Zeroing CNC Mills With OpenCV

For [Jay] and [Ricardo]’s final project for [Dr. Bruce Land]’s ECE4760 course at Cornell, they tackled a problem that is the bane of all machinists. Their project finds the XY zero of a part in a CNC machine using computer vision, vastly reducing the time it take to set up a workpiece and giving us yet another reason to water down the phrase ‘Internet of Things’ by calling this the Internet of CNC Machines.

For the hardware, [Jay] and [Ricardo] used a PIC32 to interface with an Arducam module, a WiFi module, and an inductive sensor for measuring the distance to the workpiece. All of this was brought together on a PCB specifically designed to be single-sided (smart!), and tucked away in an enclosure that can be easily attached to the spindle of a CNC mill. This contraption looks down on a workpiece and uses OpenCV to find the center of a hole in a fixture. When the center is found, the mill is zeroed on its XY axis.

The software is a bit simpler than a device that has OpenCV processing running on a microcontroller. Detecting the center of the bore, for instance, happens on a laptop running a few Python scripts. The mill attachment communicates with the laptop over WiFi, and sends a few images of the downward-facing camera over to the laptop. From there, the laptop detects the center of the bore in the fixture plate and generates some G-code to send over to the mill.

While the device works remarkably well, and is able to center the mill fairly quickly and without a lot of user intervention, there were a few problems. The camera is not perfectly aligned with the axis of the spindle, making the math harder than it should be. Also, the enclosure isn’t rated for being an environment where coolant is sprayed everywhere. Those are small quibbles, and these problems could be fixed simply by designing and printing another enclosure. The device works, though, and really cuts down on the time it takes to zero out a mill.

You can check out the video description of the build below.

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CNC Dummies for Routers

[This Old Tony] has a few videos that have made appearances on Hackaday. His latest one is CNC Dummies for Routers (see below). The subtitle, CNC Basics, is an honest one. If you’re already well versed in GCode and Mach 3, you probably won’t make it through the 14 minute video (although Tony is pretty entertaining even if you know what he’s talking about).

By his own admission, this is really CNC basics for hobby-grade CNC routers and mills. He starts off talking about his custom-built machine along with some common machines in the $500-$5000 range. He then gives a simple sketch of what GCode looks like.

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A Truly Classy Metal-Framed Mini CNC

We’ve seen a number of DVD- and CDROM-based small CNC machines here, but few are as simply beautiful as this one by [julioberaldi] over on Instructables (translated from Portuguese here).

fbis2gciv0ajsdxWe’ll cut to the chase; it’s the frame. Cut from steel sheet scraps with a hacksaw, and welded or soldered together with “bar solder”. It looks like a lot of sanding, painting, and polishing went on. The result is something we’d be proud to have on our desk.

For now, it simply draws with a pen. But watch the video, embedded below, and you’ll see that it runs exceptionally smoothly. If we’re reading the Instructable right, the next step is to turn this into a CNC cutter. We can’t wait to see where the project goes from here.

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An Introduction to CNC Machine Control

We recently gave you some tips on purchasing your first milling machine, but what we didn’t touch on was CNC (Computer Numerical Control) systems for milling machines (or other machines, like lathes). That’s because CNC is a complex topic, and it’s deserving of its own article. So, today we dive into what CNC is, how it works, and ultimately if it’s right for you as a hobbyist.

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Inventables Releases Improved X-Carve CNC Router

Introduced last year as an improvement on the very popular Shapeoko CNC router, the X-Carve by Inventables has grown to be a very well-respected machine in the community. It’s even better if you throw a DeWalt spindle on there, allowing you to cut almost everything that’s not steel. With a recent upgrade to the X-Carve, it’s even more capable, featuring the best mods and suggestions from the community that has grown up around this machine.

The newest iteration of the X-Carve features higher power drivers, better rigidity, and a heat sink for the spindle. That last item is an interesting bit of kit – routing takes time, and a 1¼HP motor will turn electricity into heat very effectively.

