10 Key Software Design Features for CNC Components

Designing Process

Compiling a top ten list of ‘must have’ software design features for CNC components is no easy task! Design software has become so advanced that there is a massive array of features available to designers nowadays. Of course, this is great for component designers, since most manufacturers have a variety of needs and demands for their products.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the key features that are most useful for designers and professional CNC machine users working with a variety of materials.

Please bear in mind that some may not apply to certain applications, and so feel free to skip over the ones that don’t apply to you.

1. Toolpath optimisation

Toolpaths that adapt and optimise themselves are useful for all CNC machine users, but are especially important for tool and die manufacturers.

Toolpath optimisation allows faster production, decreased tool wear and smoother cuts compared to old-school CNC machining that used limited or user-defined toolpaths. Software with a high-speed adaptive toolpath feature can seriously increase productivity, and reduce CNC machine maintenance costs.

2. 2.5 to 5-axis support

Most professional CNC machining operations use 3 to 5 axes these days. Depending on what you are using your CNC machine for, or whether you want to upgrade from a lower axis machine to a higher one, there’s a good chance you’ll need support for multiple types.

3 to 5 axis machines are ideal for machining complex and non-planar surfaces, with 5-axis CNC machines offering the broadest scope of geometry.

3. Raster to vector conversions & all CAD compatibility

Converting raster to vector simply means taking an image such as a .JPEG and converting it to a CAD file such as .DWG. The ability to convert raster to vector is useful for many CNC applications. Another thing to look out for is compatibility with all CAD drawing formats, as this makes it easier to import vectors straight into CAM or CNC design packages.

4. Feature detection

Feature detection can save vast amounts of time in the design process. Instead of taking an existing part or component, measuring it and drawing it – software with feature detection will do all of this automatically. It will also work out the toolpath strategies to apply to it.

Typically, features such as holes, pockets, grooves, slots, bosses and T-slots can be recognised.

5. Boundary control

This feature is useful for most CNC applications. Without boundary control, the user defines specific boundaries which the tool centre stays within. With boundary control, you can select whether the tool stays inside, goes outside or cuts right on the edge of the boundary. You can choose offset parameters to control how far the tool centre can go either side of the boundary. This saves time compared to traditional user-defined boundaries, as the need for additional CAD geometry is removed.

6. Cloud features

Many of the more recent CNC and CAM software releases have cloud compatibility, meaning that designs, code and toolpaths can be stored and retrieved from the cloud. There are many benefits to cloud features, including prevention of lost data and the ability for individual team members to collaborate on CNC designs remotely which is becoming more and more common.

7. Finishing effects

Some CNC software come with a large library of finishing effects and toolpaths. This means you can get the surface finish you want straight from the machine, reducing the amount of manual polishing required.

8. High-speed roughing

High-speed roughing helps to cut workpieces more quickly, keeping the tool in constant motion and reducing tool wear. 3D high-speed roughing is available on several CNC software packages and is especially useful for cutting strong metal materials.

9. Automatic tool axis tilting

Tool axis tilting is very important to avoid collisions when 5-axis machining. The automatic tilting feature saves a lot of time as the program will take into account potential collisions contained in the toolpaths, and will tilt to the correct degree to avoid them.

10. Surface probing

Newer CNC software releases enable surface probing which involves spindle probes measuring the part surface and creating highly optimised toolpaths. This will reduce tool wear and speed up the cutting process, making professional CNC machining operations more productive.

For our guide to designing CNC machined parts for manufacturability, check out this article.

Challenge Engineering is an ISO 9001:2015 certified CNC machining company based in Sydney, Australia. We manufacture parts for large rail companies. To find out more visit www.challengecnc.com.au.

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