Tormach Tooling System and a Spanner in the Works

Tormach provide a rather nice tooling system for their milling machines.   This is known as the TTS.   There is a master collet permanently fitted in the spindle.  If you have the automatic tool changer option fitted this collet is depressed by a compressed air driven ram.   This opens its jaws to allow grabbing of individual sub collets holding the tool of choice.

The great bonus of this system is that you can have all your regular (and not so regular) tools permanently mounted in collets ready to go.  Press the button driving the ram and push the next tool home.   This also means you can populate the tool table in the PathPilot CNC driver program with all the tool length offsets without having to measure each time you do a setup.

It does mean quite an investment in the sub collets.   These are available for all manner of capacities both metric and imperial either with fixed diameter grips or standard ER ranges.  There are also custom tools such as the Super Fly and Shear Hog plus fittings to take a Haimer shank.

What was always a fiddly job was mounting a new tool in a collet and trying to contra-rotate the collet tightening nut while holding the body.   This is now no more ….. I have just taken delivery of Tormach’s simple but elegant solution to this.

It is a ball race mounted in a block but a ball race that only rotates in one direction.   You simply push the collet shank into the ball race and it is gripped tight.  To loosen the collet you simply put it in from the other side.  Magic !

Now you have probably realised I am a bit OCD and like things in their place and ordered.   Having got the tool gripping sorted I would now need two spanners to fit the collets of my most popular ER16 and ER20 nuts.  That was one too many spanners for my liking and was tying up standard shop spanners (which also have their allocated place in the shop …. oh dear how sad is that).

Now I happened to have a strip of 50mm wide Ground Flat Stock sat idle and Fusion 360 was calling.  A quick drawing on Fusion delivered a customised spanner sized to suit the two most popular sizes of collet I use.    I ran the CAM and off to the 440.

I put a piece 6mm hardboard on top of my tooling plate and put a couple of M8 holes at 75mm spacing on the centre line of the stock and fastened it down through the hardboard into the tooling plate on the 440 bed.   I made sure the Z clearance was OK for the screw heads (important !) and hit go.

It was the first time I had machined GFS and the 440 handled it well.  I now have a nice customised spanner hanging on the wall above that fancy bearing block.

Disclaimer : –  This post and many others on my website feature references to Tormach and its products.  I have no connection to Tormach Inc financially, commercially or otherwise.  I acknowledge that Tormach®, Tormach Tooling System®, TTS® and PathPilot® are all registered trade marks of Tormach Inc.

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Milling Circuit Boards Update

I have made some good progress on taking a PCB design Gerber copper and Excellon drilling files into CNC.  I think it is worthy of a full write up but while that gets put together here are some comments.

First of all the conversion process using FlatCAM is very straightforward and I like the fact that you can default save your GCode startup and end routines along with other default settings.  Note that I had to scale the drilling data by a factor of 10.  Apparently this is not unusual.

The fun starts once you have code ready to run on the CNC.  The board design I was working on was a single sided copper design.  Single sided board tends to always have a curvature with the copper on the inside of the curve and the fibre glass outside (if you see what I mean).  This is probably the manufacturing process with the copper and its adhesive ‘pulling’ the board.

Double sided PCB tends not to be so bad in this respect and the effect is balanced out by the two coatings.   My board was therefore much more bowed than a double sided one.  (Incidentally FlatCAM allows for double sided board designs).

If you think about the geometry of what is going on it is critical to make sure the PCB material is flat on the milling table.   The greater the included angle of the milling cutter tip the worse things get if there are variations in surface height.  A height variation equates to a widening of the tool cut.  See the image below. (Not to scale).

I initially used 6mm MDF as my sacrificial backing board to protect my tooling table.   When I checked the MDF for flatness with my Haimer I was disappointed with the result.  Increasing the MDF to 12mm made a huge difference and good enough for the purpose.   This could have been a different manufactured MDF so the change of size is not definitive.

Initially I clamped the PCB to the MDF with a number of woodscrews around the periphery.   On checking with the Haimer this was not good with visible variations that I could impact by pressing on the PCB surface.

Next step was to replace the woodscrews with strips of 10mm square aluminium with a 1.5mm step on one edge.  These were screwed to the MDF on all 4 sides of the PCB blank and this dramatically improved the flatness to a point were it was adequate.  Pressing the board surface did not change the Haimer readings.

Flatness having been solved I addressed the cutter problem.   I had ordered some 10 degree included angle cutters from China but while they were in transit I got to talking with Think & Tinker in the US.   They were incredibly helpful and suggested that I should consider a 60 degree included angle cutter with a 5 thou tip.   They also suggested I try their lubrication to improve the cut quality and to also help protect the tool from wear.   Their tools also come with a fixed collar which means you can change out the cutter without having to reset your Z zero.

This 60 degree cutter worked a treat and the results were startlingly good.   I did not use the lubrication from T&T but instead used my normal FogBuster fluid (QualiChem ExtremeCut 250C) on a gentle repetitive puff.  This seemed to work and kept the dust damped as well as improving the cut.

While I could run the spindle at up to 10,000 RPM, I kept it down at 6,000RPM with a cutting speed of 3″ per minute (75mm).  I had a Z clearance of 0.1″ and depth of cut of 0.005″.  (Sorry for the mixed dimension standards but PCBs tend to be designed in Imperial but I prefer to work in Metric).

