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released March 13

Shoptronics CNC-Tools Review

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  A rather full featured CNC software toolkit is available from ShopTronics for $29.95.  These are programs to assist you in building NC code and verifying milling programs, as well as solving geometry problems associated with machining.  For the price, it's a good value.

  The toolkit consists of 13 programs running under a shell that looks like this:

  • GEDIT 2D NC code verifier

  • 2D DXF to NC code converter

  • Hole pattern DXF to G code converter

  • Quick-drill - PCB drilling code from DXF

  • Speed/feed calculator

  • Bolt circle NC code generator

  • Lathe NC code generator (straight turn, radii, and angles)

  • CADwriter2 - DXF/Gcode generator for manually inputted entities

  • Inch/Metric converter

  • CADwriter - DXF generator for manually inputted entities

  • Oblique triangle solver

  • Right triangle solver

  • N word insertion utility

  I'm glad to see a toolkit such as this out there if only for its triangle solver - as there have been several occasions where I've nearly been driven to the point of writing one myself.

  Depending on your needs and the software you own already, not every one of utilities will be useful to you.  Probably the most relevant for general shop use are the triangle solvers, the 2D DXF to NC converter, and the bolt circle code generator.  

  Automatic N word insertion is very nice if your CNC machines require this, as it's a pain to do manually even for very short programs.

  The CADwriter software is fine if you program straight from the print or have limited CAD capabilities.  Otherwise, just fire up AutoCAD or whatever system you have to draw with and generate DXF files with that.

  The speed/feeds utility does the (4xCS/dia) calculation for rpm and feed/tooth multiplications, so unless you're working on something new you probably won't need it.

  Please note that some tweaking will be necessary if you use CNC-Tools with TurboCNC 3, as the generated NC code sometimes has more than one G word on a line.

  Also, CNC-tools doesn't recognize AutoCAD DXFs in R14 format, but R12 and R13 versions with the poly-lines on layer 0 worked fine with my configuration.  Blame AutoDesk for that, they should have realized that we can't re-hash all our CAD data every year so we could be incompatible again the next.

Pros:  Practical, un-bloated applications for what a lot of NC machinists actually need to do in the course of a day.  Believe it or not, there's actually a wide market for this sort of thing.  On the floor speed counts, and there's often just a coffee-stained P-90 to work on, not the latest 2 Gig Athlon.  Plus, at 30 bones it's pretty cheap and the generated G code should work on a number of systems.

Cons:  I'm kind of throwing stones in a glass house when I say this, but some of the programs have odd user interfaces, and are not defensively written.  Leaving textboxes blank or improper command sequencing can often crash them.  Allow some learning curve for this software, and do it on a day when you're in a patient mood so you can learn the quirks.  Some of the internal help is a bit on the terse side.

Breaking news:  The author of CNC-Tools has indicated that there may be a new version in the works, so stay tuned.




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This page last updated on September 8, 2019 .