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MeshCAM: Great Ease of Use in a 3D CAM Package

Mar 1, 2011   //   by Bob Warfield   //   Beginner, Blog, Software  //  9 Comments

Most machinist I talk to go through the same experience the first time they try CAM–total bewilderment and frustration. Everyone has this idea that you create a 3D solid model, load it into CAM, push a button, and out pops a finished g-code program. If only it were true!

Instead, you generally have to wrestle with the solid model until it imports properly, and then you have to tell the CAM program where the parts of interest on the model are and what sorts of toolpaths to apply to them.

Imagine my surprise when I loaded up MeshCAM CNC Software, stuck a solid model in it, and discovered that with very little trouble I could (drumroll please): push a button and get a g-code program. Cool beans!

Here’s how it went:

First, I went and found a suitable 3D model I had done in Rhino3D. MeshCAM imports STL files for its 3D models, so I exported one from Rhino. Here was my Rhino model:

Coolant overflow tank…

It’s a coolant overflow tank inspired by parts I saw at my friend Joe’s CNC business Crime Scene Choppers. I’m not so into bikes as hot rods, but I dig his retro-WWII-aircraft look. I do most of my machining in 2 1/2D, but this kind of part will certainly need 3D profiling to come out right.

Import was a breeze–File, Open, click, done!

Next thing it wanted to know was job type:

Now that’s getting my juices flowing! Love to try some 4 axis when I get my fourth built, and the 2-sided looks handy as heck too. For now, we’ll go with 3 Axis just to check it out.

Okay, here’s our tank loaded in MeshCAM and ready for some toolpaths:

Note the nice clean and very graphical UI…

There are a variety of options available from the little icons that match the tank’s color:

– Define Stock: Let’s you define the workpiece you’ll be whittlin’ on.

– Define Supports: Tabs. Love the tabs for fixturing. My alma mater CAM, OneCNC, doesn’t do them automatically, so I have to edit them in with CAD.

– Retract Height / Program Zero / Max Depth: More fine tuning options for the environment on the machine the part rests in.

– Set Machining Region: So you can use different strategies in different areas of the part.

– Generate Toolpath: That’s the one we want!

I point out these options, because they make it possible to do a lot of the complex things other CAM programs allow. The difference is you’re not required to bother with those things if you just want to make a quick part.

One of the guys I grew up learning software UI design from is Alan Kay. Very talented man. One of his sayings that always stuck with me is, “Simple things should be simple and complex things should be possible.” Too many products set out to make complex things simpler and wind up largely making the simple things we do most often harder!

Okay, let’s click that “Generate Toolpath” choice:

Toolpath options…

Other than selecting an appropriate milling cutter, all the right options come up pre-selected. You can fiddle around with them to optimize for your situation, or just let ‘er rip. Note that these are basically the same toolpath choices for 3D as my OneCNC uses, with some differences. I don’t have the highest cost version of OneCNC, so I don’t get a “Pencil Cleanup” path like we have here. They’re nice for running your ball endmill around the edges where things come together. It really helps smooth that “raster look”. Waterline is often called “Z-Level” in case you’re wondering. And, I have to do a fair amount more work to just bang out a quick program like I did here.

This is the backplot from just the roughing pass–too many lines if I add finishing to make sense of it:

I’ve saved the best parts for last. First, MeshCAM is very inexpensive–$175 for what you’ve seen here. Hey, I’m not sayin’ it has all the options of a $6,000 to $15,000 CAM program, it doesn’t. But how are you going to go wrong for $175?!??

There are a couple of options–a 3D simulator for visualizing your cut can be purchased and there is also a version that adds the ability to generate 3D from bitmaps for the engraving and router crowd. All that is available on their Landing Page where you can also get a 30 day free trial.

Okay, now the second cool thing–MeshCAM is now available with an integration to our G-Wizard Feeds and Speeds Calculator. I really enjoyed working with Robert Grzesek on the integration. He has written up a nice piece on how it works on the MeshCAM blog.

Robert definitely carried on the trend of “making simple things simple” with this integration. It’s just two steps. Line up your cut in G-Wizard and press “Copy”:

Then bring up the MeshCAM tool you’re setting the Feeds and Speeds for and press “Paste”:


This is our first integration with CAM software, but there will be more to come. If you’d like to see an integration with your CAM package, put us in touch with your CAM vendor–we’d like to work with them.

Meanwhile, give MeshCAM a try. You won’t be disappointed.


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