I'm very excited to share a project I have been working on for the last couple of months. I started out trying to make a demo song for the NaV-1 synth but, I have a tendency to get carried away with things once I get into them. Soon I was adding more instruments here and there and before I knew it, my simple technical demo somehow turned into a full fledged album!
This new project is called TEKBRANE for
lack of a better name and I'm finishing up the final tweaks on the debut
album. This will be an experimental electronic music project that will
allow me to take my synths and various electric doodads out for a spin
and generally 'geek out' once in a while.
I made a suitably geeky trailer that you can check out below. More to come soon!
Wednesday, 20 November 2013
Building the Beast
Check out Part 1
Now we are getting somewhere! The time has finally come to turn the random pile of aluminum parts littering my shop floor into something that resembles a CNC router.
|Y-Axis coming together|
I started by paying a visit to the Forums at the XZero website. There I found a thread with photos and text detailing the assembly of the ViperXZ machine. I read through the procedure a couple of times so I could visualize the steps from start to finish. I find this helps to reduce the stupid mistakes that occur at the beginning of assembly, but are usually not discovered until you try to attach the final part.
|Easier than it looks!|
The remarkable thing about the assembly process was how NOT remarkable it turned out to be. The ViperXZ requires surprisingly few tools for assembly and all the parts are machined to make alignment almost foolproof. Overall, the basic assembly has been the easiest part of this project.
The only problem I discovered was a slight misalignment of the linear bearings on the Y-Axis. There are two sets of bearings that attach to the back plate of the Z-Axis. I found that when I tightened one set or the other, the y-axis operated smoothly. But when I tightened both sets of bearings, the assembly would bind slightly. The solution was to place a piece of blue tape on one of the bearings. This shimmed the assembly by a fraction of an inch an allowed the Y-Axis to run smoothly when tightened.
|Tape! - Is there nothing it can't fix?|
Overall, the assembly of the ViperXZ is a painless experience even if you are not the most mechanically inclined. A few Hex Wrenches and some patience are all that are required. Also, assembling the machine myself has really increased my knowledge of the workings of the system which will come in handy when it comes time for maintenance.
Thursday, 31 October 2013
A Leg To Stand On
Check out PART 1
So you have finally purchased your CNC machine and are anxious to slap it together, power it up, and start cutting. But before you touch the first bolt you have a very important decision to make...where are you going to put it, and what are you going to put it on?
This may seem like a trivial question considering the number of expensive decisions you have been forced to make to get to this point, but it is crucial to the overall stability and function of the machine.
CNC machines are heavy beasts with a lot of kinetic energy and love nothing more than trying to throw themselves around your shop. You need to provide a rock solid base not only for safety, but also accuracy. A wobbly base can actually effect the precision of your cuts.
Location also matters. It's a good idea to think about things like access to power outlets, dust collection, noise reduction, and accessibility for maintenance.
I considered many options when planning for my new CNC. I looked at plans for everything from wooden workbenches to welded steel tables. All I knew was that I wanted to do it right the first time.
While researching the XZero CNC machine I ultimately ended up buying, I noticed that they also sold some pre-fab corner brackets specifically designed to help make your own CNC stand. You just supply the steel in the size you require. The price of the brackets came to $120.
I bought some 2" x .100" HSS Square Tube Steel from a metal supplier and had them cut it to length. I needed the following pieces:
4 x 52" pieces for the length of the table
4 x 34" for the width
4 x 28" for the legs
The total came to just over $100 for the steel.
I clamped the brackets to each steel leg and drilled through it with my drill press and a 3/8" Milwaukee Cobalt Drill Bit (do not try to drill steel with a regular wood bit). This way I was able to correctly align the holes. I took it slow and used plenty of lubrication to keep the bit from dulling and in the end, I managed to complete the job with one bit.
|Cobalt Drill Bit - Strong enough for steel|
|Use cutting oil|
After the drilling, I primed the steel with Tremclad Grey Primer then gave it a coat of Tremclad Safety Blue - Professional Rust Paint. My neighbours must have thought I was getting into modern art.
The next step was to bolt the table together using 3/8" x 16 bolts, washers, and lock nuts.
Finally, I cut two pieces of 3/4" thick plywood for the tops and secured them with 3/8" carriage bolts.
This table is rock solid and does not move an inch when pushed so I am confident it will stand up to anything the CNC can throw at it.
Total cost for this little adventure:
XZero brackets - $120
Steel tube - $100
Bolts and hardware - $100
Plywood - $50
Cobalt Drill Bit - $12
Paint - $15
Check out Part 5 - Building the Beast
Sunday, 29 September 2013
The BIG Purchase!
