What is a CNC machine?
Let’s start with the absolute basics.
At the core, a machine tool is one where the machine guides the toolpath — as opposed to it being guided by direct, freehand human guidance, such as with hand tools and pretty much every tool until machine tooling was invented.
Numerical Control (NC) means using programmable logic (data in the form of letters, numbers, symbols, words, or a combination) to automate control of machining tools. Before its advent, machining tools were invariably controlled by human operators.
The first NC machines were built in the 1940s and 1950s, based on existing tools that were modified with motors that moved the tool or part to follow points fed into the system on punched tape. Those early servomechanisms were rapidly augmented with analogue and digital computers, creating the modern Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine tools that have revolutionised machining processes.
CNC then is when precisely coded instructions are sent to a microprocessor in the control system of a machining tool, enabling an enhanced level of precision and consistency. When people today talk about CNC, they almost always mean a milling machine connected to a computer. Technically, it can be used to describe any machine controlled by a computer.
CNC machines are now used widely in many different industrial manufacturing environments and have also become very popular amongst woodworking enthusiasts.
CNCs can be used for milling, cutting or carving a variety of materials including wood, metals and plastics and can be industrial scale in size and complexity or they can be relatively simple as a hobbyist machine.
The Rosefield Community Shed CNC Machines
The Shed is the grateful beneficiary of two grants awarded by both the City of Unley Council in 2019 and the Australian Department of Veterans Affairs in 2020.
These grants have enabled the purchase of two CNC machines:
The first being a BlueCarve 'Bluey' hobby grade machine, which as well as being able to carve wood, also has a Class 4 Blue Laser etching attachment, which burns the surface of wood and will enable us to burn designs and brand our Shed logo onto finished wooden projects;
The BlueCarve CNC machine was funded by the City of Unley Community Grants Program, which aims to:
'Encourage and support community initiatives that respond to local needs, enhance community wellbeing and quality of life and are of benefit to our residents'.
...and the second CNC machine is an Axiom Precision AR8 Pro+, a semi-industrial grade machine;
The Axiom CNC machine was funded by the Veteran and Community Grants Program, which aims to:
'Reduce social isolation for veterans and their families and encourage them to remain independent, healthy and active'.
The Benefits of CNC Machines at RCS
The CNC machines will provide benefits including:
The up-skilling and development of computer skills of Shed members in the field of CNC machining;
Allowing Veterans and others to become involved to establish CNC skills through which employment may be obtained;
Giving those with compromised motor skills, the opportunity and satisfaction of creating their own projects;
Providing the consistency, accuracy and quality of projects created utilising the CNC machines;
With the skills of the Rosefield Community Shed members, we can produce signage, merchandise and creative items and we encourage local businesses and individuals to contact us;
Income from the CNC projects will contribute to the funding and the viability of ongoing activities at the Shed.
We are developing a CNC training program for members of the Shed, along with Veterans and their families and the wider community. Participants will be able to design their projects either at the Shed or at home on their own computers utilising the CAD/CAM software and then produce their projects on the Shed CNC machines.
CNC Project Design using CAD/CAM Software
There are 3 basic steps to designing and producing a product using a CNC machine:
Designing the Project - utilising CAD (Computer Aided Design) software.
Tool Selection - utilising CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) software to determine what tool should be used according to the design and material selection.
G-Coding - this is the coded set of instructions that drives the CNC machine.
The combined CAD/CAM software utilised at the Shed is Vectric VCarve Pro. Vectric offer their software as a Makerspace Edition which is substantially discounted for non-profit Makerspace communities such as ours.
What is a Makerspace ?
Makerspaces are “DIY” social spaces where people meet to create, design, share ideas and learn. They may contain a variety of resources eg. craft equipment, woodworking equipment, CNC machines, 3D printers, electronics, etc.