(WOODWEB Member) :
I read about so many software programs that you are all using for cabinetmaking businesses. Do all CNC nesting routers talk the same language, or do I have to shell out piles of money for software to run a Biesse, Thermwood, Onsrud, etc.? Can a guy write his own G-code, or is that stupid? I hear tell of companies that have paid 30k for software to run their CNC.
From contributor D:
Yes, software that runs CNC can be expensive. Yes, you could write your own gcode to run the machine but it would be very time consuming. I run Cabinet Vision and paid them about $20k for full screen to machine for 5 seats, onsite integration, and the post to be able to output to the machine. I spent an additional $10k over the years to a specialist to set us up and get everything perfect. I can now take a project and output to the machine in minutes. I know what gcode is, but couldn't write a line of code if I had to.
The type of software you'll need depends on what you're trying to accomplish. If you're creating a lot of complicated or unique parts, you wouldn't want to have to program all of that manually. But if you were only making some simple drilling patterns, etc., manually programming is entirely possible, and in some cases preferable (parametric patterns, etc.).
Many machines can read dxf files and create code from that. There are many budget (and even free) software options out there, but if you want everything working out of the box with all the bells and whistles, you may have to spend accordingly.
For making cabinets you should check out Thermwood ecabinet systems. This software only works with Thermwood and Shop-bot machines.
So, you can look at the imbedded software, or Vectric is supposed to be very powerful. It should help you create some parts. Also the Mozaik looks great. Just dive in and stay the course to reap the benefits.
An SCM Pratix for 20k? Get on with it. Just don't stop production and count on it until you are seriously comfortable with it.
If you are going to purchase a CNC pod and rail machine to compliment, enhance or as an upgrade within your current process, depending on the control, you may not need to purchase a cam package. This is especially true if the onboard software has parametric capability (one program that can process thousands of different design panels by changing 2~3 variables within the program - which takes seconds) and you are in total control of product design.
For someone starting out with CNC, that approach can be highly profitable without the added expense or learning curve of software upfront. I have numerous customers, still in business in today's economy, by using the right mix of CNC technology for their business model! One size rarely fits all!
This CNC stuff will be a lot of research before I purchase. I want to go to a shop where they use one and see how it is done from start to finish. I recently got a quote for a Thermwood 43 and whew, it would take a lot of kitchens to pay for that!
Also replaced all the pneumatic lines - 1 hour and 20.00 worth of 4mm hose. Had Stiles tech out for calibrating and training - 8 1/2 hours.
To my surprise it fired right up and runs perfectly. The Weeke software is easy to learn and, from my very limited knowledge, will:
Net parts to size with router, do all borings, and saw a groove for the back, in standard and mirror image.
Do curved routings for arches and toekicks.
Weeke software stores the programs on board, making recalling parts for machining quick and easy.
My budget is very limited and I have been researching and looking for about 6 months. It is a pod and rail machine but I do confirmat or dowel, so nesting wasn't really a requirement for me. Never thought I'd be running a CNC, but for 3268.00 I am very pleased with it. For what it's worth the machine was missing two vacuum pods and has a couple of light paint scuffs.
The next step we took was to design with Cabinet Vision. This allowed us to set up constriction methods and parameters on how we wanted things built. When we changed the size of a cabinet, all of the code for the operations was automatically generated. We were able to create cultists for the beam saw and generate bar codes for the parts to be run on the CNC. The operator just scanned a barcode label and placed the part on the proper side of the machine. This saved a lot of hours of programming on a regular basis, although it did require an additional investment in software and if you are not great with computers, you will want to pay to have someone set it up properly.
The next step we took about a year ago was to go to nested base. I got rid of the pod and rail and put a flat table on our machine. This required a minor upgrade to Cabinet Vision to nest the parts and some more tweaking to get things dialed in. Now me or one of my designers can put a job together. My production manager checks it and we send it to the machine, the shop guy opens a file and pushes the green button and loads a sheet of material, steps on the pedal and presses the white button and stands back. In 5-8 minutes he unloads the parts, loads another sheet, steps on the pedal pushes the white button and repeats the process. In this process nobody has looked at code, programmed anything other than determining the size of the cabinet. It is much faster and more flexible than any of the above methods I previously used. Additionally we have almost no secondary machining operations on our parts. A week after we were up and running, I put my beamsaw on the market, and it was gone 3 weeks later, freeing up about 1000 square feet of shop floor.
