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Is CNC Machining Hard to Learn?

by William Gist

Machines have been helping us to create products quickly and with quality for decades. Automating work and leaving work to machines is a process that has been evolving for decades. In this way, the work process is accelerated, human mistakes are avoided, but also the level of safety at work is raised.

The first ones with numerical control were introduced in the middle of the 20th century. These machines can perform commands such as milling, sawing, rotating, welding, drilling, etc. Already on the basis of operations, it is clear that CNC programming has its application primarily in classical industries, which are focused on mass production.

We will explain to you is CNC machining hard to learn, but we must first tell you how it works. Because the difficulty of learning depends on many factors.

What is CNC programming?

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In order to know how to program it, it is necessary to know how to “teach” it what to do. Namely, CNC programming (Computer Numerical Control) is an automated control of machines, by issuing instructions for performing tasks. A CNC is an automated tool that receives instructions via a computer. Instructions are issued via a written G-code programming language.

This language was developed in collaboration with the aviation industry and the American MIT Science Center. The result of this cooperation is the possibility of computerized issuance of commands to machines. The way of entering commands has been simplified over time, but the essential system of work has not changed too much.

The goal is for the orders to cover the entire process so that people can only monitor the process. This means that it is necessary for a person to monitor the operation of it. The complete process is performed independently in the way previously defined. This enables a high level of autonomy in the operation, which reduces the human factor.

This is, above all, useful when it comes to repetitive and physically difficult work. If the machine knows what needs to be done, it will repeat the same action without error. Such situations can be working with hazardous substances or working in difficult conditions. In this way, the work process is automated, production costs are reduced, the quality of production is guaranteed and a higher level of worker safety is ensured.

Using the G-code

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To begin with, it is necessary to design a product and make a design solution. The concept is then transferred by a CAD expert to one of the design programs, after which it is necessary to explain it all to the machine. For this, the G-code language is used, which creates a file with a list of commands that define the movements of it.

Computer programming using computers refers to automated programming, which is done using special software. In this way, the dimensions, the choice of tools, the movement (in three dimensions), etc. are defined. In order for the machine to “understand” the commands, the G-code language is used. This language, also known as RS-274, translates instructions into machine language.

It allows you to create instructions describing movements in space. This movement is based on the position along the axis of the spatial coordinate system (X, Y and Z) and the three rotations around each of these axes. In order to program the machine as precisely as possible, it is necessary that each motor has a defined function. In the process of CNC programming, coordinates are calculated, where which axis should be. The servomotors of the machine that move the tool or the workpiece are controlled.

Is CNC machining hard to learn?

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So now we came to the main topic of this article. But the answer depends. There are levels as with everything. You can also learn the basics of CNC within 10 days. But don’t think now that it’s easy to work with CNC. This is just the beginning. In order to really reach a higher level, it takes at least a year, and for the most complicated CNC, several years of work with them.

The first big difference is what type of programming you will use. Manual or Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM). Manual gives you huge possibilities to program whatever you want, but it is very time-consuming because you have to write code manually. It is also quite demanding to learn, you will need a lot of time. And it is mainly intended for simpler functions.

When we talk about CAM, it is the most common method of CNC programming. The software helps you a lot. It helps you by transferring your ideas directly to the aforementioned G-code, which is the language used for CNC. So it’s a much faster method and easier to learn.

There is also the so-called “quick code” but it is rarely used, so we will not talk about it now.

The easiest will be when working with the so-called 2-1/2 axis machining. There you will work on a 2D plane and you will not need much time to master this process. It can be done well with manual programming.

3 axis machining is, as you might guess, more complicated. Here you work in the 3D plane and it is most likely that you will have to use CAM and that you will need a longer period to learn. CNC wood router is a good example of 3 axis machining. Read more here about the CNC wood router.

3 + 1 or 3 + 2 axis machining can also be done manually.

True 5 axis machining is only for professionals with many years of experience. In addition to the 3 axes, there are two additional rotating parts here. CAM is the only way.

Conclusion:

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It is not necessary to have all the knowledge from the chain of production to do this job. Depending on what you are interested in, you need to master programming, design, or be able to monitor and adjust machines. Although CNC programmers are not as well known as web designers or PHP experts, it is a profession that is highly valued. Even the workers on these machines are well paid.

If you are only interested in CNC programming, it would be good to learn more about programming languages and ways to improve the whole process. There are many pieces of training and courses that will help you become a professional with a successful career in this field.

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