[Let us know if you come up with any more questions. Single specific ones tend to get more responses, though.]I've in the research phase of my next project, which I hope to be a CNC machine that will start as a milling machine, and, over time, get upgraded to other things like a 3D printer, 3D touch scanner, laser engraver, etc.
[That sounds ambitious!]
My general plan is this:
Phase 1: Spend <$500ish (hardware/software) on building a desktop CNC mill. Learn stuff.
[I'm afraid the first thing you'll learn is that you need more money to make this work, but maybe you're a really talented dumpster-diver, and can find most of what you'll need for free.]
Phase 2& beyond: As time, money and interest allow, add additional tool heads (3D printing, 3D touch scanner, laser engraver) and build a larger, better, garage CNC machine, with parts made from the first machine.
[Let's think about Phase 1 first...]
I've got an engineering degree and am handy with electronics and programming, but I haven't touched a CNC machine since the late '80s, and know nothing practical about using them with modern technology.
I'm trying to figure out (as a complete no-knowledge newbie) what software I need/should use to get involved in this as a hobby. I need cheap/free software, because the vast majority of my budget will be eaten up by the hardware & electronics.
What packages do I need? CAD? CAM? Drivers? (I'm not sure if "tool-chain" is the word for what I'm asking about)
[You'll need a CAD program, but there are some you can download for free. Google "Free CAD download" for your choices. CAM software translates the drawings or models produced by the CAD program into toolpaths that the machine can run, and outputs a G-code file. There are a few free CAM programs, like Freemill, but it only works with STL files, which are 3D. Pretty much everything else you'll find will be a demo version, which will only work for a while, if at all. But there are some inexpensive shareware CAM programs (none of which I'd actually recommend).
You'll also need a CNC control program. The most popular one around here is Mach3, which works under Windows, but it's only free up to 500 lines of code (which go by quickly). EMC2 is free, but it needs Linux. And there are some DOS programs like CNCPro, if you like DOS.]
Once I have software, how do I calibrate the ?CAM? software to use my custom DIY CNC stepper-motor controllers?
[Good question. Presumably, if you're smart enough to build these controllers, you're also smart enough to adapt the software to them, or them to the software. If not, it won't save you much to make them from scratch.]
Do CAM packages have tools for that or do I have to write my own drivers?
[Usually, it's the CNC controller software that interprets the G-code, and generates the step/direction pulses (through the parallel port or a DSP chip) that move the motors.]
Also, I'd like two drawing packages: One for me and my adult engineering buddies, and hopefully, a second ultra-simple program for my kids to use.
[Maybe they can ask Santa...]
Sorry that I barely know the terminology to ask questions, but I'm learning and am doing reasearch.
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