Tormach PathPilot G37 Update

I have my Tormach PCNC440 wired into the workshop network and as a result if a new version of PathPilot is issued my PathPilot controller warns me.   This is quite nice as there is no formal emailing warnings of new issues by Tormach.  Anyone whose machine is not Internet connected would need to check periodically with the Tormach site to see if an update was needed.

To continue the story … last week I got a warning of a new version of PathPilot (2.4.0) was available and I duly downloaded.  One of the immediately obvious changes in the new firmware was a G37 tool measurement routine which works in conjunction with a simple Normally Closed tool setter.   From my previous ramblings you will see that I had done a combiner box to allow both probing and toolsetting to share a common input to the Tormach.   In theory I was therefore ready to go ….

From my many years in industry I should know that all that glitters etc … the new routine did not work.   I thought it must be me but in the end I logged a support call with Tormach and sent them my log file.   I also logged the problem on the NYC CNC forum to see if anyone else was having the same issue.   I did get one response saying that he was not having an issue.   The plot thickened and nothing back from Tormach.

A couple of days later the same responder said there was a fix update available from the Tormach site.   It seems the software worked well in G20 Imperial mode but not in G21 Metric mode.   He was running Imperial and I was trying to run in Metric   Software update downloaded and all is well.   It is rather nice.   You tell PathPilot where the tool setter is located and then to run the auto tool measurement you put a G37 command in the GCode after a tool change.   Away the spindle goes to the tool setter location, dunks the tool and updates the Tool Table.   Magic.

Still waiting for Tormach to close off my enquiry and let me know they had fixed the problem and as a result there was a new firmware available.  But it is Christmas and maybe they had other pressing matters.

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Tormach PCNC440 Fogbuster and Manual Oiler Service

Back from after a few weeks in France and back in the workshop.

Every now and then there is a project that is on the go and you can’t sit down and focus on it.  It is a sort of mechanical procrastination.   A reluctance to put the first pencil mark on the paper.   You then suddenly find all sorts of other things that you kid yourself are more important / higher priority and you get distracted.   You know that job will still be there but maybe tomorrow, not   today.   You suddenly develop a clear conscience about doing something else while you do some background thinking ….

This particular day started off by cleaning down the accumulated swarf (chips) in the 440 tray.  Really important job.  This led to a check behind the various 440 slideway bellows to see that all was well with the oiling mechanism on the slideways and the ballscrews.   X and Y were fine but Z was dry.  Not good news.   

The 440 is supplied with a manual oiler as standard.   This is a reservoir of oil and a pump/plunger which you pull out and release to initiate a slow pressure to the oil distribution pipes. 

Tormach manual oiler reservoir
View of the manual oiler mounted on the Tormach 440

 I checked the plunger and it didn’t feel like it was applying much pressure.   This is not the first time I have experienced this problem.   If I pumped a few times it felt better so something should have been happening at the oiling points on the Z.   I disconnected each of these where I could  and sure enough if I pumped hard enough some oil dribbled out but not with much pressure.   Something probably not right with the plunger ?

Squeezing round the back of the mill I removed the top of the reservoir (4 retaining screws), disconnected the oil pipe union and lifted the plunger clear.  The reservoir can be left in place sitting on the mounting bracket. 

There is a large end cap at the union end of the plunger cylinder which I removed and sure enough I could see a mangled O ring.   To get the plunger out you have to be a bit brutal.   You pull the T handle plunger back out of its housing against its spring using the handle as shown above and then grip the shaft with pliers so you can then twist the handle off.   What you don’t do then is suddenly release the pliers grip or the plunger will go into low Earth orbit under the pressure of its spring …

Having disassembled the plunger it was obvious that the O ring had failed quite badly.   Tormach support do not offer spares as the oiler is a third party item.  They do not know what size the O ring should be.   Checking in my box of miscellaneous O rings it looked like a 9mm ID, 3mm thickness part would do the trick.   Smearing the O ring with DC4 silicon grease allowed easy re-assembly into the piston bore and then back onto the 440.  I now had lots of pressure and oil was apparent trickling down the Z slideways and ball screws.  Job done.   No pumping needed, just one pull out of the piston handle was generating a slow release of oil to the key areas.

The job I should have been doing was still sat on the bench glaring at me but psychologically I was doing something more important.

