"One Perfect Part at a Time"


Stumbling Warp9TD Smoothstepper

Update 10/1/12 (see below)

If you have been reading me for awhile, you know I purchased a USB Warp9 TD Smoothstepper for my Taig CNC mill controller. The link in the sentence above is to the last time I posted on the Smoothstepper.

It has been running wonderfully well until my last project. I was doing several roughing tool changes then a long three hour run with a 0.005″ ball end mill. When I was stopping the spindle motor for a tool change I was getting a glitch that would give me an E-Stop in MACH3. I would also get communication errors with the Smoothstepper saying MACH3 hadn’t “talked” to it for awhile on the USB port so it would go into a lock up state. Very frustrating as it required a Smoothstepper power off reboot and trying to salvage the run somewhere in the middle of the program.

Thoughts of ripping out the Smoothstepper and going back to parallel port did cross my mind. But I am more analytic than that. What had changed?

I remember reading one of the issues with the USB version and why Warp9 TD is producing the LAN version is noise issues on the USB line. The USB interface was never designed to survive interference as well as a LAN interface that in typical applications may run hundreds of feet through noisy environments. So I looked where I had routed my USB cable.

I had recently neaten-upped my cabling and run the USB along with a lot of power wiring along the side of my computer and in parallel with my power surge protector strip. I am a control systems expert and I know better. My USB cable has no industrial strength shielding. Yes, there are some USB… Continue reading

Rhino Crazy

I have spent the last couple of weeks deciding what I was going to do to upgrade my CAD/CAM software. Not the software I use for Over Head Routing. I have one of the best for my purposes and cost restraints in the form of Vectric  Aspire.  I use it a lot and always find new things I can make or design using it. Aspire is not going to go away for something better in its class for a long time.

As the title suggests my struggle has been what do I do with my aging (over six years old) McNeel’s Rhinoceros and its CAM plugin, MecSoft’s RhinoCAM. I use this combination to do the things that Aspire was never designed to do in CAD/CAM, A few example projects are the stepper motor heat sinks on HB2, a complicated replacement gun part in aluminum, and the detailed A3 locomotive driver wheels I machined from stainless steel.

Rhino really rocks in the drawing department. Well, that is what it is, a 3D drawing program. I started with Version 3 and somewhere along the line I upgraded to version 4. It’s been in Version 4 for quite some time, but there have been updates on a regular basis. Version 3 was fun but when V4 arrived, I knew it was a real pro users program. I am now running the Beta for version 5 and it is another major leap.

Rhino sells for around $1000 new and about half that for upgrades. So I have probably $1500 invested in Rhino over 6 – 8 years. I don’t know where V5 upgrade will be priced, but I will be there.

MecSoft RhinoCAM is a special edition of Visual Mill that runs inside Rhino as a plug in. It is NOT a… Continue reading

The Cutting Edge

I viewed a series of videos called Knifemaking Tuesday’s sponsored by Tormach. The hyperlink in the previous line will take you to the video location in the Tormach website.

The video series is a non professional production but it is an engaging story about a couple of Canadian knife makers, John Grimsmo and his brother Eric Grimsmo. It picks up their story when they first start using the Tormach machine.

John and Eric are a couple of entrepreneurs starting a production knife making business in I assume John’s garage. (I haven’t seen the videos from before Tormach sponsoring.)

The investment they made for all their recent upgrades indicates they must have deep pockets somewhere or the previous knives they sold before using the Tormach tools must have been VERY expensive and profitable. There is a lot of talk about what they are spending on development of the new production system and design run but zilch about profits, then perhaps that is not our business… so to speak. 🙂

Tormach sponsors this YouTube “Channel TV” program because it showcases the Tormach PCNC 1100 machine and a lot of their accessories, except the ATC (Automatic Tool Changer).

This is definitely more an amateur reality TV garage workshop sit-comedy of errors than a typical Tormach training series. There is way too much goofing around and trial and error mistakes for calling it training, but I did learn a bunch about amateurs trying to become serious professional knife makers. I also gathered a bunch of new information about using CNC for knife making. The knife products do look good by the week 26 video.

The video work, even with as low a production effort as seen here, takes a lot of time and effort from the actual work of knife making.… Continue reading

Smooth Stepper Update

The Smooth Stepper has been in use through several projects. In the picture you can see it installed (green board to the right) with the USB port poking through the front of the case.

I have routed the ribbon cable past the far end of the main board since this picture was taken but it makes no operational difference. It just looked to be a little better wiring practice not passing over the center of the board.

Performance has been outstanding as far as glitch free very smooth stream of pulses. The direct parallel port operation was always first class so without using an oscilloscope, it is more of my personal perception of operational difference. It determinately “sounds” smooth and continuous when running the steppers. Listen to the 4th axis videos in this blog.

My opinion for this installation is the Smooth Stepper is extra piece of mind that I am running with the smoothest pulse stream possible (within my budget.)

There are many I/O ports on the board I am not using in this application. That indicates the Smooth Stepper can do a lot more than generate step pulses. I can see how it could be used in robotic I/O machine control as well as CNC machining.

My OS is Win XP Pro on a custom built AMX dual processor desktop running nothing but MACH3 when doing CNC. I added a high speed parallel port card. There was no parallel port on the mother board. The XP Pro is the best OS scenario for MACH3 on a parallel port. I can option boot into Linux OS for other shop computer uses.

The new Smooth Stepper just steps up my entire system quality and my goal is to have the best output for doing very small and accurate machining. The… Continue reading

Getting “A” Turned On

Late Saturday night I found some time to to work in Aspire software to create a little project I could run using the 4th axis on the Taig. Little did I realize what an intense learning experience I was about to endure.

The first challenge was to learn how Vectric Aspire creates a forth axis tool path. I do a little reading and I dive right in. After working for a couple of hours burning the midnight oil, I realized I was making something far more difficult than it needed to be especially for a first project.

A shallow pocket and add a shallow pocketed name inside of that and see if the shop computer and MACH3 can make it wrap around a cylinder. That’s all I really need.

I had a piece of inch and a quarter aluminum bar. I figured this would be the perfect victim for my first attempts. So on Sunday I began setting up the mechanical side of this experiment out in the shop.

You can see I had to be super cautious around the three jaws so I wouldn’t crash into them. I also discovered what I think is a clever trick for zeroing the Z axis. If I touch off on the top of the tail post I am exactly 0.450 inches above dead center.

All the above was the easy stuff. The hardest time I had was to figure out the MACH3 setup for 4th axis. The first run I showed in the previous post was way off base. I will probably have to write a story for the THMS main site with some more pictures of a real project. I can save someone a lot of trial and error from my experience.

With quarter stepping I am set up for 160… Continue reading

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