A friend just bought a single user, nested base version of CV with a week of onsite integration and spent in the neighborhood of $10k. I went with CV because they were the only ones that I spoke with at the time that I felt could do what I wanted to. I am not familiar with any other ones at this time but others can do the same thing. Like anything, the more you spend, the more features you get.
I'll tell you this, though - knowing what I know now, I wouldn't even think of doing what I do now the way I used to do it, even if you gave me the equipment for free.
Some machines use proprietary software, some open source. Controller software comes with the controller, if it is a purchased controller.
Remember, you are just controlling a robot. The servos, or steppers on the CNC, need information to turn them on and off, and then how many revolutions to make. Seems simple, but of course it's not. That's why there are CNC techs, and if you can find an independent in your area, so much the better. Buying used with no support is not for the faint of heart. It seems to me that you are the kind of guy who needs a good dealer or tech for this project. A cheap auction CNC is no deal if it just sits there collecting dust. More spent up front will get you into production and making money, fast! I've been there.
If everything else in the place looks abused and held together with duct tape/zip ties and in disrepair, that's a pretty good indicator of the machine in question. On the other hand, an organized company or institution that has the budget for proper installation and maintenance is a good bet for machinery.
If you can run it under power, fine, if you can't, then offer parts prices for it. If it works, when you get it installed, you're ahead. If it needs repairs, you have room to do so.
Some other features that come free with your Thermwood are their new Lock dado joint and the ability to create dovetail drawers. No extra purchases required. The "Lock Dado" joinery allows you to use the convenience of KD/RTA fittings with the alignment and quality of a "tabbed" blind dado.
Which software you use to run your router is probably more important than the router you choose. eCabinet Systems software is one of the most powerful design and manufacturing packages available today. It is capable of designing most anything you will need to manufacture your cabinets using any type of joinery, and because it is proprietary to Thermwood machines, there are no post processors required. A staff of Thermwood programmers work "in house" to constantly improve and update this software. You and your Thermwood machine are their priority 365 days a year.
There are cheaper machines, but there are not better machines.
Just go get a used or small investment machine and do what is comfortable. Contributor H's purchase is a prime example of low investment for a hellacious return and very low exposure.
Contributor J does some great work but it is more his software than his machine. As I remember he uses several different packages to get the job done and you must add the cost of all this software (in money and time) to compare cost of the machines.
Thermwoods are great machines. You have one support call to make for the machine, the control software and the cabinet design/manufacturing software.
The used versus new debate is a whole other thread though. I don't know the original poster and his abilities, but I am going to make the assumption that his computer skills and understanding are not strong. He could save thousands on the initial purchase buying used, then spend thousands on a tech to come out and set up and make repairs, etc., have no warranty on the machine, and possibly no factory support on it, and have to integrate a software setup. Buying new normally includes a factory rep doing the install and software integration and being onsite for a week, leaving you up and running at the end. This has a value that can't be ignored.
Last thing, if you buy software, make sure you get it in writing what capabilities it will have, and don't pay for it all up front. This has saved me in the past. The software could do what the salesman said, but the tech didn't know how to implement. When you tell them "no works, no money" they are much more motivated when you are holding the money.
If I was starting from scratch, I would look at ecabinets and their wood for sure.
The video below is how one can use a 600.00 program to get started and still have plenty of use after one decides which cabinetry software path they will take. My goal was to make informed decisions with a minimum of risk. I love the fact that nothing I use is proprietary and I can work on and change parts on my machines without downtime (slave to no one). In addition all parts and support are minutes to hours away and support is free forever (no additional cost) and parts and factory fixings are free for two years! There is one other real cute feature of my machine. I purchased my x3 in March of 08; I sold it in October of 12 for 80% of its original value. Anyone seen a used CAMaster for sale lately? The time of turnaround used is usually less than a week. These are damn good machines.
