Pete, I have used no CAD or CAM programs before so it's all new to me...I know how to crank the handwheels on the mill but this CNC stuff is unlike anything I have ever done.Oh that is so cool ! :good2: ! There is no way in the world you could do that manually without a making a little 5 mil "oops, wrong way" hickie. (well, at least I couldn't...)
Have you used the CAD program before, or is it part of the learning curve? And once you have the drawings, how hard is it to set up the control program (or are they all one in the same?) ? I know my new PCB software is kicking me as far as learning all the features, and I've been around that block a few times before. But the learning time is all worth it.
The 3D printers have peaked my interest, but the cost and time to learn a 3D CAD program cuts down the peak.
There are two programs involved to do this:
1> The CAM (Computer Aided Machining) which is on the same lines as CAD. You draw the part using the same principle as CAD with the help of wizards and defaults like squares, rectangles, circle, ect. You also define machining parameter like the size of the cutter, depth of cut, speed of cut in inches per minute, material thickness, pocketing, rough cutting, finish cutting and the list goes on almost forever.
Once the part is drawn and all the machining details are worked out and defined, the program produces something called "G-Code" which is a cryptic language used to control machines. Think of it like the ols "basic" computer language of many years ago. You can also just write the G-Code manually if you want/can. This is where the huge learning curve is.
I am using a program called CAMBAM that is gear toward hobbyist's like me. It is well written and supported, has great features and most importantly is affordable.
2> The CNC software, it takes the G-code that the CAM software produced and tells the servo/stepper motors what to do and how fast. All interaction to the motor controllers/drives are done thru the parallel ports on the PC that's quickly getting extinct. The USB converters will NOT work, yet anyway. I am using a program called MACH3 that meets all the same criteria of the CAMBAM software. Once you have the G-Code, importing it into the CNC s/w is easy as well as cutting your part-asumming your machine is already setup and built like mine was.
Since the price of the software, BOB's (break out boards), power supply's, servo/stepper motors, and other hardware has plummeted over the years there are many guys building homemade CNC router and plasma cutting tables, and converting mills and lathes to CNC as well.