The Makesmith CNC router speaks G-code, which is the standard language used by almost every CNC tool since the 1950s. This means that there are thousands of possible programs and program combinations that you can use to control your Makesmith CNC router. Below is the combination that we use. We chose these programs because they are free and open source.
Computer Aided Design (CAD) Software
Bar uses Solidworks for most of his mechanical designs, but the design process works just as well with any CAD software that can export files as either a .DXF or a .STL file. There are a lot of options in this category which range from OpenSCAD, which is free and open source, to 123D and Sketchup, which are free and closed source, to AutoCAD, ProE and Solidworks which are exceptionally expensive. Once you have designed your mechanical part, you can save it as a 2D .dxf file if you want to cut it out of flat material or as a 3D .stl file if you want to cut it out in three dimensions.
Computer Aided Machining (CAM)
Next, you will need to generate tool paths. This is done using computer aided machining (CAM) software. The CAM software gathers information about the part you are trying to make, the set of tools you want to use and the material you are cutting and generates a set of tool paths which will be used to cut the part. These tool paths are the motions that the machine will go through as it cuts out your part. This process is not automatic; you will need to click on the lines and surfaces you want to cut then define what tool you want the machine to use, which direction it will cut, how fast it cuts, and how much it steps down with each pass. A good CAM package gives you access to dozens of other options as well. Milling is both an art and a science.
We use the open source CAM software HeeksCAD. There is a recommended $20 dollar donation for which you receive an installer including all the necessary python packages. The donation is well worth it.
Machine Control Software
Next, the G-code generated in HeeksCAD must be sent to the router. This is done using Makesmith Ground Control which is software we have written to make this step as easy as possible. Our software lets you manually position the cutter, set the zero location, see a digital readout of the cutter’s current position, open a G-code file and view the paths the machine will cut, as well as see the cutter’s current location. The amount of time into the cut is shown along with the estimated amount of time remaining in the cut.
Now you just need to put the right tool in the spindle, move the tool to the correct starting point, and press ‘Run’. At this point the machine will execute all of the necessary movements automatically.