CNC machining is one of the most important advances made in machining manufacturing. CNC (computer numerical control) allows for the automated control of machining tools. This removes a lot of variability from the use of these tools and improves the precision as well as creates near-perfect repeatability of a design. With CNC, every product made with a single CNC file will turn out exactly the same.

Of course, to do this, you need properly made CNC files. While this may seem intimidating to someone who is inexperienced with CNC files, the process is straightforward and absolutely vital to producing the product you want.

What you need to do is create a model or drawing of your product. You need to understand your end result in order to direct the CNC machining tools properly. Make sure all your measurements are correct. While “measure once, cut twice” is something to remember in all manufacturing, with CNC machining, that second cut becomes much harder to make, especially in a production run.

Once you have your model made, you then export that in the proper file format and you have a CNC file to give to a manufacturer.

2D CNC files or 3D CNC files?

In many cases, most products only need 2D CNC files. A vector drawing usually works. This is the old fashioned way of doing design models and has been used to produce much of the world around us for a very long time, so it is perfectly usable. It is also much more accessible for most people since it does not require knowing how to use and owning any kind of software. In fact, an engineering computation paper pad and a mechanical pencil are really all you need to get started, and some machining companies can work with a well-made sketch done on those.

3D CNC files require more specialized computer knowledge and an understanding of the software you’re using. A 3D model is not often required for CNC machining, though it is vital for 3D printing. The key to knowing if you need one is knowing what kind of manufacturing tools you’re looking to use and its requirements. It’s best to speak to the company you’re looking to contract the physical process of CNC manufacturing out of to find out what they use.

What Files Does CNC Machining Use?

CNC machining uses various file types. 2D CNC files are most often in a DXF file format, that is, a drawing ubiquitous exchange file format. As the name suggests, it is usable by almost all systems. DXF works well for most projects, though it does have limitations.

DWG is another file format you can use and it can be used for both 2D and 3D CNC files. It can contain all the info possible for a design. DWG files are a common way to communicate design data and it is the native file format for AutoDesk’s AutoCAD software.

Best Free CNC Software for Beginners

If you’re looking to start out with CNC machining design, you’ll want some software. While professional, high-end software licenses can be pricey, there is a lot of great free software out there that can help you get your feet wet.

  • NanoCAD is a great option that can do most basic design software functions in both 2D and 3D, all in a DWG file format.
  • Wings3D is a very impressive free 3D CNC file modeler that works well for creating low to mid-range polygon models.
  • Draft It is 2D modeling software that is great for hobbyists and professionals alike. It’s very easy to use and you can create, save, and print drafts from it with very little trouble.
  • Sketch Up is a really great free 3D modeling software that can be used for many different applications. It gives you a lot of room for creativity without too many flashy bells and whistles.
  • TinkerCAD is not just free software, but a range of lessons that allow anyone with a computer and some curiosity to learn how to do 3D CAD design.

At Jawstec, we are CNC machining experts. We have a CNC mill as well as 3D printing capabilities ready to bring your idea to life. Contact us today for a CNC quote or reach out to talk to us about your design plans.

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