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There are several software steps in using a CNC router, CAD, CAM and CNC. CAD is where you "draw" the part you want to route on your CNC router. CAM takes the CAD information and creates a series of instruction the CNC software can understand, and the CNC software converts the CAM code into motion.

Some software packages can do 2 or even all 3 of the above operations. For CAD I use a package called Profiler. Profiler is a CAD, CAM and CNC package, it can be used to draw the part, ready the file and process the file on the CNC machine. However Profiler is no longer supported as far as I can tell, I've tried to contact the software authors with no luck.

Another good CAD package, again free, is A9Cad from A9Tech. A9Cad is a Autocad like program and the standard version is a free download.

A neat CAM program to appear recently is CamBam. CamBan is a basic CAD CAM package, wth some very cool features. It can perform a range of router CAM functions, like pocketing or engraving, and has a few neat functions like BMP to NC. Currently its free, and I hightly recommend it.

The first program I used to drive my CNC table was KCam from Kellyware. KCam is a easy to use CNC program, for stepper motors using the parallel port, or more recently with a special interface board, the serial port. KCam reads in your NC code, or it can inport a DXF or other file formats and convert these to NC itself. KCam is under constant development and its getting better all the time. The new serial interface board is called Max Stepper, and gives a big improvement in stepper performance. To get started I recommend KCam as a good MS Windows based CNC software package. Its free to download and works for 1 month, after which it goes into demo mode with restriction on the size of NC files you can run. To unlock the software just visit the Kellyware site and purchase a registration.

Mach2. I've never used Mach2, but from the reviews I've seen its the most popular Windows based CNC software on the market for the hobbiest.

Recently I've started to use EMC2. EMC2 is a linux based CNC software package, and its lightning fast! EMC2 runs on Unbuntu, a very user friendly version of Linux. To get going, you can download a CD image ( yep its a big download at over 600kb ), and use this to install Ubuntu and EMC2 on a reasonably fast computer. It needs a bit of ram, at least 500Mb, and a HD with 4Gb or more. The installation is painless, Unbuntu is a good system, and once going it runs very smooth. It even detected my memory key I use to transfer NC files, like I said, painless. The CNC program EMC2 is run from a desktop icon, but this isnt so user friendly compared to the Windows CNC programs above. Setup involves editing text files, and EMC itself is a very basic looking program with only basic functions on the user interface. But that said, its very fast, smooth, and powerfull once you start to learn about the inbuilt systems, like HAL and Ladder Logic. EMC2 would be at home running your hobby cnc engraver, or a full size industrial plasma cutter.

Next up, a rebuild.

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