Programming normally begins with the import of an existing drawing in one of the usual formats. The part geometry is determined from the drawing. Depending on the technology, the tools are then positioned at or on this geometry. This procedure can be initiated by any kind of event, also by a programmer. For this, he calls up ASCO-NCi  from the programming interface, and additionally the auto-tooling  module, which positions the tools automatically. How this automatic process functions is defined in the sets of rules  – which can be influenced by the user.

The auto-toolingof ASCO-NC  becomes even more effective when the user enters his knowledge of certain situations. In this way, the program learns the working procedures of the user and applies them automatically in future.

All information gained during the programming of the parts is stored in the Part Information System TIS.


The user can change every automated result interactively, down to the lowest level of detail offered by the machine.

The auto-tooling ASCO-NC can be called up, not only by the programmer, but also from any other station, or even triggered by an event. With the importing of orders, it is possible to specify that ASCO-NC should perform - automatically and autonomously - the tool assignment for all ordered parts or only for the parts that have not yet been programmed.

ASCO always operates with programmed single parts. With due regard for today’s quality requirements, this ensures that a part is always produced on exactly the same machine in exactly the same way. When the single part (or part program) that has been programmed in this way is released for production, it can be nested together with other parts as required. For this, the Selection SEL  procedure is used to choose the parts that have to be produced in one job. If it is explicitly allowed, the job and the nesting operation can be put together here during the programming and then initiated.


For each machine, it is specified in the tool data how a certain tool can be used with what materials, and especially in what thicknesses of material. The information on the tools is needed throughout the system, during part programming, for programming on nested sheets, for tracking the number of strokes  or the where-used list (in which parts is the tool used?). Besides the purely tool-dependent master data (such as ident number, type, turnability etc.), the material-dependent data are also important. Here, the user can access all values that ultimately determine the quality of the parts  and, through self-defined thickness intervals, prescribe very fine settings, which will then be taken into account by the automatic processes.

Tools can be (temporarily) locked  in general or only for the automatic processes.


In ASCO, the machines are described together with their properties. ASCO needs to know whether the sheet or the tool head or both are moved, how large the working range  is, how the material  is loaded, what the tool magazine  looks like and what a tool change  means, what the removal paths of the finished parts are, and how the residual material  is handled. The various characteristics of the machines also include the kinetic properties, which means how fast a movement can be performed.

From all this information, the automatic programming module ASCO-NC can generate effective and correct machine operations and, if necessary, the programmer is informed in ASCO-NCi  whenever he does anything that is impossible or ineffective.


  • Geometries are imported  into ASCO either by direct import from 3D CAD systems or through the usual geometry formats such as DXF, IGES …
  • ASCO evaluates attributes  such as layer, colour etc. . These can then be transformed immediately into machine- and material-specific actions.
  • ASCO can resolve multi-part drawings  correctly into single parts.
  • ASCO reads in texts  from drawings, ranging from material and thickness up to complete order information through stored keywords.
  • ASCO is able to learn. If the user specifies the processing for a certain geometry, ASCO does the same automatically the next time.
  • Geometries can be exported  from ASCO in the DXF or GEO formats.


When ASCO accepts the drawings through the 3D export from the CAD system into ASCO, the drawings are “clean” and can be processed directly.

Other drawing geometries consist mainly of a “cloud” of individual elements, such as straight lines, circles and splines, from which ASCO determines the contours (outer contour, holes). In addition, the usual CAD attributes, such as layer, colour etc., can be used firstly to filter out the relevant elements and secondly to specify how ASCO-NC should respond to certain attribute values, e.g.: “Please engrave all green parts of layers 17 and 23” or “Process red parts on layer 4 with roller beading 1234599” or “Violet on all layers is auxiliary geometry”..

ASCO detects equivalent geometries  of contours or contour sequences in all angular positions, all of which can then be processed in the same way.

<<The part is reliably extracted from the general drawing and can then be processed without difficulty.


Geometries  can be generated as new in ASCO and  therefore even imported geometries can be changed  (corrected), if this is allowed during installation.

As the drawing functions, the usual choices are available:

Straight and parallel line, vertical, polygon, circle, radiusing, trimming, turning of elements, linear and circular copying, inserting of standard geometries (rectangle, circle, long hole, ellipse, n-gon, zigzag), inserting of user-defined geometries, offset paths to contours (overmeasure), enveloping segments, texts  etc...

