Going from Idea to Part

So you’ve finally got your router/mill/other CNC machine running, you have plenty of ideas of things you’d like to make, but you’ve just realised you’re not sure how to transform those ideas to physical parts?

Well this brief guide should help clarify the basic steps in the process, from creating a drawing in CAD, through to creating machine code via  CAM. We won’t recommend any specific software though, as there are many options, each with their own strengths and weaknesses depending on what kind of machine being programmed, and the type of parts being made. For recommendations, feel free to ask in the forum.

The first step in the process is creating a suitable drawing or model in some form of CAD (Computer Aided Design) program. There are many CAD packages available with varying tools/features, from containing the basic tools to create simple 2D drawings, through to fully featured with the ability to create complex 3D models.

The next step is importing the drawing in to a CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) program. For a beginner, the best way to think of CAM, is a toolpath creator. You import your drawing/model into the CAM program, and using various tools, it generates the toolpaths that will be needed by your machine to produce the part.
Just like the CAD options, CAM programs also contain a very varied number of tools and features. This varies from only being able to import basic 2D drawings and producing toolpaths with only 2-axis coordinated motion and limited Z-axis movement, through to multi-axis coordinated motion, and also various levels of automation and control of the process.

Once the toolpaths have been created, the CAM then uses a Post Processor to convert the toolpaths into commands that your machine controller understands. This is typically some form of G-Code, but other command languages are used. Although most CAM programs have a selection of Post Processors included, one of  which will hopefully cover your controller, most CAM programs have instructions on how to modify an existing or create your own Post Processor.

The final step is loading the machine code into your CNC machine, and machining the part.

Now the basic steps have been described, it’s worth mentioning that most CAM programs include some form of CAD. Again, how well featured that CAD is varies wildly. However, it is usually good enough to create basic parts, and at least lets you learn the process without needing to install extra software.
Lots of CAM programs have free trials, so it’s worth asking other users what they recommend for your particular style of machine and work, and trialling as many options as possible, before committing to any particular program.

Hopefully this basic guide has explained the fundamental steps in getting from an idea to a manufactured part, and as always feel free to post any general questions in the forum, or for any suggestions or comments specific to this article at –

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