Add Fiber-optic Control to Your CNC

CNC machines can be very noisy, and we’re not talking about the kind of noise problem that you can solve with earplugs. With all those stepper motors and drivers, potentially running at high-speed, electrical noise can often get to the point where it interferes with your control signals. This is especially true if your controller is separated from the machine by long cable runs.

But electrical noise won’t interfere with light beams! [Musti] and his fellow hackers at IRNAS decided to use commodity TOSLINK cables and transmitter / receiver gear to make a cheap and hackable fiber-optic setup. The basic idea is just to bridge between the controller board and the motor drivers with optical fiber. To make this happen, a couple of signals need to be transmitted: pulse and direction. They’ve set the system up so that it can be chained as well. Serializing the data, Manchester encoding it for transmission, and decoding it on reception is handled by CPLDs for speed and reliability.

The team has been working on this project for a while now. If you’d like some more background you can check out their original design ideas. Design files from this released version are up on GitHub. A proposed improvement is to incorporate bi-directional communications. Bi-directional comms would allow data like limit-switch status to be communicated back from the machine to the controller over fiber.

This optical interface is in service of an open-source plasma cutter design, which is pretty cool in itself. And if the IRNAS group sounds familiar to you, that may be because we recently ran a story on their ambitious gigabit ethernet-over-lightbeam project.

Be A Hero At Your Next Hackathon With A Foldable CNC

Be the hero at your next hackathon with this foldable cnc. When the line for the laser cutter is four teams deep, you’ll come out ahead. It might even be accurate enough to pop out a quick circuit board. Though, [wwwektor] just wanted a CNC that could be taken from storage and unfolded when needed. Sit it on a kitchen table and cut out some ornaments, or hang it from the front door to engrave the house’s address. Who needs injection molded chrome plated numbers anyway?

It’s based around tubular ways, much like other 3D printed CNCs we’ve covered. The design’s portable nature gives it an inherently unstable design. However, given the design goals, this is reasonable. It uses timing belts, steppers, and ball bearings for its movement. The way the frame sits on the table it should deal with most routing tasks without needing adjustment to stay in plane with the surface it’s set-on. As long as you don’t need square edges.

There’s a video of it in operation after the break. We love these forays into unique CNC designs. We never know what new idea we’ll see next.

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Milling PCBs With An Off-The-Shelf CNC

There’s a lot of little things that can go wrong before you get great results out of a process. We like to read build logs to learn from the mistakes made. [Marc Liyanage] bought a Nomad CNC machine from Carbide3d, and after a bit of learning has gotten some very nice PCBs out of it.

The first trip up he encountered was not setting the design rules in EagleCAD to check for gaps too small for his router bit. After he sorted that, and worked around an issue with Carbide not supporting R values for curves; instead opting for IJK, he made a nice TQFP to DIP break out board.

The next board was a more complicated double-sided job. He cleverly had the machine drill two holes all the way through the PCB to give him a space for two alignment pins. Unfortunately this didn’t work out exactly as planned and he had a slight misalignment with some of the via holes. It looked alright and he began assembling. To his dismay, the clearances were off again. It was a bit of deja vu for us.

We’ve made lots of boards on a CNC machine, and can attest to the task’s finicky nature. It’s certainly quicker than the photoresist technique for boards with lots of little holes. It will take someone quite a few tries before they start having more successes than failures, but it’s very rewarding.

Trash Can CNC Gets a Stepper Upgrade

[HomoFaciens] is back at the bench again and working on improvements to his cheap and simple CNC machine.

The video below will no doubt remind you about previous versions of [HomoFaciens]’ CNC builds, which we’ve covered in depth. With an eye to spending as little as possible on his builds, most parts are recovered from e-waste, with a fair amount of Dumpster diving thrown in. For this upgrade, the salvaged brushed DC motors with their signature gap-toothed encoder disks are replaced with genuine bipolar steppers. The primary intention of his build is to learn (and teach) as much as possible, so he spends a good amount of time going over steppers and their control – how to determine phase wiring, how to wire up the not-salvaged-but-still-cheap drivers, directional control, and half-stepping. The mechanics are decidedly dodgy, but there are clever expedients aplenty – we especially like the oil cup fabricated from a brass tube and a bolt with a hole drilled in it. Everything just works, and the results to expense ratio is hard to beat.

