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Computer Numerical Control Software (CNC) Information

CNC softwareComputer numerical control (CNC) software is used to create tool paths for CNC machine control systems, or to turn a personal computer (PC) into a CNC controller. CNC uses computer-aided design (CAM) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD) to operate CNC equipment such as:

  • lathes
  • routes
  • milling equipment

Tool paths define the movement of CNC tooling according to highly-automated routines. In turn, CNC machine control systems use CNC software to control both machines and processes.


Software-based CNC controllers may provide capabilities ranging from simple point-to-point linear control to highly-complex algorithms with multiple axes of control. Specialized CNC and proprietary computer numerical control software is also available. CNC software is designed to read CNC programs and activate a series of machine commands in sequential order. As instruction sets, CNC programs are written in a sentence-like format and with a specific syntax. CNC words begin with lettered addresses and define variables such as speed and axis motion. When grouped together, they form commands that are read by the software-based CNC control.


Typically, CNC software runs on an off-the-shelf PC interfaced to the machine tool’s servo system. Personal computers with CNC software do not require specialized hardware such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs) or motion control cards. The CNC software performs all of the functions of a hardware-based CNC controller, including the human-machine interface (HMI) and input/output (I/O) control.

Software-based CNC systems differ in terms of cost, type, features, and applications. Costs vary widely, and types are defined by their support for solid and/or surfaced profiles. In terms of features, CNC software options include fourth-axis support, 2.5-D support, lathe support, and router support.


Often, CNC software is used in:

  • rapid prototyping
  • model making
  • woodworking
  • clock manufacturing
  • retrofitting applications

CNC software products for solid and surfaced models are commonly available. Because computer numerical control software free operators form control panels with pre-defined arrays of buttons and displays, CNC operators have greater flexibility. Users of CNC software can decide what information to display, sometimes on a touch screen. These display panels can be tiled, cascaded, or hidden like other applications in Microsoft Windows.

Related Information

CR4 Community—CNC Nesting Software

CR4 Comunity—CNC Punch Presses

CR4 Community—CNC Macro Programming for Probes

Image credit:

EHRT Mashinenbau GmbH / CC BY-SA 3.0



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