Having just looked at the physical CNC controller in the previous post, let’s have a quick look at some CNC control software. This software has the job of reading the CNC codes (“g-codes”), interpreting that data, and sending the appropriate signals to the CNC controller.
The development of CNC control programs that run on a PC have a long history, and there are many flavors to choose from. Some run on Linux, some on Windows, many multi-platform versions that look the same to the user no matter what the underlying operating system is.
In a larger, industrial strength CNC machine, the CNC control software may well be proprietary, controlled by a fancy control panel. In the case of small machines like this one, the PC based software control works quite well, though your mileage may vary. Once you get past the initial setup stage, where you have to change options to match the specific CNC machine you have, it’s generally pretty smooth sailing. Many CNC machine makers provide the detailed instructions you need to set it up and get running. The instructions that came with this machine were adequate for basic operation, but I soon found out that those settings were not optimum and some of them were not consistent with well established practices and standards. So expect to have to do a little experimenting and research to get the best setup for your machine.
I have chosen to use a program called “Mach3” for my CNC machine. There are probably many other fine programs, and to be honest, I jumped into learning this program due to it’s popularity and pretty good reputation without really doing in depth research.
Here’s a screen shot of the main Mach3 window.
As you can see, it’s pretty busy, and this is only one of about a half dozen screens! It is however the main one you’ll use during operation, The position of the X, Y, Z, and 4th axis (if available on your machine) are shown, along with a graphical representation of your work table and design file, various control options, a window displaying the code, etc. There’s a lot going on here, and if you’re like me, you’ll get a certain amount of joy just watching this thing run.
There are many devices you can buy to bring some of these controls out to a physical control panel that makes this a little easier to work with and make it feel a little bit like a more professional CNC machine. Many people have built very nice custom control panels suited to their needs and preferences.