"One Perfect Part at a Time"


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 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 MACH3.

One… Continue reading

Smoothstepper a Champion Again!

Once a real smoothie, then a stumble bum, now a VERY smooth stepper again. One tiny software update can change what became a chunk of lead back into pure gold. I don’t know what made the step controller a forgetful POS but I very pleased it has found its feet again.

I suspect it may have been Microsoft fooling around with the USB ports. It is always easy (fun?) to poke at a large and favorite target like MS. But perhaps it could be whomever wrote the USB driver code for Smoothstepper, left out an unneeded (at the time) refresh timer that was in the USB spec for critical devices all along.

It doesn’t matter. There is a fix and seems to be working perfectly. I am extremely impressed again with the very smooth operation. I just finished a six (6) hour run of continuous spiral micro machining of a round dome shape with lettering. That requires all three axis working very hard. I used three tools which means two tool changes with Z axis reset. It went flawlessly! Yes, my trust in the software and Smoothstepper is back.

Lesson Learned: When a new problem appears, I must think about what was just changed. A software update? If I can do a restore, I could see if the problem disappears. Always check web sites for bug reports. I may not be the only one with the problem. I never believe solutions I read from other users. They may be correct but there is a LOT of bad advice in forums. I look for official sources. They don’t respond first or very often. I look for official software updates.

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

Other Kinds of Projects and Materials

I am currently doing some design work with microprocessors. The first mission is to control a model boat. My intention is to include some computer “smarts” with some of my new projects. Why? Well, because I like to play with the little computers. I will be using machining to make housings for the computer components and some parts for the boat.

I realize that not all machine shop projects are for the making of other machines. The machine shop is intended to shape materials mostly* by lathe turning or milling into a part or product for any use imaginable. I have decided to start looking for those other uses, the freedom of unlimited possibilities.

Some of my recent “other uses” have been with the CNC carving and machining in 2D and 3D. That’s not making another machine but it is certainly machine shop work. The casting of pewter using aluminum molds also involves machine work. Pewter doesn’t “stick” to aluminum.  So if I want to make a cast part over and over, I machine the mold out of aluminum. That is machining. Making a master part by machining a metal or wax master then making a rubber mold to make more parts is also not out of bounds in my shop.

I don’t want to become narrow by thinking everything that is machined is part of a machine like a steam engine or IC motor, Ha!

Machining a dozen custom hinges from brass for a woodworking project is still machining.

Also occasionally missing from my thought picture is metal is not the only material that can be machined. I know that is pretty obvious. I have done a lot of machining in wax (mentioned above) and occasionally in plastic.  3D carving with CNC in wood, particle board… Continue reading

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