Next problem was the Fogbuster air activation valve.  Under CNC control this reliably switched on but sometimes would not switch off when commanded to.  There are various forum discussions on this problem and many contributors just replace the solenoid valve with a different version.   Forum chat also recommended that electrical transient snubbers are fitted across various inductive loads in the Tormach control unit.   I had some of these in my stock box (Tormach offer a kit for this).   They are simply a series resistor and capacitor in an epoxy block.   They are fitted across any inductive device to suppress switching transients.   I dived into the control box and fitted one across the controller relay coil that switches the Fogbuster ON and OFF and another one across the outlet from the control box feeding the Fogbuster solenoid coil.   See picture below.

snubber inside tormach cabinet
Snubber across Fogbuster activation relay coil.  There is a second snubber fitted to the lower LHS contact which activates the air solenoid.   The other end of this snubber goes to the any ‘100’ connection which is mains neutral.

The problem seemed to be improved but still occasionally the solenoid did not switch OFF.

The Fogbuster solenoid has a clear housing over the activation coil connections and there is a LED inside this that comes on when the Fogbuster is switched on.   

Fogbuster activation solenoid
Fogbuster solenoid assembly showing the connection clear housing which plugs into the solenoid coil which in turn sits over the activating plunger assembly.  There is a screw in the LHS to release the electrical connection and the nut on the top releases the coil to reveal the plunger housing.

This connection housing plugs into the coil and the mechanics of the solenoid body and is released with a screw in the end.   Toggling the coolant ON and OFF via the PathPilot user interface I could see the LED responding correctly to the ON and OFF commands but occasionally the solenoid was not closing.   It was therefore not an electrical problem but mechanical.

On top of the solenoid housing is a single large nut which when released allows the solenoid coil to be lifted off.   This leaves two countersink screws which hold the mechanical plunger housing in place and if these are removed the plunger can be gently removed.   Inside the valve is very simple.   A central hole allows the air to pass through and when the solenoid is de-energised a spring forces the solenoid plunger to seal this hole.   I gave everything a thorough blast with compressed air and re-assembled it.   Care is needed re-assembling as there is a tiny O ring seal on the plunger cover.   The solenoid now responds correctly to the PathPilot commands.

Another tick.  Job done.  Warm glow.

That other job is still sat on the bench glaring at me ….

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Editing the PathPilot Tool Table with Conversational machining codes

Introduction

Tormach’s PathPilot CNC control software offers a Tool Table facility that will accept up to 1000 different tool entries.   This is more than enough tools for the small machine shop and if fully populated would represent a small fortune in tools and collet investment.

In PathPilot when you go to the Offsets tab to edit a tool, the following dialogue box comes up (sorry about the quality of the image ..) suggesting that you can be quite clever with the descriptions of your tools. 

tormach tool table intelligent codes for conversational milling

How you describe the tool helps local machining settings such as Conversational routines.  It has no impact if you are loading an externally created GCode from CAD/CAM packages such as Fusion 360.

When I first started using PathPilot I had never bothered to add this intelligence when I described the tool. I simply wrote something that meant something to me.  As time has passed and I have added more and more tools, the prospect of going back into the Tool Table and making edits to conform to these intelligent descriptions did not seem like a glamorous prospect, even for a rainy day job.

Tormach Changes

What has changed is that in the latest versions of PathPilot, Tormach has added a search routine for the tool table.  This depends for its success in finding what you are searching for on the consistency of entries in each line description.   

There is now an incentive to have a ‘rainy day’ session and clean up the table entries.

See Mill-tool-table-editor  to download a folder containing the description of how to do this and also the Excel file used to manipulate the data.

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Stretching FlatCam and PCB milling on Tormach PCNC440

Tormach M Code Expansion Card

I have got a project underway to use the Tormach USB M Code expansion board in association with an A axis rotary table.   Details of this will follow in due course.   The expansion card when added to a Tormach mill allows the operator to embed M Codes in their CNC program which will operate up to 4 dry contact SPCO relays or accept 4 inputs as handshaking acks.

My Cabling Masterplan

As part of this project I need to have cables from the USB expansion board to various devices and in a rush of blood to the head decided to use standard readily available Micro USB cables for this. Now the cable connectors are pretty small and the PCB mating socket is even smaller with its 5 connections.   Glibly overlooking this I asked a colleague to produce a PCB layout for the connector to a breakout connector strip.   Dave duly produced a layout and a scratching of head resulted.   How was I going to produce the PCB and how was I going to solder to the connections assuming I could see them ….

