Workflow Organization For Your CNC Machine

by:ChiKin     2020-04-06
Workflow - Concept to Drawing to CAD to CAM to Cutting Cutting parts with a CNC machine is a drastically simpler process than it used to be. But it is still easy to get sidetracked, confused, or downright lost if you don't set up some standards for the organization of your workflow. Depending on your memory is just too frustrating, and even if you can dependably keep track of the CAD, CAM and cutting files, it just isn't a good use of 'psychic RAM'. Having a consistent workflow, and a consistent filing system for your CNC projects will give you the most efficiency with the minimum investment in time and money. One of the best tools that I have found for my CNC projects is an application called DropBox. DropBox provides online storage, that is accessible through any internet connection (either hard-wired or wireless), and allows you to access that storage from any computer that you have set up with your account information. DropBox also keeps a copy of each file 'locally' on each of your computers, and it updates those files automatically to match the latest version. So, how does this work in a 'real world' situation? The computer that I actually use to control my CNC router and CNC hot-wire foam cutter is out in my workshop. And, although I could certainly do all of my designing, drawing, and programming on that machine, I just don't find it very comfortable or accessible. I prefer to work in a quiet, comfortable chair, on my laptop computer in my home office. So, I create the CAD drawings of the parts that I'm going to cut (using DevCadCamPro or Corel Draw). I lay out the actual parts to be cut in my CAM program of choice which is Vectric Cut2D. And then I export the actual gCode cutting files from Cut2D. I save ALL of these files in folders within DropBox. Then, when I am ready to cut parts, I can access the DropBox folders from my 'cutting' computer, and if anything needs a minor tweak or modification, I can do that right at the 'Cutting machine'. I use a consistent folder structure, so that I can find anything that I am looking for very quickly. Each project gets it's own dedicated folder. For example, I'm building a 1/3 scale radio controlled model of a Thomas-Morse S4E (a World War I biplane.) So I created a folder called 'R/C Airplane Projects'. Inside that folder is a folder called 'Thomas-Morse S4E'. Within that folder, I two additional sub-folders called 'S4E Active' and 'S4E' archive. Inside each of those folders are folders for the major categories of parts.... 'Wing Ribs', 'Fuselage Bulkheads', 'Landing Gear', etc. This may seem to be really anal retentive, but having this well defined file structure takes all of the unnecessary thinking out of the process, and allows me to concentrate on the gamesmanship of drawing, programming, and cutting good parts. Once I have the folders created, I can go through the process of drawing a part in DevCad or CorelDraw. I save each drawing with a descriptive name (something like 'Upper Wing Ribs') and I also put a few initials right in the file name, to indicate what type of file it is. A typical file name might be 'UpperRibs_DVCD' which tells me that this file was created with DevCadCamPro. Yes... I know that the Windows operating system will create the suffixes automatically, but sometimes these can get confusing, and I want to be able to identify everything at a glance. I also save the Vectric Cut2D files in the same folder, with a 'C2D' appended into the file name. When I generate the GCode in Cut 2D, I use the same naming structure, but start the file name with 'Cut', and also enter a code that reminds me of the material thickness and the cutter diameter. So, the G Code file for my Mach3 software will look something like this.... Cut_TMS4E_UP_Ribs_18_035. I can glance at this label and know that this is the GCode cutting file... for the Thomas-Morse S4E upper wing ribs, and that they will be cut from 1/8' thick balsa wood, with a.035' router bit. Right now, you're probably saying to yourself 'this guy is some kind of a nut. I don't have to go to all that trouble'. And then, when you are looking a sea of file names that don't ring any bells... you're going to change your opinion and decide that maybe I'm not so nuts after all. it's your choice.. but I know that I can sleep better at night knowing that I can find any file that I need... months after the project was first created. In the course of the project, if I find that I need to make a significant change to any of the files, I will move the existing files into the 'Archive' sub-folder for the project, and then save the new, replacement files in the 'Active' folder. This way, if I do have to go back and do some 'CNC Archaelogy' and reconstruct a project, I will still have the original files available to work from. Oh yes... I forgot to mention... DropBox is FREE (for up to 2 gigabytes of online storage.) Larger storage limits are available for very nominal charge. And, DropBox will work fine with Windows, Macintosh, and Linux operating systems. I use my DropBox account with both my Windows and Mac machines, and access and modify files between all of them. (Disclaimer - In the interests of transparency and openness... this blog is being written on my MacBook Pro, while I am sitting in my favorite coffee shop. I'm saving the text file as I go into my DropBox account, and will post it into the ABC's of CNC blog when I get back into my office!)
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