The user can assign these elements the usual CAD attributes these elements, such as colours or layers.

Geometries generated in ASCO can be exported  again as DXF or GEO files.


Even though today’s CAD systems warn the design engineers, many parts are still generated several times over, resulting in avoidable costs. For a specific part, ASCO can very rapidly find all parts that are similar or the same  (identical), even from a large pool of drawings. What exactly is to be understood by “similarity” can be defined by the user, e.g. through the maximum possible deviations of the contours, through the number of holes, or whether mirror-image parts are to be examined. This tool can help to “tidy up” old sets of drawings and also provide effective preparation for the reference part programming, in which it is possible to transfer, in a targeted manner, the processing of programmed parts with all their properties to new geometry versions.

The analysis of similar/identical parts in large drawing databases is also available in a stand-alone version, i.e. without ASCO.

For the majority of the parts, the programming can proceed fully automatically.
  • Parts for portal machines such as laser-onlys, or flat punched parts, are manufactured in batch mode without any user intervention nowadays. Even the production of variants from baseline variants is a fully automatic process. Less frequently, the interactive programming is used here for special applications, e.g. applying overmeasures or changing the removal.
  • If the need is for punching in connection with sheet forming operations, the programming is also automatic today – but it is also possible that the programmer wishes to check and fine-tune this if necessary.
  • With milling, interactive programming is only needed when more complex pockets, shoulders and slots must be made in the parts.
Important note: Every little detail is accessible to the user and can be influenced interactively.


Milling differs from other technologies particularly in respect of the part programming. Previously, aluminium sheets were almost exclusively milled as flat parts and then finished (post processed) as necessary. Nowadays, the parts are immediately produced with bevels, grooves, pockets, shoulders and threads etc. in multiple Z depths. Even the processing of both sides is supported by ASCO up to dynamic nesting. Even the planned dual processing  of contours and surfaces (coarse and fine), occurs rarely for other technologies – with ASCO, this can be chosen via a macro “with just a click”. Above all, the focus in milling is on selecting the optimum tools  with regard to quality and machining time. This also includes having an optimized sequence in which the tools are later changed over.


For products that have to be produced in various sizes and versions, a parametric method for the programming is appropriate. Especially for ventilation units and air-conditioning systems, doors, control cabinets etc. and also for complicated curves in mechanical structures – the number of applications is as large as the savings potential  offered by reliable programs. The variant programming module ASCO-VA  has the major advantage that not only the geometries of the parts but also the entire programming of the part is controlled.

ASCO-VA consists of two phases:

In phase 1, the basic variants are created. This is done graphically with ASCO and is a remarkably simple, fast and intuitive procedure. Of course, here there is also the possibility of generating variants from the baseline variant by specifying variable parameters, and thus testing the baseline variant with all the limits.

Phase 2 is a fully automatic and unattended function that uses the baseline variants and applies values (from CAD parts lists or via ERP orders) to obtain optimum single-part programs. All characteristics of the baseline variant are transferred to the new part programs.

These variable single-part programs are normally only generated as long as there is an order, because they can be created again at any time (as a batch).


For the marking  (signing, engraving and labelling) of parts and sheets using tools (laser, stylus, milling cutter, special punching tools etc.), there are several different approaches:

Fully automatic. The user decides what information from the order must be applied to the parts in which font. ASCO autonomously looks for a position without contour overlap and, if necessary, adapts the font size (except for punching tools and perhaps for milling tools) with the possibility of parameter control.

Through placeholders. The user decides where the marking must be positioned. This can already be done during the design phase. Either a value from the order is assigned or a variable labelling field is specified; in principle, this can have the structure of a paper label.

Interactively. The user simply enters a text and positions it wherever he wants.

The signing of sheets at a defined position is useful with automated lasers that produce a stacked pallet of cut sheets in unmanned operation overnight. In this way, the “unloaders” are given the possibility of assigning parts to the sheet graphic.


Signs can be produced by two methods in ASCO. Numbered signs differ only by the numbers marked on them (e.g. the house numbers in a street), which are produced sequentially or with interruptions. Signs of this type can be programmed very easily with a job data record : 1, 2, 7, 8   or   1-8, 17-22, 24, 26, 31-38. The part name in the order refers to the sign geometry, on which the numbers are then entered, nested and produced for each sign in turn.

