Tuesday, August 17, 2010

MACH3 endeavour

My Ubuntu OS based PC controller for my MechMate died...
After days of hair-pulling troubleshooting hours, the culprit was found to be the fried Thumb Drive I used as the main storage media... Now, that was a surprise... how often you hear of fried USB thumb drives...
The opportunity of an alternative motion control software arises.
From what I learnt, EMC2 & MACH3 are the two dominant controller software used in the CNC hobbyist community. Both has strong & huge community based support forums & free to download user developed plug-ins.
I took on EMC2 in the first place because it is a free software, not just it doesn't cost real money to own, it is also free from constrain when use.
Thanks to a donated Dell P4 machine with a licensed Window 2000, 1.6Ghz, 512Mb Ram, 20GB. & most importantly a LPT port.
I seize the opportunity & downloaded the Mac3 Trial version for the job.
This trial version is as much as the paid version (USD 175..) the only limitations are that it can take up to 500 command lines... & they limit the pulse rate to 25kHz. Still it is enough for trial cut with simple design but insufficient for complex engraving & carving works.
Setting up is a breeze with my prior experience with EMC2 under my belt.
I immediately rig up the much talked about Auto-Zero programme and scavenged a piece of blank PCB from my junk pile as the touch plate, soldered a thick gauge wire to it & connected to the free I/O ports on the breakout board. Down loaded the plug-in & again, everything worked seamlessly. It was a breeze, even monkeys can do it!
I the tried my luck with the Joystick HID setup, but unfortunately, the plug-in don't work in Win2K... #@!$@#~$!
There are lots of handy feature cramped into this package, it can generate G-code for table surfacing, Pocketing, Spiral cutting, Thread cutting... etc etc etc.. Many handy controls were on the screen & the screen is programmable... Learning curve isn't that steep too.
The down side is that the screen is really cramped with many feature that are not required...
My verdict?
If this is the first time for you with this PC based Motion Controlling Thingy... stick to MACH3...Everything you need for a beginner are there! Even those that you don't need... Its a no-brain-er... It even comes with a CAM programme call LazyCam...
BUT if you want more freedom over the program functionality, go for the EMC2 where the screen is Spartan & the user need to custom their own any additional features such as Auto Zero, Auto-Homing... etc which are also available for free download...

For now, (USD175 is still a lot of money for me...) I will spend more play time with this Mach3 Trial  program & when I decided to switch back to EMC2, I'll teach my EMC2 all the neat tricks in Mach3...

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