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What Is CNC Router Software?

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  • Written By: Jean Marie Asta
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 05 December 2014
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CNC router software is what distinguishes the Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) wood router from other types of routers. Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software, Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software, or a combination of the two is used in CNC router software. While there are a number of software programs that fall into these categories, they all fundamentally differ on the basis of axes. If only two axes are available, only two-dimensional work can be done, and if there are three axes, three-dimensional projects can be pursued.

Although it can take quite some time to learn all of the instructions for CNC router software, the basic way that it functions is quite simple. An individual working the CNC router will enter a set of vector graphics and coordinates into his or her CAD/CAM software program matching the design he or she is intending to produce. Since the computer the CNC router software is working off of is connected to the router itself, commands entered into the software program will be transferred on to the router blades that do the physical work during the project.

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Each of these blades can be thought of as operating on a specific axis. The coordinates that are entered into the CNC software program tell the router the positions along the axes it needs to be in at every point in time over a set interval. X axis and Y axis coordinates will command the two-dimensional cutting of an object such as a design on a table top. Three-dimensional work is done along the Z axis. In the CNC software program, the Z axis coordinates can relay commands to the router blades resulting not only in three-dimensional objects like spheres, but also in interior three-dimensional cuts, as would be necessary when hollowing out a cylinder, for example.

Other types of wood routers are on the market, such as the trim router, the fixed-base router, and the plunge router, but the CNC router stands out as the only one that is controlled by computer software. All of the others have blades and tools that must be positioned and moved by the individual working the router himself. He may not be moving the blades themselves, but he is moving machinery parts that control the movement of the blades. There are certain settings on other routers that can be used to specify certain depths and types of cuts, but because human hands are involved in the movement of router blades, room for error arises. Shaky hands and incorrectly eyeballed estimates do not present a problem with the CNC router because the CNC router software dictates specific movements based on the vector graphics and coordinates entered; all the work is done by the router itself, which receives its instructions from the software.

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