A CNC engraver or CNC engraving machine is an engraving machine that makes engravings using computer software and computer based commands. Prior to modern day software, machines were fed commands through punched tape. These first ‘NC’ or Numerical control machines were used in the 1940-50s. The modern CNC engraver can now engrave sophisticated designs with an excellent degree of accuracy.
Ice Hockey’s top prize, the Stanley Cup is engraved by hand in a process where over 50 names are painstakingly hammered onto the cup in a process that takes weeks. Even to this day, the engraver’s traditional handcraft cannot be totally replaced. Today, modern technology, advances in CNC machinery and CAD/CAM software have allowed more manufacturers and consumers to get CNC engraving done.
There are many types of CNC engravers. A small format CNC engraver can be small enough to move from room to room, with engraving areas around the size of a laptop. These step up in size depending on application, to larger industrial sized CNC engraving machines that can be found in many school workshops or manufacturing company floors.
From Design to Engraving
Computer software has revolutionized the engraving process from start to finish. First a design can be mocked up on a CAD (Computer Aided Design) program. From there, a user can print off the design to check scale and design. After the design has been finalized, the design is saved into a recognizable format for the CNC machine. The CNC simple machine then takes this data, and most times a quick test engraving is done on a cheaper material such as wood or a scrap of the final material. Finally, the material or item to be engraved is loaded into the CNC engraver and the engraving is made.
The process for previewing and testing a design with CAD software has allowed more people to get that perfect design, which is crucial before taking a design into complete automation or for mass production. Virtual programs can even automate the cutting on a computer screen (such as Vericut), to see if there are any errors with the cutting path, before moving onto the final product.
photo credit: Alexanderpf
Many people can get a simple CNC engraving done through programs like Adobe illustrator and Autodesk AutoCAD, using its vector based features. More sophisticated software for more sophisticated designs is also available. Programs such as Mastercam, Solidworks, and Ashlar Vellum can also be used.
The biggest setback to CNC engraving may well be the actual software licensing pricing. Some of the more advanced CAD/CAM software packages can cost over $10,000 USD. This may be viable for mass production in bigger companies; however most people may prefer to look at cheaper software solutions.
CNC engraving and the future
With falling software and hardware prices, using the CNC engraving machines to produce designs has gotten a lot more viable and wide spread. Hopefully with a bit of luck, there will be no more spelling mistakes or errors ever again when getting an engraving done.