For consecutive labelling signs, the texts are also variable. The part name given in the order is then the unique name in a list (e.g. an Excel-CSV file), in which each line contains the name of the part program and the texts to be output for each sign. This list is treated like a parts list order.

In addition, labelling signs can be linked to the variant programming.


ASCO offers all forms of label printing with many settings, as can also be used to control the marking  process: every n-th part, but at least one in every nesting plan, and each topmost one in stacks must be marked. The label layout  must usually be produced individually. Besides pure text information, it may also contain the part graphic  and/or the usual codes (Data Matrix, BanL, etc.).

On automated machines, ASCO supports integrated printers that print and place the labels during the ongoing cutting process. The tool head moves around such labels, to ensure that scratches do not render them illegible.

In the case of manual machines, the labels are printed in the sequence  in which they are released on that machine.

The placement (i.e. where should it go?) can be specified manually or determined automatically.


ASCO supports bending with two off-line programming systems.

  • For the edging  technology, also known simply as bending or three-point bending, ASCO-AB is available.
  • Swing-bending  is supported by the ASCO-SB system.
  • These systems allow the complete simulation of the bending process and automatic generation of the bending programs.
  • As add-ins for CAD systems, both systems permit an immediate feasibility analysis during the design phase.


With ASCO-AB, ASCO offers off-line programming  and feasibility analysis  in 3D.

ASCO-AB imports parts from almost all the common CAD systems, such as SolidEdge, SolidWorks, ProE, Inventor etc. Independently of the manufacturer, the bending programs can be simulated completely  and to a large degree generated automatically  for almost all known folding presses and bending machines.  When the steps tool selection, determination of the stop positions, simulation  and collision check are executed automatically with subsequent generation of bending programs, ASCO-AB only halts when it requires the help or decision of the user. Many bending machines today make it possible to display the work instructions at the machine’s control console – work documents are no longer needed.


The off-line programming system ASCO-SB gives the user automatically implementable processing proposals for many (if not all) steps in the main functions ofloading, centering, bending and unloading. Since this is a complete 3D simulation with the correct machine dynamics, ASCO-SB also detects possible collisions during the forming operations  of the parts to be bent with tools and machine body. Through all the fully associative  windows, the user can intervene optimally and interactively in any of the working steps, should this become necessary at all.

When the proposal is accepted, the machine program is ready for execution. If necessary, useful remarks can be added for the operator.

Calculation in ASCO is carried out on the basis of the programmed parts. As a result, parts can have several calculated (costed) times if they can be produced on machines with different speeds. ASCO uses the part to fully nest the possible sheet formats, to be able to report the most economical material requirement  and compensate for tool change times if this is a relevant cycle for the machine. If the user has specified prices  for times and material, ASCO calculates a price for the part, providing a good basis for a quotation  or for the capacity planning.

Depending on the information in the geometry, work steps that do not belong to the lasering or punching can also be costed. Examples of these include stud welding  or pressing nuts, or similar work steps. If the geometry data are imported directly from 3D systems via ASCO add-ins, such data can be made available in the same way as a thread or a louver.


When the single parts have been programmed, they are saved at the same time, and can then be nested together with any other parts .

For this, a job is first created. All jobs are shown in a central overview called the ControlPanel.

A number of different methods are available for the nesting .

The NC data  are generated by postprocessors, which transform the results into machine-readable code. Once the NC data are released, they can be run by the machine operator, unless ASCO takes over control of the machine for an unmanned shift.

A job can be created by

  • the user, in that he already puts together a job when programming  the parts
  • the user, in that he uses the Selection SEL  to create a job (which is the normal way)
  • by the automatic process AutoJob  which uses the Selection function to search for ordered parts that fit together. For this mode, the user defines rules for the Selection to obey. After this, AutoJob initiates the nesting routine and sends the NC data to the machine without further examination.


Up until the NC data are created, nesting is a fully automatic process – no intervention is necessary. However, the user is still able to change everything.

There are several nesting methods applied by ASCO DATA that originated from various requirements or are used in diverse scenarios.

