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The way coordinates are used can be seen opposite. The X, Y and Z axis control the movement of the cutter on a 3D CNC machine. This allows materials to be machined in three directions (3D manufacture).

The plastic block shown below has been shaped on a CNC machine. It started as a cube. The design (produced on CAD, Computer Aided Design software) has been converted into coordinates. The cutter is instructed to go from one coordinate to another. A simple plastic block such as this may have a thousand coordinates. For example, point 'A' on the plastic block has coordinates 18, 8, 23 (see diagram). The block is composed of thousands of coordinates and the cutter goes from the first set of coordinates to the second set to the third set and so on, until it has completed the thousand coordinates. As the cutter is spinning at high speed, and travels through all the sets of coordinates, it cuts and shapes the block, as it goes along.


The animation below shows how the coordinates change as the cutter moves across the block of material. The 'Z' coordinate does not chnage as the cutter remins at the same height, despites its movement on the X and Y axis.

A CNC production facility needs three pieces of equipment:

A Computer.

The computer is used to draw the design. CAD - Computer Aided Design software is used for this purpose. However, the design is only a picture and the CNC machine cannot use this to manufacture the product. The computer software must also convert the drawing into numbers (coordinates) that the CNC machine can use when it starts to cut and shape the material.

An Interface.

A computer cannot be directly connected to a CNC machine. The computer is connected to an interface. Modern CNC machines have a 'built in' or integral interface, which appears part of the CNC machine. This circuit converts the signals from the computer to a form that the CNC machine understands. Older CNC machines have a separate 'box' called the interface. The signals are in the form of digital signals when they are sent to the CNC machine.

CNC (Computer Numerical Control) Machine.

The signals from the interface control the motors on the CNC machine. The signals determine the way the vice moves. The vice moves in three directions X, Y and Z. (Horizontally, vertically and depth). The signals also control the speed of the cutting tool.

The whole process of designing and making an item on the CNC machine can be split into three aspects INPUT-PROCESS-OUTPUT. The diagram below explains this system.

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