My machine seems to be losing steps. What do I do?

Quite often, we hear from the customers that the multi axis machines like engraving, routing, CNC machines, and other similar type machines lose steps in the middle of a job. The evidences may be;
- Sudden and unpredictable move in either the X or Y axis in the middle of a job
- Big and unusual scratching sound
- Unnecessary moves in either X or the Y axis while the tool is going up or coming down in the Z axis
- Z axis unable to hold its positions in the up and down positions. Sometimes it is referred to as Z axis creep.

Following are some of the things to check out to get to the bottom of the problem or problems:

(1) If it happens repeatedly in the same area of the machine, check the part of the lead screw in X or Y axis, where the problem is occurring again and again, for damage, collection of dirt, and/or any obvious problems including wear and tear.

(2) It is always a good idea to check and tighten, if necessary, the couplers between step motors and the lead screws about every six months to a year based on the usage of the machine.

(3) It is always a good idea to check and adjust the anti-backlash nut in each of the axis periodically.

(4) Lubricate the machine on a regular basis. Some lead screws are coated. If they are, do not lubricate them. Simply, clean them.

(5) Check the acceleration in Motor Parameters tab of LinkMotion applet and try reducing the number for Toolhead Maximum Acceleration.

(6) Check and make sure that the tool used for the job is proper and sharp.

(7) Check the speed in Materials Properties and try reducing Job feed rate as well as move speed. Remember, job feed rate is the speed of the tool while it is engaged in the material. Move speed is when the tool is moving from one shape to the next and the tool is retracted. If either of the speeds is too high for the design of the machine, it could result in losing steps.

(8) Check and if necessary, increase the spindle speed to match with the feed rate and the density of the material under operation. If the spindle speed is not high enough, it may not cut the material properly while running at a relatively high feed rate and is likely to cause problems.

(9) If the problem seen is more prevalent when spindle motor is ON then it is possible that spindle motor is generating electrical noise (white noise of all frequencies) and could possibly be disturbing the step patterns for the axis movement. Certain spindle motors are notorious for causing these problems. Following are inexpensive solutions:
- Enclose the spindle motor in a metal casing to cut down on the white noise radiation.
- We recommend highly that the cables for step motors, spindle motor, and home switches be replaced with twisted and shielded pairs type cables to cut down on such noise problem. This is also an effective solution if the home switches show sensitivity to the noise.
- It is important to make sure that the shield of the cables shall be terminated at one end and not on both the ends.

The above mentioned simple steps may help to determine the source of problem. It may also save you unnecessary downtime and/or expensive repair.

For additional understanding, checking out our USB controller with LinkMotion driver software, and many of its advance features,
Call me at 781-449-7666
Send email at Sales@solustan.com
Further explore details of our products on our web site

Author:
Dhiren Shah, Director of Operations
Solustan, Inc.

Posted in CNC, Engraving, Laser | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Open architecture USB motion controller for application like engraving

Introduction

Engraving systems have come a long way. Today’s computerized rotary engraving machines and laser machines allow creation of high quality fonts combined with eye catching graphics. It feels like it was just yesterday when engravers used manual engraving machines.

Solustan invested years of experience dealing with CNC type machines. The problems of the systems were analyzed. The open architecture USB controller was designed while taking advantage of the technological advancements. The results were state of the art controller with better features at lower price. Read on . . . .

Technology continues to march forward. As always, newer technology creates new opportunities and new challenges. The inroads made by the laser machines in the world of engraving over the last ten or more years have been phenomenal.

Why laser engraving machines are successful?

There are many reasons for the success and acceptance of the laser machines in the engraving business. When laser machines were introduced to the engraving businesses, the machines were pricey. However, these machines captured the imagination of the user.

1. The laser machines were able to handle graphics with ease.

2. The quality of the output was high.

3. The speed of the total process from the design to the output was lot faster than rotary engraving machines.

4. Laser manufacturers started and stayed with open architecture. We will explore the open architecture later.

 

Why rotary engraving manufacturers fell on hard times?

