How we simplified low volume manufacturing in our CNC shop

How we simplified low volume manufacturing in our CNC shop


Previously, we’ve introduced you to Object-oriented computer-assisted machining where we explained how some CAM workflows could be improved and optimised. In this post, we will present to you our Autodesk® Fusion 360™ plugin CAMCollect which implements those ideas in practice. We’ll have a look into an order we’ve had at our shop recently and how we’ve used CAMCollect to simplify it!

In our shop, we are usually executing low volume orders and frequently they are just new arrangements of some parts we’ve previously cut. Because Fusion 360 is limited in CAM setup re-use, we spent a considerable amount of time recreating CAM instructions and making sure they’re correct. That way of doing this didn’t satisfy us since it took more time than it should and it still was prone to human errors. For this reason, we created CAMCollect which reduced an order of magnitude the time spent on CAM instructions preparation and, most importantly, the probability of mistakes. As a result, now our shop is able to start executing the order much faster from the moment we receive an order and with much fewer worries.

Note. For large batches where the design cost is relatively small compared to machining time, it is still worthwhile to recreate the designs from scratch because one would be open to optimisations that are not available when looking at the parts individually. However, it is our hope that Fusion 360 team is working towards exposing more of the CAM API which would allow CAMCollect to be optimal even in large batches.

The problem

Let’s take an order which has hit our shop very recently. It required making 3 large parts surrounded by 87 small rounded rectangles from a leftover 2068x850x12mm plywood sheet.

Generally, when making CAM instructions for such a layout, first you need to lay out all the parts (as seen in the image above) and then set all instructions on every part. In this case, we have pretty simple parts which are cut using 2 operations for each of them. That means in total 180 mouse clicks for all the parts in this layout. This is quite tedious work which can sometimes take an hour for larger layouts with more complicated parts and it is pretty easy to make a human error (misclicked edge, wrong operation, tool selected, etc.) in this process, which leads to wasted material, broken tools or even malfunctioning machine.

Specifically to address these problems we’ve made CAMCollect which reduces the number of mouse clicks required to 4 to set all operations. It is much less likely to make a human error and a lot of time is saved. Now let’s have a look at each of the steps involved!

CAMCollect workflow

Working with CAMCollect requires changing the working process a bit. As usual, each unique part needs to be designed, but individual CAM instructions need to be made as well.

In our order, we have 2 unique parts which need to be prepared.

  1. Design individual parts in separate Fusion 360 designs.

  2. For each part create CAM instructions in their respective manufacturing workspace.

    There can be multiple setups with different instructions for each part. CAMCollect will allow selecting which setup to use for each part.

  3. Create sheet layout design with the parts imported into the layout design.
  4. Start CAMCollect.

    Go to the manufacture workspace and in the Milling tab at the top, you will find CAMCollect icon. Press it and the app will start.

  5. Configure CAMCollect.
    1. Pick components in the sheet design to be included;

      Before selection:

      After selection:

    2. For each unique part, change setup if needed;
    3. Change layout origin point and orientation if needed;

      Currently, only Model orientation is supported for orientation types. It worked for most of our use-cases, but contact us if support for other orientation types is needed. For Origin, it is also possible to select a point of your preference that will be used as the origin point.

      • Origin selection:
    4. Configure Post process;
      • Here you can choose whether to use one of the generic post processors which comes with Fusion 360 or use Personal, Local post processors. In this example, we will use a Local post processor file specific for our CNC machine, which you can select through file explorer.
      • Order by tool - it is possible to select whether to order machine operations by a tool or by part.
      • Finishing position - setting a position to which tool head will go after finishing the job.
        NOTE: Position has to be given in machine coordinate system.
    5. Change other settings if needed;
      In these sections, you can change parameters like what minimum distance between parts is acceptable, what G-code commands to use for part rotation and/or offset.
    6. Final view before pressing ok:

  6. Pick where to save the assembled g-code file.
  7. Upon completion, a prompt saying that it is done will appear.
  8. Test & Simulate the result.
    Now you can open created G-code file in your preferred simulator. Here we will use open-source software CAMotics to view and simulate the G-code program. Here is sped up simulation of the G-code program created for the example layout used in this tutorial by the CAMCollect app: WARNING: Do not skip Test & Simulate step. CAMCollect created G-code might not be 100% safe. It can make mistakes, so make sure to simulate it and make sure it is safe to run on your machine. If you notice any errors, please contact us!

And that is it, you are good to go executing G-code on your CNC machine. If you have questions about file structure, please have a look at other example files.


This blog post is a step by step tutorial on how to use the CAMCollect app for Fusion 360. It demonstrates how creating CAM instructions for multiple part layouts can be much faster and more robust using CAMCollect.

The main advantages of using CAMCollect compared to the traditional way:

  1. Reusability and consistency. Once CAM instructions for a unique part has been set, these instructions will be used for every instance of that part found in a layout. The same instructions will be used in every layout the part is imported to.
  2. Maintainability. If CAM instructions are updated for a specific unique part, each layout that has instances of this part will be updated dynamically.
  3. Flexibility. CAMCollect allows quickly to create G-code program for any layout. This allows to spend less time preparing instructions for a CNC machine and enables to be more flexible on the material so that eg. leftover materials could be used.

A few disadvantages which we hope to eliminate in the near future:

  1. Path optimization. As can be noticed from simulation .gif above, the tool head path could be shortened to save execution time. For small volume, this does not have much impact on execution time but for larger volumes, it might be a better option to use the traditional way to make better-optimized paths. Once Fusion 360 exposes more control of the CAM workspace from the API it will become anon-issue.

Combining all these, CAMCollect has addressed a sore spot in small volume batch manufacturing and turned it into a strength of our shop!

Future improvements

Some things we’re considering to work on in the future:

- Improve path optimization;

- Add more orientation types to select from;

- Allow flipping X/Y axis directions;

- Postprocessor selection from A360 Hub;

- Add more options to choose what G-code commands to use for rotatio;

- Translation and other operations;

Reach out to us if you have other ideas on how CAMCollect could be improved!


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