In the competitive sign-making and woodworking markets, it is
not just the CNC router that is the critical element but also the
capabilities of the software that drives it. In this interview,
EJ NODURFT, Product Director, SAi, the leading provider of software
solutions for signmaking, digital printing and CNC machining
What are the main things that users of
CNC routers/cutters should consider
when choosing software?
EJ Nodurft: As in many businesses, knowing
what you are trying to do is a major
advantage. It may sound facetious, but if itís
a company with a well-defined niche, then
it will be a fairly straightforward choice.
However, a business just setting up, or adding
a new CNC capability, will need to think
carefully about the service it wants to offer,
which will influence its choice of software.
To begin with, there are two parts to the
equation: designing and cutting. CNC routing
differs from other cutting operations. In CNC
routing, unlike plasma, knife and waterjet,
not only is the kerf taken into account,
but the depth of cut and the profile of the
cutting tools also must be considered. The
right choice of software for the applications
undertaken is therefore crucial to ensuring
So, production flexibility is a
EJ Nodurft: Very much so! Finding a
software that will allow businesses to address
a wide range of applications, each of which
is a potential revenue stream, will give them
a bigger market. Most programmes have
limitations of some type and understanding
what they are before investing in one can
make a huge difference.
For example, some software packages may
have good toolpathing abilities to support
aggregate heads, tool compensation
and drill banks, but not be good at 3D
decorative and graphic production.
Programmes that are good at artistic jobs
and graphic production do not typically
have the toolpath capabilities mentioned.
Conversely, our own EnRoute CAD CNC
software solution was developed to do
the heavy lifting when it comes to day to
day cutting and production. At the same
time, it enables users
to go after artistic
decorative jobs, too.
What are the main
should be looking
for from their CAD/
EJ Nodurft: Users
want software that
is easy to learn and to have good training
and support. They want the ability to apply
accurate and reliable toolpaths that will
result in good parts being cut. Control over
the toolpath output to help with material
hold-down and cutting efficiency is another
preference. Also, they want good nesting
capabilities to reduce cut times and material
waste. Not all options out there actually
offer this, so I would always encourage users
to thoroughly research whatís available to
ensure it offers the right level of functionality.
What are the principal tools and why are
they important to users?
EJ Nodurft: The most important tools are
the ones that give customers the best results
from their CNC machines. The clean-up tool
is a good example because it allows users
to optimise the shapes they are cutting. This
means that contours are converted to the
most efficient use of lines and arcs, which
is the primary method of outputting with
G-Code. Programs that donít do this well
can result in jobs with poor edge quality. The
control that EnRoute gives over the toolpath,
along with the ability to save and re-use
toolpaths easily, is a very powerful feature.
Are there any specific applications
(signmaking, cabinet making) to which
EnRoute is particularly suited?
EJ Nodurft: As Iíve indicated, versatility
is one of EnRouteís best qualities. The
two biggest markets for the software
are signmaking and woodworking, but
itís important to note there are different
segments to these markets. There are the
more basic 2D elements: shape cutting and
push-through letters, in signmaking; and
standard box-cutting (rectangles and circles)
in woodworking, both with true shape nesting.
Those are the bread-and-butter jobs.
Then, there is the segment that involves 3D
V-carving, 3D surfacing textures and 3D
objects that can be cut on a CNC router. This
includes all of the millwork in woodworking
and the decorative work that brings in extra
revenue. For signmaking, this can be more
complex textures for letters and backgrounds;
these greatly increase the value of a sign.
Are there particular types of CNC
machines that are best for use with
EJ Nodurft: EnRoute is primarily suited for
3-axis CNC routers. EnRoute Fabrication
can be used for plasma, waterjet and laser
cutters. However, about 90 percent of
EnRoute sales are for CNC routers.
What aspects of EnRoute are particularly
EJ Nodurft: One factor that differentiates
EnRoute is the association between contours
and toolpaths. When a toolpath is applied
to a contour in EnRoute, the two are bound
together. If the part is moved or resized, the
toolpath will adjust accordingly.
This means that making changes after a
toolpath has been applied is much easier and
allows for better nesting because parts can
be toolpathed before nesting is applied.
Other programs require toolpaths to be
manually removed and reapplied after
changes have been made.
What is your opinion of 3D printing
and the impact it might have on
CNC machining and is SAi looking at
developing a software solution for this?
EJ Nodurft: 3D printing has probably had
a bigger impact on prototyping than on the
sign and woodworking markets. Prototyping
was never a big market for EnRoute, and I
donít see 3D printing having a big effect on
signmaking or woodworking. There is some
opportunity for making large 3D parts and
molds, but it would take too long to 3D print
a simple 2D cut-out for a sign or cabinet
component compared to a CNC router.
For those reasons and because 3D printing
software is widely available and often free, we
donít see an opportunity for SAi there.
Looking ahead, where do you see
the CNC market headed and what
are the opportunities?
EJ Nodurft: CNC routers are becoming more
and more prevalent in both the woodworking
and signmaking industries. Different regions
have different growth potentials. In Europe
and Asia, most of the work done is 2D
cutting, so developing a more advanced
toolpathing ability will be an area of focus.