X-CarveIn addition to the 500mm square and 1000mmm square routers previously available, there’s a new, 750mm square machine available. All machines feature a new electronics box for the X-Carve, the X-Controller. This ‘brain box’ is a combined power supply, stepper driver, and motion controller built into a single box. The stepper drivers are able to supply 4A to a motor, is capable of 1/16 microstepping, and has connections for limit switches, spindle control speed, a Z probe, and outputs for vacuums or coolant systems. The underlying controller is based on grbl, making this brain box a very solid foundation for any 3-axis CNC build. The ‘brain box’ format seems to be the way the hobbyist CNC market is going, considering the whispers and rumors concerning Lulzbot selling their Taz6 brainbox independently from a 3D printer.

The new X-Carve is available now, with a fully-loaded 1000mm wide machine coming in at about $1400. That’s comparable to many other machines with the same volume, unlike the Chinese 3040 CNC machines, you don’t need to find an old laptop with a parallel port.

High-end Headphones Fixed with High-end CNC Machine

Warranty? We don’t need no stinking warranty! We’re hackers, and if you have access to a multi-million dollar CNC machine and 3D CAM software, you mill your own headphone replacement parts rather than accept a free handout from a manufacturer.

The headphones in question, Grado SR325s, are hand-built, high-end audiophile headphones, but [Huibert van Egmond] found that the gimbal holding the cups to the headband were loosening and falling out. He replicated the design of the original gimbal in CAM, generated the numeric code, and let his enormous Bridgeport milling machine loose on a big block of aluminum. The part was drilled and tapped on a small knee-mill, cut free from the backing material on a lathe, and bead-blasted to remove milling marks. A quick coat of spray paint – we’d have preferred powder coating or anodization – and the part was ready to go back on the headphones.

Sure, it’s overkill, but when you’ve got the tools, why not? And even a DIY CNC router could probably turn out a part like this – a lot slower, to be sure, but it’s still plausible.

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Impressive Junkyard CNC Made From Fancy Garbage

We’ll just come out and say it, [reboots] has friends with nice garbage. Sure, some of us have friends who are desperately trying to, “gift,” us a CRT monitor, hope dropping like a rock into their stomach when they realize they can’t escape the recycling fee.  [reboots] has friends who buy other people’s poorly thought out CNC projects and then gift him with the parts.

After dismantling the contraption he found himself with nice US and Japanese made linear motion components. However, he needed a CNC controller to drive it all. So he helped another friend clean out their garage and came away with a FlashCut CNC controller.

Now that he had a controller and the motion components whirring nicely, he really needed a frame to put it all in. We like to imagine that he was at a friend’s  barbeque having a beer. In one corner of the yard was an entire Boeing 747.  A mouldering scanning electron microscope with a tattered and faded blue tarp barely covering its delicate instrumentation sat in another corner. Countless tech treasures were scattered about in various states. It was then that he spotted a rusting gamma ray spectrometer in the corner that just happened to have the perfect, rigid, gantry frame for his CNC machine.

Of course, his friend obliged and gladly gave up the spectrometer. Now it was time to put all together. The gantry was set on a scavenged institutional door. The linear motion frames were bolted in place. Quite a few components had to be made, naturally, of scrap materials.

spindletest2Most people will start by using a handheld router for the spindle. The benefits are obvious: they’re inexpensive, easy to procure, and generally come with mounts. But, there are some definite downsides, one of the most glaring of which is the lack of true speed control.

Even routers that allow you to adjust the speed (a fairly common feature on new models) generally don’t actually regulate that speed. So, you end up with a handful of speed settings which aren’t even predictable under load. Furthermore, they usually rely on high RPMs to do their work. For those reasons, handheld woodworking routers aren’t the best choice for a mill that you intend to cut metal with.

[reboots] noticed this problem while building this machine and came up with an inexpensive way to build a speed-controlled spindle. His design uses a brushless DC motor, controlled through a hobby ESC (electronic speed control), which uses a belt to drive the spindle. The spindle itself is mounted using skateboard bearings, and ends in an E11 collet (suitable for light machining in aluminum).

With the ESC providing control of the brushless motor, he’s able to directly control the spindle speed via software. This means that spindle speeds can be changed with G-code, allowing for optimized feeds and speeds for different operations. The belt-drive increases torque while separating the motor from the spindle, which should keep things cool, and reduce rotating mass on the spindle itself. Now all [reboots] needs to do is add a DIY tool changer!