Hey there, Maker!
This article breaks into two parts. In part 1, we learned the concepts of CAD, CAM, post processor, and firmware, as well as the CAM workflow of Fusion 360 in detail.
In this part, we will continue with other CAD/CAM software picks: FreeCAD, Aspire, and Carveco Maker (formerly ArtCAM). We will also briefly introduce two easy-to-use CAM software picks: Snapmaker Luban and MeshCAM.
This article only focuses on the CAM features of the software introduced. To learn more about their CAD-related features and highlights, see CAD for CNC: Eight 3D Modeling Software Picks to Visualize Your Ideas.
FreeCAD is a free 3D modeling software with a strong suit for designing solid models. Once a model has been created, you can switch to Path Workbench to generate the toolpath and G-code.
If you're using FreeCAD to design models for the first time, you need to download and import the post and tool library to ensure that the G-code that is to be generated can be successfully exported to Snapmaker CNC Carving Module for further processing.
- To import the post, copy the .py file to the Mod\Path\PathScripts\post folder in the installation directory of FreeCAD.
- To import the tool library in the latest FreeCAD 0.19, perform the following steps:
- Click Edit > Preferences > Path > Job Preferences > Tools. Select Use Legacy Tools, and click OK.
- Switch to Path workbench. Click > Import. Select the .json file in the FreeCAD folder of the post and tool library and click Open.
Import a tool library in FreeCAD - 1
Import a tool library in FreeCAD - 2
Click to set up the basic configurations of your carving job. In the Output tab of the Job Edit panel, you can enter a name and extension for the G-code file to be generated and select the post in the Processor bar. In the Setup tab, you can define the dimensions of the stock in relation to the model and the location of work origin. In the Tools tab, you can select the tool for your carving job.
The extension for G-code files that Snapmaker CNC Carving Module can recognize is .cnc.
After performing these basic configurations, you can select different features of the model in the tree diagram on the left and apply different machining strategies to generate separate toolpaths for each of them. For example, for the outer profile of your model, select a strategy that can quickly cut through the material, whereas for sunken areas, opt for a strategy that can efficiently remove the material. While generating toolpaths, FreeCAD allows you to preview how the tool moves and what the finished product looks like, so that you can make adjustments in real time.
Simulation in FreeCAD
If you know your way around G-code, you can click to inspect the G-code content of a path and view or directly edit the G-code in the text box that appears. Once everything is set, click to post process the selected job and generate the G-code specific to Snapmaker CNC Carving Module.
Here are two great tutorial videos that you can check out: FreeCAD - The Powerful Path Workbench for CNC Machining and G-code and Ultimate Free CNC CAM tutorial with FreeCAD.
Aspire is a reputable wood relief design software with powerful CAM features.
With Aspire, the first step of modeling is setting the coordinate system and the stock parameters. When creating a project, you need to specify Job Type, Job Size, work origin (i.e., XY Datum Position, and Z Zero Position), and Orientation in the Job Setup pane first. Aspire supports four-axis CNC carving. To work with Snapmaker Rotary Module, just select Rotary in Job Type.
If you're using Aspire for the first time, you need to download and import the post and tool library to ensure that the G-code can be successfully exported to Snapmaker CNC Carving Module for further processing.
- To import the post, open Aspire, click Toolpaths > Install Post Processor..., and click the .pp file in the Aspire folder of the post and tool library. (There are two files with the .pp extension in the folder, one for three-axis machining and the other for four-axis machining. You can import only one post at a time.)
Import a post in Aspire
- To import the tool library, open Aspire, click Toolpaths > Tool Database, and click Import. Then, open the Aspire folder of the post and tool library and select the .tool file.
Import a tool library in Aspire - 1
Import a tool library in Aspire - 2
After you finish modeling, click on the top left to proceed to set up toolpaths by configuring the parameters in the Toolpaths pane that appears on the right. You can modify the previously set stock parameters in the Material Setup panel at the top.
Next, you get to choose appropriate machining strategies for different features of the model. In relief carving, for example, we apply rough machining to carve out the general outline and then use finish machining for the details. In these two rounds of machining, different tools and machining strategies are required, which are to be generated as corresponding toolpaths. In the Toolpaths pane, click Select to pop up the Tool Database window, where you can select the tool to use. Click Edit to set machining parameters such as spindle speed, feed rate, and stepover. When you’re done with setting the parameters, click Calculate to generate toolpaths.
After the toolpath is generated, click Preview Selected Toolpath to visualize how the tool moves and what the finished product looks like. Should you need to adjust the toolpath, the operation is pretty easy. Double click the toolpath on the right, and the parameter setting window then appears.
Simulation in Aspire
When all is set, click to generate the G-code. The post that you have imported earlier will appear in the Post Processor bar. Click Save Toolpath(s), and the G-code customized for Snapmaker CNC Carving Module will be generated.