Check out Part 1
This is the exciting part! After weeks of indecision and exhaustive research, I finally pulled the trigger on this major purchase.
After carefully examining all the CNC Routers that fit my needs and price range (see Part 2), I decided to go with the ViperXZ machine from XZero. My reasoning? After comparing the specs and prices of different CNC packages, the ViperXZ seemed to provide the most 'machine' for my CNC dollar. The parts are stronger, the linear bearings are of higher quality, and the whole machine just seems 'beefier'. Plus I could get a 30 x 48" table size which is larger than the other units in this price range.
The tradeoff is I will need to assemble the whole system from the ground up myself. This is not entirely a bad thing though as you really can't underestimate the knowledge gained from putting your hands on every nut and bolt of the machine. With this intimate understanding of how the pieces fit together, you will be much more confident when it comes time for repairs and upkeep.
When dealing with any small company, you need do your research to make sure they are actually legit and not some fly by night deal. Luckily, XZero is a regular poster on the CNC Zone forums so I was able to read many firsthand accounts from other owners. I emailed George (the owner) with a list of questions and he was nice enough to give me a call to discuss things. I also found out that George actually lives somewhat close to me which was a huge score! He was nice enough to deliver the parts to my house personally which saved me a ton of shipping expenses. He also made several additional trips to deliver some back ordered parts.
George made a good point in suggesting that I start out with a router and upgrade to a spindle later which makes sense. If I'm going to make any rookie mistakes, I would rather damage a $100 router than a $1500 Spindle. For this same reason he also suggested using a MDF tabletop for a while before installing the slotted aluminum one.
Costs so far
The package total came to $3600 and included the following:
- 30 x 48" CNC Router kit
- Router Mounting bracket
- Motors, Motor Drivers, and Power Supply
- 5 Proximity Sensors
- Aluminum T-Slot Tabletop
I purchased a Hitachi M12VC Router from Amazon for $130 delivered. I still need to buy software and a few more accessories to get things running.
All said and done, I am now the proud owner of a few thousand dollars worth of machined aluminum lying on my shop floor. A lot of work ahead! Stay tuned for Part 4
Tuesday, 27 August 2013
Demo, Review, & Building Tips
Time for a little fun! I recently picked up an Uzebox. What is that you ask? The Uzebox (pronounced use-box not ooze-box) is a DIY, open source, Video Game console based on a ATmega644 microcontroller. It comes with an memory card loaded with versions of some retro classics to get you playing right away. But that's only half the story. Since this console is completely open source, you can dive in and program your own games.
It comes in kit form ready for you to build and boasts the following specs:
CPU: ATmega644 microcontroller
Total RAM: 4K
Program Memory: 64K
Speed: 28.61818Mhz (Overclocked)
Colors: 256 simultaneous colors arranged in a 3:3:2 color space (Red:3 bits, Green:3 bits, Blue: 2 bits)
Resolution: Up to 360x224 pixels (tiles-only and tiles-and-sprites modes)
Sprites: Up to 32 simultaneous sprites on screen at any time
Video output: NTSC Composite and S-Video (Works without changes on most PAL/SECAM TVs)
Sound: 4 channels wavetable, 8-bit mono, mixed at ~15Khz and output via PWM
Inputs: Two NES/SNES compatible joypad inputs
Options: MIDI-in interface and s-video output
I purchased the kit from Adafruit at a price of $75 U.S and have been enjoying the retro-gaming goodness that oozes (no pun intended) from this little console. Be sure to pick up a 9-volt adapter and extra controller while you are there (not included in kit).
Watch the following video for details of the kit, building tips, and demos of the games.
Thursday, 25 July 2013
Check out Part 1
The world of CNC, once a tool only available to large industry, is now making its way into the basement shops of hobbyists in a big way. CNC manufacturers are scrambling to produce lower cost machines for this expanding market. The trick is to figure out the difference between 'low cost' and 'cheap'.
Hobby CNC is still a relatively niche market, and due to the complexity and cost of these systems, most users tend to be technically inclined folks who love spending hours fine-tuning an extra thousandth of an inch accuracy out of their machines. Because of this complexity, it is difficult for large tool manufactures to produce a 'Home Depot friendly' CNC solution. This has allowed a cottage industry of small manufacturers to spring up to fill the void. The products of these small shops will most likely not be reviewed in many mainstream publications so you will need to do a lot off digging to see if a given system meets your needs.
