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Please help me

Please help me

Postby Mr Ron » Mon Nov 10, 2014 5:57 pm

I have a computer running Windows XP and Autocad 2004. My CNC machine is about 85% complete. I still need to get the motors, drivers, power supply, etc. What else do I need to go between Autocad and the CNC machine? All the different software programs confuse me. I plan to get the 3-motor (heavy gantry) option. What is the difference between parallel and USB ?
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Re: Please help me

Postby Awesomeness » Mon Nov 10, 2014 10:46 pm

Software for CNC is basically a 3 step process...
  1. CAD to draw/model what you want
  2. CAM to take the drawing/model and generate toolpaths
  3. Controller software that takes the toolpath movements and converts them to whatever pulses/signals are necessary to run your particular drive electronics

Sometimes these can be integrated together, such as BobCAD-CAM, which is both #1 & #2.

With the software, you really do get what you pay for, and the cheap or free offerings are terrible or non-existent. Be prepared for sticker shock, if you haven't looked into this before. The software chain is often one of the most expensive parts of the build, for DIY-grade machines [because you can scrounge down the price of the machine build, but there's no easy way to fight the price tag of the software].

For CAM software, you're realistically looking between $150-1000. CamBam and MeshCAM are at the low $150 end, and have their limitations (CamBam really isn't good at 3D stuff, and MeshCAM really isn't good at 2D stuff, while neither has truly advanced machining capabilities). BobCAD-CAM can be bought from deals posted around here for about $400-800, and you get "shop grade" software (more advanced machining operations and control, plus 3D modeling CAD, though the interface is not as user friendly as more expensive packages). The Vectric brand offers a bunch of CAM packages between like $200 and $1000, with progressing capabilities (very pretty software, with a friendly user interface, though lacking many of the truly advanced cutting settings necessary to call it shop/production grade). From there on up, you get to the truly top-dog professional packages, that are several thousand dollars (e.g. MasterCAM).

For controller software, you basically have two choices... free LinuxCNC or $150 Mach3 (now also Mach4). They perform roughly the same task, though buying Mach3/Mach4 gets you paid-for software, with all the subtle advantages that comes with. LinuxCNC (formerly EMC) will generally do the job, and is a favorite of lots of tinkerers and hackerspaces, because it is free or because of things unrelated to its function/performance (e.g. "I support open-source"). It sort of comes down to how big a deal you think $150 is. My choice was to just buy Mach3, and avoid the hassles of linux and open-source (and I even teach college Linux courses, so it's not due to unfamiliarity - just the opposite). If you're comfortable in Linux, and accept the possible extra hassles/hurdles/variables/challenges/tinkering to the already steep learning curve approaching, LinuxCNC is fairly stable at this point.
If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?
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Re: Please help me

Postby Mr Ron » Tue Nov 11, 2014 5:23 pm

Thank you. This software business is a bit more expensive than I thought. I may have to rethink my priorities. :shock: :o :?
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Re: Please help me

Postby Awesomeness » Tue Nov 11, 2014 5:57 pm

That's one of the reasons I have a problem with the book, and other various sites and sources, claiming things like "you can build a CNC for $800". It might be technically true, from some narrow context, but it is not a realistic number at all. If someones says they got fully up and running for less than $1500-2000 they are lying, wrong, or were given lots of stuff for free.

From a true "total cost of ownership" (TCO) viewpoint, how much money you would have never spent had you never owned a CNC, which starts to wrap in all the major and peripheral costs from the machine itself to router bits to the extra extension cords you have to buy to power it, my BlackFoot pushed $6000.

I find that there are basically two different types of people who do this kind of stuff.
  1. "Tinkerers" are primarily concerned with the thing itself, and the journey that comes with it. So they enjoy building, tinkering, modifying, and improving the CNC/3D-printer/etc., often resulting in an endless journey (work). They also often lose sight of that TCO, for reasons such as already owning some part/material even though that means they paid for it in the past, considering their time or other contributions to the project as having no measurable worth, etc.
  2. "Manufacturers" are primarily concerned with what they can build with the thing... it's only a tool, a means to an end. I consider myself in this class, but the hobby is so inundated with tinkerers that I was a bit blinded, and had I known what I was getting into I would have just bought a commercial machine (e.g. ShopBot). Because I'm such a power-user, I've painfully learned so much about DIY CNC, and wasted so much time and money getting here. I just want to build crazy stuff (with my machine, I don't care about building my machine, but I thought it was a necessary evil, at the time).

