CAD/CAM and Current CNC Machining As is stands, the process by which a CNC machine is prepared for operating involves multiple stages. Designers and engineers can create a template for the workpiece using CAD software, which enables them to view a product in 3D and edit the design as necessary. When a design is deemed complete, a programmer can then being to translate the template into CAM. The program is then loaded from a PC directly into the memory of the CNC machine, via an RS-232 link. New CNC Networking An RS-232 link means one file at a time can be transferred. By adding an FTP (file transfer protocol) server and client, information can be transferred via Ethernet directly from a computer to a machine. File transfer is much faster as a result—instead of waiting hours for a program to load, files as large as ten megabytes can be transferred within 40 seconds—which in turn gives operators and programmers greater flexibility. Information can even be transferred between computer and machine while the machine is in process. This kind of information transfer could be especially useful for companies who manage CAD/CAM operations in a different geographical location than where their machines are located. (Hyperlink: http://www.mmsonline.com/articles/linking-cnc-machine-tools-to-the-internet.aspx) Potential Pitfalls Although in theory hooking up CNC machines to a network should streamline the manufacturing process, as well as provide operators and manufacturers with a fast way to communicate with each other and directly with the machine, several issues may need to be addressed. Very few CNC machines come with built in Ethernet capabilities. Instead they continue to be manufactured with RS-232 ports, and those that do come with optional Ethernet ports don’t appear to work well with even simple connectivity options—instead of making the most of the ability to link with other machines, the Ethernet port is simply being used to download programs and store them on the machine. If CNC machines use Ethernet to assert their presence in a network, much like a computer, possibilities begin to take shape. An operator could communicate directly with the machine and get necessary feedback regarding programming or processing errors. The is already an increasing demand for CNC machines to be made Ethernet ready so they can appear on a company-wide network, and, ultimately, the internet. Current Solutions Despite the fact that many manufacturers work with older R2-232 connected machines, it is still possible to connect these machines to the internet. Modern Machine Shop Online (hyperlink: http://www.mmsonline.com/article.aspx?id=13808) offers the following three tips for making older machines Ethernet-ready: 1. Using a PC that is already connected to the internet, run an RS-232 cable to the PC RS-232 port. 2. To connect multiple CNC machines, run RS-232 cables to a switchbox that is connected to an internet-active PC 3. Connect directly to a network by using an RS-232 cable to connect to an Ethernet-to-RS-232 converter—then connect the converter to a PC that is actively connected to the network or internet, or connect the converter directly to the network.