3 Main Issues in using a ShopBot

1. Concept to Cutting File: Understanding ShopBot Part Files

Learning how to use the software that runs the ShopBot is pretty easy. (We've only set aside five hours for mastering it in the “Readiness Test”). But this is only a small part of the software challenge in using CNC. The bigger challenge is learning the software for designing parts and creating tool paths for cutting parts.

There are many different ways to design and create tool paths for your ShopBot. For very simple shapes and cutoffs, you can type command directions directly into the ShopBot Control Software. You can also use the ShopBot Editor (or any text editor such as Notepad) to write and save commands into a Part File; Part Files are what we call the file containing tool paths that tell a ShopBot how to cut a part. You might even scan a 3D sample with our digitizing probe to make a Part File that is ready for cutting a copy of the shape. Usually however, Part Files are made with design software, called CAD/CAM software -- for Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Machining. The ShopBot Design Software Suite that comes with your CNC router is one of the best and easiest to use CAD/CAM software programs available. Using VCarve Pro ShopBot Edition or some other design software will be where much of your effort is invested in learning how to effectively use your new ShopBot. Mastering one method or another of going from concept to cutting file using design software is the essential part of becoming productive with a CNC tool.

2. Production: Mechanical Considerations Related to CNC Cutting and Machining

A CNC tool pushes a rapidly spinning cutting bit through material with a great deal of force. You must think about cutters, speeds, direction-of-cutting, waste and dust collection. These considerations are part of the new craft that you will be mastering and usually involve a lot of experimenting to optimize selections for your specific shop and the type of production work you are doing.

The most important new issue, though, will be how you are going to hold your material in place during cutting. There are many hold-down solutions, and you will need to decide on what the best solutions are for your specific production situation.

In general, material needs to be held firmly and flat. Even the slightest movement of the part during cutting will contribute to uneven cutting or poor edge quality. Your hold-down can be as simple as a screw or clamp. For repetitive production tasks, though, a fixture or jig that utilizes mechanical force or vacuum can be the most effective and efficient for moving parts through. A general-purpose solution is a universal vacuum that draws through a sacrificial bleeder board using a heavy-duty industrial vacuum pump/blower. ShopBot offers these general-purpose, vacuum hold-down systems, but they are expensive and are not optimal for every situation. If you have not had experience with CNC and vacuum systems, please give us a call to discuss your hold-down needs with our technical/sales people.
  Also see Conventional vs Universal Vacuum Hold-down

3. Culture: Two Recipes for Frustration (if not disaster)

Surprise CNC. Putting a new CNC tool into a production environment may be seen as a job threat because of the automation of production it brings, rather than recognizing how empowering it can be to their production efforts. It may also be threatening to personnel because of the new technology that must be learned or mastered. The two mastery hurdles noted in 1 and 2 will require that someone in your operation takes ownership of the new ShopBot, brings it online, and champions its use. As noted above, they are pretty amazing tools, but effectively incorporating them into your operations will not occur by magic. Reaping the benefits of their capability and productivity will require commitment and enthusiasm to change and improved production methods.

Selling Before Buying. Buying a CNC tool to complete a contract that you've already accepted puts you under tremendous pressure. Not only must you install the tool and get familiar with using it, but you must also master the CAD/CAM software needed for the project and get the project fixtured and set up for efficient production. It's pretty easy to clamp a board down and cut a simple shape as soon as your new tool is running, but it's a lot more difficult to create an efficient and reliable production system for multiple parts or to machine an intricate or complex part. We recommend that you do not accept a contract for CNC work before you've gotten your CNC system up and running and understand how you're going to put it to work.

If you must take on a project before having your CNC system fully operational, consider purchasing our optional installation and training packages. We also provide part-design and production set-up services that can help you get going. We have a technically skilled and creative team ready to work with you. Additional production services are not cheap, but may be a bargain for you in the long run if you must get something out the door in a hurry.

Even though we can provide installation services, if you are a small shop, we recommend that you set up your own ShopBot and spend a little time getting familiar with its operation before you are under the pressure of getting a job out. Our tools are very straightforward; you will get a thorough understanding by just doing the small amount of assembly required to position and set the tool up. Do some sample designing and cutting, and practice holding down or fixturing parts. Then, accept that contract -- you are still going to pay for your new ShopBot in a few months.

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Each new ShopBot tool comes bundled with two powerful software programs to create CNC projects.

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