No matter which automated cutting method you’re using, the steps for turning an idea into a finished object are the same.

Step 1:

Create a computerized three-dimensional model or two-dimensional Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawing of the object

Three-dimensional CAD software packages are typically used for parts modeling; the model may be of a single piece, or an entire assembly. You can also draw the same part using two-dimensional CAD drawing software; either option works for the automated cutting process flow. The output of this step is a dimensionally scaled 3D model or a 2D part file.

Step 2:

Import the 3D model or 2D CAD drawing into your Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software

The CAM software’s main job is to convert the 3D model or CAD drawing created in Step 1 into cutting instructions the machine can read. It controls the machine tools used in the manufacturing process and establishes the motion requirements and cutting parameters to be included in the part program.

Early versions of CAM software were simply post processors that generated start, stop, and motion commands to cut out the part based on a 2D CAD drawing. Today’s CAM software automates manual tasks in the work environment, increases the overall speed and efficiency of the software, and uses built-in quality control measures. Process expertise is embedded directly into the part program, creating consistently high quality results with minimal operator intervention. This includes the layout of parts on the workpiece, called a “nest,” so that the motion path and cutting techniques are optimized.

Step 3:

Generate a cutting program from the model or drawing you just imported.

Once the desired shape(s) have been nested and converted into cutting instructions (i.e. numeric code to instruct a machine), a part program may be output and saved for cutting.

Basic programs tell the machine when to move, where to move, and how fast to move. More advanced programs contain embedded information that optimizes each job, in much the same way an experienced operator would. Embedded knowledge helps the CNC automatically control flow rate, pressure settings, the length and timing of lead-ins and lead-outs, the direction of the cut, the order in which parts are cut, height control commands, cut speed, and other process parameters.

Step 4:

Load the program onto your CNC and initiate cut

A Computer Numerical Control (CNC) is connected to the cutting machine and usually consists of a Human Machine Interface (HMI) and internal processing capability. While CNCs vary in size and complexity, the unit typically provides motion and other related instructions to the table drive motors/amplifiers, cutting tool, and associated equipment.

The CNC software takes inputs from the operator console, reads instructions from the part program, and executes it all by sending signals to control the entire cutting operation. While CAM software programs everything that can be planned ahead of time, the CNC software executes the actual part program, coordinates the motion and cutting system with precise timing, and reacts to feedback from the cutting environment.

The key inputs to the CNC are the part program, feedback signals from cutting system, table and lifter, and operator console switches.

Not sure which process or method to use?

You’ll find helpful information here:

Want to learn more about automated cutting?

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Take our free "Introduction to CAD/CAM" eLearning course on the Hypertherm Cutting Institute

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