CNC stands for Computerized Numerical Control. CNC routers use CNC (CAD-CAM software) for router control.. optimizing the brains of a computer to control the motion of a piece of machinery. Lets have a look at the types of software that are necessary to make this happen...

CNC is a type of programable software that uses a series of micro-processors to process pages of numbers and logic functions that make up the CNC software, to control machinery and move it in a predetermined way. The instruction set can then be repeated unlimited times with the push of a button.

So CNC CAD/CAM software is the heart and sole of any CNC router. Without it, its just another router :) It is the software that adds productivity, accuracy and repeatability to the tool.

There are basically three types of CNC CAD/CAM software for router control, each playing their role from conception to fabrication. Today more often than not, they are becoming integrated into one seamless package and we're starting to see the acronym CIM: Computer Intergrated Manufacturing to reflect this transition. The goal is for reduced learning curve, less duplication, great efficiency and accuracy.. sounds like our government should be listening :)

The challenge is to find the best package, or set of software packages that work effectivly in your production environment.

  1. CAD: or Computer Aided Design

    All work that you wish to cut on a CNC wood router needs to be drawn out in electronic form as the FIRST step in CNC production.

    It can be as simple as a 2D drawing created in goggle's free Sketch-up software or as complex as 3D modeling from a sophisticated engineering program like SolidWorks.

  2. CAM: or Computer Aided Manufacturing

    CAM software is what you need to convert the drawings created in step one above, into tool instructions and tool paths.

    It takes into consideration your tooling specifications, (size/speed/max. depth), clamping locations and can come in a huge set of custom applications that automate calculations specific to an industry, like for instance window, door or drawer operations.

  3. Post Processors:

    This is a program that translates the tooling path specifications from the CAM software above to something that your specific CNC wood router can understand. It must be customized to act as a go-between, from your CAM software to your CNC machine controls.


G-Code is the language of CNC control.. like French or English, but in this case it is "G-Code". The CAM software converts your drawings into G-Code and then the Post Processor customizes this code to reflect the peculiarities of your particular machine so the motors know where to go, how fast and in what order.

The trick is to make sure that all three pieces of software talk to each other in a seamless fashion that prevents extensive re-draw or re-coding if changes need to be made... of course some of that is the talent of the programmer and can't be blamed on lack of CNC software sophistication.

As with all things, effective CNC CAD CAM software is only effective for router control when human talent, processing needs and machinery capabilites are integrated into a well thought out production strategy.