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CNC Mill

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Here at Beatty Robotics, my daughters and I enjoy making robots. Of course, to make robots, you need good parts. We started out cobbling parts together from old stuff we had laying around, and of course we’ve purchased many components, but more and more, we wanted to make our own metal parts. We started out using hand tools and power tools (and we still use these), but it’s difficult to make precise parts, so we built a 3-axis CNC mill.

The components of the CNC include:

  • A custom computer and electronics enclosure that we built from aluminum and acrylic (and equiped with plenty of temperature sensors, a digital fan controller, and blue glowing fans!)
  • The innards of an LCD flat panel that we “liberated” from entrapment (better known as a case) and bolted to the wall.
  • What seems like miles of shielded cable protected in stainless steel sheathing.
  • A 220 volt, 3-phase Variable Frequency Drive (VFD)(gray box bolted to wall above) that powers the CNC’s main spindle
  • A 1.5kw water-cooled, high-speed / high-precision spindle (24,000 RPM).
  • A 24″ aluminum cooling tower (just below the VFD)
  • A 3-axis gantry system driven by Stepper Motors and precision ball screws
  • A large, T-Slot work table with acrylic sides for chip containment
  • Emergency Stop button box (front with red button) and manual control dongle (black)

It took a long time to put it all together and get it all working, but it’s been a labor of love and one of our favorite projects so far. We’ve provided some more pictures below, as well as some of our first test parts to see what we could do with it.

We designed and built this custom computer and controller box, including a custom enclosure. This box contains the motherboard, SSD hard drive, memory, fans, power supply, fan controller, stepper motor drivers, and all the other components of the CNC control system. We mounted it on the wall behind the CNC itself.

Machining a sign plate: From left to right: The CAD drawing displayed on SolidWorks CAD station, the CNC computer/controller (the blue glowing box), the CNC screen, the VFD spindle controller (with red digital read out), the cooling tower, and the CNC itself (on the right) with the part being machined.

Machining a sign plate: From left to right: The CAD drawing displayed on SolidWorks CAD station, the CNC computer/controller (the blue glowing box), the CNC screen, the VFD spindle controller (with red digital read out), the cooling tower, and the CNC itself (on the right) with the part being machined.

One of our first CNC projects was to mill this interesting abstract pattern into a solid block of aluminum. This pattern is known as a Turner’s Cube.

Apprentice Machinist #1

A close up of our Turner’s Cube. It’s not perfect, but it was a good start! :)

Our very first CNC project was to cut, drill, and engrave this top plate for this techno-steampunk tank.

A plaque in honor of our dog that had passed away

A base plate with a hole pattern (for the Telegraph project we’re working on). We machined one out of copper and one out of brass.

A custom dashboard console machined out of solid cherry on the CNC for an electric car.

The custom cherry center console machined on the CNC for an electric car.

We ran into a particular challenge when it came time to build the mast. In the end, we decided to design and machine a custom servo plate using the CNC. The top of the plate will hold the pan servo. The bottom of the plate will hold the shaft tube (using a circular slot).

We ran into a particular challenge when it came time to build the mast. In the end, we decided to design and machine a custom servo plate using the CNC. The top of the plate will hold the pan servo. The bottom of the plate will hold the shaft tube (using a circular slot).

In this picture, you can see that the fan control system displays the rpm speed of each fan and allows you to adjust it. It also displays the temperature of the corresponding sensor. We’ve attached the sensors of the microprocessor heat sink, the RAM, and the other critical components.

The CNC required extensive electronics, wiring, and soldering

When we were building the CNC we often joked that it would have been convenient to have a CNC to build our CNC. It's hard to be precise without one. One of the techniques we used was to print out the pattern on our laser printer, tape it to the aluminum plate, then start manually cutting and drilling.

When we were building the CNC we often joked that it would have been convenient to have a CNC to build our CNC. It’s hard to be precise without one. One of the techniques we used was to print out cutting and drilling patterns on our laser printer, tape it to the aluminum plate, then do the necessary work.

One of the sub-systems of the CNC partially assembled.

One of the sub-systems of the CNC partially assembled.

Building the CNC required extensive planning, but there was also a lot of trial and error. We tried three stepper motor controllers before we found the right one that worked perfectly for our needs. We also tried three different spindles (all of which worked, but weren't as good as we wanted) before we settled on the final solution, which is powerful, quiet, and precise. We love it. This spindle is a 220 volt, water-cooled joy to use.

Building the CNC required extensive planning, but there was also a lot of trial and error. We tried three stepper motor controllers before we found the right one that worked perfectly for our needs. We also tried three different spindles before we found the right solution, which was a 3-phase, 220 volt, 1.5 kilowatt, 24,000 rpm water-cooled spindle. We love it.

Comments (20)

  1. Jason
    September 19th, 2012

    Can you tell me more about the spindle?
    PS: The comment section doesn’t work in Chrome for some reason.

