CNCEST 3040T CNC Router Update

Mach3, Limit Switches and First Cut

Progress has been good in getting the 3040T running.   Mach3 is not like PathPilot but then it is an all things to all machines software whereas PathPilot is dedicated to the Tormach family.   As a result of this Mach3 does take a bit more getting your head around and there is a lot more under the hood settings and adjustments that you have to address.

The first problem was the RnR USB interface card and trying to work out which port was which on the card connections.  Once this was sorted the motors responded to keyboard directional commands with the arrow keys and page up/down.  I had to make changes to the Mach3 Config for this.   If anyone needs screen shots of these setups send me a message.

Having been used to homing the Tormach I decided that adding limit switches to the 3040 would be a good thing.   I fitted 6 microswitches and wired them in series via their normally closed contacts to create a loop.   I connected one end of the loop to the Input 2 terminal on the card terminal strip (Port 3) and the other end to ground.   Any switch when activated will now break the loop and create an alarm condition.   The same switches also perform the home reference function.  (Mach3 just looks for a break in the circuit relevant to the function being asked of it – it knows when it is homing and it knows when it is running and looking for a switch break).   

I made 3D printed mountings for the switches and covers for these.  I had to add extra wiring to the cable forms both on the machine, through the connector cable to the control box and inside the control box.   Fiddly but done. I slipped up with the +Y back stop switch in that I mounted it on the cross plate without realising that the interface cabling to the umbilical connector fouls the movement.   There was a protruding M3 screw holding the interface connector in place which was acting as a crude carriage stop.  I turned an eccentric ‘top hot’ to fit on this screw to activate the microswitch.

Fitting the switches has now made setting up more repeatable and it consistently goes to 0,0,0 when doing a Reference All. Having referenced the spindle head, it can then be moved to the WCS zero ready to run a job. So far I have played with the demo Mach3 which has limited lines of GCode capacity but I have run some of my small PCB milling routines successfully. So all looking good but as ever I wasn’t satisfied and wanted to make life easier by using the Tormach ShuttleXpress controller.   This involved downloading a plug in file to add to Mach3. It sort of works but it isn’t like it is on the Tormach so I am still trying to get to grips with it.

I am waiting for a delivery of TackPack superglue to stick the cable wiring in place, hence the fluorescent green masking tape.   The flat cable is standard ribbon cable stripped down to be the right number of cores as needed. Note that I replaced the backing plate on the Z mounting (the bright aluminium as seen in the first picture) as this protruded too far down and would not allow the microswitch to be easily mounted. A few pictures of progress below and more updates to follow.

3040T limit switches
View showing Z switches and one X switch with its printed cover in place
Limit switch with cover removed
Underside view showing Y limit switches and also ‘Top Hat’ stop fitted on connector mounting screw (aluminium disc in this view)
RnR USB interface card. IN1 is the emergency stop switch and IN2 is the series wired normally closed loop via the limit switches with the return going to GND

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A CNCEST router / engraver joins the workshop

You have probably gathered by now that I like to experience new challenges in the workshop.  I spotted a CNCEST 3040T for sale on EBay with no bids offered and on the last day of the auction.   I did some checking and discovered that these devices are quite common and are a good way to get into CNC.   There is a wealth of YouTube postings about the machines and whole libraries that you can delve into to find models to make.   I must state that it is not a Tormach type machine but more of an engraver/router device with nothing like the grunt of the Tormach or indeed other milling centres.

The one I had spotted had a USB interface and was intended to be controlled by Mach3 which is a totally different animal to PathPilot.  PathPilot is a dedicated controller for the Tormach range of devices and because of this there are lots of facilities that you take for granted but which are hidden ‘under the hood’. Mach3 on the other hand is a generic controller that can be configured to control all manner of CNC devices but because of that it is quite complex to get to grips with, particularly for someone starting out on CNC.   Some of the user interfaces leave a bit to be desired which doesn’t help but I am getting there.   Mach3 has been around a long time and has a large user base.

Back to the story.

The purchase included the control box with the USB interface, a set of ER11 collets and a fourth axis stepper motor with a chuck already installed.   It is nicely built in that it is quite substantial but is basic and my purchase did not come with a great deal of documentation. The USB interface is by BitSensor RnR and apart from the stepper motor control lines has four auxiliary 4 input and 4 output lines that can be configured for external control.

The weekend was spent YouTubing trying to get up to speed and from this I gleaned the following : – Mach3 allows you to download a demo version which is fully functional but has a restricted maximum number of lines for running a program.   No problem with this and nice to be able to play before committing to a licence.

Having loaded Mach3 onto my desktop (Win 7, 64bit) I could not get the program to talk to the mill.   This was solved by the discovery that you need to add a plug-in for the RnR USB interface card.   This allowed the spindle to be moved in XYZ fashion from the PC keyboard direction keys and Page Up/Page Down. Next problem was that the spindle movements did not seem to reflect the Mach3 DRO readout distances.   This was solved on the Settings tab using the Set Steps per Unit button.   This was rather nice in that you tell the machine how far you want the spindle to move (in XY or Z) and then you are asked how far did it actually move as measured and it then crunches in the program what the scaling factor needs to be.  Rather neat facility. I now have the basics of accurate controlled movement. 

