Ability Systems Software Review


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    Default Ability Systems Software Review

    Ability Systems Indexer and G-Code Controller review

    I decided to use Ability Systems software as my machine control system and, and after having it running for a while, I wanted to post my results.

    First off Ability Systems Indexer LPT is a driver that works right from your computer's printer ports. By adding two 15 dollar printer cards, you will have the ability to control up to 4 axis of motion (up to seven axes using four printer ports). I used 3 ports. The first two ports gave me the capabilty to control four axes of motion, though I am only using three currently. The third port accommodated the input/output that is necessary for the joystick, feed hold, and feed rate override features.

    Indexer LPT is the driving component of the whole thing. It is the component that controls the motors, and "transparently" communicates to the G Code Controller, which is the software that the user interacts with. While this may sound confusing, separating the control program (Indexer LPT) from the user interface (G Code Controller) has its advantages.

    The advantage I like the most is that it gives beginners to motion control the ability to check out the system a little bit at a time, allowing you to build it up and test it piece by piece before you attempt to get everything working together.

    After that, the many ways available to you to input and output information allows experts to add complexity beyond what most beginners might care to tackle - such as adding an automatic tool changer. By starting simple and building up from there, however, beginners need not feel intimidated.

    For example, I decided to use Gecko drives to power the step motors. The Indexer LPT manual has a point to point wiring diagram for the Geckos (as well as for other drives from various manufacturers). So once I wired the power connections to the Geckos, and the pulse and direction wires from the printer ports (using 25 pin D-Sub connectors I purchased at Radio Shack), I was ready to test the motors using the Indexer LPT Diagnostic program.

    With the Indexer LPT Diagnostic program I sent the command "move:a,300" to Indexer LPT. Here's how that works. The "a" in the command tells Indexer LPT to generate control pulses from pin 2 on the parallel port that I chose. The "300" tells it to generate 300 pulses. Later on I used setup dialogs in the G Code Controller to associate Indexer LPT's "a" axis with the X stage on my machine, and to tell it how many step motor pulse per inch, speeds, acceleration etc - but using the "move" command in the Diagnostic program was perfect to help me get the motors working for the first time. After getting the first one working, the others fell in line nicely.

    In retrospect, I think it is easier to identify problems as you wire your new sytem a little at a time, checking it out as you go with Indexer LPT's "live" diagnostic display. The Diagnostic program lets you see the status of each input and exercise each output individually, so you can conveniently check your limit switches and control inputs, as well as your outputs - even as you wire them.

    Hooking up a system using Indexer LPT is a matter of buying some D-Sub connectors from Radio Shack and following the wiring diagram supplied with the Indexer LPT manual. Its pretty easy. You have 4 wires that connect from the Gecko drive to the stepper motor. You have step, and direction wires going from the D-sub connector to the Gecko Drive, and 4 limit switch wires from the D-sub connector to your limit switches...... Its that easy..... It was a little tedious hooking it all up, but it looks a lot worse than it is. As I said, I suggest that you wire one component at a time instead of all at once. I did the all at once thing for the most part....I had a few problems, mainly a crossed wire or two, but quickly fixed it.

    Indexer LPT runs in the background, but the program you will actually interact with when making parts is the the G-Code controller. G Code controller is pretty simple. The first thing you do is set up each stage of motion. Using dialog boxes in the configuration menu, you will need to tell it such things as which Indexer LPT "axis" you are using to move that stage, how many pulses per inch the stage drive requires, and the maximum cutting length available. It is very simple. You will go into other boxes and make simple setup inputs to ready the machine. This is all very well explained in the manuals. One thing about Indexer and G Code Controller is they are well documented. Although a little confusing at times for a complete newbie, they are full of information, and if you read through it all there is a wealth of information there. Most of the questions I asked Art (at Ability Systems) were already answered in the manual! There are boxes that you check off for limit switches, a joystick if you use it, feed rate override, etc.... again, they are all explained very well in the manuals. Nevertheless, Art told me never to spend more than 15 minutes looking for anything before calling, because in most cases it only takes a minute or two to get going in the right direction.