  2. Mars Rover | Beatty Robotics
    April 9th, 2013

    [...] 500 electrical components and aluminum parts that we purchase, make by hand, and/or machine on our homemade CNC Mill. In addition to the NASA-style six-wheeled rocker-bogie suspension system and the solar panels, [...]

  3. Greg
    June 20th, 2013

    Great work on the cnc. I’m curious as to your workshop setup. Do you guys have any pictures of the entire space? It looks like candy land. I just hope my daughters are interested in engineering/science as well (mine are 8 and 5 and I’m working on it!)

    Keep up the great work!

  4. Maker Family Builds Museum Quality Mars Rover - IT Clips
    August 13th, 2013

    [...] They learned everything they needed from the internet. They bought and made tools, including a homemade CNC to create their own metal parts. They made mistakes and learned from them. They created a [...]

  5. MICHAEL REYEROS
    August 16th, 2013

    Do you have a write up on the plans for your cnc mill? I have been looking to put one of my own together and your looks like it is a great design. Would love to get your plans as a good starting point.

  6. GLado
    August 20th, 2013

    I’m impressed for your work with the CNC and definitely would like to know more. Did you build it from scratch or you based it in any open source hardware project? I’d love to read more about this, I’d really like to build one for myself. The ones I’ve seen around are only desktop CNCs which I think are too limited.
    Thanks beforehand!

  7. Bill Kratzer
    August 23rd, 2013

    Truly great work, and inspirational for young curious minds.

  8. Robert Beatty
    August 25th, 2013

    Thanks everyone for all the positive comments. We really appreciate it. :)
    Unfortunately, we don’t have detailed plans for our CNC Mill project or any sort of kit. We sort of cobbled it together from various bits and pieces.

  9. Raymond Tatum
    November 8th, 2013

    Awesome! I am really impress with this CNC machine and absolutely how it works by using that custom computer. This is definitely a one great CNC mill I have ever seen. Fabulous project! ASIMachineTool.com

  10. Baker P.
    November 13th, 2013

    Hello Beatty Robotics,
    I am thoroughly impressed by your work, especially considering that you built your own 3-axis CNC mill. I just saw your family’s spotlight in the How 2.0 section of Popular Science, decided to search the internet for more information on your projects, and thankfully stumbled to this amazing website. I have been building my own 3-axis CNC mill for the past couple of weeks to some success, but it’s not nearly as sleek looking as yours yet. I’m looking to improve my machine but would like to know what components/software you have on yours. What CAM software are you using to generate the toolpaths and to monitor the machine’s position, speed, etc.? I have been using PyCAM, but it can be very slow for toolpath generation. I’m using GcodeSender to transmit my g-code. What electronics are you using to control the CNC such as the stepper motor drivers? In one of your build photos, I see a Geckodrive G540. Does this component work well, and what program are you using to talk to this? Are there any other electronics that I may be forgetting?

    Thanks and keep up the good work!

    -Baker

  11. Mary Bermudes
    December 10th, 2013

    You guys really did good with the computer arrangements. Looks so organized and clean thus, the wonderful work on the cube.

  12. Gustavo
    January 9th, 2014

    I wonder if gives to control by arduino cnc.

  13. admin
    January 9th, 2014

    Gustavo: No, the CNC doesn’t use an Arduino. A Windows motherboard is connected to a G540 GeckoDrive controller via a “parallel” 25-pin cable.

  14. Angel
    January 26th, 2014

    I’m in the process of building a CNC machine and will like more info on your water cooled spindle. Do you have schematic on your water cooling system. I will like to build one like yours if you don’t mind. I’m almost finished with my CNC machine. Thanks for your time.

  15. lasik san diego
    February 7th, 2014

    Very cool designs! Would you consider building Robots for other firms as well?

  16. M.Nazir
    March 11th, 2014

    hmmm nice great. i like it.
    here is my homemade CNC.

    my blog
    http://myhomemadecnc.blogspot.com/

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  18. Nick
    March 25th, 2014

    Impressive build! The polished aluminum looks especially great! The splash guard looks well executed also.

    If not too much to ask, I was wondering:

    What are the rough dimensions?
    Are those 1020 or 1530 aluminum extrusions used for the frame?
    Have you tested its accuracy/precision?
    What thickness of aluminum plate did you use?

    Appreciatively,

    Nick

  19. Robert
    March 25th, 2014

    Thanks, Nick. In answer to your questions:
    The CNC Mill is about 36″ x 30″.
    1020 extrusion
    It varies a bit, but it’s generally accurate to within a thou. (0.001″). I haven’t tried or needed to go more precise than that.
    I’m not sure why, but the internal holes are cut with an end mill are .010 undersized in diameter. This is repeatable. I’m not sure if it’s in the software or hardware. I’ve learned to make my holes 0.010 larger in the CAD/CAM program ahead of time. Other than that, it tends to be highly accurate.
    The aluminum thicknesses vary, but some of the main pieces are 1/2″ and 3/8″ plates.

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