Computerized rotary engraving was a significant step forward for the manufacturers of rotary engraving machines. The progress did not continue and limitations remained.

1. The manufacturers did not move to open architecture.

2. The quality of the fonts did not improve with time.

3. Handling of graphics and logos continued to be an obstacle.

4. Lack of compatibility between different proprietary design programs from the manufacturers remained a problem.

 

Open architecture

 

An open architecture is a system design that facilitates easy substution, additon, and subtraction of components of the system with minimum or no disruption to the usefulness of the system. A personal computer is a good example of an open architecture. Open architecture is generally based on agreed upon standards. Fosters innovations, reduces system pricing, expands market size, creates better solutions for the buyers, and everybody wins.

Enter Solustan, Inc.

Let us take a look at one such example of open architecture to see the benefits. Solustan, Inc. created a Virtual Controllers and provided many solutions over the years. The company set out to build the next generation of controllers.

The following decisions were made earlier:

1. The PC’s are plenty powerful and most of the controller work shall be done by the PC.

2. There was a new port in town. It was called USB. The older serial and parallel ports were fading. The future belonged to USB ports.

3. Keep the size and the price of the controller under control to increase the applicability of the solution.

4. Build the controller on the basis of a language that is most useful in the world of motion control and machine control.

5. Allow the user to generate the jobs in one of the many popular applications available on the PC.

6. Build minimum proprietary hardware in order to buy and maintain the total solution with ease.

The product is called LinkMotion USB. It appears to have met the goals.

Analyze LinkMotion USB

LinkMotion is a printer type driver compatible with Microsoft Windows XP operating system. Soon it will be offered on Windows 7 operating system. It is installed and feels like another printer driver within Windows architecture. However, it is shipped with a Systems Tray based applet with many useful functions for the machine control.

(1)   When you launch the Applet, immediately, a Control Pad shows up on the screen. This Control Pad replaces proprietary control panels offered by most machine controllers on the market. Control panels are required to jog the machine, command the machine to find the Home position, surface the tool to the material, check out the I/O’s, and other similar functions to prepare the machine to execute a job. Proprietary control panels add to the cost of the system. They are also expensive to maintain when things break.

Solustan decided to use the numeric keypad part of the extended PC keyboard as the Control Pad. If the keyboard breaks, it is an inexpensive replacement. The user does not need to call the manufacturer for repair, just a short trip to the local computer store. The Control Pad that shows up on the screen can be easily configured for English, Spanish, and International symbols.

The numeric keypads are separately available (wired and wireless) in the PC after market at a reasonable price and by many vendors. There is an interesting surprise coming up. In the very near future, Apple’s iPhones may be used to control the machines.

 

(2)   The USB controller is one of the tiniest 6 axis controller on the market. It connects to high speed USB 2.0 port for speedy transfer of jobs. The controller sports a SD memory card as the job storage area. One Giga Byte storage is available on SD memory card for a few dollars and can store up to about 1,000 minutes of a machine operation.

The controller can issue up to 75,000 steps per second for six axis.

The controller requires 5 VDC to operate and consumes about 30 to 40 ma during idle operation. It can consume up to 170 ma while driving all six step motor drivers. The controller is designed to be powered from either USB port of a PC or external 5 VDC. It has multiple I/O’s plus additional lines for home switches and emergency switch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1)   LinkMotion driver is tested with many popular applications and found to be working well in the vector mode. It was found to be working with Corel Draw, AutoCAD, DesignCAD, BobCAD, and even a $25 CAD program called Instant Engineer. A complete list of compatible applications for vector and raster work is available on Solustan’s web site. The idea is not to force the user to learn your program but allow the user to work with the program he/she is comfortable with. What can be more friendly?

Most of these programs are relatively less expensive. These programs are sold in volumes and are enhanced with new features all the time. There are user groups, trained professionals to provide necessary training, how to books, and web forums to help the user in many different ways.