I can run the initial lines of one of my earlier discussion FlatCam PCB milling programs and it looks as it should.   I can see this machine becoming a dedicated PCB and general engraving device that is offline to the Tormach. So where to now ?   

I want to replace the tool table with a dedicated tooling plate similar to the one I made for the Tormach.   The table as fitted is aluminium extrusion with the equivalent of T slots.  I also want to add limit switches to make it more user friendly.   This means working out how to enable the above mentioned auxiliary lines.   Some sort of height zero probe will be needed also. So a few things to think about over winter.   More notes on progress to follow. Similar or related subjects : –

January in France

Bonsoir Monsieur Macron

Decided to make a quick visit to France to catch up on jobs and make sure the house was surviving winter OK. All went well until we got south of Limoges when the Autoroute overhead signs started signally a problem at the junction we normally leave the A20.  We passed through our local toll peage and it was swarming with gendarmes and when we came off we were met by an equally large contingent of boys in blue.  We were turned back from the exit and sent further south on the A20 to the next exit to come north once again.   At first we thought this might be a ‘yellow vests’ protest but it later transpired that Monsieur Macron was holding a meeting with the regional mayors in our local town and the town was in lock down as a result.

Tado Thermostat System

The Tado thermostat system installed last time has worked really well.   I turned up the house temperature via GSM as we got off the ferry and we (finally after our Macron detour) arrived to a warm house without the usual standing around with our coats on while the wood burner thawed things out.   Lovely system and have now fitted three of these to family properties.

Wireless Tag Monitoring

Temperature here is around 5C with nights dropping negative.   I have fitted an 80W tubular heater inside the spa pump cabinet with a frost stat on it.   This is doing a good job in keeping the temperature around the pumps above 5C regardless of the outside temperature.   I have fitted one of the Wireless Tags inside the cabinet so I can monitor what is going on remotely.

Super Blood Wolf Moon

Woke up last night in the small hours and thought the outside security lights must be on it was so bright in the bedroom.  Looked out and it was like daylight from the moonlight.   Didn’t think anymore of it and went back to bed only to discover on this morning’s news that I had missed the lunar eclipse.   Having received a Philip’s 2019 Stargazing Guide for Christmas I really should have read it before the new season started.   That having been said it is way too bright to get the telescope out during this visit.  

Been a good trip so far with lots of ticks accomplished on my to do list so I might get some time to sit and catch up on my reading and writing before we head back next week.

Weather forecast is predicting snow ….

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It’s Horology but not as we know it Jim

If you visit any car boot sale / brocante /yard sale you will almost certainly come across old mechanical clocks that probably have a wonderful history if they could only speak.  Their previously loving owners have ‘passed on’ and the inheriting family probably don’t like the looks of the timepiece or just can’t be bothered to wind it up or it simply no longer works which is a big problem with a rapidly diminishing fraternity that know how to fix them.

Now what follows is going to disturb the purists so they should look away.

When I find a specimen that has some character or aspect that appeals to me and has no historic value I will offer the few coins being asked and give the clock a new life.  Not by repairing them in the true sense but by fitting a modern time code based radio locked mechanism.   Here in Europe we have DCF in Germany and MSF in the UK. DCF in particular has an astonishing geographic range for its signal.

The time code locked mechanisms are available from a number of sources and vary from a basic straightforward hours minutes seconds mechanism to ones with higher torque and some with a pendulum.   The pendulum is quite independent of the time keeping but does add character. As supplied the radio locked mechanisms require you to set the hands to either 12 o’clock if you are on European time or 11 o’clock if on GMT and then you pull out a locking pin on the rear of the mechanism and install an AA battery.   The mechanism will twitch momentarily and then the hands will start to rotate from the setting position to a set hour position and then hold until the mechanism gets an update from the radio signal.  Once locked to the radio signal the clock will be very very accurate.   You can check them against time.is and as would be expected they are spot on.  When clocks need to be seasonally change the mechanism  automatically updates.  When the battery dies you simply put a new one in and the clock resets itself to time.

I have modified many clocks in this way and gifted quite a few to friends and family.   I try wherever possible to retain the original hands and sometimes this involves a little lathe work to modify the mounting bosses.

There are two examples below including my latest find, an ex British Air Ministry office clock dated on the back as 1951.  I am quite pleased with how this one has cleaned up and it is now heading to France to hang in my workshop out there.

So next time you see an unloved traditional mechanical clock gathering dust give some thought to giving it a new lease of life.

dcf clock mechanism in traditional clock
1951 Air Ministry clock modified for DCF radio control
rear view of dcf clock mechanism in traditional clock
Rear view of ex Air Ministry clock showing new DCF radio controlled movement
example of DCF mechanism in a traditional clock case
Modified clock with DCF radio linked clock module

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Tormach Costing Sheet Update

Tormach changed their prices last year so I have updated the costing spreadsheet I created to reflect these changes. Note that the sheet now has the new M Series prices for the 770 and 1100.

Note that I believe I have interpreted their prices correctly but you can check this once you have placed a request for quotation and compare. Let me know if you spot any errors.

 

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