FlatCam to the Rescue

Elsewhere in my blog there is mention of the use of FlatCam to create a CNC GCode listing from PCB Gerber and Excellon files.   This program works really well and many successful PCBs have been produced but I have never attempted to mill such fine PCB tracks. A number of problems needed to be addressed to make this successful.   The PCB sheet needed to be held very flat on the PCNC440 tooling table and the correct milling tool with its associated feeds and speeds needed to be chosen. In the past I have used strips of aluminium to fasten the PCB blank down on the tooling table.   This is never perfect and leads to variations in the pressure around the edges of the board.   With single sided PCB there is a natural curvature of the board material as a result of the surface tension of the laminating process.  A single sided blank has a concave surface on the copper side.  I needed to create something more repeatable.

Milling Window Restrictions

Before I bought the Tormach PCNC440 I had a discussion with John Saunders at NYC CNC and he recommended going for the biggest machine I could fit in my workshop.   I could have squeezed the 770 in at a push but I would have had to sell off my Myford VMB which I was reluctant to do.   My order therefore went through as a 440.   With hindsight this decision has been justified on two counts.   I rarely need a larger working area than the 440 offers and the VMB gets used very regularly for quick jobs that don’t justify CNC.   This project was an exception. I wanted to make a frame that would clamp the PCB blank down onto the tooling table.   In order to get the maximum working area for the PCB blank the clamping frame would have to sit outside the machining area.   How was I going to manufacture it ? Fortunately my tooling plate was designed to have a mix of M8 clamping holes and 3.7mm tooling holes and I was going to use this to advantage.   The clamping frame would be symmetrical.   By adding some matching tooling holes in the frame I could cut just over half of the frame and then flip it round 180 degrees and cut the second half. Here is a picture of the CAD showing half of the machining on what will be the underside of the plate when in use. The outer holes are for the M8 clamping to the table and the four smaller holes are the tooling holes.   Being tight with my materials I did not want to just mill out the centre of the plate and have a mountain of swarf (chips).  Instead I designed it with two slots as shown,  one for the clamping surface and one that almost cut through the stock.   The partial cut was to ensure the central piece did not flip out once cut free and damage my cutter. First one half was drilled and cut and then the plate was rotated 180 degrees and the second half cut.   This left the central island just held in place by less than 0.5mm of material.   This was easy to hand cut through to liberate the central area.   The plate was then turned over and the cut edge cleaned using the same tooling position and doing the same 180 degree rotation. To my surprise the rotation process on the tooling pins worked very well with only a minor step transition at the overlap point on all cuts.  This was probably more down to my 3.7mm tooling pins being not quite concentrically turned from 4mm silver steel. With this finished I now had a much more robust clamp for the PCB material.   I had made the clamping step 4mm deep so I could put sacrificial backing boards behind the PCB being run.   This would allow drilling through as needed.   Checking the flatness of a clamped PCB blank with my Haimer showed variation of a few thou in the top surface of the PCB Z position. The worst case variation in Z was at dead centre where the PCB’s natural bow was most dominant.

Tooling and Feeds and Speeds

The next problem was the milling tool and feeds and speeds.   I experimented with various V shaped routers but was not happy with the results.   The 5 thou tip on a 10 degree V tool was incredibly fragile.   Also because the tool was V shaped, any residual bow on the PCB surface lead to a variable width cut.   In the end I opted for Think & Tinkers 15 degree, 2 flute tapered stub (P/N EM2E8-0051-15VC).  This has a 5.1 thou cutting tip which is parallel for the first section so depth variations have no impact on the width of cut.  I ran the program at 10,000 RPM (PCNC 440 maximum) and at 150mm per minute feed rate. The PCB does not look particularly beautiful after milling as there are burrs and shavings present but a gentle rub over with a fine wet and dry removes this and leaves a remarkably clean cut tracking.   The images below show some of the results.   The fine tracking for the USB connector connections is shown on the microscope with a scale for reference.   This shows the five fingers occupying 120 thou with fairly similar track to gap widths of around 15 thou. So now I just have to solder the connectors in place …. I will let you know how it goes.

Overview shot of the clamping plate in position on the my tooling plate on the PCNC440
Finished clamping plate in position on the Tormach PCNC440 holding down a 6″ square piece of single sided PCB.
Tracking on the USB micro connector mounting
Zoom shot on the USB connector tracks with the graticule giving an idea of scale (small divisions are 0.5mm)

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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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