At ASCO customers with punch/combination machines, SuperNest  has replaced the SN nester, because it supports the new processes, such as automatic shared separation edges when lasering and and, even without these, also usually provides better material economy.

Moreover, the FG nester (laser-only, plasma, waterjet …, also milling etc.) too is being superseded. Depending on the spectrum of parts, SuperNest (shared laser edges) or QX is used instead.

The nesting algorithm ASCO-QX  offers clear benefits in material demand, when shared separation edges can seldom be used due to “warped” geometries.

ASCO-Express  is a “parquet nester” that achieves excellent material economy, especially with a single part.

ASCO users can employ the nesting methods as alternatives to a large degree.

Irrespective of the nesting method and technologies involved, ASCO automatically supports

  • multiple cutting heads
  • repositioning  and turning  of overlong and overwide sheet formats
  • nesting on variable lengths (cutting to length from coils )
  • nesting on residual areas of any shape (from rectangle to scrap skeleton)
  • automatic selection of the best sheet formats
  • marking of parts and sheets



For these processes, the material is usually stationary.

Here is important, above all, to have well-adjusted cutting data for materials and thicknesses. Since the the user in ASCO can define all the parameters of machine, material and thickness with dependencies, this allows all the possibilities for storing not only the specifications of the machine manufacturer but also knowledge obtained from own experience.

Other important aspects include the cutting sequences because of the possibility of thermal distortion and due consideration of the danger of tipping over (by preventing the crossing of cut parts and holes). The focus of the path optimization process must always be on ensuring process reliability.

Since the material does not have to be clamped, it is possible to work on any kinds of scrap (from rectangles to the scrap skeleton). If the machines are “similar”, the data can immediately be made available for several machines in parallel. A few other functions will only be listed briefly here:

  • Residual sheets – create (automatically) and save
  • Common cuts – can be set interactively or also fully automatically
  • Scrap skeleton –  automatic and/or interactive cutting-up
  • Multiple cutting heads –  support with automatic head reduction
  • Nesting on continuous material (coils, rolls)
  • Repositioning  of overlong sheets
  • Automatic signing of parts and sheets with any texts/engravings
  • For thick sheets, preventing chain and connecting cuts, bridges, and lead-ins
  • Support for a very wide range of bevels
  • and much more besides




The material moves, after which the parts are released and have to removed from the working area. Fixing the material with the aid of clamps leads to dead zones around them which can only be reached by repositioning. In the case of punching and laser/punch combination machines, ASCO supports all the technical properties of the machines. Brief overview:

  • Automatic part removal on pallets and in boxes with diverse depositing strategies: chaotic, sorted, as nested, …
  • Shared separation edges with punching tool, with laser or with shear; processing with no scrap skeleton
  • Automatic repositioning
  • Automatic processing under the clamps
  • Nesting on sheets of any length, coil processing
  • Job scheduling
  • Automatic signing
  • Printing labels, directly on the machine or with a separate printer

Even if ASCO users generate new NC data in the vast majority of cases and then only use them once, there are cases in which it may be worthwhile to work with so-called fixed programs. For example, these may be ingeniously nested sets, or “time-optimized” parts that are required in large quantities and are nested for multi-copy machining, or (when punching) complex sized parts that need some manual programming work you do not want to repeat later – no matter: any job can be stored as a fixed program.

ASCO’s module Fixed Programs automatically detects when a fixed program can be used. Here ASCO checks with lightning speed whether the parts requested by orders allow the use of a fixed program. If so, these can be released for production with just one click. No programming, no nesting - everything is ready to roll.

If ASCO is connected to an ERP  system, the feedback to ERP is of course performed on the basis of the current order data.

It is also possible to integrate the NC data from any other programming system as fixed programs, e.g. TOPS  , if this has been used before ASCO. The benefit here is that, when changing the programming system , it is not necessary to create everything all over again; programming work invested previously can still be used.

However, only fixed programs that were created in ASCO can also be modified in ASCO.

Your ASCO DATA representatives

Your ASCO DATA representatives are looking forward to your message.
We would present our products and services with pleasure using our webinar service.

Robert Galler
+49 (0)1511 61 799 73


Grenoble, Bremen – June, 2017

 ALMA and ASCO DATA are joining forces to form a leading group on the German sheet metal CAD/CAM market

Press release ALMA-ASCO


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