When it comes to modern production techniques, it is impossible to avoid the benefits of using computerised technology to aid the speed, precision, and safety of cutting and drilling. One such innovation that utilises the latest technological developments is a CNC router.
What is a CNC router?
CNC is an acronym for Computer Numerical Control, and therefore a CNC router is typically a platform that allows a computer-operated cutting tool to cut and drill wood or plastic in three dimensions. Due to all cut and drill actions being programmed into the router via computer software, a CNC router has the ability to create shapes and configurations that would usually be extremely difficult, if not impossible, if attempted by hand.
As a sign of the changing times, the production process when creating an item on a CNC router begins on a computer screen. Using specialist software, the desired shape and size of the item is drawn up, and once completed, the information is then sent to the router. The material to be cut or drilled is then loaded up onto the machine, and the router then automatically performs the action’s input on the software with greater speed and precision than would otherwise be possible.
Top tips for using a CNC router
1) Choose a screw over a holding tab
To keep a part in place whilst being routed, people often choose to use a holding tab to keep the material steady. The problem with using holding tabs is getting the balance right between using too few or too many. Using too few holding tabs can result in the tabs snapping during the cutting process; using too many can lead to wasted time breaking them away once the cutting job is completed. Rather than using holding tabs, holding screws can be a more effective alternative. Drilling two or more holes into the material to be cut, and manually screwing these holes to the spoil board (the material that supports the cutting part from underneath) before cutting can help to maintain steadiness in an effective manner.
2) Maintain your machine regularly
As with any other workshop tool or machine, regularly maintaining your CNC router is an essential way to ensure it works as effectively as possible. For example, if the router is not calibrated accurately then the cut on the output material will not match the design input on the software. Moreover, checking the state of the drill bit on the router is also an important step to undertake. If the bit is beginning to wear out, then the cut on the material will not be as accurate as it can be, nullifying the benefit of using a CNC router. Aside from ensuring the efficiency of your router, regular maintenance is an important procedure in ensuring the utmost safety in your workshop.
3) The one-two punch
To gain the greatest accuracy on router cuts, many people think that running a greater quantity of shallow cuts is the best way forward. However, this can be incredibly time consuming, and moreover, leads to drill bits wearing out more quickly than they need to. Instead, when still at the software stage of the process, programming two cuts, one that makes a wide cut around the material to be cut, and then one that shaves the edges clean and more precisely, is a much more cost-and-time-effective way to make the most of your CNC router.
4) Alter the feed rate and depth per pass
Using an incorrect feed rate, which essentially means running the machine too fast or too slow, risks burning, splitting, or damaging the material that is being cut, and also risks damaging the drill bit doing the cutting. Whilst guidelines on which feed rate and depth per pass for different materials can be useful, it is always important to be specific to your situation. Taking into account the sharpness of your drill bit, and the temperature of the material to be cut, is essential to create the most effective designs. Lastly, to ensure a full depth cut, it can be useful to make your depth per pass ever so slightly deeper than the depth you desire.
5) Engage in lossless design
Making the most of your materials is an important way to get the most effective use out of a CNC router. Laying material to be cut as closely to each other as possible can save on unnecessary waste. Parts that are laid edge-to-edge will only be cut once along the shared edge, saving time and money; moreover, it helps to lengthen the lifespan of the components of the router, again saving time and money. Engaging in lossless design at the software input stage can help you to nest as many parts to be cut as possible into the desired material, meaning that the router does not unnecessarily cut through spare material during cutting.