Mar 31 2016

maintaining your CNC machine

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maintaining your CNC machine

CNC machine is not different that requires maintenance to keep running properly and a CNC machine is not different. Before you get to work remember to take some simple safety precautions for your machine. Use safety goggles to protect your eyes and wear shoes that are resistant to oil to avoid slipping. In addition to oil make sure your area is clear of chips and coolant spills as they can trip you just as easily. Small or hanging pieces of equipment, such as coolant hoses, can also cause tripping so watch out for those too. Avoid wear long sleeves, ties or any other loose clothes that could get caught in cnc machine. If you have long hair tie it back or wear a hair net for the same reason. Make sure that cutting tools, holders and any other part of the machine that can move has been tightened securely before moving anything. The power to your cnc machine should be off at all times while maintaining or repairing your machine. If for some reason you must have the power on while working use extreme caution.

CNC machine(maintaining)

CNC Machine(maintaining)

Once the general area and you yourself have been made safe do a safety check on your machine itself before starting maintenance. Check the voltage and current, clamping stocks and clamping devices and the oil levels of the lubricant and hydraulic tanks of your machine. After checking the machine over clean anything that does not meet satisfactory conditions. Also check the main pressure and clamping pressure of the hydraulic/pneumatic system. If necessary apply lubricant to the clamping device. Job the slides around a bit to check the sliding movement. Make sure the lubricant and coolant systems are working properly and can distribute fluid (or whatever it is you use) to the machine.

cnc machine

CNC Machine spindles

Many of the potential problems that can plague you and your CNC machine can be avoided with a bit of preventive maintenance. Keeping the machine clean, as we have already discussed, is a huge part of preventive maintenance. If you clean your cnc machine semi-frequently it can take a while to complete each cleaning. However, if you perform a cleaning each time you use your cnc machine it should only take you a few minutes each time. Regular cleaning not only keeps your machine in tip-top shape but also prevents rusting or other discoloration. Spending a little time to wipe your cnc machine down with a rag soaked in kerosene or clear mineral oil is well worth those few minutes in the long run. When you are cleaning you should never use cleaning compounds; the abrasion from cleaning compounds can ruin the finish on your cnc machine. You should also not use any kind of air system when cleaning. The pressure from an air system can drive chips, dirt and other residue into bearing surfaces.
Maintenance can (and often should) be followed at regular intervals. Different types of maintenance(maintaining) are best for your cnc machine performed after a certain amount of time. For every 8 hours your cnc machine is run, clean the slideways and check the slideway lubrication and the hydraulic oil reservoir levels. Every 40 hours you should give your cnc machine a cleaning, as described in the above paragraphs. After 160 hours your cnc machine oil filters need to be cleaned. You should also check the air tight seal on the electronic cabinet and make sure nothing has gotten inside. The screws on your terminal boards and relays can also be checked for tightness at this point. Once you have exceeded 1000 hours of operation with your cnc machine check over the drive motor belts for wear, tension and deterioration. Clean and wash all the way wipers and check their wear as well. Your hydraulic oil reservoir will likely need to be changed out so drain it, flush it and refill it with fresh oil. Follow these basic guidelines will make your machine last a lot longer. Plus the time and money you save on a little maintenance will be much less than what a big repair or a whole new machine would cost you.

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Mar 24 2016

CNC Routers vs CNC Milling

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CNC Routers vs CNC Milling

CNC Routers vs CNC Milling

CNC machines with a 3 Axis set-up are usually routers or mills. While both machines are similar in principle they are used for two very different purposes, resulting in them being constructed fairly differently. This article will give you a brief analysis on the difference between the two machines.

CNC Router vs CNC Milling

CNC Router and CNC milling

CNC routers are commonly used to cut soft materials like wood, foam and plastic. With the right know-how a CNC router can even cut aluminum and other soft metals. Because the materials being cut are soft CNC routers are built fairly lightly. A small CNC router can weigh several hundred pounds but that is very light compared to larger routers and mills. The soft materials cut on a CNC router tend to come in large sheets so CNC routers have big cutting surfaces but a small z-axis. Cut and jog rates tend to be high due to the large area that needs to be covered during the cutting process. For example, some routers are capable of jogging at 12 inches per second. On average a CNC router will cut four to eight times faster than a CNC mill. CNC routers can operate at 25,000 to 30,000 RPMs at high speed while a CNC mill will have a speed 3000 to 5000 RPMs when cutting quickly. The trade-off of a router is accuracy. Due to the high speeds a router cuts at there is not as much accuracy as you would get when using a mill. Usually soft materials do not need to be precisely cut to a 1/1000 of an inch so it should not raise any issues in most cases. CNC routers can be fit with a router or a spindle as a cutting tool.

