How to Learn CNC Programming – Top CNC Programs to Use

How to Learn CNC Programming

So you want to know how to learn cnc programming? Well cnc programming is a skill that can really take you places and is now a highly sought after skill within the construction and manufacture process. Below is my guide on what is cnc programming and tips and tricks as well as solid information on learning cnc programming.

Here is how the guide will be split up to help you:

1. Where to find cnc programming schools or tutorials

2. What is the best cnc machine programming software out there?

3. What are cnc programming g codes or the most common cnc programming language?

4. How to outsource the task so you will not have to worry about it

5. Top resources for cnc programming training

Where to find great cnc programming schools and a great cnc programming tutorial

Where to find great cnc programming schools and a great cnc programming tutorial
Where to find great cnc programming schools and a great cnc programming tutorial

So you want the best cnc programming schools or top tutorials? Well first up, let’s take a look at your set-up.

Make sure you have the right cad background. A good knowledge of how 2d and 3d cad programs is a huge advantage. Autodesk has their AutoCAD program for 2d and 3d available for a 1 month trial. This is very similar for other 3d design cad packages. This is even the case with the Adobe packages. This allows you to try out different programs to see if any suit you. It’s kind of like taking a test drive in a car.

See which 2d and 3d cad package best suits your need. Remember for 3d rendering, you can use a free open source program called Blender.

Having a strong background in both 2d and 3d cad applications will give you a strong base for cnc programming, as you will come to understand the typical file formats that need to be exported for cnc machines, such as .stl and .iges files.

For a more academic course, cnc programming courses can vary and are generally available at the College level. Of course, using the same techniques for cad programs, you can try out a few cam programs such as MasterCAM as a demo, before you commit to certain courses that train with certain cnc program packages.

You will need to learn g-code which is the most commonly used cnc programming language. But this is up to you. I recommend learning a good range of cad/cam packages. I highly recommend MasterCAM and packages such as AutoCAD, SolidWorks and Pro Engineer. These programs will give you a strong cad/cam background and will give you a lot more diversity than just having knowledge in g-code alone, click here for more info.

What is the best cnc machine programming software out there?

Cnc programming software is a valuable asset to your skill-set. I highly recommend learrning the above mentioned cad software, but also t he cam software listed below:

  • Catia – Can be expensive with licences costing into 5 figures, upwards of $30,000.
  • MasterCAM – price depends on level, but for full 3d, around $12,000, with other add-on’s such as multi-axis for another $4000.
  • Pro Engineer – Can only buy licenses or seats and this can be expensive too. Solidworks is also a great alternative here depending on what you want to achieve.
  • Vericut – Cost is around $7,000 and that should get you multi axis positioning, 3 axis milling and a few other features, it can cost more depending on what simulation you want.

Of course, there are tons of different options for cam software. The above will give you a very strong base and are used a lot within the cnc and rapid prototyping industries. Other options that rate highly include (in no particular order):

  • BobCAD-CAM – V24 Mill standard cost is $2,500, while the pro version can go for around $3,500.
  • Mecsoft – Cheaper cad/cam software, definitely worth a look.
  • Edgecam – I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews about their customer support, so be weary of this software. About $2,500 a year depending on what you want.
  • GibbsCAM – Compared to EdgeCAM and MasterCAM a lot. Not 100% on price for this one, you’ll have to call them to find out.
  • HyperMill – A good alternative to MasterCAM, and great for 5 axis use. Call them to find out cost.
  • NX – No published prices, call them to find out what they have to offer for your needs.
  • SolidCAM – Integrates with Solidworks nicely.  Between $5,000 and $15,000.
  • PowerMill – Compared to HyperMill and MasterCAM, very good for multi-axis machines and definitely worth a look.
  • SurfCAM – Close to $15,000 new for a seat
  • WorkNC – used in many different industries. Nowhere to really download this product. You will need to contact your local Sescoi office.

Of course, have a look around to see what may suit your personal and professional needs as well as your budget. A great tip is to take a course and try and get an educational licence, but you will not be able to use it for professional means.

What are cnc programming g codes or the most common cnc  machine programming language?

As I mentioned above, learning g-code and cnc programming code is a good skill, but it isn’t 100% necessary with some of the cam programs mentioned above. I would say start by using some of the recommended programs above, such as AutoCAD, SolidWorks, MasterCAM and Pro Engineer and then learn a bit of g-code if you feel the need afterwards to learn cnc programming from another point of view.

Outsourcing your cnc so you will not have to worry about it

Outsourcing your cnc work is often a big step. A lot of people get put off by maybe getting a bad sub-contractor or not getting what they intended when dealing with contract cnc programming. I have written a few guides on this in the past here on this website. I always recommend making sure they know exactly what you want.

When dealing with cnc manufacturers abroad, send extra pictures of the cad file in both 2d and 3d. If they will be finishing the product, then include jpegs with color and finish information. Be sure you are exact with the fee as well as delivery date. Be sure to include shipping times as well as fees too.

Provide the company with a complete cad file to get a good quote and be ready to provide a detailed file so they will be able to manufacture everything properly. The key is to provide enough information in your 2d or 3d file to ensure you can send the same file to different sub-contractors and different cnc programmers to make sure they will be able to give you an accurate quote and project timeline.