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Programming 101: CNC

After World War II, people realized that they have to manufacture goods at a faster rate
and at a lower cost. Hence, mass production trending came to be. Those events led to the
development of the Numerical Control (NC) machines which in turn led to the Computer
Numerical Control (CNC).


CNC programming uses a code similar in structure to BASIC. So, if you know how to
construct a simple counting program, chances are, you already know what a G-Code
looks like. However, there a few other things you have to consider before you start
encoding instructions.

The first thing that you have to do is to assign values for each of the variables. These
variables include the programmable motion directions (axes), and the reference point for
the axes. The values that you assign to these variables dictate the movement of the

The next thing that you have to do is to take into account the accessories of the machine.
Many machines have accessories that are designed to enhance the capabilities of the basic
device. However, using these accessories requires you to include them in the coding
system. This means that if you want a more efficient machine, you will have to know the
machine inside out.


After those steps, you have to create a subprogram that will deal with the math. This step
will then allow your machine to compute the necessary variables and effectively operate
without stopping to ask the operator what the limitations are.

To show you what these codes look like, here’s an example from Wikipedia:

#100=3 (bolt circle radius)

#101=10 (how many holes)
#102=0 (x position of ctr of bolthole)
#103=0 (y position of ctr of bolthole)
#104=0 (angle of first hole
Tool call,
spindle speed,and offset pickup,etc
G43 in some cases (tool length pickup)
G81(drill cycle)
call sub program

#105=((COS#104)*#100) (x location)
#106=((SIN#104)*#100) (y location)
x#105 y#106 (remember your G81 code is modal)
If #100 GT 360 goto N50
Goto 100

In the code above, the machine is a drill. The operator utilized a loop in order to keep the
machine from stopping. The subprogram then governs the cycle of the machine. This
code is still quite a simple code. Other machines require the inclusion of the maximum
RPM in the coding.

An easier way of programming CNC machines would be the use of Computer Aided
Manufacturing (CAM). This system takes on the brunt of programming so that it doesn’t
seem so tedious and frustrating. It is still similar to BASIC.

Another programming enhancement that was developed was the parametric programs or
the logical commands. These programs were designed to shorten lengthy codes in order
to make them user friendly. However, these codes do not always use the same language
with every machine. The language and sequence often varies depending on the typ of
machine you will be working on.

The operator has to know what the machine can do or what it was made to do before
attempting to program it. You should be able to visualize the machine doing what you
want it to do.

But, you don’t have to be a math wizard or a programming genius. You just have to know
what your machine does and what you want it to do.