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Are you getting the most
from your CNC software?

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 industries, explains.

EJ Nodurft
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 operational efficiency.

So, production flexibility is a major factor?

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 attributes users should be looking for from their CAD/ CAM/CNC software? 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 EnRoute?

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 distinctive?

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.