CNC Routers vs CNC Milling

CNC router

CNC mills are beasts compared to routers. They are built to cut hard materials and that can mean anything from aluminum to titanium. CNC mills are often used to create (or mill) machine parts so they are incredibly accurate when cutting. The average mill is accurate down to 1/1000 of an inch, if not even more accurate than that. A CNC mill can cut with such accuracy because they are made with extremely hard materials, such as die cast iron, that will not flex under any load you put on them. This makes CNC mills many times heavier than CNC routers. A large CNC router can weigh upwards of 15,000 lbs. while a CNC mill that is just as big can weigh 90,000 lbs. Hard materials need to be cut at much slower speeds than soft materials so CNC mills do have a much slower jog speed than CNC routers. CNC mills use spindles like CNC routers can but they do not use routers since spindles work better than routers at lower RPMs. CNC mills can be used for routing but tend not to work as well as a dedicated CNC router. They also have a much larger z-axis than CNC routers because they are often used in conjunction with a rotary indexer. CNC mills are significantly more expensive than CNC routers of equal size and usually have a smaller cutting area than their similar sized CNC router counterparts as well. Any CNC mill with an area larger than 2×2 feet can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. CNC mills can be built to handle different types of materials (horizontal, vertical, multi-axis, etc.) as opposed to a CNC router designed to handle sheet materials. CNC mill manufacturers often sell their machines with different spindle options depending on what kind of material you intend to mill.


Mar 21 2016

Easter projects with CNC

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Easter projects with CNC

Holiday projects are fun and give you an opportunity to work with ideas that you would probably not think of otherwise. Regardless of what kind of CNC machine and what types of materials you have to work with there are dozens of different projects you can work on for the holidays(easter). Even though you are working within a specific theme the number of different projects you can come up with will be practically endless with a bit of creativity.

Easter projects with cnc machine

easter projects

Many hobbyists work with CNC routers so we will start with projects that can be made with those. One of the easiest things to do is to take a simple project and just make it Easter themed. If you are used to make signs you could make one that says “Happy Easter” with a picture of a bunny or a decorative egg carved into it. Alternatively you could only carve text into the sign but shape it so that it looks like a bunny, egg or some other Easter related object. Hobbyists who are more interested in 3D objects could create a small statue or figurine that is made to look like a rabbit. You could even combine these two projects by making a bunny who is holding a sign or who is wearing one around its neck like a necklace. Depending on the style you want the pieces to match you could make the bunnies realistic looking or give them a cartoonish motif to entertain children.

Easter egg projects

Easter egg projects

Kids love going on egg hunts and you could make some eggs of your own instead of buying the cheap plastic ones from the store. Making an egg from wood is easy on a router but other machines that are more suited to harder materials could use aluminum or another light metal. You can carve decorations into the eggs in lieu of dying them like real eggs or you could apply paint like you would traditionally do. With metal eggs paint may be better to use than carving techniques; you do not want the bright, shiny metal eggs to be too easy for the children to find. Aside from eggs themselves you could make egg baskets for the kids to put their collected eggs in.
Other toys and games for children can also be used to entertain children. These are other types of projects that should not be totally new to a lot of hobbyists; they will just be adjusted to match the theme of Easter. You could make a puzzle that features the Easter Bunny or toys that resemble eggs, peeps or other Easter themes. Even if you do not use a theme that is specifically Easter related you can still use a CNC machine to make goodies that can be used on Easter. Making more generic items for children is fine because they can still be used as gifts or egg hunt prizes. This can be a good thing to do if you want to make items yourself but do not have time to design and program any projects that are more Easter themed.
Many of the ideas expressed in this article can be applied to other holidays as well. On Halloween you could make a sign shaped like a bat and around Christmas you can create puzzles that are shaped like pine trees or snowmen. If you are going to put up decorations for the holidays why not make decorations that represent your favorite parts of those holidays. Hobbyists who always liked egg hunts can capitalize on egg decorations while fans of the Easter


Mar 17 2016

PCB Making with a Low End CNC Mill

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PCB Making with a Low End CNC Mill

Generally you have two options when you need to get your hands on a custom PCB. One is makes it yourself using etchant. This can be tricky to do since chemicals are messy, potentially toxic and can be difficult to acquire depending on where you live. Another is to pay a professional company to do the job for you. While this option is not terribly expensive it can take a few weeks for you PCB to get to you and no one wants to wait that long. Making the PCB yourself on a mill is a quick way to make the item yourself without messing with chemicals.

