CNC Programming is the process of converting 2D or 3D CAD (Computer Aided Design) drawings into a CAM (Computer Aided Manufacture) language that is understood by sheet metal processing machines, using specialised programming software such as RADAN. Once converted, these elements are then repeated in a pattern, known as a “nest” which represents the path that the processing machine will follow. Nesting is crucial in maximising raw material utilisation, which has a significant impact on efficiency and cost.

Programming schedules are created by the Manufacturing ERP system which creates a work-to list for programmers. Programmers create new CAM files where needed and also assign processing machines, sheet size/ thickness as well, clearances, tooling and output options. At all times the programmer is working to optimise the processing of the components, reducing waste through scrap whilst ensuring that processing is as fast as possible.

Once programmed, the file is saved in the CAM library and a physical copy of the program instructions is printed and given to the machine operator. This “Route Card” is scanned, the appropriate CAM file is selected the program runs before the route card is scanned once again after processing is complete. This process ensures that all programs are tracked through the factory and any processing issues can be traced back easily. All parts are checked for accuracy at regular intervals throughout processing by the operator, to ensure that physical dimensions and specifications match the drawings.

Alpha Manufacturing Programming Manager Mark Clews outlines the importance of the programming team:

“A successful sheet metal programmer needs to be detail orientated. We’re the first stage of the manufacturing process and mistakes here can cause valuable material to be wasted, parts to be manufactured incorrectly and even damage to the machine. All of which are costly in terms of time and money as well as potentially causing knock-on issues for other customers’ parts.”

An effective programming team will consist of detail orientated, creative and tech savvy members. They have the crucial responsibility of taking a concept and optimising it for the manufacturing process. Decisions they make and at this early stage will affect the overall success of a parts manufacture.

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