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Medial-Axis pocketing

Update: In the US, where they are silly enough to have software-patents, there's US Patent number: 7831332, "Engagement Milling", Filing date: 29 May 2008, Issue date: 9 Nov 2010. By Inventors: Alan Diehl, Robert B. Patterson of SURFWARE, INC.

Any pocket milling strategy will have as input a step-over distance set at maybe 10 to 90% of the cutter diameter, depending on machine/material/cutter. Zigzag and offset pocketing paths mostly maintain this set step-over, but overload the cutter at sharp corners. Anyone who has tried to cnc-mill a hard material (steel) using a small cnc-mill will know about this. So we want a pocketing path that guarantees a maximum step-over value at all times. Using the medial-axis it is fairly straightforward to come up with a simple pocketing/clearing strategy that achieves this. There are probably many variations on this - the images/video below show only a simple variant I hacked together in 2-3 days.

The medial-axis (MA, blue) of a pocket (yellow) carries with it a clearance-disk radius value. If we place a circle with this radius on the medial-axis, no parts of the pocket boundary will fall within the circle. If we choose a point in the middle of an MA-edge the clearance-disk will touch the polygon at two points. If we choose an MA-vertex of degree three (where three MA-edges meet), the clearance-disk will touch the pocket at three points.

MA-pocketing starts by clearing the largest clearance-disk using a spiral path (pink).

From the maximum clearance-disk we then proceed to clear the rest of the pocket by making cuts along adjacent clearance-disks. We move forward along the MA-graph by an amount that ensures that the step-over width will never be exceeded. The algorithm loops through all clearance-disks and connects the arc-cuts together with bi-tangents, lead-out-arcs, rapids, and lead-in-arcs.

This video shows how it all works (watch in HD!). Here the cutter has 10mm diameter and the step-over is 3mm.

I'll try to make a variant of this for the case where we clear all stock around a central island next. These two variants will be needed for 3D z-terrace roughing.

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Towards medial-axis pocketing

Update: some work on connecting MICs together with bi-tangent line-segments, as well as a sequence of lead-out, rapid, lead-in, between successive MIC-slices:

It gets quite confusing with all cutting and non-cutting moves drawn in one image. The path starts with an Archimedean spiral (pink) that clears the initial largest MIC. We then proceed to "scoop" out the rest of the pocket with circular-arc cutting moves (green). At the end of a scoop we do a lead-out-arc (dark blue), followed by a linear rapid (cyan), and a lead-in-arc (light blue) to start the next scoop.

Next I'd like to put together an animation of this. The overall strategy will be much clearer from a movie.

This animation shows MICs, i.e. maximal inscribed circles (green, also called clearance-disks), inside a simple polygon (yellow). The largest MIC is shown in red.

This is work towards a new medial-axis pocketing strategy. The largest MIC (red) is first cleared using a spiral strategy. We then proceed to clear the rest of the pocket in the order that the MICs are drawn in the animation. We don't have to spin the tool around the whole circle. only the parts that need machining, which is the part of the new MIC that doesn't fall inside the previously machined MIC. As mentioned in my previous post this is inspired by Elber et al (2006).

The next step is to calculate how we should proceed from one MIC to the next, and how we do the rapid-traverse to re-position the tool for the next cut.

See also the spiral-toolpath by Held&Spielberger (2009) or their 199-slide presentation. The basics of this spiral-strategy is a straightforward march along the medial-axis. But then a filtering/fitting algorithm, which I don't have at hand right now, is applied to get the smoothed spiral-path.