CNC Machining of Onshape Models Using VisualCAMc

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On October 1, MecSoft Corporation released to production, VisualCAMc the full-cloud Production CAM solution for Onshape! VisualCAMc is now available in the Onshape App Store. We want to extend a special thanks to all of you who joined us for the VisualCAMc beta program!


The ability to perform CAM/CNC programming from anywhere and on any computer is a reality now with VisualCAMc. This application builds upon years of product innovation development of MecSoft’s flagship desktop product. Machinists, manufacturers, furniture designers, prototypers, makers and CNC enthusiasts all say they use MecSoft’s CAM products for one very simple reason – they are fast and easy to use.

VisualCAMc, in its current form, offers the following features:

  • 2½ Axis Milling:
    VisualCAMc provides a complete set of 2½ milling strategies including Facing, Pocketing, Profiling, Engraving, V-Carving, V-Carve Roughing, High Speed Pocketing, Chamfering, Hole Profiling, Hole Pocketing, T-Slot and Thread Milling.
  • 3 Axis Milling:
    For CNC milling in 3 Axis, VisualCAMc provides Horizontal Roughing (also called Z-Level Roughing) and four finishing strategies including Parallel Finishing, Horizontal Finishing, as well as Radial and Spiral finishing.
  • Indexed (3+2) Machining:
    VisualCAMc supported indexed machining with the use of multiple Setups. Often referred to a 3+2 Machining, this allows you to perform Indexed 4 Axis and Indexed 5 Axis machining. The Machine Definition in VisualCAMc allows you to select between 3, 4 and 5 Axis. Selecting 4 or 5 Axis allows you to then specify the 4th Primary and 5th Secondary axes definitions. When you post-process, the angle motions required to move from one setup to the next are posted to the g-code file.
  • Hole Machining:
    VisualCAMc also provides a complete set of hole-making strategies including Drilling (standard, deep, counter-sink and break-chip drilling), Tapping, Peck Tapping, Boring and Reverse Boring.
  • Cutting Tools & Tool Libraries:
    VisualCAMc supports a large variety of standard and advanced mill cutting tool types. These include Ball, Flat, Corner Radius, Vee, Chamfer, Tapered Ball, Face, Dovetail, Fillet, Lollipop, Drill and Center Drill cutting tools. You can create and save your own custom library of cutting tools. You can also control how your tools are listed for easy access and can drag & drop tools from your library directly into your current document.
  • Toolpath Simulation:
    VisualCAMc now includes a completely revamped high-resolution cut material simulation engine coupled with a new Simulation Toolbar. You can play, pause, and step through your toolpath simulations, control the simulation speed and see in-process cut material /stock from one toolpath to the next.

For a quick overview of the benefits of our new Integrated Cloud App for Onshape, watch the in-blog videos below.

The VisualCAMc Toolbar

The VisualCAMc user interface provides easy access to all of the tool sets needed to quickly and efficiently setup and program toolpaths for your Onshape part designs. You will find that the VisualCAMc toolbar provides a straight-forward progression of the machining process. Working from left to right, the buttons, menus and icons allow you to define your Machine Tool, Post-Processor, Stock, Setup, Work Zero and an extended assortment of 2-1/2 Axis, 3 Axis and Hole machining strategies.
The VisualCAMc Main Toolbar

The Machining Browser

VisualCAMc is a powerful, yet easy-to-use Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) and CNC machining application for Onshape users. The Machining Browser (shown below) keeps track of your machining setups and toolpath strategies (i.e., the Machining Job tab). The Tools tab (shown on the right below) provides access to your cutting tools and tool-related tasks. You can create and list your tools, export your tools to a library, select and work from multiple tool libraries, drag-n-drop tools from a library into your current document and more. The Machining Job shown in the image below was created for the multi-sided part shown in the Machining Strategy section below.

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The VisualCAMc Machining Browser. (Left) The Machining Job lists each element of the machining job created for the current document including Machine, Post, Stock and Setup definitions. Created toolpath strategies are listed under each setup and can be moved, edited, posted and simulated directly from the Machining Job. (Right) The Tools tab provides all of the commands necessary to create, edit, list, save, load and organize cutting tools and tool libraries.

