"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 cables with ferrite coils at the ends and they are a bit better.

I isolated the USB routing around the other side of the computer so now it is all by itself getting to the port on the CNC controller. I also set some available timing delays in the E-Stop and other interrupt type signals like limit switches, etc. (wherever delay setting were available in Smoothstepper and MACH3). The delays in micro seconds are long enough keeps spike noises from being read but short enough to know a real signal has been received without reducing asccuracy.

Problem solved.

I am again pleased with my smooth running Smoothstepper. I now recommend the LAN version even if you have to add a second LAN card in the computer.

UPDATE 10/1/12

I had another Smoothstepper lock up on Saturday on a tool change after a very long run. I was a bit more than a little upset. I perused the Warp9 web site and on the download page I discovered a new driver:

2012-05-23    PlugIn: SmoothStepper_v17f.zip (check website for latest)

I am only four months behind. This says it fixes a USB timeout problem. Well golly gee… so I updated my USB driver and MACH3 while I was at it. Greg indicates there are some small tweaking going on by the new owners of Mach3 that is affecting plugins.  So it is best to stay in sync with all updates.

I hadn’t made any CNC changes but I did do a WINXP update back when this started happening. I did some research and discovered MS is also doing some “tweaking” with USB ports, poling and shutting down power to unused devices. They are trying to be “green” with 5 volts.  Hmmm. The error message always says the Smoothstepper has been disconnected. So it may very well be MS who is causing this. That’s the risk of using a consumer computer OS for industrial control.

I hope the new patch and upgrades fix this. I haven’t had time to do a rerun to test. I WILL do a test part before running anything critical or expensive. I should mention the E Stop problem hasn’t returned so what I did in the first post has fixed that issue. I didn’t know I had two unrelated problems…

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