That picture about sums up what my past few weeks have been like in the basement, which all stemmed from upgrading to my new CNC machine. Never has one event lead to such a pain in the ass chain of events that have ended up costing me a hard drive, hundreds of dollars, countless hours of lost time and a complete shake-up of a system I had down pat and knew my way around. So let’s explain how my month went with a list of noteworthy events.
Event 1: The New CNC Machine Arrives
Now it goes without saying that any new machine you bring into your shop is going to take some time to arrange and set up properly. This was certainly the case with my new machine as it was about 4 times the size of the old one and had a couple components that the other one didn’t all which required space. So I had to do some hard remolding of the space set aside to accommodate. That was fine, I knew that was coming and was ready for it. Within a week I had the whole set-up ready and was getting ready for some test cuts.
Event 2: The New CNC Machine Get’s An Upgrade
It was soon after though, I realized that the stock machine really was not equipped the way that I wanted it to be, i.e. I was having trouble getting the machine calibrated properly and went searching online for answers. Long story short, after much conversing with the forums and You Tube users, I decided to upgrade my Stepper Drivers to make the machine cut smoother and be more reliable that the stock version. That was the plan. So after shelling out $140 for the new stepper drivers and spending another week wiring and re-positioning the configuration of the physical control box, my machine ended up completely dead.
Event 3: The New Upgrade Needs an Upgrade To Work
This is where I started to get really pissed. Why weren’t they working? Well, as it turned out, the stepper drivers I put into the control box required a different interface between what I was using before (a 25 pin parallel port) and what they needed to interface with the computer. I was going to have to get a USB converter so the stepper signals could be powered via 5v USB connection. This converter (a UC100) cost $120. I shelled out the cash for that, hooked it up and installed the driver software…and guess what. My G-Code software which I had been using with my old system was too outdated to be compatible with the USB converter. Soooo….
Event 4. The Software Upgrade to the Hardware Upgrade for the Machine Upgrade
Are you seeing a pattern yet? Basically it’s been in the form of a giant middle finger waiting for me at every step of this process. The fortunate part about this upgrade though is that the software the converter needed was a free upgrade, or at least I could get by with the trial version. This new version of Mach3 was about 15 releases ahead of what I was using, but all seemed to be well and good. The program was compatible with the interface, and I could jog my machine so from a functional stand point, everything was in at least working order, though not dialed in. But it was time for a test, so I prepared a .dxf file for cutting, opened the new version of Mach3 to import it and oh, sorry, that import feature which was the key to my whole CNCing operation was no longer a part of program. No, now instead of Mach3 being a simple editor for G-code, i.e. being able to program your layer order, feed rates, depths and spindle speeds, it was now only a g-code reader that you had to load up a .tap file with all that already pre programmed. So yes, you guessed it, I needed yet another piece of software to take my .dxf file and turn them into usable .tap file.
Event 5. The Software Addition to the Software Upgrade
By this point, my head is feeling like it’s going to explode. I mean how many f’ing things am I going to have to buy and relearn to use this thing? Oh but the deal got so much sweeter like a when a carton of milk goes sour and you take a giant swig. The 2.5 axis drawing programs are plenty out there. Some are free which have decent features, some are professional with far more than I’d ever use and some meet in the middle. The program that I found to be the most intuitive to me was one called Sheetcam TNG. This worked very similar to my old 2D Design program I used to use, but this was designed for CAM applications and I quickly fell in love with its features and ease of use. Problem was, the full version was $110, another chunk of change I was getting liberated of. So I bit the bullet, paid for the license and…paypal confirms you have just paid soandso $165USD…wait WHAT?! Son of a bitch…it was 110 Pounds (GBP). OK whatever, I’m done even being mad about this anymore.
Event 6. The Meltdown
With everything that had happened within that month, it finally looked like everything was all in a line and all I was going to need to do was do some fine tuning to get my machine to function smoothly and accurately. But the fates were again kind to someone else and a total bitch to me, and as I was about ready to install the license file for Sheetcam on my main computer, (the one that controls my 3D printer and is pretty much my life line) the screen made a blink…then another blink, then a great big hue of blue flooded my office, with the pale white words of “Fatal Error” overlaying my monitor….no no no, please no.
Event 7. “Thank you for calling Dell Tech Support, my name is Allen, how may I help you?”
First off, your name is not fucking Allen!!! Second, though I have nothing but praise for the tech support that helped me out, the results ended up being something I could have done myslef if they still shipped backup copies of the OS. But, the back story goes that whatever happened to my computer, it wiped out my OS completely. So after spending a couple hours running diagnostics on the hardware in the machine, it was determined to be a software issue and because my machine was past it’s 1 year warranty, guess what. I needed to purchase a software contract to get the system software so I could bring my system back to life. A $240 software contract. Somehow FML just didn’t do how I was feeling much justice and I was soon FMLing my afterlife as well.
Event 8. The SSD Upgrade
Because we couldn’t be sure at the time if I’d be able to salvage the data on my drive that went down, I decided that it would make more sense get a new Solid State drive to replace my main drive for a fresh install. May as well point out that was $100. Turns out this was the right move because as it was later discovered, my main drive was more or less failing because of a mechanical issue….which really really sucks because if all that data is gone…I don’t even want to think of it. I mean most of my work files and all my CAD/CAM and modding stuff is all saved and backed up on Google Drive so that is secure, but my pictures, my iTunes, my videos were all on the main drive because my back-up drive had crashed a few months before and I was still extracting the raw data and going through that. So the HD has been sent to a professional to see if I can get that recovered which I hoping works. So here I was with a fresh install and all the windows updates and drivers installed. Time to install my most important program, Solidworks. We’re sorry, Solidworks has encountered an installation error and has to close.
Event 9. The Reboot of the Reboot
How can this be? It fucking worked perfectly before, why in the holy hell would it not work on a clean install? Well as it turns out, after hours (and I mean hours upon hours total with this computer meltdown alone) I had to format my new drive and reinstall the OS and before uploading any of the new Windows updates, then install the program. This worked and the process of updates and reinstalling all the software programs started again.
So this has been my month and if I had gotten to Event 10 I’m sure I would have had a mental break down, all because I wanted to “Upgrade” my set-up. I haven’t had the heart or want to tally up the total losses this one event has cost me, but for everything that has gone into this, I better get the best work of my life out of it. This has taken me to a whole new level of frustration and pain out of one of the things that kept me sane and brought me joy (aside from baby and wife). I suppose though seeing what I persevered through does show a devotion and love for the work I do, so hopefully in the near future it will pay off.
I still haven’t got the settings perfect on my machine and I probably have at least 1 more upgrade to go before I get it there, but I think I’m over the hump and within the next couple of weeks I’ll have had a few successful tests that I can regain my confidence. But if I have to endure something like this again, there will be a big fire sale in Bradford for anyone interested.