    After the Indexer LPT features are customized into G Code Controller, you don't ever need to get back into it unless you are changing the design of your machine.

    After getting the machine set up, which I found to be quite easy, I was ready to start cutting parts. The first thing I did, though, was go into the Indexer Diagnostic and command the steppers directly, like I mentioned above. It really is nice being able to do this, and a great confidence builder for the machine designer.I played around a while then went back to G-Code Controller......

    The windows interface is nice, clean, very simple, and very un-intimidating. You go to the menu, click to move an axis, or position to, and type in where you want things to go... It really is pretty simple. It does take a little time to get used to all the different command menus, and I like to tell people to be particularly careful about using the MOVE BY box, instead of the POSITION TO dialog - One tells the axis to "move by" a certain amount (you type in) the other tells the machine to go "to a certain position"...... if you use one by mistake (thinking you are using the other).... crash city ! I did it a few times because I was always in a hurry... now I am a little more careful!

    Running my first part was quite simple. You first need to save a "CAM" file based on what you like and your machine preferences. Each time you open up G Code controller you will open this file like a default file and bingo - all your setups are ready.... You can save fixture offsets, use absolute or incremental default modes, and a host of useful set ups too long to list....

    The first part I cut was a simple pocketing tool path to cut a sign. It ran great. I was very impressed with Ability Systems machine control... when I say my machine runs smooth, I mean really smooth. Acceleration and decels are great. Feedrate override is so smooth you have to hear it to appreciate... my wife says my machine sounds like something from Star Trek, because of the smooth sounds it makes....

    In closing I have run parts from simple engravings, to large 3-d part files that took 10+ hours to cut. After 4 months of rigorous use I have yet to find a problem using this software. The improvements that I would like to see is an increased range in the graphical zoom and pan, and some set up dialogs for the feed rate override control. Art tells me that these things are being worked on, and will be available with the next major release. I would also like a some warning to alert me to turn off the scrolling graphics when running very large part files. Although the scrolling graphics don't affect the cutting speeds, it does bog the computer down as it loads the program's "look-ahead" memory. Sometimes I use scrolling graphics, and sometimes I don't - so I don't want to configure it to be always off. When I forget to turn it off for large files it can waste a lot of time.

    Nevertheless, I find it easy to use, and very reliable and crash free, which is very important when you are trying to get serious work done. The main thing is the software is very stable, and runs fantastic, which for most of us means more time to program more files, and more work out the door!

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    Nice write up, Ninewgt. Thanks for taking the time to do it.

    First you get good, then you get fast. Then grouchiness sets in.

    (Note: The opinions expressed in this post are my own and are not necessarily those of CNCzone and its management)


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    HuFlung.......

    No problem..... I wanted to post about it because I get a lot of emails about it. It really is good software...like I said above its easy to use, and has been very stable...... once you get used to it which does not take long.... its easy. I will also say again how good Art is with support. He always answers the phone and is there to help - a big plus as you know with CNC. I am glad I chose to drive my machine with his software and would reccomend it to anyone building any size machine......



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    Yes, THANK YOU I needed that. I dont think I'll have a problem building the machine but it would be useless without my understanding of a relationship to the CPU and software. Thank you again for enlightment. Chris



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    Did you pay ~$700.00 for the software?

    I wonder why they used so many LPT ports and very few pins per port?

    I'll stick with mach 2

    Thanks

    Jeff Davis (HomeCNC)
    http://www.homecnc.info


    (Note: The opinions expressed in this post are my own and are not necessarily those of CNCzone and its management)


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    Yes I did pay 700.

    I am not sure of the 'why's' regarding number of pins VS the usage but Im glad its the way it is - it makes hooking things up pretty easy and less confusing than if Id have had to hook up all 20+ wires !



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    Default Indexer LPT Pins

    In the original design of Indexer LPT, the reason we allocated the pins the way we did was to make each set of signals associated with an axis of motion symetrical, so each axis could be used as every other axis.

    Also, we decided to use only internally pulled up signals for the limit switch inputs for stability, and both high and low inputs for each axis - for simplicity and to account for conditions such as when a machine is powered up when an axis may be resting against one of the switches - which could be problematic for shared limit inputs.

