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Free CNC Applications – Part II

written by: Ricky • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 4/26/2009

Learn about freely available CNC simulation and control applications which will come in handy for your CNC projects both at amateur and professional levels.

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    Introduction

    In our previous article related to free CNC applications we focused on CAD/CAM related applications. We will continue that discussion and talk about some CNC simulation and control applications that are available for free on the Internet.

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    CNCSimulator

    This is a really good and powerful application which can be used for industrial simulation as well as for learning and training purposes. This application can be used to simulate turning and milling machines in both 2D and 3D dimensions. The program comes with an editor as well as ports which can be used to communicate with CNC machines.

    In order to keep the software in tune with the latest developments, the developers supply an additional file which they call the “Petrol” file. It is necessary for the users of this free software to update this file regularly so that the software keeps working in perfect order. Lately some users have been experiencing some issues with this file, but the company came up with a solution and everything seems to be back to normal now. This feature also enables the company to ensure regular traffic, and, hence, they have classified this software as “returnware” instead of freeware. This is because users need to frequently return to the site in order to keep using the free software. This helps maintain traffic for the site, which provides revenue, thus completing the economic cycle.

    CNCSimulator is very light in terms of resources. It can run in Windows 98 up to Windows XP and only requires 20 MB hard disk space and 32 MB RAM for its installation and use. The screenshot of the application shows a simulation in progress for an operation and you can simultaneously see both the 2D and 3D version of that process apart from the other parameters which are displayed alongside.

    CNCSimulator 

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    Mach3

    This popular CNC control application can be used for individual as well as industrial use and is available freely on the web. This versatile application can be used for controlling a wide variety of machines such routers, lathes, and gear cutting machines. The software also comes with a variety of pre-written wizards which can be adapted for common operations such as cutting keyways and text engraving.

    It offers a visual G code display facility as you can see the screenshot of the application in the image below. A normal PC can be used to control a 6-axis CNC machine using this software and hence it is very useful for various purposes, and even offers advanced capabilities such as touch screen facility if the necessary infrastructure or hardware is configured. Mach3 can be said to be an excellent bargain for free.

    Mach3 

    The only disadvantage is that you need to use a desktop personal computer for this application since laptops are not supported currently. This difference is due to the fact that most laptops have chipsets with power saving options which could disrupt the pulse stream in case a Mach3 driver is being used. Nevertheless, it is excellent software otherwise.

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    Summary

    In these articles we have talked about various types of free CNC software applications that included CNC controllers and simulators as well as CAD/CAM software packages. This list is by no means exhaustive, but only indicative of the variety of free software available in this category. The use of these free applications along with low cost commercial or home built machines can help even amateur people with lower budgets try their hands at this wonderful science that is an art at the same time.