Insights into CNC programming and machine optimization

October 05, 2020 - 06:00am
Insights into CNC programming and machine optimization

Contract programming houses are an excellent resource for shops with overloaded programming departments, a VERICUT CNC machine simulation and optimization software.troublesome project, or are venturing into five-axis territory for the first time. Ron Branch, vice-president of 5th Axis CG Inc., a CNC programming and manufacturing consulting firm in Temecula, California, shared valuable insights about machining optimization with Gene Granata, Vericut product manager at CGTech in Irvine, California.

Granata: You’ve worked with, and for, a large number of manufacturing companies. Are there any common mistakes you see, or areas for improvements?
Branch: What I'm finding is people underutilizing their technology, even though they might feel like they're on the cutting edge. There are several reasons for this. For one, they don't get the proper training or pay for the proper implementation when they invest in a machine tool or other manufacturing technology. Most of the time, it’s all the other stuff that goes with the investment that makes you successful.

Granata: What kind of “other stuff” are you talking about?
Branch: I'm always amazed at how many owners and managers are willing to drop a million dollars or more on a CNC machine, but then skimp on the software needed to maximize its potential—or more importantly, avoid damage to that expensive machine. Of course, I'm talking about Vericut, but to be fair, that statement holds true for some of the competing products as well. That's why I encourage everyone to evaluate the various options, talk to others, and invest in toolpath simulation and optimization software.

Granata: What’s wrong or wasteful with stepping through a program line by line, or relying on the CAM software to prove out a program?
Branch: I've done five-axis programming without verification. I've set up Swiss-style lathes and multitasking machines without verification. It’s possible, but it’s ten times harder because of all the things you can't see, or even think about, while the spindle is turning.

Granata: Does your comment about five-axis mills and multitaskers imply that toolpath simulation is less necessary on more straightforward machines like two-axis lathes and three-axis mills?
Branch: If you’re turning a simple shaft or drilling a few holes in a metal plate, maybe. But there's more to it than that. First off, much of that simple work has gone overseas. What’s left here in the U.S. is generally complex, and competing on it requires that shops be as efficient as possible. At the same time, shops are often working with less-skilled or even entry-level people. They need a foolproof way to verify that the vise is in the right place, that the end mill holder isn’t going to smack into the rotary table, and that there weren’t any programming mistakes like gouging or uncut material. Vericut accomplishes all this, and provides an easy way to validate various machining scenarios without wasting machine time.

Granata: That’s an interesting opinion about machining scenarios. Please explain.
Branch: I’ll give you an example. I worked with a shop recently that had invested in a very expensive bridge mill. They called me in to help out with the programming, and I ended up arguing with one of the engineers over a specific part feature. He was convinced it had to be machined with a secondary operation on a different machine. I had to prove him wrong in Vericut.

Granata: Any other advice?
Branch: People keep talking about Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing strategies. Vericut is an essential part of that. Like I said earlier, most shops have no qualms over making major investments, but choke on the price of a carbide drill, or question the need for toolpath simulation and optimization software when they already have a CAM package. But as much as every CAM provider wants to tout the notion that they have the perfect programming solution, this isn't a perfect world [and] there are post-processor errors and other technical glitches. Verification software catches things that you otherwise would miss until it’s too late.

Excerpted from Take Five, a question and answer paper from CGTech Inc.

For information on the company's simulation, verification, optimization, and analysis software technology, phone 949-753-1050 or visit its website. For information on 5th Axis CG Inc., phone 760-805-2953​ or visit the company's website.

Related Glossary Terms

  • computer numerical control ( CNC)

    computer numerical control ( CNC)

    Microprocessor-based controller dedicated to a machine tool that permits the creation or modification of parts. Programmed numerical control activates the machine’s servos and spindle drives and controls the various machining operations. See DNC, direct numerical control; NC, numerical control.

  • computer-aided manufacturing ( CAM)

    computer-aided manufacturing ( CAM)

    Use of computers to control machining and manufacturing processes.

  • milling machine ( mill)

    milling machine ( mill)

    Runs endmills and arbor-mounted milling cutters. Features include a head with a spindle that drives the cutters; a column, knee and table that provide motion in the three Cartesian axes; and a base that supports the components and houses the cutting-fluid pump and reservoir. The work is mounted on the table and fed into the rotating cutter or endmill to accomplish the milling steps; vertical milling machines also feed endmills into the work by means of a spindle-mounted quill. Models range from small manual machines to big bed-type and duplex mills. All take one of three basic forms: vertical, horizontal or convertible horizontal/vertical. Vertical machines may be knee-type (the table is mounted on a knee that can be elevated) or bed-type (the table is securely supported and only moves horizontally). In general, horizontal machines are bigger and more powerful, while vertical machines are lighter but more versatile and easier to set up and operate.

  • multifunction machines ( multitasking machines)

    multifunction machines ( multitasking machines)

    Machines and machining/turning centers capable of performing a variety of tasks, including milling, drilling, grinding boring, turning and cutoff, usually in just one setup.

  • toolpath( cutter path)

    toolpath( cutter path)

    2-D or 3-D path generated by program code or a CAM system and followed by tool when machining a part.

  • turning


    Workpiece is held in a chuck, mounted on a face plate or secured between centers and rotated while a cutting tool, normally a single-point tool, is fed into it along its periphery or across its end or face. Takes the form of straight turning (cutting along the periphery of the workpiece); taper turning (creating a taper); step turning (turning different-size diameters on the same work); chamfering (beveling an edge or shoulder); facing (cutting on an end); turning threads (usually external but can be internal); roughing (high-volume metal removal); and finishing (final light cuts). Performed on lathes, turning centers, chucking machines, automatic screw machines and similar machines.


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