After the milling of the copper was complete I drilled all holes at 0.6mm (24 thou) using a carbide drill sourced from Drill Services of Horley (UK).  This was simply a change of tool, registering the tool length and loading the drilling GCode produced by FlatCAM.   The drilled holes were spot on dead centre in the copper lands.

In closing I would like to say how impressed I have been with the Tormach.   I had milled the copper one day and switched off for the night.  Next day I switched on the mill and absolute referenced XYZ and put the drilling tool in the spindle and hit go.  The holes were smack on dead centre in the lands without having to tweak anything.

It has been an interesting challenge that my friend had set me and he has gone away with a good looking PCB and my knowledge base has improved which is what it is all about.


A more detailed write up to follow.

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FlatCAM Update and experimental copper cutting

I’m quite pleased with progress converting GSpark PCB gerber files to CNC with FlatCAM.   The conversion process is straightforward and the resulting GCode looks OK.

I have tried cutting copper using the cutters I have to hand but quickly realised I need to get some much finer ones in carbide.  My tests with modified dental burrs does not work or at least not for very long before the burr goes blunt and the cut width degrades.

I have ordered some 10 degree included angle 0.1mm wide cutters but they won’t be here until February.

The picture shows two runs.   The left hand run used 30 degree cone shaped burr and the right hand run used a modified teardrop burr.   The initial cut on both was where the stars are.

The left hand cut left severe copper burrs which were easily removed using a scalpel blade flat to the surface of the board.

The right hand side was clean of all burrs but gradually degraded in quality as the cutter became blunt.

The teardrop burr was ground to half diameter in an attempt simulate a more normal engraving cutter profile.  I must have drawn the temper in the grinding process.

More experimentation needed once the better cutters arrive.

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Tormach PathPilot Version 2 Release – Issues with Shared Folder

I ordered my upgrade to newly released Version 2.x.x of PathPilot for my PCNC440 machine and to be honest the instructions for doing the upgrade were clear and straightforward.   Care is needed as this is a complete clear out of the old version so backups needed to be taken of your GCode files and your Tool Table etc.  Don’t fret however as all this is talked through quite clearly in the downloaded support document (TD10530).

The software loaded well but I then had a couple of problems.

Prior to the upgrade I had a shared folder on my desktop PC that allowed me to blob across the GCode files to the 440 machine without leaving my desk.  After the upgrade this shared folder had disappeared and try as I might, refused to return.   I could ping the Tormach so it was on my network but it was not being seen from a data point of view.

I eventually gave up and posted the problem with Tormach.  They came back quickly with a fix as follows.  This is a simple to do and assumes the ‘green light’ on the internet button (on the status PathPilot page) is lit.

  1. When in the PathPilot working screen, press CTRL+ALT+X to bring up a terminal window.  (A word of warning here …. my keyboard silicon protector overlay supplied by Tormach had legend that did not match the keys underneath …. check what you are really pressing …)
  2. Type gedit smb.conf.share and click enter on the keyboard. This should launch the file for editing.  (Note: 1 space between gedit and smb.conf.share)
  3. Change “security = share” to “security = user”
  4. Reboot the PathPilot controller
  5. Open a folder mapping dialogue on your desktop PC File Explorer and map to an unused drive letter.   Note the format is something like “\\tormachpcnc\gcode” but read the instructions from Tormach.

The other issue I had initially is that I could not load DropBox which is a new facility on PathPilot.  As by now I had solved the shared folder issue, this was less of an issue but belt and braces called and finally it loaded OK.

Note that you must reduce the number of folders seen by DropBox on the Tormach or it will flood your memory storage space.  Tormach give instructions on how to do this by listing the folders that need to be ignored.  You cannot cherry pick them from a dropdown list but instead you need to paper list them and then manually enter them.   Also note that any folders you are blocking that have more than a single word name format need to be encapsulated with ” ” when entered in the blocked folder list (unless you have underscored any spaces).   I reduced my DropBox folders ‘seen’ on the Tormach to just one which will contain my GCode files.

DANGER – do not simply delete the DropBox folders that are not of interest in the PathPilot File screen or you will delete them permanently from the DropBox cloud storage.   All your pictures of Auntie Agnes with her Sherry at Christmas will go down the tube ….

Upgrade Documents on the Tormach Site can be found here and you will need the following two documents

TD10345 Networking PathPilot

TD10530 Upgrading to PathPilot V2.x.x

I have posted this information on the NYC CNC Forum and John has also created a document in his site Library.

Good luck with the upgrade.  The resulting code isn’t dramatically different but general presentation of graphics and fonts is better and the conversational programming is slightly changed.

Finally I cannot emphasise enough how responsive Tormach Tech Support are if you have an issue.  Without their help I would probably still scratching my head regarding the above.

Disclaimer : –  This post and many others on my website feature references to Tormach and its products.  I have no connection to Tormach Inc financially, commercially or otherwise.  I acknowledge that Tormach®, Tormach Tooling System®, TTS® and PathPilot® are all registered trade marks of Tormach Inc.

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PathPilot Upgrade to Version 2.x.x

I registered with Tormach for the free upgrade to the new release 2.x.x of PathPilot.  A memory stick arrived this morning with the new code.   It is fairly complex process but their documentation is quite easy to follow and understand.

All seems to have gone well with the upgrade except I can no longer see the shared drive for dropping files into nor can I get the Dropbox feature to load.  All of which suggests the network connection is not working but I not winning so far.  Gloom but not a disaster.  Fresh eyes another day.

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