    So - given the number of inputs available, we decided to limit the number of axis of motion per port to two. However, if you wanted to devote a card to raw inputs (and not motion), Indexer LPT can scan up to 48 switches!

    This allocation of resources has served us well since the product was introduced in 1989, and we haven't changed it since.

    Parallel ports are inexpensive and rugged - so we felt that adding a port or two would not burden the machine designer, nor appreciably increase the cost - it even helps keep the wiring neat and clean. With the new PCi port addressing, Indexer LPT supports up to four ports under Windows 98/98/Me and XP, allowing for seven simultaneous axes of control, since the resources for one "axis" is given up to implement the feed rate override feature.



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    Art,

    Thanks for helping with that answer !! It was a LOT better answer than I was ever going to give !!


    Welcome to the Forum Art !



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    I built my first router in the early nineties with indexer lpt. It was dos based, easy to configure and worked great. I got a lot of "hand holding" while I was fumbling through it. LPT saved me a lot of trouble and money back then. I am about to modify a 2 axis cnc wood lathe to a 3rd rotary axis, add a live tool and use it for small statue work. I resurrected my old copy of lpt and it will still do the job. I'll probably upgrade to the current version.

    Best of luck,

    Phill Pittman
    www.masterwerkes.com
    digicarve@verizon.net

    Phill Pittman
    www.masterwerkes.com
    phill@masterwerkes.com


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    Phil,

    Although naturally I like to sell the newest Indexer LPT, it always gives me a kick to hear about old versions still churning out parts in the field. I looked up your Indexer LPT version (3.10 - 1994), and checked out your web page. Neat stuff!

    Since you probably have developed your own techniques for working with Indexer LPT native code in your lathe application, I don't expect that our application products, HPGL and G Code Controller, would be of interest to you. These products were designed for milling/engraving type operations - though some users have adapted them to lathes with some compromises.

    As far as the upgrade to Windows 95/98/Me - none of your wiring will change, nor will the manner in which you communicate with Indexer LPT, since this version of Indexer LPT loads as a Windows File System Device (FSD). So - you can do things the same way (if you wish) from within a DOS Window - even run it from Batch files, or use DOS's "Copy" to send it commands. If you had written DOS application programs, they also will run in a DOS Window. Our Windows program is backward compatible, so you can even use your old command files.

    FYI - We had to drop the FSD convenience under Windows XP (now available in Beta), since Microsoft dropped support for character devices. We may still write an FSD layer for XP to emulate a character device, but not today. The programmers interface to the XP version of Indexer LPT is via an exported DLL - so you must use it either with a programming language (like BASIC, C, Delphi etc.), or one of our application products. Anyway, we have no intention of dropping support for 95/98/Me, and see little advantage to XP other than slightly faster look-ahead loading.

    Some advantages that you will see that Indexer LPT ver 5 has over your version 3 is the look-ahead contouring has been expanded from 128 interpolations to thousands (more than you will ever need). Also, you can smoothly contour through arcs by loading them into the look-ahead buffer. You can perform digital I/O "on the fly" (while contouring at speed), and you can change feed rates in the middle of a smooth contour under program control as well as smoothly adjust it externally with a potentiometer.

    Anyway - thanks for the kind note, and whether you upgrade or
    not, please let me know if I can help.

    Best regards,

    Art
    www.abilitysystems.com



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    Excellent write up ninewgt! You're article should be posted in the review forum section also.

    I've been using Indexer for years now and have no regrets!

    Very very stable. Never had a software problem.

    I swear Art must have had his phone surgically implanted. He answers everytime and is more than willing to help.

    Not only that he has helped me out on several occasions with my non-indexer related CNC problems.

    People may complain about the cost but if your livelihood depends on your CNC working properly it's worth it.

    In the last couple of years I've seen many new low cost software controllers pop up but I'm still not tempted.

    After 6 hrs of cutting into a $400 sheet of aluminum, the last thing I need is to discover a bug in some "economy" software that reduces the job into $50 scrap.

