What is Post-Processing?
In the early days of post-processing, a post-processor was considered an interface tool between computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) systems and numerically controlled (NC) machines – a mere translator, reading the manufacturing instructions issued from a CAM system and writing an appropriate rendition for a target NC machine. Today however, post-processing has evolved to include a dynamic range of code optimization tools which are responsible for outputting the most efficient and productive machine tool code possible.
NC post-processing is responsible for joining two very different technologies, and it often serves to compensate for weaknesses on either end. Therein lies the crux of the issue: a post-processor can enhance technology, or it can inhibit it, depending upon its application.
To understand how a post-processor can enhance technology, it helps to understand how and why post-processing evolved, how it has been traditionally applied, and how the emergence of advanced post-processing systems has changed the way it is used today. This article will show how post-processors can be used as key components in factory automation.
What is a Post-Processor?
Most CAM systems generate one or more types of neutral language files containing instructions for a CNC machine. These are either in a binary format called CLDATA or some ASCII readable format tailored after the APT language. APT is an acronym for “Automatically Programmed Tools,” software that accepts symbolic geometry and manufacturing instructions, and generates CLDATA describing the manufacturing operation in absolute terms. Some CAM systems provide a large degree of flexibility, allowing just about anything to be included in the neutral file, others are quite strict about what can and cannot be included.
At the other end of the equation sits the NC machine. It requires input customized for the controller being used and arguably to a lesser extent, the operator running the machine. Most important, the NC machine must be driven in a manner that satisfies shop floor criteria, which are primarily based on safety, efficiency and tradition.
Between these two lies the post-processor. The post-processor is software responsible for translating neutral instructions from the CAM system into the specific instructions required by the NC machine (Figure 1). This software responds to the unique requirements and limitations of the CAM system, NC machine and manufacturing environment. Therefore, post-processing is an important part of factory automation, as is anything that lies on the critical path between the design engineer and the shipping department.
Post-processors can do many other things besides translating CLDATA to NC machine codes. For example a post-processor may summarize axes travels, feed and speed limits, job run-time and tool usage information, which enables better selection and scheduling of resources.
Is this all starting to sound familiar?
It really makes no difference if the interface between CAM and NC is unified or not. Market pressures will ultimately create incompatibilities, and software will be necessary to bridge the gap. The only question left to answer is, what software?.
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No matter your specific manufacturing needs and constraints ICAM’s team of dedicated Post-Processor engineers can provide the ideal solution for your situation. They will take the time to understand and evaluate your existing process in order to deliver the most powerful and refined post-processing solution possible.
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