Deciphering Code

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by Todd Drane

What’s best, conversational or G-code programming?


Many have heard of CNC conversational programming systems, but they may not understand the role conversational programming can or should play in a manufacturing environment.

Conversational programming systems are exactly that, conversational. The programmer tells the system what he wants to do by accessing a hot key or soft key, and then the conversational programming system via a graphic assist screen will prompt the operator through entering the variables necessary to execute the desired function. In most cases, the graphic screen is accompanied by the actual command of the CNC telling the programmer what to enter.

This type of programming requires no prior G-code experience, just the ability to read a blueprint and enter the variables when told to do so by the CNC.

The image at the bottom right demonstrates the screen shown after an operator has chosen the circular pocket hot key on the CNC keyboard. You have a graphical example on the left side; on the right and the bottom variables are entered directly off the blueprint. At the very bottom, the CNC tells the programmer what the variable is he needs to input based on the variable window the programmer is in, which is marked in red. In the case demonstrated in the image, the programmer is being asked to enter in the Z axes safety plane coordinates. Even variables such as spindle direction are chosen via a visual choice as opposed to a G, M or S code. When the operation is completed, the programmer presses the enter key and the operation is automatically saved to the program. Roughing and finishing pass variables are entered on the same page as well as spindle and tooling information. Having all variables necessary to program a complex operation on a single page simplifies the entire programming process.

Is a conversational system right for your manufacturing environment? It depends on if you frequently create programs on the shop floor. If you do, incorporate a conversational system, even if your programmers are fluid G-code programmers. Conversational will speed up the process and even assist in simplifying the editing/modifying stage of your program creation. When you recall a cycle to edit, it pulls up the entire cycle including the graphic assist screen allowing you to easily and accurately administer any program corrections. Most G-code programmers, who may be hesitant to utilize conversational code, fall in love with the programming system after just an hour or two of use. They quickly learn it is geared for program creation speed and simplicity, and makes life easier and simpler for programmers.

Conversational programming systems provide the ability to insert or mix and match G-code with conversational code. A key element to take into consideration is that a conversational programming system does not forget; it will always ask you the spindle speed, spindle direction, feedrate, tool and other general functions, whereas with G-code, it is often up to the programmer’s memory to insure the appropriate variables are entered.

Many conversational systems incorporate an on-board CAD/CAM system that allows for simple and even complex profiles to be created right at the CNC keyboard. These can be inserted directly into the program, utilized within a canned cycle or saved as a frequently utilized subroutine.

Is conversational programming right for you? If you answered yes to the shop floor programming question, then the answer is probably yes to conversational code. SMT

Todd Drane is marketing manager for Fagor Automation, Chicago, IL, and Toronto, ON.


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