CNC control software is the last thing standing between you and your machined part. Explore this brief guide to the best CNC router software available right now.
If you want your CNC router to run on your computer, there are three parts to your toolchain: computer-aided design software (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software, and a machine controller package.
The part in question will be drawn or designed in CAD software (like AutoCAD), the CAM program will then convert the CAD drawing into G-code, and finally, the G-code will determine the actual movements of the router as it makes the part.
If you happen to be using a commercial CNC machine, the controller will be built into the machine, and you only have to directly transfer the G-code. In the meantime, such is not always the case with hobby CNC machines, which have an external controller. This external controller could be, for example, a personal computer connected to the CNC router.
In this article, we focus on this standalone CNC control software, which is used to create tool paths for CNC machines – determining its movement – by sending real-time commands. Typically, the CNC control tool runs on an off-the-shelf PC that is normally interfaced to the machine.
CNC control software essentially turns your computer into a machine controller, but picking the best software can be a tricky affair because there are several things to consider:
These are some of the most critical questions you need to ask yourself because no one wants a buggy and non-intuitive software.
Thankfully, we’ve navigated the choppy waters of CNC router control software to bring you five tools that are sure to impress. They’ve been picked based on their popularity, reliability, and ease of access. Under each tool, you will find the main features that make it unique.
Operating system: Windows
Mach3 is super rich in features and provides value to hobbyists needing a CNC control package. It is arguably the most intuitive CNC control software out there that is customizable and can be used for many applications with several hardware types.
In addition to its main features, other aspects worthy of note include its touchscreen, video display of the machine, manual pulse generation, full-screen eligibility, multiple relay control, and spindle control.
ArtSoft has been continuously improving the Mach series with the latest version being the Mach4.
Cost: $200 (Hobby); $1,400 (Industrial)
Operating system: Windows
Mach4 is the newest edition in the Mach series, written from the ground up to be flexible, expandable, and super responsive. It’s the best pick when you need industrial style methods and controls, with a modular architecture that allows for faster development to expand its feature set.
The modular design allows features to be added or subtracted without affecting the system operation. The result is a customized software package, making it more adaptable to different machines, applications, and uses.
Operating System: Linux
Without a doubt, LinuxCNC is a worthy opponent to the Mach series. It’s a popular choice among most CNC hobbyists mainly because it’s free and completely open-source.
LinuxCNC uses a Linux kernel with real-time extensions (RTLinux or RTAI) and has the capability of controlling up to nine axes or joints of a machine. The software can also handle peripheral machine elements like tool-change procedures, cooling, and tool length measurement.
Cost: Free (with controllers that have a valid license)
Operating system: Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10, Linux, Raspberry Pi
PlanetCNC is designed with flexibility in mind, especially for the coordinated movement of servo or stepper motors. The tool is user-friendly and will allow newbies to employ advanced functions with ease.
PlanetCNC has useful G-code manipulation (edited, scaled, mirrored, rotated, shifted, copy-pasted, bookmarked) and transformation functions. Its configuration options allow users maximum integration, flexibility, and customization, and the simulation features are designed for fast verification of NC programs.
Operating system: Linux, Windows, OS X, Raspberry Pi
Universal G-code Sender (UGS) is free and available on GitHub, and this has made it a favorite pick by many CNC hobbyists. UGS comes with configurable G-code optimization that allows a user to remove whitespace, convert arcs, remove comments, and more.
UGS is a Java-based software that enables you to run CNC controllers like TinyG and GRBL with the assistance of a PC. The advantage of Java is that it makes it possible for UGS to run on other platforms like Linux, OS X, and Raspberry Pi.
UGS is what you want when you’re looking for an efficient and simplistic utility to help you control TinyG and GRBL CNC machines accurately.
Operating system: DOS
TurboCNC, by Dak Engineering, runs under DOS. And for only a small fee of only $60, you get access to the source code and free support – that’s right: fully-functional shareware. This robust CNC interpreter is compatible with machines with up to eight axes of motion and has a configurable I/O for reversible speed control spindles.
Feature image source: fuse33.com
License: The text of "CNC Router Software – Find the Tool for You" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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