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CNC Software For Machining – What Is The Best CAD/CAM System?

If you want to be a programmer or make your own parts some day, you’ll want to get a good software for CNC machining. There are a lot of different systems out there, but you don’t always need the biggest and baddest one if you can make your parts with a cheaper software.

CAD vs. CAM??

First of all, lets answer this question on CAD versus CAM systems. CAD programs are used mainly for making part drawings, blueprints, and make an overall model for the part you are going to machine. CAD is for generating toolpaths for the designed part. This is usually with G-codes and M-codes. Why do I need these, you ask? Well, to be honest, you don’t. You don’t even need any kind of software for machining. That is, unless, you don’t want to write everything by hand.

Lets face it, technology has skyrocketed in the past few decades, and even in the last 5-10 years, efficiency and quality are in high demand. China still can’t compete with USA made stuff, but for everyone to start buying from the United States again, companies want to buy parts and tools at a Chinese price tag. In order to bring the cost down, efficiency is extremely important, and this doesn’t just include programming a part (Read more about this on my Keys To Being A Good Machinist post).

Computer-Aided-Design

In order to be efficient, buying a CAM system may be necessary if you get a lot of blueprints and drawings. You will be able to make part drawings, fixtures, and jigs, which can also help reduce set-up times (the ultimate money maker/loser).

You can draw 3D models of parts to see different views of it, which can help the programmer when making toolpaths for it. With Cad software, you can put pieces together with an Assembly feature. With this, you can see what it looks like when the part is in the fixture you also designed. You’ll be able to determine what tools to use and how to optimize the set-up before you even start cutting metal.

There’s a lot of CAD systems out there for CNC machining, but if you’re running a real machine shop and need to be competitive, you’ll have to shell out some dough to get one. Free software will not get you very far, which is why it’s free. However, you may be able to get a free trial for paid software, which I recommend if you have the time. The most popular CAD systems include: Solidworks, AutoDesk Inventor, BobCAD,

Computer-Aided-Manufacturing

When used together, Cam and Cad software can be a powerful combo because they save time, which relates to money. If you have to hog out a billet part, writing out a program on the machine or by hand can take hours, and sometimes days if the part is large and/or complex. While I believe that you should be able to hand-write CNC programs first, CAM software can make almost any part in a fraction of time.

In the system itself, once you have the part model loaded, you don’t even have to write any kind of code; the computer does it for you! Let me explain… Lets say you have a 2 x 2″ square part that you want to mill down to a height of 1.5″. In the CAD program, you set the stock size and where the offsets will be (X, Y, Z zero). Once you have that, you pick the tool you want to use (we’ll just pick a 3″ face mill for this operation). Then you pick what kind of toolpath you want it to run; there’s a lot of options for this, but we’re just milling off the top. After that, it’s just setting your parameters for where you want the tool to start and end, how much material to take off, how much you want to take off each pass, and what you want it to do after the operation.

There are so many things you can do with a modern day CAM system that it can be rather intimidating to someone that hasn’t used one before. If you get a training book or have an experienced programmer teach you, starting out will make things a lot easier. The more time you get on the software, the more you’ll figure out what you can do with it, which will help reduce operation times, as well as being able to make more complex parts.

Mastercam is one of the most popular CAM systems because it is easy to use and is fairly versatile. Surfcam, BobCAD, EdgeCam, and RhinoCAM are also great software for machining. It also depends on what you’re machining as well. Are you just doing 2-axis milling? 5 axis? Turning on a lathe? Live tooling? Doing a little research will help you find out the advantages of each CNC software system.

When it comes down to it, it really depends on how comfortable and experienced you are at using a CAD/CAM system, as well as how complex your parts are going to be. If you’re just using a 2-3 axis vertical milling center or a CNC lathe, you will more than likely be able to do everything you want on them with a more inexpensive software. Finding one that is easy to use should be high on the list if you’re just starting out. However, this can be a compromise that will hold you back when you want to do more technical operations.