As a top choice for CNC relief design, Aspire comes with well-made official training videos. You can also find many videos made by users on YouTube and other platforms, such as Vectric 3D Carving & Toolpath Tutorial for Vcarve & Aspire and Basic Guide to CNC with Vectric Vcarve Pro / Aspire Profile Toolpath.
Our last guest is Carveco Maker created by the team behind ArtCAM. If you're familiar with ArtCAM, you will quickly pick up on Carveco Maker, as it draws heavily from its predecessor.
In Carveco Maker, two separate steps are required to set the stock dimensions. The width and height are defined when you create a new project, whereas stock thickness is defined in the window where you configure toolpath parameters. By default, the work origin is the center of the stock. You can modify it by clicking Model > Set Position (P) in the top navigation bar. After you finish modeling, click Toolpaths in the tree list on the right to start setting the machining strategies and toolpath parameters.
If you're using Carveco Maker for the first time, you need to download and import the post and tool library to ensure that the G-code can be successfully exported to Snapmaker CNC Carving Module for further processing.
- To import the post, copy the .con file in the ArtCAM folder of the post and tool library to the postp folder in the installation directory of Carveco Maker.
- To import the tool library, after you finish modeling in Carveco Maker, click Toolpaths in the Project panel and then click in the Toolpath Operations panel to enter Tool Database. In the pop-up window, click Import.., select the .tdb file in the ArtCAM folder of the post and tool library, and click Open.
As with the previous software, different machining strategies are needed for different features of the model in Carveco Maker. After you select a feature, choose the way you want it to be machined by clicking the corresponding button on the Toolpaths pane to the right. In the pop-up window, you can select a tool and set its machining parameters, such as feed rate, stepover, and cutting depths. As mentioned previously, this window is also the place where you can define stock thickness. After finishing setting, you can run a simulation to view the processing results.
Simulation in Carveco Maker
After you finish configuring toolpaths, click Toolpaths in the tree list of the Project panel. Then, in the Toolpath Operations panel below, click to save your toolpath. In the pop-up window, select the post processing method that has been imported in the drop-down list of Machine file format, and click Save to export the G-code. Now, we can send the G-code to the CNC machine for carving and simply wait for the finished product.
The Carveco Maker team has already made a series of official training videos, such as Carveco Maker - Designing A Plaque (part one) and Carveco Maker - Machining A Plaque (part two), covering the most common basic operations. The two videos here use the example of making a plaque to demonstrate the entire procedure, from designing a sketch to setting the toolpaths and exporting the G-code. Also, ArtCAM users have made a large amount of tutorials resources that are helpful for using Carveco Maker, as the two pieces of software practically share the same working logic.
Snapmaker Luban & MeshCAM
That's all for our introduction to CAD/CAM software picks. Sometimes, we have already finished the model design and simply want to turn it into toolpaths. This is where software dedicated to CAM comes in. So, let's take a look at two CAM software picks: Snapmaker Luban and MeshCAM.
Snapmaker Luban is free and open-source CAM software developed by the Snapmaker team. Tailored specifically to Snapmaker 3-in-1 3D Printer, it is designed with user-friendliness in mind around three major functions: 3D printing, laser engraving and cutting, and CNC carving. Needless to say, the CAM features of Snapmaker Luban match Snapmaker hardware with perfection. The toolpaths and G-code that it generates can be directly used by Snapmaker CNC Carving Module. In addition, it also supports the preview of tool movements and the finished product. If you simply want to carve out the finished product based on an existing model file, Snapmaker Luban is without doubt one of the best candidates.
MeshCAM is one of the most popular CAM software on the market, with excellent ease of use as its main highlight. Thanks to its straightforward workflow and simple operations, even those new to the world of CNC without machining knowledge can easily master it. Automatic toolpath configuration is one of the things that make MeshCAM great. Simply choose the tools and the desired quality level, and MeshCAM will automatically calculate the appropriate parameters. The built-in post processor of MeshCAM does not support Marlin yet. Some additional steps are required to translate the G-code into a format recognizable for Snapmaker.
The CNC workflow begins with CAD, where imaginations are transformed into designs. Next, CAM connects design and manufacturing by transforming designs into toolpaths for CNC carving machines. The first three articles of our CNC series focused on CAD and introduced eight CAD modeling software picks along with 12 recommended websites for modeling resources. In the fourth and fifth articles, we moved forward along the CNC workflow, clarified some key concepts in CAM, including post processor, firmware, and CAM workflow, and presented four integrated CAD/CAM software picks with their respective work process. Now, we have learned the complete process from CAD to CAM. We hope that these articles can help you get started with CAD and CAM for CNC!
Snapmaker Academy will continue to offer more CNC carving resources and information. So stay tuned! If you are interested in any topic, please feel free to let us know by leaving a message in our community or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Snapmaker recommends the software and videos to you in no particular order and for resource-sharing purposes only. Snapmaker does not in any way endorse, control, or assume responsibility for the content, views hosted on, and services provided by the developers of the software or individuals.