The Setup

The setup defines the machining environment. It defines how the part is oriented on the machine, which machine controller is used, the stock dimensions and where the machine zero point is located. The Machine dialog allows you to align the XYZ axis of the machine tool with respect to the orientation of the part. The post-processor selected will correlate with the type of controller that is installed on the CNC machine tool.
VisualCAMc provides over 300 pre-configured post-processors to choose from. The stock can be defined as a box, a cylinder, or a part offset. The Work Zero is the location on the stock or the part where you want to define the machine zero point. Once created, the MCS (Machine Coordinate System) triad is displayed at this location.

The Machining Strategy

Every part has a unique machining strategy that is determined by multiple factors such as its size, shape and geometric features. These will determine if 2-½ Axis, 3 Axis or Hole machining toolpath strategies are required. If the part has contoured cores or pockets, a combination of each may be required. VisualCAMc supports multiple setups within the same part document. Here is an example of a multi-sided part that requires multiple setup orientations.
VisualCAMc supports the machining of multi-sided parts within the same document. The Machining Job for this multi-sided part is shown in the Machining Browser section above.
(Left) 2-½ Axis Menu, (Middle) 3 Axis Machining Menu (Right) Hole Machining Menu

2-½ Axis Machining

In 2-½ Axis machining, the cutting tool moves simultaneously in X and Y while the Z depth is fixed for each cutting level. Facing, Pocketing and Profiling fall into this category. VisualCAMc supports additional complex 2-½ Axis strategies including Engraving, Slotting, Chamfering, Fillet Milling, Thread Milling, T-Slotting, V-Carving and more.
VisualCAMc provides an extensive array of 2-½ Axis toolpath strategies. (a) The Machining Browser lists the multiple Setups needed to machine this part. (b) In the main image above, we see a Facining operation with the in-process stock displayed. From left to right along the bottom, we see (c) the Onshape part, (d) Facing, (e) Profiling and (f) High Speed Pocketing being simulated.

3 Axis Machining

3 Axis machining strategies are employed when the part has contours that cannot be machined using a 2-½ Axis method. 3 Axis toolpaths include Z Level Roughing, Z Level Finishing as well as Parallel, Spiral and Radial Finishing. Each 3 Axis finishing strategy also supports Z level contaminants (i.e., High and Low Z limits) and multiple Z levels (i.e., stepdowns) which means they can be additionally used as roughing and pre-finishing operations.
VisualCAMc supports full 3 Axis machining strategies including 3 Axis Z Level Roughing, Parallel Finishing, Z Level Finishing, Radial Finishing and Spiral Finishing. (a) The Machining Browser is shown with the assortment of 3 Axis operations needed to machine the part. (b) The part is shown in VisualCAMc. (c) The Onshape part is shown. (d) 3 Axis Z Level Roughing is being simulated. (e) 3 Axis Spiral Finishing is shown simulated. (f) 3 Axis Radial Finishing is shown.

Hole Machining

VisualCAMc supports a very wide range of Hole machining methods. For Drilling, you can select from Standard Drill, Deep Drill, Countersink Drill, Breakchip Drill and 4 different user defined drill cycles. Deep and Breakchip Drill both support the Step Increment option which allows you to set the depth of the drilling increment between plunges. Countersink Drill allows you to specify the countersink diameter even if the countersink is not modeled in the Onshape part. The user-defined drill cycle allows you to set up your own custom drill cycle output. It should be noted also that actual hole features in the Onshape part are optional. VisualCAMc can drill holes with only point geometry or partial hole geometry (i.e., if the hole diameter passes thru one or more cut levels in the part).
VisualCAMc also provides an assortment of hole machining strategies. (a) In the Machining Browser, we see Drilling, Tapping, Facing, Slotting, Profiling and Hole Profiling toolpath operations. (b) In the main VisualCAMc display, the Onshape part is shown with the toolpath for the central pattern of tapped holes shown. (c) The Onshape part is shown. (d) 2-½ Axis Facining is being simulated. (e) 2-½ Axis Slotting is being simulated. (f) The outer pattern of ½” thru holes are being simulated.

The Toolpath Operation Dialog

Each toolpath method has its own unique operation dialog. In this tabbed dialog, the cutting tool is defined as well as the clearance plane, the feed and speeds, the control geometry and most importantly, the cutting parameters that are unique to that toolpath. At any time while the toolpath dialog is displayed, you can select Control Geometry in the form of surface edges or curves. These selections will serve to either drive (in the case of 2½ Axis) or contain (in the case of 3 Axis) or position (in the case of Drilling) the tool cutting. In 3 Axis, the underlying part surface geometry will always drive the cutting tool.

