When I lent my services to a collegue who was working on a film about 12 years ago, I was introduced to the world of cnc. I remember watching this huge machining centre milling out a slab of mdf and turning it into a fantastic set of gears. I knew that it would have taken me hours to achieve the same thing with traditional power tools. I decided then that I would invest in a cnc router for my own business Oxenham Design. At that time I could turn on a computer, but even to check email seemed like a crazy set of operations. I persevered and learned every piece of relevant software I could get my hands on. I am now fortunate enough to be using Vectric's ASPIRE software, and Techno cnc routers, which has helped us to create some amazing projects, both in part, or in full. I thought that this blog would be a great place to share "behind the scenes" adventures with the software, materials and equipment we use, as well as the projects we build.
Friday, 8 April 2011
Techno cnc routers
I thought that for this post, I would take a few moments to discuss the single most important tool in our shop, as our next few jobs are still at the early computer stage. When I started using cnc routers, I had no idea the creative potential I could unleash. I had very little computer experience, and I thought vectors and .STL must have been some kind of government agency!
At that time, Aspire software wasn't available. I had bought a used camtech router which was cable and chain driven(that's right, you heard me) and the pc (win98) came with a copy of Artcam 5. The machine software was running in a DOS shell and was VERY limited by today's standards. None the less, I was very happy at the time. I think I paid $2500 for it. The cost was the only reason I was able to move to automation at the time. I had no tech support, as the machine was out of date, and the cost to upgrade the mechanics was WAY out of reach. I learned quite a lot about this new world on that machine, but as time moved on, It became apparent I needed faster cut times. That machine had some seriously under-powered stepper motors on it. Not that steppers are bad by any stretch, I have heard of steppers that can shear a 3/8" cutter off without stopping. But UNDER powered steppers gave me a world of grief. I then actually found another used camtech machine, fairly well priced, that I purchased as well. Being that I already knew how to use our first machine, having a second one that ran the same control software meant no steep learning curve....again! I ran both those machines for about 2 years. One was 4X8 and the other was 5X10. Needless to say, that's a huge amount of real estate to lose. As more and more work started to arrive, I found that 2 under powered machines were not going to cut it. Secretly, I wouldn't take some jobs on, as I couldn't count on their accuracy. If you compound under powered machinery with an open loop stepper configuration, the combination can be disastrous. I sometimes would let those machines run when I went for lunch, and would come back to a pile of lost steps, parts cut through other parts, etc. Time was another factor. It took our one machine 10 hours to 3d machine a sci-fi machine gun out of MDF.
And that was just one side. Still though, it was faster than doing it by hand. Those machines did carve a lot of great stuff though:) As time went on, I knew if I wanted to stay in the cnc business, I HAD to upgrade. I spent hours online looking at new machinery, I would attend woodworking and sign shows, learning all about what was out there. I finally decided to go with a Techno cnc router. I chose them for a multitude of reasons. Largely for the closed loop servo motors. In a closed loop system, the servo motors are always talking to the computer, letting it know where they are at all times, and correcting any errors on the fly. The other is the LIFETIME support. I bought my machine used from a fabrication company. Even though it was a used product, I have received software and firmware upgrades for free, as well as unparalleled tech support. I used to read on some forums (after I bought my machine) that Techno's tech support was terrible, I have from day one never found this. In fact I have Mike from Techno (i think that "from Techno" might even be his last name) in my cell phone speed dial, just in case I need help. Our Techno has run miles of cuts, quite literally. I do a small amount of maintenance, like lubrication and cleaning, and that's it. Compared to our last 2 machines, the maintenance is minimal at best. I will, at a later time, answer some questions and myths regarding cnc routers. But for now I need to finish drawing up our up-coming projects.
Oh yeah, That same sci-fi gun, cut on our Techno took 45 min. a side to machine. Which means that our Techno can outrun the old stepper machine by making 13 full guns to 1. With that ratio, you can see what makes sense!