Once a job is saved, it can be opened by newer versions of the program. Most programs offer many export functions. The user never feels locked into a proprietary situation.

The power of open architecture can be explained with the following real example:

A company in Chicago area has four offices. The jobs are manufactured in all four locations. The expertise for a popular program exists in the main office. All the jobs are designed in the main office and are emailed to the branches. Same type of machine set up exists at every branch. Operator opens the file along with the job order, sets up the material and executes the job. The job is ready for the customer to pick up.

(2)   Solustan decided to go with the M&G codes as the basic language for the design of the jobs. M&G codes are the most popular codes in the world of CNC (computerized Numeric Control) machines. The clever part of the design is the fact that even if the underlying language for job design is G codes, it is hidden from the users who do not care to know about it.

The process goes something like this. User is designing a job in a popular program like Corel Draw or AutoCAD. Once the job is ready to be sent to the machine, the job is “Printed” while LinkMotion is selected as the output device. LinkMotion analyzes the job and creates G codes on the PC. Next, the G codes are converted to motion commands using the power and memory of the PC processor. The motion commands are sent on the USB port to the USB controller. The controller starts the machine and processes the job.

On the other hand, if the user is knowledgeable in G codes and wanted to analyze the G codes and wanted to make changes, the file can be saved in G codes and edited using one of the available text editors provided by Microsoft as part of the Windows operating system.

The system is totally capable of accepting 3D G codes for true 3D processing.

 

Conclusion:

Open architecture is a win-win situation. Users benefit while suppliers of the systems benefit at the same time. Innovation is the answer. Solustan is very open to work with the manufacturers of machines and work toward creating better solutions at lower cost and expand markets.

 

For additional understanding, checking out our USB controller with LinkMotion driver software, and many of its advance features,
Call me at 781-449-7666
Send email at Sales@solustan.com
Further explore details of our products on our web site

Author:
Dhiren Shah, Director of Operations
Solustan, Inc.

 

Posted in CNC, Engraving | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why do G codes seem so complicated? It does not have to be. . . . . .

M & G codes, sometimes simply known as G codes, are the most popular command codes designed to handle numerically controlled (NC) machines used all over the world for manufacturing. Electronics Industry Association proposed a standard for a numeric control program for NC machines in the early 1960’s. It was approved as standard RS-274D in the year 1980.

The original standard dealt with mainframe computers generating punched paper tape. The tapes were presented to a paper tape reader attached to NC machine. Tapes were punched with G codes and the machine followed the G codes to create parts out of raw materials.

The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), a government agency of USA, adopted a variation of RS-274D called RS-274NGC for the Next Generation Controllers.

Solustan, Inc. went one step further to develop a solution with a simple user interface with user’s convenience in mind. It is a multi- purpose utility. It is called LinkCAM or LinkMotion for M&G codes.

 

1. Simple basics

First of all, let us understand some of the basics of the CNC lingo.

3D G codes – Sophisticated CAM programs generate 3D G codes to manage the movement of all three axis simultaneously to produce and cut out complicated shapes. To understand, design, and produce 3D output require training and understanding of the machinery, software, as well as the job at hand.

2.5D G codes – These G codes do manage all three axis. However, Z is in a fix position while X and Y are moving and vice versa. This is useful for simple cutting of the material to shapes, engraving, and other similar applications. Bring the tool to the surface of the material and continue to move into the material at a careful speed. Once the desired depth is achieved, keep the depth stationery and start moving X and Y axis in a coordinated fashion to achieve desired cut of the material. If the material is dense and depth is more than what a tool can handle comfortably, it is necessary to achieve the depth in multiple passes.

NC machine – numerically controlled machine

CNC – Computerized Numerically Controlled machine

Relative codes – All the codes are computed with dimensions relative to the values of the previous point. This method was popular and necessary when the computers were not very powerful. If an error is introduced during the machine operation, it will stay with the rest of the job.

