Back to .NETMF after a few years

I just wanted to day HI! I used .NETMF quit a bit 3-4 years ago and even built a custom controller for a research project based on a FEZ chip but have not had a need (or time!) to do anything for a couple of years. I just picked up a FEZ Spider 2 Gadgeteer kit and got everything up and running this morning and managed to blink an LED. the only real hiccup was trying to figure out how to update Tiny Booter with the new FEZ Config and then figuring out which dip switches to use. As I recall some of the other boards I bought years ago have the same DIP switch set up so it slowly came back to me.

The project I’m working on is being done mostly for fun as I realized between working my full time job and running a small business on the side I have not done a fun project that I wanted to do for a LONG time! One of the things I have been working on for a while now both at the university and side business is interfacing with Mach 4. At the university I just finished up getting an old Bridgeport Discover 308 CNC machine refurbished and controlled via a Galil motion card and Mach 4. This machine originally had an 80286 PC in control! Now it has a modern PC motherboard, Galil motion card, Windows 7 and Mach 4. Well, I say ‘finished up’ but I should have said operational. I ‘rediscovered’ a bug in the Galil firmware yesterday that the guys at Mach found previously. Fortunately it just means porting the fix to work with the motion mode I have to use for the card I have.

The user console was kept somewhat stock looking as I wanted to add a pendant for jogging, etc. Rather than buy one I decided it would be more fun to build one and then maybe make it available for others to use and customize for their needs. So for example on certain CNC machines you might want different things displayed on the LCD, or different arrangement of butting or other controls on the pendant. But as with any project getting an LED to blink is an important first step!


Welcome to the NETMF rehabilitation center. We’ll help you get back on your feet in no time. We understand that you had a traumatic experience not being able to use NETMF for a few years, but we can assure you that you’ll be up and running in no time.

Welcome back Jeff Brit!

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Welcome back @ Jeff !

I keep thinking I’ll need to order some bits from you sometime but haven’t been to the hackerspace here in ages where I cut my PCBs…

Hi Guys,

LOL, Yes I quit my NETMF addiction cold turkey before :slight_smile:

I’ve got some new bits for PCB etching that are even better. PreciseBits designed what amounts to a tapered 3 flute, flat end mill.

Last night I decided to mount everything to the Holey board sort of like a pendant would be laid out. Now to write some more code.

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@ jeff,

Nice project! How does Mach4 compare to Mach3…I didn’t care much for Mach 3 compared to other conventional CNC controllers.

Mach 3 grew out of a homebrew project many years ago and turned into a pretty good CNC control program. Mach 4 is all new code, except for the planner which was already good and was carried over but made modular so it can be more easily updated in the future. While Mach 3 was parallel port centric Mach 4 is motion controller agnostic which makes the set up make a lot more sense and makes writing plug-ins easier. The whole plug-in architecture is a LOT better.

The plug-in update rate is faster and the processing of scripts is lightning fast compared to Mach 3. I was able to do most of the tool change logic in LUA and by doing the actual I/O twiddling in the ‘PLC Script’ (script which is run periodically) I was able to have the spindle rotation homing happen at the same time as the axis homing, I don’t have to wait for one task to complete.

I’m going to start a new thread for the Mach 4 Pendant project and try to regularly document the progress.

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@ Jeff_Birt - Have there been any attempts to use Mach4 for 3D printing? I started setting up a printer with LinuxCNC (MachineKit) last year but it was just too much hassle.

@ ianlee74 - You are attempting to 3d Print?

Ian, I know some folks have been doing 3D printing with Mach 4. Mach does not really care or know much about machine it is controlling. There are a few exceptions of course, a lathe uses some GCodes a mill does not and uses some GCodes differently. A plasma cutting table will have some special handshaking with the torch height controller and plasma power supply so Mach will know to wit until an arc is established before moving, etc.

You can do a lot of things in scripting in Mach 4 so it knows to wait until things are up to temperature, etc, before moving.

Personally I’m not sure that for a small 3D printer a full blown CNC control/user interface is needed or the best way to go. I took the easy route and bought a MakerBot Replicator (new style with Smart Extruder). It has a small color LCD but you can pretty much control it from the PC as a ‘printer’ and even watch the print from the built in camera.

At the university some groups have done research using an industrial robot arm for 3D printing and some large printers for odd materials so for those cases specialized controllers, Like Mach or similar, are a better fit.

With Mach, no. Just curious. I’ve been helping a guy build a printer to hold his huge extruder. He’s familiar with Mach because he has a big CNC that uses it. We’re currently using Marlin on a RAMBo board.

@ Jeff_Birt - thanks for the info.

@ ianlee74 - Huge Extruder? How big is it? Got pics?

It extrudes directly from pellets. This version holds 2 lbs of pellets. There’s another one that holds 1 lb but can be fed from a hose. Nozzle diameter is typically 1mm - 5mm. Big enough? :smiley:

@ ianlee74 - Why would he want to extrude directly from pellets? I’m curious about his choices.

Pellets cost about 1/10 of what filament does. His target customers are folks that are printing very large objects such as cars and large sign enclosures.

He could have done that with a bench filament extruder; but why have that on the machine? I’m wonder if he came to that solution because of lack of knowledge.

He’s quite aware. But, that makes a two-step process that involves two extruders. The holey grail of FFF 3D printing is printing directly from pellets. Unfortunately, at small scale its too hard to control the flow rates and get high quality prints. However, for the type and size of things that he’s printing the surface quality doesn’t have to be nearly as perfect.

I’d be interested to know how it turned out.

A little birdy tells me that desktop filament machines aren’t necessarily very precise or consistent…

The extruder has been in development for a few years now. It actually works much better than I expected. We’re just building a printer to put it on now. That’s just a basic CNC build running on a RAMBo board. We start fine-tuning the motion this weekend.

I suppose that’s all relative. They are plenty precise and consistent for MANY applications. Of course, your measure of each will depend on your needs. I probably wouldn’t print my own dentures but I do print parts to build other printers.