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Thread: What keeps you from using your indexer/rotary/4th axis?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    San Jose, CA, USA
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    669

    Default What keeps you from using your indexer/rotary/4th axis?

    I have a similar thread on the Vectric forum, but I wanted to post here in just to get better coverage.


    I'm putting together some training material on wrapped rotary machining. I'd like to hear from those of you who are curious about rotary axis, but haven't really done anything with it.


    If you do have one, have you done anything with it yet? (Mine sat under the CNC table for 2-3 years before I did anything with it)
    If not, why?
    If yes, what problems did you encounter?


    For those with an unused rotary...
    Do you have to swap a controller and/or a motor in order to use it?
    Does it sit in/on the bed of the table or off to the side? i.e. do you have to set up/tear down something to use it, or can you quickly switch between table work and rotary work?
    Have you ever hooked it up, and can you turn it with the control software?


    What are the very basic questions you wish someone would address regarding rotary?
    - Randall Newcomb
    10 fingers in, 10 fingers out
    another good day in the shop

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2013
    Location
    Pasadena, CA
    Posts
    963

    Default

    I installed a rotary axis shortly after I built my CNC machine in 2012 and have used it occasionally since.

    There is really nothing holding me back and it works just fine. Most of the time it is sitting on the corner of my machine table (unless I need the entire table).
    I have used it to machine a set of spiral twisted table legs (came out nicely), a few chess pieces (never finished the whole set), to do a few feasibility projects like making a variety of helical spires, finials, lead screws, cylindrical mazes and the like.
    Even wrote some special software to program the machine code for such projects but never published that (except the maze software).

    I guess the "problem" is that the applications are a bit exotic and (compared to the overall CNC project universe) the rotary axis is just not as useful unless you just have the special project that REALLY needs that feature. On top of that, most rotary 3d-machining (like most quality 3d-mchining) takes a lot of machine time and does not lend itself to economic machine use.

    Well, just my 2 cents....
    Box Joint, Dovetail, Guilloche and MazeMaker Software Here

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Garland Tx
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    2,205

    Default

    Randall:

    I made my unit, challenged myself to master it, and made several projects - mainly decorative wood bracelets for my daughters… I injured my hand trying to bearing rout a radius on the inside edge of one of them and never went back to it… It’s still setting on a box beside my Alpha many years later… I’ll have to say also that there hasn’t been a financial incentive to go back to it either…

    Now I say “9.75 fingers in, 9.75 out another good day in the shop!”

    SG

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 1999
    Location
    Rock Hill SC
    Posts
    457

    Default

    I bought a cheapie off of EBay. Had to do some mods to it to get a useful machine but it was part of the learning process. Made a set of table legs (and some wood for the fireplace) that turned out very well. Now have plans to make some parts for a table. Good learning experience but as earlier noticed the time factor is large.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Location
    Wilson, NC
    Posts
    73

    Default

    Mine has never been hooked up or installed and sat in a drawer for years. I have never had a use for it. I bought it with my machine because it seemed like the thing to do at the time.

    I used to do production woodturning, so it is a complete waste of my time to set up for a turning operation. I also used to do contract woodcarving for other woodworkers, so it is also a waste of time to set up a digital carving as well.

    In both cases, I can complete projects faster “by hand” than I can install the fourth axis or set up the control software or manage the digital object in my design software.

    I can imagine that some project may come my way that would need the 4th axis, but it hasn’t happened yet.

    I have no desire to even invent a project to learn how to use it. I have watched videos of it in action and the whole process seems painfully slow. I don’t want to waste billable hours trying to do a bunch of complicated setup to make something work when I can simply go to work and get the job done faster.
    Last edited by willnewton; 02-20-2018 at 09:05 AM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    iBILD Solutions - Southern NJ
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    7,902

    Default

    Many of the challenges I had early on are still true today. Thought I'd chime in from memory - although things have gotten WAY better over the course of time where kids today don't know how good they've got it when it comes to indexing....

    1) No instructions on how to mount the indexer and hook it up in software.

    Long, long ago in a land far far away, I bought my first indexer from SB. It came with a single sheet of paper that showed the difference between a cove and a bead. There were no instructions on how to mount it. How to set it up in SB2 or later SB3....The head and tail stocks were too tall to mount on top of the bed and clear the Z, so you were guaranteed failure right out of the box. Mine sat for a few years before I messed with it. I wound up mounting it off the table and later, just bought a lathe, converted it to an indexer and welded another 18" onto the end of my table just for the indexer. This way it was always setup. In more recent times, SB has provided mounting options for the indexer. It only took like 20 years, but hey...they do it now.

    2) I've got it mounted, now what?

    Early on there were NO gadgets, tutorials or help (even from SB because even THEY didn't really know how to run the indexer, aside from a simple MB move). There were a few guys doing 3D incremental indexing (not really) using ArtCAM combined with calculating the 'magic number' using a function of Pi and your Unit Value to basically wrap a 3D toolpath around the indexer. There were secret handshakes involved and there were still plenty of questions. Documentation has gotten WAY better in more recent times, although it still leaves a bit to be desired. I suppose you must prove yourself worthy by tracking down all the info from SB and Vectric and then understand it all - which is 1000x easier than it was for me.

    3) What kind of file do I need for the indexer and how do I make it?

    Depending on the desired outcome, the kind of model needed for the indexer was a source of confusion. Does it need to be 'full 3D'? Could I make in in ArtCAM/Aspire, a 2.5D program? What about models that dipped in the center that couldn't be unwrapped? What then??? What about if I wanted to miter/fishmouth a tube so I could weld it to another on an angle? How about just engraving on the surface? Can I do a statue and get full coverage? How about machining something on 2,4 or more sides using conventional 3-axis toolpaths? How do you do those barley twist things with the form cutters? Can I use this thing as a lathe? What's the difference? The answers to these questions only came after doing a ton of research, playing around and actually trying things out - there wasn't anybody out there to ask...

    4) How do I make money with this thing?

    (crickets chirping...) Still trying to figure that one out.

    The indexer is one of those things...you just gotta have one. It has a certain mystique to it...it can cut out ANYTHING!!! (or at least that's what we believed when we bought it) - It's interesting in the sense that, for those that bought one, it seemed to represent a level of skill we all aspired to reach at some point in our CNC 'career' or whatever. It represented possibility - whether real or imagined.

    -B
    High Definition 3D Laser Scanning Services - Advanced ShopBot CNC Training and Consultation - Vectric Custom Video Training IBILD.com

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    Marquette, MI
    Posts
    3,373

    Default

    Well said, Mr. Watson

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    Gary Campbell
    GCnC Control
    GCnC411(at)gmail(dot)com
    ShopBot Controller Upgrades
    http://www.youtube.com/user/Islaww1


    "We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them"
    Albert Einstein


  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2017
    Location
    Billings, MT
    Posts
    22

    Default

    I wish I’d this thread before we owned one. Still fumbling through the SB learning curve, but it’s pretty clear that the 4th axis will remain entombed in it's packing crate

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    San Jose, CA, USA
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    669

    Default

    but it’s pretty clear that the 4th axis will remain entombed in it's packing crate
    That is what I am hoping to change. This is why I am asking.
    - Randall Newcomb
    10 fingers in, 10 fingers out
    another good day in the shop

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    South Charleston, WV
    Posts
    20

    Default

    First, thanks for attacking this topic. I got my indexer working pretty well using ShopBot documentation with a lot of searching and reading thru this forum. But, it would’ve been a big help to have the most important info organized and consolidated in one place.

    Second, Mr. Watson nailed the issues. I especially identify with the points raised in 3). I believed that I could carve 3D objects using the indexer as a work around since I’ll never get a 5-axis machine. (Unwrapping is a huge challenge for me. But, if I can get the preview in Vectric’s Aspire to look right, then it’s worth taking a shot at carving.)

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