Absolute codes – This is a better method to generate G codes and easily possible with today/s computers. Absolute positioning will allow recovering of the error during the manufacturing process.

G codes are typically motion commands.

M codes are typically I/O commands and program control commands.

There are many nuances of the CNC process. However, the above terms are sufficient to appreciate this article. Hopefully, this article will help you to plan your next acquisition of machinery to meet your needs.

 

2How is it done?

One of the basic question people ask is – We know programs like Corel Draw and AutoCAD. Corel Draw type graphic programs are easier to learn, less expensive and allows free form designs. However, these programs create flat files (i.e. Cartesian coordinates with X and Y axis) and have no control over tool moving up and down to perform cutting and/or operations. How do you achieve it with LinkMotion?

This is a very good question. The LinkMotion driver is provided in two parts. One part is a driver just like a printer driver. The other part is an applet that resides in the systems tray. The applet allows the settings of various parameters like feedrate, tool surfacing, tool lift and depth, multiple passes, dwell time, I/O’s, etc. The G codes are created with tool controls built into the job-processing file.

 

3. Generate G codes and save or edit them

LinkCAM or LinkMotion for M&G codes is a Microsoft Windows compatible driver. The driver is compatible with Win 7 32/64 bit, Win XP, and Win 2000.

Design job in one of the many CAD programs or Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator. Print the job using LinkMotion driver. The action of printing will create G codes. Save the G codes on hard disk for editing and future use including sending the job to a CNC machine for processing.

 

 

4. Generate G codes and send them directly to machine

LinkMotion does allow you to customize the creation of G codes including commands like,

G64 for trajectory planning

G81, 82, and 83 for drilling operations

M commands suitable to the controller for I/O controls

Pause commands

G53 through G59.3 commands for start offsets programming

Design your job in one of the many CAD programs or Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator. Print the job using LinkMotion driver and send the file directly to controller and machine using Windows spooler while connecting via serial, parallel, USB, or Ethernet ports

 

 

5. Send existing G code files to machine

User may have previously saved G code files. Also, user may have created 3D G codes in other CAM programs. LinkMotion will allow opening and sending these files to a port of choice where the CNC machine may have been connected to receive jobs.

Go to LinkMotion user interface and select a previously saved G code file from hard disk. Click OPEN the file and it will be sent to your controller and machine using Windows spooler while connecting via serial, parallel, USB, or Ethernet ports

 

 

 

6. Set up your drill patterns and Go

Drilling is one of the most basic but very important operations. Precision drilling helps assemble parts with ease. Printed circuit boards depend on precision drilling. With LinkMotion, it is truly easy.

 

 

7. Single click and Cut True Type font character in any language

All over the world, numbers and alphabets are required in local languages for signage and identification. All you need is a TrueType font for the local language. Simply, use the font to create a character in a graphic program for the size required. Generate the G codes with a single click and you are ready to manufacture from wood, plastic, metal, paper, cloth, and other materials.

 

 

 

G codes used to be black magic. There are G code experts who trained themselves to read G code files and visualized the final output from the machine. No need to do that anymore. Design your job in a simple graphic program in actual dimensions and ‘What you see is what you get’.

What should one ask before acquiring a program to create M&G codes?

  • Can I use the design program I know and own it already?
  • Minimum or no learning curve
  • Easy to use and easy to learn
  • No time consuming file transfers and conversions
  • Reasonable pricing and reliable product
  • Can I work with the PC I have?
  • Can I work with the Windows operating system I have?

LinkMotion is not an application that needs learning. It is a Windows compatible driver like a printer driver. It does its magic in the background after you send the job by clicking ‘Print’ command.
 
For additional understanding, checking out our LinkCAM driver software, and many of its advance features,
Call me at 781-449-7666
Send email at Sales@solustan.com
Further explore details of our products on our web site

Author:
Dhiren Shah, Director of Operations
Solustan, Inc.

Posted in G codes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment