Posted by: davidhayden | February 24, 2010

Increasing Your Value by Learning and Understanding Canned Cycles

What are Canned Cycles?

The salary difference between top paid and low paid CNC operators can be significant. Learn why understanding canned cycles can be an important step towards a bigger paycheck.

Canned cycles are special routines built into every CNC control. Whether it is a mill, router, 5 axis grinder, lathe or whatever, the control will have canned cycle capability.

These routines enable the operator or programmer to accomplish with one line of code what it could take 10 or more lines of code to accomplish without the canned cycle.

Canned cycles on a CNC mill will control things like drilling cycles, boring cycles, spot facing and so on. On a CNC lathe, the canned cycles will control roughing, finishing, grooving and threading routines.

Why should operators learn and use canned cycles?

Whether you have your own shop or you work for someone else, the bottom line is that, in order to get paid, parts need to ship. The longer it takes to get the parts out the door, the higher the cost incurred by the shop.

As you become familiar and proficient with the use of canned cycles, you become more efficient and ultimately reduce the time it takes to ship parts. The more you efficient you are the more valuable you are.

Another reason to learn canned cycles is because effective use of canned cycles can help reduce scrap and rework. If you not only make parts more efficiently and reduce scrap and rework along the way, the more valuable you are.

So how do canned cycles accomplish these valuable tasks?

Imagine you are making a part on CNC mill that has 15 holes that need to be drilled, counter bored and tapped.

Upon inspecting your first part, you find an error. All of the holes are drilled too deep.

Without canned cycles, you would have to make a minimum of 15 changes to the program; one for each hole. If the change in finished depth is significant, you may also have to change all the peck and retract programming for each hole. Now, you may be talking about 30, 60 or more changes.

The scrap reduction is a matter of odds. Every time you make an edit, you chances of an error increase. It is a lot easier to make one simple change that weeding through dozens or hundreds of lines of code to make 60 changes.

An operator that can make fast, scrap free edits is going to be more valuable than one who can’t.

Don’t wait to learn how to use canned cycles.

Study the programming manual that came with the machine. Or, for a more in depth discussion on the subject, check out 7 Easy Steps to CNC Programming . . . A Beginner’s Guide.


While canned cycles are a huge benefit to CNC operators and manual programmers, they are the bane to the existence of programmers that rely on CAM systems to create CNC code.

Programmers using CAM systems like Unigraphics, MasterCAM, GibbsCAM and so on rarely set the software to take advantage of canned cycles. There is a lot to be discussed regarding the differences between manual and CAM programming, but that will have to wait for a future article. Suffice it know if you work in one of these CAM driven shops, you may not see a lot of canned cycles.

However, not all programs come from the office. Often you may be called upon to quickly make a part with out involving the programming department. You will be a valuable asset if you can take on that challenge and quickly program the part using Manual Data Input (MDI) and canned cycles.

In Summary:

  • Canned cycles can improve efficiency and reduce scrap.
  • Your value as an employee will increase if you are more 
        efficient and help reduce scrap and rework. Canned cycles are
        valuable tool for you master.
  • Larger shops and shops dependent upon CAM systems for CNC programs typically do not use nor encourage the use of canned cycles for most jobs. But when you come to the rescue and quickly and accurately program a simple job that can’t wait for office programming, you get to be the hero.

One of the simplest, most straight forward discussions on the topic can be found in my book 7 Easy Steps to CNC Programming . . . A Beginner’s Guide. This book is used by a number of vocational schools around the country as the primary text for an introduction to CNC programming.

7 Easy Steps to CNC Programming . . . A Beginner’s Guide is 100% guaranteed. If you don’t like it or feel that it is not right for you, simply return it and you will receive a prompt refund. . . No questions asked. However, if you include a brief note explaining why you did not like the book, your return shipping cost will be refunded as well.


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