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.

Laser PCB Exposer Built From CD-ROM Drives

[Neumi] has built a CNC Laser using CD-ROM drives as the X and Y motion platforms. The small 405nm laser can engrave light materials like wood and foam. The coolest use demonstrated in the video is exposing pre-coated photo-resist PCBs.

With $61 US Dollars (55 Euro) for the Arduino, stepper drivers, and a laser in the project, [Nuemi] got a pretty capable machine after adding a few parts from the junk bin. He wanted to avoid using existing software in order to learn the concepts behind a laser engraver. In the end, he has a working software package which can send raster scans to an Arduino mega. The mega then controls the sync between the stepper and laser firings. The code is available on GitHub.

The machine can do a 30x30mm PCB in 10 minutes. It’s not about to set a record, but it’s cool and not at all bad for the price. You can see the failed PCBs lined up in the video from the initial tuning, but the final one produced a board very equivalent to the toner transfer method. Video after the break.

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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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Very Pretty Gimbal With Long Feature List

What can you do when you have a nice CNC machine, but build beautiful things like this 3-axis gimbal? We covered some of [Gal]’s work before, and he does not subscribe to the idea that hacks should look like hacks. If you’re going to spend hours and hours on something, why not make it better looking than anything you could buy off-the-shelf.

The camera is held stationary with three hollow shaft gimbal motors with low cogging. We weren’t aware of hollow shaft motors, but can think of lots of sensor mounts where such a motor could be used to make very compact and smooth sensor mounts instead of the usual hobby servo configuration. The brains are an off-the-shelf gimbal controller. The gimbal has a DB9 port at the back which handles charging of the internal LiPo batteries as well as giving him a place to input R/C signals for manual control.

The case is made from CNC’d wood and aluminum. There are lots of nice touches. For example, he added two buttons so he could fine tune the pitch of the gimbal. Each button is individually engraved with an up/down arrow.

[Gal] reverse engineered the connector on Garmin action camera he’s using so he can keep it powered, stream video, or add an external mic. Next he built a custom 5.8Ghz video transmitter based on a Boscam module. The transmitter connects to the DB9 charging port on the gimbal.

It’s very cool when someone builds something for themselves that’s far beyond anything they could buy. A few videos of it in operation after the break.

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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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Kicking The Tires Before You Buy: 3d Printers

So you’re looking to buy your first 3D printer, and your index finger is quivering over that 300 US Dollar printer on Amazon.com. Stop! You’re about to have a bad time. 3D printing has come a long way, but most 3D printers are designed through witchcraft, legends, and tall tales rather than any rigorous engineering process. I would say most 3D printer designs are either just plain bad, or designed by a team of Chinese engineers applying all their ingenuity to cost cutting. There are a few that are well designed, and there is a comparatively higher price tag attached.

I’ll start by going through some of the myths and legends that show up in 3D printers. After that I’ll go through some of the common, mostly gimmick, features that typically hinder your printer’s ability, rather than adding any useful function. Next I’ll go onto the things that will actually make your printer better. Finally, I’ll add some special consideration if you’re a beginner buying your first printer.

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