On to Thermwood. There is not a bone in my body that does not recognize it is a well-respected CNC machine and in good company with many others. I have many friends who love them and work well with them. ecabinets though is also well respected by those who have devoted themselves to it. Contributor K is a well-respected designer with it. His work is first class using this software. In the two attempts I made to learn ecabs I found it difficult (it may be me). Having used CW since 97, I thought ecabs would be a cake walk (for me it was not).
Over the last few days with some spotty amounts of time, I was able to learn parameters (casework), design, optimize, nest and produce code with mozaik! At 125.00 per month (use it when you want and no contract), it costs as much as one foot of wall cabinet per month. It is powerful. I love the forum and the videos are online. I made a video last night and am having more trouble with the vid software than I am Mozaik.
My machine cost half as much as many here. The others have many features that after 5 CNC machines (including some bigger iron) I have found I did not need. On my new machine I opted not to get another lathe. Looks fun to play with, but for 90 + % of us, unnecessary.
My CAMaster ATC 508, WINCNC, pop up pins VAC table, etc. may not be the biggest, it may not be the best, but it does not stand second best to any other.
My biggest point should be, I am 100% against the pay us up front 20-30 k for software. This is old and antiquated thinking in today's economy. You can ease yourself into CNC with a minimum of exposure and potential loss, then make informed decisions as you grow into it. None of us have this capital to risk anymore.
I was trained as a cabinetmaker and I then went on to become an architect and I am fully knowledgeable with 8 or so CAD and modeling programs, and was around when Fortran was the word of the day on the old IBM 4341 mainframe in the 80s. Seen lots of hardware and software since then so that area is not a problem. I just wasn't sure how the machine and the programs went together, as I have never seen them in use except on youtube, but now I am getting a better picture.
I know this is the way I am going to go to expand the business, I just don't want to hang out a lot of money and not get a good return in a reasonable amount of time struggling with a boat anchor.
The other advice I would give is to be open minded and don't try to force your current method of construction into the CNC environment, but look at how you can adapt the way you do things to the CNC environment. I had a guy that wanted me to cut parts, but only wanted it cut, banded and construction bored, but no line boring or hinge mounting holes on the cabinet or the door. He wanted to continue to do that on his machines and didn't or wouldn't understand that it would take the same amount of time to do it either way.
As I was poking around trying to justify the cost of KCD, I ran across a Laguna video that featured Mozaik. I did some checking and found out that while it is a new software, the guys that are developing it developed Cabinetvision in the 80's before selling it to Planit, and then they spent time selling CNC routers, so they have a good track record.
For 125 dollars a month you can rent a seat for the full CNC version of the software and they can make a post processor (the program that tells your machine what their software wants it to do). They made a post for my used machine (Shop Sabre) and have been there every step of the way getting the software to work on the machine, and now I can cut all the cabinet parts, cut dovetail drawers, arched valances, shape any cabinet part, and do so many things that I could never have done with KCD, and I am just scratching the surface of the software.
If I had known about Mozaik before I purchased the used machine, I would buy a new machine like the Camaster, Shop Sabre, Laguna, etc. and have them load the software and have the machine ready to go on day one, but then again I have learned so much in the past month about how the machine works that it will certainly help me down the road.
Be ready to spend a lot of nights and weekends learning and understanding the machine and getting it to do what you want it to do. Once you invest the time then it can certainly be an asset to the company.
All machinery salesmen, software salesmen, tooling salesman, etc. are oriented on presenting their product as the best for your application. They validate any additional costs by showcasing their features and how they can potentially give you an advantage.
I do believe you have options that include not purchasing software if you purchase a machine that has native software capable of parametric programing, and a pod and rail CNC fits your specific business model. In my opinion, g-code portability is useful if you know you're going to buy several machines with different controls, or know you are going to upgrade machines every few years? Outsourcing parts can be done, but it comes with its own curve - quality, transport of goods, warranty issues to name a few. Works great until there is a problem.
