10 tips to improve your CNC workflow

1/ Don't be in a hurry

90% of the machining errors we make in the workshop are due to a lack of attention: even being experienced, urgency regularly makes us forget certain last-minute checks. However, this very simple advice can save you a lot of time (and money if you count the waste of material during unsuccessful machining): take your time and check your file and installation before starting.

2/ Calculate your feeds & speeds


Every time you start with a new material or operation, first perform your feeds & speeds calculations. This will give you a reference value to start working with this new material. Then be conservative at first and push your machine gradually as you master the operation. You will make fewer mistakes and be able to get the most out of your machine's capabilities.

There are feeds & speeds calculation software that can make your job easier. To learn more about the role of different parameters in your cutting, please refer to our article on the subject.

3/ Select the spoilerboard that suits you best


There are many ways to fix parts on a digital milling machine, sometimes more or less flexible, sometimes faster or slower. Take the time to experiment with several spoilerboards and clamping systems until you find the one that suits you best. This will allow you to have your system in mind when designing your parts and will save you precious time.

Take a look at our article on spoilerboards to learn more on the subject.

Our favourite setup consists of a grid of threaded inserts, inserted into a surfaced wooden spoilerboard. We made a video tutorial to make yours.

4/ Learn the basics of G-code


Although it is no longer necessary today to control your machine manually by injecting lines of code, knowing the basics of G-code will allow you to master it in depth by controlling it directly from your control software. You will also be able to find yourself in the many lines of code of a milling machine if you have had to stop along the way, or even spot an error in order to correct it.

You can learn more about G-code in our related article.

5/ Master your CAD and CAM software in depth


It is quite easy to master the basics of a CAD/CAM software such as Fusion360. In less than a week and without any prior knowledge, you can be able to draw simple parts in 3D and generate the milling files to manufacture them. 

But keep in mind that these software programs are extremely powerful and allow you to optimize your milling time, improve your finishes or increase the capabilities of your machine almost infinitely. Don't rest on your laurels and take the time to always learn and learn more about these software programs.

Our tip: In parallel with your work, take the time to set yourself a new goal each week to test new functions. 

6/ Explore your control software 


Your machine's control software can also be very powerful and full of options that will make your job easier. 

For example, PlanetCNC includes a live DXF file importer, allowing you to switch directly from Illustrator to milling without having to use CAM software. It also includes options to speed up series production. The graphical user interface also includes many speed control or setting options that can be useful.

Take the time to read the associated documentation and refine your knowledge of the software.

7/ Clean your machine


In the obvious list of tips, this one comes first. However, it is easy to put off cleaning your machine after a successful milling job. Good maintenance will allow you to maintain the precision of your machine for longer and to spot problems in time. It will also give you peace of mind when you start your next milling job.

To properly maintain your machine, consider :
- Evacuate dust and chips from the bearing blocks and ball screws ;
- Grease the bearing blocks from time to time;
- Check that no cable is stuck;
- Check that the motor couplers are tightened properly;
- Check that the inductive limits are tightened;
- Dust off your control box;
- Blow out your keyboard and screen;

8/ Choose the appropriate end mill


Each material or operation requires a suitable end mill, whether you want to perform cutting, engraving, tapping, or surface milling. Be sure to use an end mill dedicated to the material and operation you intend to perform.

Also try to minimize your working time:
- Either by using a single end mill for the entire job to avoid having to change tools;
- Either by roughing your work and changing the drill bit for the finishing touches if you need extreme precision.

9/ Supply yourself with quality end mills


Careful, if you're a beginner, you'll break end mills, it's inevitable. This advice applies only when you have mastered a minimum of milling. 

Although it's tempting to get cheap milling cutters on Aliexpress (we're not going to lie, we've done it regularly), it's rarely a winning bet: you end up missing works, changing mills very regularly or even having mills whose parameters are not rigorously accurate (and a small variation in flute length can quickly make all the difference). 

Make sure you have end mills with good references and made of resistant materials.

10/ Evacuate your chips


Although there are relatively few problems related to chip evacuation when cutting wood, good evacuation becomes crucial when dealing with materials such as plastics or metals. A cutter that cuts into chips - and melts them - is one of the main causes of tool breakage in milling. So make sure you have the right chip evacuation system: 
- A dust shoe and vacuum cleaner if you work with wood;
- A blower system and a compressor + possibly some cutting fluid if you work with metals ;
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How to make the perfect spoilerboard