How CAD-CAM Software Improves CNC Lathe Programming


CAD-CAM software makes programming your CNC machines fast and easy, allowing CNC businesses to stay at the top of their game. Time is money as it pertains to CNC turning and CAM software can speed up CNC production by as much as 50%! Here are a few other ways CAM software can increase process efficiency:

– Open the door to design innovation and long distance client collaboration.
– Use existing designed part files for creating machine toolpath and NC programs.
– Automate the programming phase and allow yourself to get away from conversational programming at the machine.
– Allow for complete machine toolpath visualization prior to reaching the CNC machine tool.


Forget about spending hours hand calculating geometry and writing NC programs with text editors, CAD-CAM software is streamlining productivity for CNC turning. Lost profits due to scrapped parts or other programming errors are a thing of the past; so, how much is not having a CAD-CAM product costing you?

Lathe CAD-CAM Threading

CNC Programming Workflow
To see how CAM software is improving production workflow, we must first dissect each stage of making a perfectly finished part with a computer aided design and manufacturing software product.

– Imported CAD part files & drawn OD/ID geometry
– Stock definition
– Turning tools, holder & insert data
– Material database selection
– Machine post processor configuration & machine parameter setup
– Machine operations & toolpath generation
– Simulation/ verification
– NC code output/ post processing
– Communications & DNC
This is the general order in a fully associative CAD-CAM job tree to keep the job organized. Each of the steps involve inputting data, making selections, computing the toolpath, and the output g-code program after simulation. CAD-CAM addresses these stages by providing automation to speed up this process.

OD Turning

Design & CAD Interoperability

CAD-CAM software allows you to directly import a wide variety of geometry files from lathe wireframe OD or ID profiles in DXF format or solids type part modal files such as Parasolids, STL, IGES, STEP and many others. This allows you the flexibility to stay connected to clients as they need machining. Once the file is opened, the CAD-CAM product geometry can be verified, edited and used for the toolpath creation phase.

In terms of design, all required drawing features should be available for the part to be created, allowing innovation. Design engineering products like SolidWorks provide full assembly construction, motion analysis, stress analysis and much more. This is highly beneficial in the design stage. Once the part is ready, the operator typically will set up the lathe stock through the CAM job tree. This allows the operator to define the stock, which includes material type along with z-face and cutoff data, diameter, internal stock diameters and tool clearance data. Now the operator can advance to setting up the tools, holder and insert data so the software can accurately make speed and feed calculations, and more.

Lathe Machining Operations
The job tree manager organizes everything for speed and all machining operations can be found in one location. Once the tools and post processor configuration have been set for the machine tool, the operator can begin the toolpath creation phase of the process. Typical programming options for straight 2 axis CNC turning are as follows:

– Roughing
– Finishing
– Grooving
– Threading & drilling
– Cut off & stock feed

Front View Grooving

These are standard features and are made easily accessible within a CAD-CAM system for editing and toolpath creation. Each item should be its own series of dialog boxes that allow the programmer to edit and set up the operation. Take ‘roughing’ for example: Posting parameters can be set to post out separate moves in the output code or use canned cycles. The roughing cycle can be created with just a rough or a rough and finish combination, which may or may not include a face rough cycle or a face rough and finish combination.
System and machine compensation options are some other options that can be controlled here by the operator. Tool exit rapid moves are also an important setting here and should have multiple options for rapid moves to the tool home position, the cycle start position or a pre-defined point. The operator will need to input information about the tool that will be used.
Based on the roughing cycle selections, information about the insert, insert orientation and machine information (offset register, turret position, z & x home positions, etc…) are important at this stage for creating the program.
– Nose radius
– Tool angle
– Cutting angle
– Insert type
– Feeds & speeds data
Once the selections and inputs are complete, the programmer can click the OK button to save everything and move on to the final stage of creating the toolpath. Simply locate the roughing cycle in the CAM tree and compute the toolpath.
The tool database is a very important aspect of CAD-CAM because it allows the user to store all of the tool information for the parts they want to machine. Toolpath results are instantly created and displayed on the part in the viewing window for inspection.
Since every part will have more than one machining operation, CAM software will allow the operator to blank and unblank toolpaths as needed. When complete, the program allows the toolpath to be viewed. Toolpaths can be updated without having to recreate a new job, depending on the extent of the modification. Machining operations in the job tree can be moved around and new operations added as needed without having to recreate an entire job. Using a ‘save & load’ feature, operations can be saved and used later. These are just a few ways the job tree manager enhances the building of machining programs.

Simulation & Toolpath Inspection
CAD-CAM software should provide simulation features that allow the operator to visually see what is happening during the cutting process. Information that was input by the operator to generate the toolpath is carried over into simulation. Simulation provides a great number of benefits to the operator, including:

– Toolpath movements
– Cutting speeds & feed rates
– Operation data
– Machine sequence data
– Machined part/ deviation analysis
– Cycle time calculations
– Program errors, gouges & collisions
All of these valuable features can save operators money and time on machining parts, as well as prevent against the possibility of tools crossing paths, rendering machines useless until repairs are made. Typically, simulation can be controlled by a standard toolbar that offers standard play, pause, stop and other controls.

More advanced simulation models offer ‘full machine simulation’ capabilities. Using your machine’s kinematics, simulate your machine moving in a virtual environment for a more realistic visual.

Post Processing & NC Code Output

A CAD-CAM system without full post processing capabilities is pretty much useless. All of the programming and toolpath creation is run through a posting engine or translator to generate the g-code. The output NC code will have taken everything that the operator input into the CAM job tree and post it through a configuration file that will create the exact language required at the controller. Generally post processor configuration files can also be edited and modified by the operator or by the provider’s technicians to be customized. In most cases, once the post processor is set, everything will be in order to begin sending the NC programs to the controller to machine the parts.

For more information on implementing CAD/CAM software for CNC Turning into your business call us at 877-262-2231 or 727-442-3554, or download a free trial version of our latest CAD/CAM software.

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