None of my customers with under 10~15 employees, couple million in sales do that. All are running CNCs anywhere from 8 to 16 years old! All made it through the recession alive! Some have transitioned into very nice software packages - they grew into it. Some program in the native control environment parametrically and focus on variance reduction within their internal design process. All of these shops flow work through their shop at very high velocities. In fact, it is most of their competitive advantage!
All of the cam packages mentioned are functional, and do a great job, but in a lot of smaller business models, you can start out with the onboard software and make money, good money.
To answer the original question, virtually all CNC router software programs output files in G code. Virtually all brands of CNC router accept G code. The software company will need to provide a post processor based on which brand and model machine you purchase.
As for virtual machining (and I'm not advocating for it, but mentioning it for consideration), it may not be the right business model for everyone, but it is a viable business model proven by customers of ours doing it successfully and profitably.
I concur that the software has to be taken into account along with the machine when integrating CNC into your production workflow, and should never be treated as an afterthought. Many of the machines are similar enough to be considered interchangeable when it comes to making parts. Choosing the right software that encompasses what you need to do today and gives you room to add new capabilities tomorrow is the more important consideration. From our experience, it's a lot easier to change machines than change how you define what you make.
This company already had a licensed version of Autocad and they draw most of components. Autocad, as most CAD programs, embeds the utility to save files in .DXF format (dxf is the utility that allows files created in a different brand of CAD to be viewed and or manipulate by other brands).
As with most smaller companies, this company wanted to use CNC technology to have a bottom line impact with minimal investment (sound familiar?). They purchased a used machine (11 years old!), good iron, good price.
The control on this machine allows for opening of .dxf files within the control software and applying tool paths directly to the geometry. The process takes minutes (literally). Essentially this performs the same process that a CAM program does, it's built in. In addition, it's a conversational control which allows them to rapidly and easily program templates and such from field measurements if needed. If you have ever needed something while in the field, you can appreciate this feature. The last thing you want is to wait for someone to "draw it up." This limits them in no way from evolving to a higher end cam package in the future, should their business model dictate.
Historically on average to cut one staircase of treads (all treads slightly different) would take one to one and a half days. Now five to six staircases worth can be cut in less than a day (and that can be improved on if they focus on variance reduction). And they still have uses to discover that will save them time and money while freeing up their most versatile and important resource, their employees. In fact this change in their process has now moved their historical "bottleneck" to another work center - the saw! As you know this is a recurring theme for companies that continually improve, but one they are more than willing to work with!
This company did not need to buy a secondary software to program their machine. They may never have to. In my opinion, they picked the right type of machine/control for what they wanted to improve and their application.
I also have many examples of companies that have no CAD or CAM capabilities, but make money with CNC. It depends on your business model, your needs and how you want to deploy technology. There is no one size fits all, rather a lot of spandex! Contributor J's pictures always amaze me - the quality is great! His work requires additional software. If you are dedicated to making cabinets, stair treads, some light 3D relief, engraving… depending on the control and application, 3rd party software is optional!
If your application fits, you can leverage CNC technology without having to drop a dollar on additional software. And to be totally honest, if you sit back and look at the total process length in time (value stream mapping?) you could end up lengthening the non-value added work (portion of the process where chips are not being made - example - desk work!) which inevitably lengthens the money making portion of the process in added delays. This company already had Autocad, so they integrated what they purchased within their existing capabilities at a level that works for them and is highly impactful. In fact any addition of software in their process will never have the impact the CNC gave them, and if not deployed correctly will add burden to the overall process.
On the flip side, there are instances where you have to have software combinations to be successful. I just think it is misleading for anyone to infer you have to buy specific software to be successful with CNC. That is simply not accurate and I stand firmly behind that statement even though at times it makes me feel like the lone libertarian at a DNC or RNC convention!
We have on board software and it's great, but taking design to production is the goal, especially when some of the jobs have 60 to 70 pages of casework and the router can process cabinets, tops, wall parts, and multitudes of other items like window sills. The benefits of software well implemented in the office driving the shop needs to be examined by all, CNC or not.