When shopping for your machine, you should have a clear idea of the type of work you need it to perform and a clearer idea of your budget. Then scour the internet for every last shred of information you can find. If you can find reviews from actual owners, all the better. When comparing prices, it is important to make a list of extra items you will need to buy to get things running. Sometimes a seemingly good deal will cost you more in the long run.
The Bottom Line
For my CNC router system, I came up with this list of requirements to help narrow down the field.
- I want to keep the budget at approximately $5000
- I want the size to be large enough to at least handle a full sized guitar or bass body
- I would like the machine to be somewhat upgradeable (Software, Cutting Tools, etc..)
So Many Choices
Here are some of the machines I have been looking at and the thought process I used when evaluating them:
-SHOPBOT Desktop - Shopbot
PROS: Shopbot is a well respected CNC manufacturer. I was hard pressed to find any negative reviews of their products. The also have a great support community. It is a robustly built machine using industrial grade parts. The machine comes mostly assembled and includes a specifically designed software suite which will allow the newbie to get up and running fast. The base model ($5000) comes with a router mount but can be upgraded to a industrial spindle for $1600 more.
CONS: First the size. The cutting area of the machine is 24" x 18" x 3" which may be a little small for some of the projects I have in mind. Then there is the cost. $5000 plus god knows how much extra shipping and duty to Canada is steep for a small desktop machine.
EXTRAS REQUIRED: Router $360, Control PC
-iCarver 40-915X - General Tool
PROS: This is another ready built - 'turn-key' solution which means I would be up and running quickly and at $4700, it just fits within my budget. The General Tool line is distributed by some local tool stores so I could pick this machine up avoiding shipping fees. It comes with a Spindle as standard and includes software. General tool is a reputable manufacturer so I am confident that service and support would be adequate.
CONS: The iCarver has a somewhat smaller work area at 15" x 20" x 4" which may make it unsuitable for my applications. The iCarver uses a Proprietary Control box instead of a external PC. The final g-code files are transferred to the box via USB memory stick and run from there. While his does make the setup easier, it seems like it would limit the flexibility that an external control PC provides. The construction of the machine seems to be geared towards light-duty hobby use and the spindle is limited to 1/4" bits. It is also not upgradeable if you wanted some better motors or spindle in the future.
EXTRAS REQUIRED: While the unit does come with ArtCAM Express as it's CAM software, it is a bare-bones version. ArtCAM allows you to buy extra modules to add functionality to their software. These modules range in price from $150 to $800 so you can see how the price can add up.
-CNC Shark Pro - Rockler
PROS: At $3800, this is one of the more affordable CNC packages out there. It comes with VCarve PRO and Cut 3D software which is a nice package that will handle most jobs. It boasts a 25" x 25" x 5" cutting capacity which is slightly larger than its competition.
CONS: No spindle option, it is designed for handheld router use only. Some of the earlier models were reported to suffer from inaccuracy due to frame flexing although I have heard that this may have been improved in later models. This is definitely a light duty machine. Rockler only ships this machine to the continental United States so international buyers will have to find another supplier.
EXTRAS REQUIRED: Router, Control PC
-Viper XZ - XZero CNC
PROS: XZero is a small local CNC builder in my area. I came across their products while reading some product reviews on the CNC Zone Forums. XZero seemes to favor over engineering their products using custom machined aluminum parts and high quality Thomson rails. This is one beefy machine for the price. The basic frame for their lower cost Viper model starts at $2400 for the smallest 30 x 24 x 6 inch footprint but can be sized up to 30 x 48 x 6 for an extra $350. It can be outfitted with mounting brackets for a Spindle or Router. At present, the Viper XZ comes included with 270oz motors, motor drivers, a 48V power supply, and a parallel port breakout card (I'm not sure if this is a limited time offer).
CONS: Since this is a true DIY kit machine, what you save on the initial purchase price you are going to pay for in sweat. You will also need to factor in the cost of software and miscellaneous extras to get a true cost estimate. Also, since this is a small company, long term support may be limited.
EXTRAS REQUIRED: All software, Router or Spindle, Control PC, hookup wire, cabling and miscellaneous.
Stay tuned for Part 3 - The big purchase!
Thursday, 4 July 2013
A bit of fun
I have been trying to get more familiar with Final Cut Pro X lately and for me, the best way to learn is to play. The product of my last session is this 'Music Video' for the song Callisto from my SoundCloud page. I made it by 'tastefully' applying some of the basic filters that come with Final Cut to some random video footage.
WARNING: Watching this video may induce seizures! Enjoy!