While we appreciate the upgrades here, we’re still keen to see how junky his other trash can CNC can get. And we’re still waiting on the paper clip and cardboard challenge.

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CNC Scrapbooking with a Raspberry Pi

It is perhaps a surprise that the widespread adoption of CNC machinery in the home has not come from 3D printing or desktop mills, but as a quiet revolution in the crafting industry. CNC cutters for plastic or card have been around for quite a while now, and while the prospect of cutwork greetings cards might not set all maker pulses racing these cutters do have significant untapped potential in other directions. Perhaps you have to own a carburetor whose gaskets have been unavailable since the 1960s to truly appreciate that.

[James Muraca] has a KNK Force, something of an object of desire in the world of desktop CNC cutters. The computer inside the Force is a Raspberry Pi, so of course [James] set about investigating its potential for running his own software. His progress so far is on GitHub, a web interface through which you can upload and cut an SVG file, but his plans are more ambitious. He hopes to turn his machine into a complete PCB manufacturing station, able to both cut the PCB, and with the addition of a vacuum attachment to pick and place components.

The KNK Force is an interesting machine not just because it is powered by a Raspberry Pi. Its cutter head is a rotary tool with a Z axis, so it can perform more heavy-duty and complex cutting tasks than its competition. In addition it has a camera built-in, and it is this feature that [James] hopes to use in his PCB project.

We’ve covered plenty of cutter projects before, from projects turning CNC machines and pen plotters into vinyl cutters to using a cutter as a laser engraver and even cutting solder paste stencils with one. We look forward to further progress on [James’s] project.

Turn Your $10 Dollar Mouse Into A Fancy $10 Dollar Mouse With CNC

We feel it’s healthy to cultivate a general desire for more neat tools. That’s just one of the reasons we like [doublecloverleaf]’s retro PC mouse. It certainly meets the requirement, the first computer mouse was wooden, and the mouse he used as the guts for this is so retro it belongs in the dollar bin at the thrift store.

To begin with, [doublecloverleaf] took a picture of the footprint of his aged, but trustworthy laser mouse. Using the photo in SolidWorks he built a model of the circuit board, and with that digitized, a mouse that suited his aesthetics around it. The final model is available on GrabCAD.

Edit: Woops, looks like we accidentally slandered a great Slovenian community CNC project. Check out the comments for more info. Original text in italics. 

Next came the CNC. It looks like he’s using one of those Chinese 3040 mills that are popular right now. The electronics are no good, but if you luck out you can get a decent set of mechanics out of one. He did a two side milling operation on a wood block, using four small holes to align the gcode before each step, and then milled the bottom out of aluminum. Lastly, he milled the buttons out of aluminum as well, and turned a knurled scroll wheel on his lathe.
The end result looks exceedingly high end, and it would be a hard first guess to assume the internals were equivalent to a $10 Amazon house brand mouse.

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Teaching a CNC New Tricks

Computer Numeric Control technology has been around for a long time. It’s at the heart of our 3D printers, laser cutters / etchers and CNC milling machines. They all work the same way — you begin with a CAD program and make some type of design. Then the computer converts the file into a set of XYZ coordinates and moves a tool head accordingly. Now let us pose to ourselves a most interesting question. What if you reversed the process? What if you could take a CNC’d object and convert it into XYZ coordinates?

This is precisely what [dave] is attempting to do. He’s made a basic CNC outfit and installed encoders on the steppers. He then manually moves the tool head to trace out an object. At the same time, the encoders are feeding the coordinates to a computer for recording. The idea is to replay the coordinates to see if the CNC can replicate the object.

Judging from the video below, the project is a success!

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