Published February 03, 2012
Today we can present our next new big announcement for 2012, the How-To-Use article series. In this series we will write articles on how to use all sorts of hardware tools, digital tools, electronic tools and all sorts of tools. The first article series will be about building and using a Zen Toolworks 7x7 inch CNC machine.
We have the opportunity, thanks to Zen Toolworks, to present a very awesome tool that not many have been able to get until lately. These machines have become a lot cheaper and when it comes for just a few hundred bucks, it definitely is affordable. Well, for what you can do with it of course (sorry, can't do the dishes or the laundry, not yet at least).
So what is it we have on our testbench today?
We have the wonderful opportunity to try a CNC machine. You might have heard the name before, you might have seen one and you might even be one of those lucky people who own one.
There's a big chance that you don't even know what a CNC machine is and for you and all others as well, I'm going to give you what I know.
A CNC machine is a Computer Numerical Control and that certainly doesn't reveal right away what it is, so let's dig a little bit deeper. A CNC machine is simply said a computer controlled milling-drilling machine. It is controlled by the computer which sends simple commands for forward-backward and left-right.
These commands are what the software gets from a design that you've made beforehand in a graphical editor. Examples of graphic editors are Corel Draw, Photoshop and all other painting software that can provide some sort of 2D vector image to a post-processor.
The post-processor then converts the vector image to CNC toolpaths which then will be read by the actual CNC controlling software.
Post-processors could be Cut2D from Vectric for example and CNC controlling software might be either EMC2 which is free and for linux or Mach3 which is available for Windows. We will go through both Cut2D and Mach3 in coming CNC articles.
The CNC machine features, in this case, three axes which are named X, Y and Z. X and Y is simply right-left and forward-backward movement while Z is height movement.
Using a CNC machine with only two axes makes it very much 2D and you have to enter the workpiece in one end and run around and hopefully exit the same way.
You can't change the height and the carving paths will all look the same.
This might be difficult to grasp, but with a third axis, the Z, we can work like a regular drill press, drilling holes. Adding the X and Y axis we then have a 3D system. It is actually a 2.5D for having the X and Y axes for 2D and .5D for the Z axis.
For a complete 3D CNC system you need a rotating fourth axis which can turn your workpiece around.
So when having the Z axis together with the X and Y axes we both have forward-backward movement, left-right movement but also up and down which means we can work diagonally on the workpiece, creating slopes and smooth dips.
It's hard to explain, but when we get it all up and running, you'll hopefully see for yourself what we mean and you can then, if not already, realize all the potential uses a CNC machine have.
What this means for SweMOD
For SweMOD and the electronics section, this means we will be able to produce prototype circuit boards for our projects and it also means that we will be able to give away circuit boards to you, our readers, so you more easily and interactively can follow on and help us develop new fun products that not only you and us can have use for, but also grandma and all the others not interested in creating the products themselves, that they even though might find very useful.
On next page we'll take a look at the CNC kit we got sent to us from Zen Toolworks in USA.
Still don't know what we're talking about?
If you've read through all the above and still have no idea on what a CNC machine can do or what it is used for, I really recommend watching the following video, made by Zen Toolworks themselves.