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A software-first build...

Discussion in 'CNC Mills/Routers' started by Rural, Aug 8, 2014.

  1. Rural

    Rural Journeyman
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    Background: I've had a 3D printer for a couple of years now and have, frankly, found its uses limited. The major issues being build size (constrained by the plastic's contraction while cooling) and the need for support (one can't print into thin air). These seem like nearly fundamental problems with most additive methods, excepting laser sintering. So subtractive methods floated to the top of my interest area. Since I have worked doing CAD design, including drawings that ended up going to a laser-cutter (farmed out), subtractive methods are something I'm fairly well acquainted with. The development of the Shapeoko opened the door to owning a CNC router, and has my interest, but the build area is too small for my needs. My minimum useful build area is 2'x4', with 4'x8' being the ultimate goal. The OX was the first machine I encountered that looked like it would fit the bill.

    Most of my work is basically drilling small holes (under 0.375 inches) clear through dimensioned lumber (ie. 2x4s) and plywood. For the lumber, the maximum depth being 1.5 inches, 0.75 inches for sheet goods. That's for my current area of interest. I can't really predict what I'll be doing in a couple of years.

    That's the background.

    Since it's going to take a while to get all of the parts together for a build, I figured it would make sense to start learning the software chain...even before ordering a single part. Actually, since the bulk of the learning curve seems to be with the software, this would seem wise for just about anyone.

    My leaning, and it is a fairly strong one, is for open source solutions. I'll be controlling the router from a Linux machine and doing most of the CAD work under OS software tools on a Linux machine as well. I've got a good handle on the CAD side, but the rest of the tool chain is still pretty fuzzy. BlenderCAM has my attention, and looks useable for my project, especially since it can simulate operations and produce a 3D model of the result.

    I guess I'm just looking for any comments on my plan, and suggestions for software that I might be ignoring. If anyone is using an open source tool chain, I'd be particularly interested in their opinions.
     
  2. GrayUK

    GrayUK Master
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    Hi Rural

    Welcome to the world of CNC. It's a big one.
    One of the more popular programs we use is Sketch-Up, with the addition of a free add-on called SketchUcam. Don't know if you have used it, but it is quite a program, and well worth a look. It is free in most cases I hear.

    There is an incredible amount of models and plans laid out in SkethUp, including stuff on the Ox.

    Once your model is good, then most people use Mach3 to convert to GCode.

    Anyway, there are loads of people here to give help and advise, so just ask.

    Surf these forums and I'm sure you'll find most of your answers, and a few more questions.

    Cheers Gray
     
    Franco Ponticelli likes this.
  3. Rural

    Rural Journeyman
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    Thanks Gray. I'm well-acquainted with, and rather fond of, SketchUp. When I spent my work-days in Solidworks and Inventor, I did my personal designs at home in SketchUp. SketchUCAM certainly has a lot of users. If I weren't using Linux machines, SketchUp and SketchUCAM is where I'd start.

    Mach3 seems to be a Windows-only product as well. Too bad, it looks nice otherwise.

    And what is with the requirement for parallel ports for CNC controllers? LinuxCNC does this as well... Oh! I see. The controller hardware is really dumb under Mach3 and LinuxCNC, using the PC to do just about all of the work. In the 3D printing world, at least the RepRap world, the controllers are relatively smart and do the G-code interpretation themselves. Hmmm... It would be nice if GRBL had a better solution for NEMA23 motors... Oops! I'm hijacking my own thread!
     
    Mark Carew likes this.
  4. GrayUK

    GrayUK Master
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    Have you seen this:

    http://www.spark-concepts.com/cnc-xpro-controller/ :thumbsup:

    It seems to be the flavour of the month. There is a write up somewhere from the Guys making it. :)

    I had set my heart on the USB/Controller from CNC USB. Now........ I'm just confused.
    :confused:

    Gray
     
  5. Rural

    Rural Journeyman
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    The stepper drivers in the xPRO only do 2.5A. Unfortunately, not enough for a lot of NEMA23 motors. Otherwise, it looks good.

    I'm still a bit confused by the stepper driver requirements. The Leadshine M542 and DM542 based drivers look good, as do the Gecko drivers, but I first have to convince myself that I can put together a chain of software that will allow for a reasonably painless work-flow.
     
  6. GrayUK

    GrayUK Master
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  7. GrayUK

    GrayUK Master
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    You can find the details if you put "Michael" in the Member search, top right.
    When you get the list, start at the point of CNC xPro Controller first comment.
     
  8. Rural

    Rural Journeyman
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    As an update: I've been playing with BlenderCAM and the software has lots of potential. Unfortunately, I seem to be talented at making operations fail. Some of this has been me (ie. a model that is many times larger than the build area), but getting operations to succeed has been frustrating. On the other hand, BlenderCAM has a really nice feature-set. The simulator, in particular, is really handy. Given a bit more development time, BlenderCAM could be a really useful piece of software to have in one's toolbox.
     
  9. Rural

    Rural Journeyman
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    Another update: I had a look at FreeCAD, a program I've tried (and discarded) in the past. It is open source and multi-platform (Windows, OS X, Linux) and has come a long way since my last trial. As of version 0.15, it is actually quite useable. Sketch-based modelling (like SolidWorks or Inventor) is serviceable. There is some support for slicing models in FreeCAD, but I haven't looked at it yet. So between OpenSCAD and FreeCAD, the CAD part of the equation is solved.

    Taking a couple of steps down the tool-chain and began looking at controllers. Looked at LinuxCNC, but just couldn't accept the use of a parallel port. Eventually, I realized that GRBL doesn't mean accepting the amperage limits of the GRBLShield and that TB6600 drivers were fairly easy to connect to an Arduino running GRBL. Since I have several Arduino Unos sitting around, I installed GRBL onto one, and that's it. No drivers or anything. Just an Arduino running GRBL. I've began playing with generating G-code and testing ways of sending it to GRBL and controlling the run.

    Now I find myself ready to jump in to the hardware side of the build. Next up will be drivers and power. I already have a couple of NEMA 17 motors sitting on my desk.
     
    #9 Rural, Sep 17, 2014
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2014

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