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Question and Answer

CNC Tooling Software for CNC Engravings

by Staff

August-September, 2010
Engravings created through a CNC manufacturing process continue to be a popular method for flat stamp, single-level embossing and even detailed multi-level embossing dies. Although having the proper CNC machinery and tooling is extremely important, utilizing the correct 3D CADCAM software and understanding how to use the software is the key to a successful CNC engraved die. Delcam, a leader in 3D CADCAM software, explains some of the more commonly asked questions about the software that is such an important part of the CNC engraving process.

Do CADCAM-machined engravings completely take the place of a skilled master engraver?
The decision to move to computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacture (CADCAM), or to preserve the tradition and skills of a craftsman or master engraver, is not always an easy choice. A common misconception is that turning to a software solution will replace (or deskill) workers or result in lost individuality and/or creativity.

CADCAM software solutions should enhance the quality of work in a way that suits the current business of the engraver and result in faster and less expensive production methods. New versions of 3D software can greatly decrease the design time required by older versions of software and can accept a variety of file formats, including Photoshop®, jpg and tiff files. Vector files are created directly from the image and then developed into a 3D image for CNC machining. The file can then be sent back to the customer for final approval. A skilled 3D software operator and craftsman is crucial in developing the embossing detail and matching that with the speed and capabilities of the CNC machine.

What is the advantage of using 3D software compared to traditional methods?
For most multi-level embossing applications, utilizing 3D software will speed up the production time and eliminate inaccuracies that may occur through hand engraving. In a 3D software environment, the model can be created right in the computer, starting with a photograph, drawing or even from scratch. This can save several days in the design process of the engraving. When CADCAM 3D software was first introduced, it only replaced part of the process. An original model or multi-level embossing engraving had to be digitized and then additional engravings could be machined. Although this is still an option (especially when an original engraving exists and there is a need for one or more duplicates), today’s software has advanced to the point where most projects can originate from the CADCAM 3D software.

When there is a hand-carved engraving that needs to be modified slightly or has been damaged, digitizing the original and then editing where necessary can save an enormous amount of time. One of the most common benefits to engravers using the 3D software is the ability to add small details or mechanical shapes. Very small details can be a challenge to hand-engrave accurately, but on the computer the details can be precisely drawn and easily incorporated. With a skilled operator, this can be a very practical and quick solution.

Is CADCAM 3D software for CNC engraving difficult to operate?
Several improvements with the “sculpturing tools” have made working with CADCAM 3D software much easier in recent years. These tools have been developed to produce virtually any type of shape. They duplicate in the virtual world the ability to sculpt physical materials, but with the added advantage that material can be added as well as taken away.

On the machining side, the focus has been on the latest trends in hardware for multi-threading. The latest enhancements provide faster calculation times and greater flexibility to edit toolpaths.

Finally, machining simulations have been made much more flexible in recent years by adding the ability to change the view during the simulation. This allows the user to more easily check the quality and accuracy of the toolpaths on the computer before the engraving is sent to the machine.

Explain the importance of tolerances and how they relate to a CNC-machined engraving?
Tolerances are applied when creating and editing vector artwork, as well as when calculating machining toolpaths. Tolerances allow the user to decide how accurately the lines of imported artwork or other vectors are followed to create/edit vectors and for machining (how closely the machining tool keeps to the vector or relief to create the toolpath). This process is a trade-off between accuracy, file size and speed.

Tolerance settings are crucial for the machining of curves (splines). The CADCAM software must recreate the shape of the curve using lines that can be easily read by the machine. However, for more complicated curves, numerous lines are required that will not only increase the toolpath file size to be exported to the CNC machine, but also the time it will take to machine the engraving. This is an example of when the software user must decide what is more important – the speed at which the engraving can be calculated and machined or the amount of detail in the embossing. For most users, finding the right balance involves some trial and error, especially for those who are new to both a CNC machine and the software. Over time it becomes clear which settings are suitable to the type of work required.

As stated earlier, CADCAM software programs today can help with the process of balancing speed and detail by simulating the toolpath to see how the piece will look according to the specific tolerance and also calculating how long the machining will take. This allows the CNC programmer to choose the best tolerance for the specific application, without expending valuable machining time.

InsideFinishing would like to thank Delcam for its assistance with this article. Delcam has developed and markets ArtCAM 3D software, including ArtCAM Pro and ArtCAM Insignia for the CNC machining of foil stamping and embossing engravings, as well as other CNC-engraved products. For more information, contact Delcam at 877.DELCAM.1 or visit www.artcam.com.