Cutting Tool Selection Tab

From this tab, you can select a cutting tool you can previously define, or create a new cutting tool. Prior to the operation, you can use the Tools tab of the Machining Browser to create cutting tools from 12 different tool types available (Ball, Flat, C-Rad, Taper-V, Taper Chamfer, Taper Ball, Face, Dovetail, Fillet, Lollipop, Drill and Center Drill).
The Select Tool tab of the toolpath operation dialog
Tool Types supported by VisualCAMc
While defining a toolpath strategy, only the tool types supported by that strategy are presented. In addition to a cutting tool’s physical characteristics, you can define additional tool attributes such as Tool Number, Adjust Register, Cutcom Register, Axial Offset, Coolant and User Comments.
Cutting Tool Properties supported by VisualCAMc

Feeds and Speeds

This tab of the toolpath operation dialog allows you to assign Spindle Parameters, Feed Rates, Feed Rate Reduction Factors, and Coolant specifications. Spindle Speed (in rpm) and Spindle Direction (CW, CCW) is supported as well as the following individual feed rates: Plunge, Approach, Engage, Cut, Retract, Departure and Transfer. You can even set different percentage feed rate values for when the tool plunges between levels and for the first XY pass when the cutting tool experiences its highest deflection loads.
The Parameters tab (Left) and the Feeds and Speeds tab (Right) of the operation dialog for the 2-½ Slotting toolpath strategy are displayed.

Clearance Plane Definition

The Clearance Plane is the safe Z height at which the tool will position itself prior to beginning its entry and approach motions for cutting. The Cut Transfer Method defines where the tool will retract to when it transfers from one cutting location to another. For example, you can locate the plane at a specified distance above the part or stock and then specify the cutting tool to either transfer across the clearance plan or skim across the part at a specified height.
The Clearance Plane is displayed on the part while this tab of the dialog is displayed.

Cutting Parameters

Each toolpath strategy has its own unique set of Parameters tabs. For example, the 3 Axis Parallel Finishing dialog includes tabs for specifying the Z Containment, Entry/Exit motions, Sorting controls and Advanced parameters. VisualCAMc provides controls for every aspect of cutting motion from when the tool approaches the part to when it retracts away from the part. You will find this same amount of control in every toolpath strategy. An example of the Parameters tab is shown above alongside the Feeds and Speeds tab.

Verification and Cut Material Simulation

Once your toolpaths are generated, you can verify them by performing a cut material simulation. VisualCAMc now includes a completely revamped simulation module and new simulation toolbar. The toolbar (shown in the image below) allows you to Play, Stop, Pause and simulate To End. You can also adjust the simulation speed. Every cutting tool motion is simulated for the selected toolpath operation
VisualCAMc includes cut material simulation of selected toolpath operations as well as displaying the in-process stock for previously simulated toolpaths. (a) The Machining Browser is paused while the simulation toolbar (top) is displayed. (b) The selected toolpath is being simulated with the cutting tool, toolpath, and in-process stock displayed. (c) The Onshape part. (d) The toolpath, part and in-process stock. (e) A 2-½ Axis Profiling toolpath is being simulated. (f) A 3 Axis Parallel Finishing toolpath is being simulated.

The Posted G-Code

VisualCAMc allows you to select from over 300 pre-configured post processors supporting all of the popular CNC machine controllers on the market today. You can post one or more toolpath operations, a setup or the entire machining job. The posted g-code file is downloaded directly to your local hard drive and displayed in your default text editor where you can edit it further and/or run the program on your CNC machine. The posted g-code file contains all of the standard ISO codes specific to your controller.
Posting G-Code to a Haas Controller in VisualCAMc

If you want to learn more about the VisualCAMc Milling plugin for Onshape, check out our Products PageTech Blog and YouTube Channel playlist for what’s new, specifications, videos, tutorials and more.

Get the VisualCAMc for Onshape App Today!

Don LaCourse

Don LaCourse

Don LaCourse is an Application Engineer with MecSoft Corporation. Don brings over 20 years of experience in CAD/CAM operations in both automotive and mold design applications. Don also has extensive experience in documenting CAD/CAM products and is actively involved with writing the on-line help as well as creating training tutorials for MecSoft's products.
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