The reason I mention this is because these are two very different value systems. It is critical to understand which you are, and which one you're talking to or buying from. A tinkerer wants to sell you an adventure or experience, and a manufacturer wants to sell you a tool. Yes, it's a bit of a spectrum, not so black and white, but you get the idea. So when you go to pick your software, or anything else, you need to decide if you "just want it to work" at an inflated price, or you're willing to take the scenic route.
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Re: Please help me

Postby Mr Ron » Tue Nov 11, 2014 8:11 pm

Thanks again. You have opened my eyes as to the true cost of "tinkering". Although I don't plan on manufacturing anything (I'm 80), I do want a CNC machine to support my hobby of building large scale model trains. When you have to make 16-8" locomotive driving wheels with spokes by hand, it quickly cries out for a tool that can do the job more quickly and accurately than can be done by hand. I'm into this CNC build 2 years and several hundred dollars. The machine I'm building has a 36x84 inch cutting surface. All the machanicals are complete and the only thing left is the electronics and software. I'm too far along to quit now. I've enjoyed the build so far as it challenges my creativity urge. I would appreciate any guidance you can give me. I studied all the different designs and put together a design that uses the best of each design. That gives me much pleasure.
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Re: Please help me

Postby Awesomeness » Tue Nov 11, 2014 8:37 pm

I'm not saying tinkerers are bad, or manufacturers are bad. While tinkering generally isn't for me, they are both necessary to the system.

The reason for bringing it up is that they are two very different, almost opposed, reasons to do the same thing (e.g. build a CNC, choose software, etc.). Other people will undoubtedly chime in with
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Re: Please help me

Postby phill fenton » Tue Nov 11, 2014 8:41 pm

You will need to buy Mach 3 to control your machine as described in the book build. The registered version of Mach 3 is not expensive - but you will need the registered version to do anything useful as the trial version is far too restricted. Mach 3 comes with a program called Lazycam which you can use to convert DXF files (you should be able to export from autocad as a dxf file)into a format that can be utilised by Mach 3. That's all you need really if all you're doing is cutting shapes out and not attempting true 3d carving. Lazycam is not well documented but does the job once you get the hang of it so well worth trying.
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Re: Please help me

Postby joelaw » Tue Nov 11, 2014 8:46 pm

I think that Mach3 $150 and CamBam &150 are about the best bang for the buck.
CamBam draws simple design but has a pretty powerful cam section. I use many cad programs but Turbocad is also good for most 2D drawing and is also about $100.

That is not very much compared to the cost of the machine and will do most hobby jobs

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Re: Please help me

Postby tbadger » Mon Nov 17, 2014 11:49 pm

A few years back I wrote a quick overview of the process to get from CAD to cutting, and it has pictures that illustrate the work flow required to begin cutting.

http://www.buildyourtools.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=2860#p14545

I've got both BobCAD/CAM v24 and Vectric V-Carve Pro 7.5. If you want easy to use and you plan mostly 2D cutting, then I'd recommend V-Carve Pro. It runs about $600. Take a look on the website for V-Carve Pro and review the types of projects others have done with it and see if it does what you need. It is easy to learn and does most of what I need. Vectric also has other products that might suffice. http://www.vectric.com/ You'll spend $400+ on BobCAD through this forum. Yes, it can do a lot more, but you'll find some frustration learning it. You'll see both good and bad comments about it, so consider your purchase carefully. If you plan to do most of your drawing in AutoCAD (if you know how to use it, best to use the tool you know well to do your drawing), then I'd consider CamBam to import your AutoCAD drawings and create your toolpaths. You then need Mach 3 to process the toolpaths to cut your projects.

Best luck Ron!
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Re: Please help me

Postby ShenValleyCNC » Wed Nov 19, 2014 6:11 pm

Most of the basic points are covered above. If you want a quick cutout and then finish the wheels by hand, CamBam will do the job for you. And you can't go wrong with V-Carve pro.

Another inexpensive solution might be Image to G-Code by Abrahame Valdes for $79. The program takes an image and converts it to G-code. I use it often and it works great. http://image-to-g-code.sharewarejunction.com/ If you have a good greyscale image of the wheels, it will cut them out in 3-D relief. This is a freeware trial download and then $79 to get the full version. This program requires you manipulate the image colors and depth to get the results from the software. This is not a CAD program, but a G-Code generator.
It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law
Hofstadter's Law
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