CAM program like Vectric so you get the best results from your CNC Router Machine.
Copy your G-code
Once it’s on the computer, open it in the machine’s control program such as Mach 4. The control program sends the G-code file to the router which directs it to cut and engrave your drawing.
Set up your material
Place the material you are going to cut on the CNC machines’ bed. It’s very important to make sure that the material is fastened down securely. Now that you have your drawing ready to go and the material secure on the bed, you need to tell the control program where to start cutting and how far the tool bit is from the top of the material (called offsets). Once this is done, you’re ready to go!