"One Perfect Part at a Time"

MACH3

More Than a CAD

CNC Milling

A CAD

S. Whiplash, Typical CAD

It’s been a while since I have run my original CNC Taig Micro-Mill. It’s the one configured for metal work and has the mist cooling installed. There is nothing operationally wrong with it as far as I know. Just haven’t had a project where I needed its services.

I have always used RhinoCAD (Rhinoceros) with RhinoCAM to generate the design and the Gcode necessary to run the mill. I am presently working with FUSION360 CAD with its built-in CAM. FUSION360 has become my go-to CAD for 3D printing because of the very good built-in STL generator. Rhino can do STL too but has some issues (for me) in producing first-time usable STL.

CAM is a whole new layer of complexity after creating the CAD drawing. Of course, the first challenge is the CAD, as what is drawn must be something that can be produced by milling. It is possible to draw parts that can never be machined.

The CAM requires the complete understanding of the milling operation and all the tools that can be deployed on the target milling machine. In the case of the Taig Micro-mill, tool size is limited to the machine’s abilities and speeds. I have no need for things like an automatic tool change. I am a hobbyist, not a manufacturing center.

CNC is certainly not “push the button and go”. The complexity is what I love about the process.

I use two different CNC controller software systems to control the movements of the milling machines. The older mill is using MACH3. The newer WAX cutting mill runs on LinuxCNC controller software. I was very pleased to see what is called a POST processor available in FUSION360 for both controller formats.

The POST processor is a function in CAM that… Continue reading

Reader Email

I received a good question from reader feedback at Ramblin’ Dan’s Store. It was sent to me as a private email, but I think it is worth making my reply public. MPS2000 is a CNC micro-mill produced by MicroProto, the CNC division of Taig Tools. The question is about using a laptop computer for CNC control.

“Looking to see if there is a way to rum my machine (CNC Mill) from a lap top. Has the MPS2000 software been upgraded to true 3D?”

My reply,

Not sure of your question of “true” 3D. I don’t use or support MicroProto (MPS) controllers and am unaware of any (perhaps hardware?) issues about 3D mill operation and the MPS controllers. The software is MACH3 which can certainly run 3D CNC action in 3 or 4 axes on a single parallel port. I have been doing it for nearly 2 decades.

There may be purest fanatics with certain micro accuracy issues with MACH3 and such things as trajectory planning and my answer is, “don’t use it if it is a bother.” In practical use, it works fine for the hundreds of projects I have run. (Because of issues with Windows 10) I recently switched to LinuxCNC. Not perfect either, but is works for what I need. 🙂  BTW… I don’t recommend LinuxCNC to a non-programmer unwilling to hack code.

Tormach for example, has switched to their own (self-supported) version of Linux based CNC called PathPilot https://www.tormach.com/pathpilot.html

The problem with laptops is the built-in energy conservation techniques at the OS or hardware level that may shutdown ports or interrupt the critical pulse timing. Of course, laptops are being used, but there are too many variables for it to be recommended.  One solution is to use an external pulse generator… Continue reading

CNC Control Penchant (and a new pendant)

The switch to Linux CNC was not without some trepidation. I left a machine control system (MACH3) that has worked well for me for over a decade. When something old still does its job very well there is no need to make a change. (It’s a shame human corporate careers don’t follow that philosophy. 🙂

The truth is , MACH3 is still a perfectly fine CNC machine control program. It’s a tool that just keeps working. The problem I have been bemoaning is the computer operating system with which it must operate within, has left it in the dust and moved on to a better social life.

Yes, I have kept the old OS on my old machines, but as I add additional machines and CNC computers to my shop, the old OS, which must have a license to prove it is legal, is no longer provided or can be installed on new hardware. The MACH3 license is a site/owner license so I can run as many copies as I need. The problem is the computer operating system.

So now my go-to is the Linux OS and CNC software called LinuxCNC (a.k.a EMC2).

I am very fluent in the Linux OS, as I have been working with it almost since it was first created. No, I am not a guru, but let me say, “I know the language.” That helps a lot.

I feel sad that I can not highly recommend Linux CNC to every (hobbyist) as a replacement for MACH3. It definitely CAN be a replacement for those folks where editing and rewriting software at the program level and working with Linux at the system command line level, are no problem.

There exists a large amount of documentation. However, Linux CNC is still evolving and I have to be… Continue reading

LinuxCNC

LinuxCNCI did my homework with a lot of investigative reading and “Live DVD” testing. Today I made the commitment and installed LinuxCNC and the Debian real time Linux on the computer that operates my HB2 CNC router. It totally wiped out the Windows 10 OS (operating system) that was on that computer.

It was one of those “Popeye the Sailor” moments for me where he says, “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more!” Then Popeye gulps down a big slug of spinach. For me it is a big slug of Linux. Ha!

There were several reasons and the big one was Windows 10 habit of constantly changing the operating environment. Random reboots made, and make, me very gun-shy of putting any trust in MS for stable machine control using Win 10. Windows 10 wants to run my life, not my machine tools.

The next reason is MACH3 prefers a 32 bit operating system and Windows has moved beyond that. MACH3 works fine with an external pulse generator running on 64 bit hardware, but it is still like kicking a dead horse to get it to stand up. It ain’t gonna git up an go anywhere… It’s just too old.

The final reason is a high profile CNC vendor has switched to (their own) flavor of LinuxCNC and tossed MACH3 out the door. They did not move to MACH4. That tells me a lot. You know I am talking about Tormach.

I am fluent in Linux so the OS doesn’t bother me at all. I just thought MACH3 offered more features than LinuxCNC back in the day. It has a heck of a lot more configuration settings than LinixCNC. That’s for sure! It had to be “better”.

Actually MACH3 has and still does perform very well for me.… Continue reading

MACH4 Thoughts

Quad-Screen-Shot1I am interested in giving the new MACH4 a spin. (Pun intended.) Not that I am so excited about plunking down $200 for a single computer license. The days of the MACH3 single license but multiple copies for a single hobby user are still here but it doesn’t work that way for MACH4.

I currently have three CNC machines in my single shop and a computer for each of them. It’s perfectly “legal” for me to load MACH3 on each computer under one MACH3 license.

I have purchased three very nice refurbished PCs from Newegg for $80.00 (yes eighty) each and dedicated each to their own CNC controller.

The same setup with MACH4 would cost me $600.00 just for the licenses. As I have told my friend José, “No way!”

MACH3 has been ripped-off so many times, I completely understand the reasons. Also most hobbyist don’t have three PC’s and three controllers in their shop. One solution could be to put the MACH4 computer on a cart and just wheel it to each controller. A serious alternative for a hobby user. I only run one machine at a time anyway.

I am willing to pick one machine and controller to be a test system with MACH4. In reality I don’t believe I will see any real earth shattering improvement in my CNC operations. However, there is a very good chance that MACH3 may go into a totally unavailable and unsupported hibernation. Probably never to awake again. I think it has already entered into the sleeping den.

MACH3 retirement is a matter of economics and competition to MACH4 growth.

MACH4

MACH4 will really need to interface to an external pulse generator for best performance. There is a parallel port plug in (+$25.00) but MACH4 will then perform no better than… Continue reading

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