Making PCB with a CNC Mill

Making PCB with a CNC Mill

Like any special project, milling your own PCB has upsides and downsides. On the positive side of things this is a very fast project and you do not have to handle chemicals. The mill does the drilling so things should remain relatively error free and even if they do not all you have to buy are blank circuit boards, which are fairly cheap. Once you have your board made you can also make duplicates if you need more than one. However, you should also be aware of the project’s negative aspects before you decide to jump into it. The actual process of milling the board can take a while to complete, tying up your machine if you need it for other things. The project is also going to be very messy; expect to clean up a lot of pieces and copper clad fiberglass. Doing this work yourself will cause some wear to your bits and other tools and those things are expensive when they need replacing. Most of the negative aspects are things you would have to worry about anyway with any milling project so do not get too detracted by the potential downsides of this project.

Making PCBs with CNC Mill

Making PCBs with CNC Mill

This project will require you to have the same basic tools that you would use for a regular CNC milling project. A mill (obviously), CAD/CAM software and so on and so forth; additionally you will need the G-code for this particular project, a 30 degree V-shaped engraving bit and some carbide PCB drill bits (any random surplus bits should work fine). The V-shaped bit is going to be the trickiest thing that you are going to have to mess with. You are going to want very small and very clean lines to be etched while you are milling. A V-shaped bit is going to widen the cut it makes as you cut deeper. It may take a little trial and error before you find the ideal cutting depth to use with this project.
There are a few things that can go wrong while you work on this. If your V-shaped bit is too dull your cuts will be wider than you intended. You may also need to lower the Z height in order to cut at all with a dull bit. Using wide traces when designing your board can be a good safety net so that sloppy work does not result in too bad of a problem. Beyond that you just need to remember to follow basic rules of working with a CNC mill. Wear safety google or some other form of eye protection at all times, do not leave the room while the machine is running and all of that good stuff. This project is not terribly complicated compared to some of the other things you can do on a CNC mill so you should not run into too much difficulty.


Mar 10 2016

Cardboard Cutting with CNC machine

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Cardboard Cutting with CNC machine

At a glance you would not think that cutting cardboard would be a very challenging task. Cardboard is not a hard material like metal so how difficult can cutting it be, right? While cardboard is not the hardest material out there it is rigid and can be just as sturdy as any other man-made material. These days there are even companies that make furniture out of it. Now you could use a pair of scissors or a utility knife to cut the material but who wants to do manual work like that when there is a CNC machine option available. There are two major options for cutting it with a CNC machine, using a drag knife or a laser cutter.

CNC machine cardboard cutting

Cutting cardboard with cnc machine

Cardboard cuts differently from most other materials that you can work with on a CNC machine so average tools like bits do not get the job done. This is where the drag knife comes into play, being about to make the smooth cuts required to work with cardboard without wrecking the material. Before you do anything else, turn off the power to your spindle. You do not want your drag knife to spin; the knife must remain in a stationary position while it is making cuts (it is called a “drag” knife, not “spinning” knife, for a reason). Because the knife does not spin at all you will have to turn it yourself to realign the cutting edge when you want the cutter to move in a new direction. If you are used to working with bits or similar tools that can turn on their own be sure to remind yourself about the drag knifes limitations when you are programming your code. You are also going to need a way to hold the cardboard down very tightly but do not use a vacuum system. If a vacuum is used air will be pulled through the cardboard and the pressure will make cutting more difficult. Not every user will be adapting a CNC machine they already have for cutting cardboard, in which case you could purchase and use a paper cutter for this type of project. Most paper cutters are inexpensive but they tend to limit the size of cardboard you can work with and are often ineffective at cutting thicker cardboard.

CNC machine cardboard

Cutting Cardboard with cnc machine

Laser cutters are easier to cut cardboard with and are more effective than drag knives. Adjusting the cutting power on a laser is simple; all you have to do is change the power settings to alter the intensity of the laser whereas with drag knives you would have to buy multiple knives of various sizes or fine tune your machine to make small cuts very carefully. Laser cutters also leave a nice, crisp edge along the cuts they make. Additionally, since lasers do not put any physical pressure on your material you do not need the keep the material held down as tightly as you do when using a drag knife. While lasers perform much better the big downside is their cost. Be prepared for a hefty price tag; if you do not need a laser cutter long term or if you want to test one out to make sure you like the results try renting one before you commit to buying a pricey CNC machine.
There are other methods to cutting cardboard with CNC machine besides using a drag knife or laser cutter but many of the other methods do not work as well, are only suited for thin cardboard and are less common than using either of these techniques. While your budget may limit what method you can use for the job you should still be able to get your task accomplished as long as you know what you are doing and have a little creativity.