    Chris



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    Thumbs up troys accurate machining wood and metal

    great write up you all ready covered it all i have been programming with indexer lpt v5 and g code controller for 5 months and it is kick but u all ready said it all Art will appriciate your write up.

    arthur the owner of ability system is great he works with you and makes sure you get up and running in no time answers all questions and always answers his phone... which is appriciated. bobcad cam is my cad program with bobart 2d and 3d workis great with g code controller. corel draw 12 works great for 2-d contouring and engraving.... love ability systems email me any time for help with your indexer lpt. troyswoodworking@msn.com
    Quote Originally Posted by ninewgt
    Ability Systems Indexer and G-Code Controller review

    I decided to use Ability Systems software as my machine control system and, and after having it running for a while, I wanted to post my results.

    First off Ability Systems Indexer LPT is a driver that works right from your computer's printer ports. By adding two 15 dollar printer cards, you will have the ability to control up to 4 axis of motion (up to seven axes using four printer ports). I used 3 ports. The first two ports gave me the capabilty to control four axes of motion, though I am only using three currently. The third port accommodated the input/output that is necessary for the joystick, feed hold, and feed rate override features.

    Indexer LPT is the driving component of the whole thing. It is the component that controls the motors, and "transparently" communicates to the G Code Controller, which is the software that the user interacts with. While this may sound confusing, separating the control program (Indexer LPT) from the user interface (G Code Controller) has its advantages.

    The advantage I like the most is that it gives beginners to motion control the ability to check out the system a little bit at a time, allowing you to build it up and test it piece by piece before you attempt to get everything working together.

    After that, the many ways available to you to input and output information allows experts to add complexity beyond what most beginners might care to tackle - such as adding an automatic tool changer. By starting simple and building up from there, however, beginners need not feel intimidated.

    For example, I decided to use Gecko drives to power the step motors. The Indexer LPT manual has a point to point wiring diagram for the Geckos (as well as for other drives from various manufacturers). So once I wired the power connections to the Geckos, and the pulse and direction wires from the printer ports (using 25 pin D-Sub connectors I purchased at Radio Shack), I was ready to test the motors using the Indexer LPT Diagnostic program.

    With the Indexer LPT Diagnostic program I sent the command "move:a,300" to Indexer LPT. Here's how that works. The "a" in the command tells Indexer LPT to generate control pulses from pin 2 on the parallel port that I chose. The "300" tells it to generate 300 pulses. Later on I used setup dialogs in the G Code Controller to associate Indexer LPT's "a" axis with the X stage on my machine, and to tell it how many step motor pulse per inch, speeds, acceleration etc - but using the "move" command in the Diagnostic program was perfect to help me get the motors working for the first time. After getting the first one working, the others fell in line nicely.

    In retrospect, I think it is easier to identify problems as you wire your new sytem a little at a time, checking it out as you go with Indexer LPT's "live" diagnostic display. The Diagnostic program lets you see the status of each input and exercise each output individually, so you can conveniently check your limit switches and control inputs, as well as your outputs - even as you wire them.

    Hooking up a system using Indexer LPT is a matter of buying some D-Sub connectors from Radio Shack and following the wiring diagram supplied with the Indexer LPT manual. Its pretty easy. You have 4 wires that connect from the Gecko drive to the stepper motor. You have step, and direction wires going from the D-sub connector to the Gecko Drive, and 4 limit switch wires from the D-sub connector to your limit switches...... Its that easy..... It was a little tedious hooking it all up, but it looks a lot worse than it is. As I said, I suggest that you wire one component at a time instead of all at once. I did the all at once thing for the most part....I had a few problems, mainly a crossed wire or two, but quickly fixed it.

    Indexer LPT runs in the background, but the program you will actually interact with when making parts is the the G-Code controller. G Code controller is pretty simple. The first thing you do is set up each stage of motion. Using dialog boxes in the configuration menu, you will need to tell it such things as which Indexer LPT "axis" you are using to move that stage, how many pulses per inch the stage drive requires, and the maximum cutting length available. It is very simple. You will go into other boxes and make simple setup inputs to ready the machine. This is all very well explained in the manuals. One thing about Indexer and G Code Controller is they are well documented. Although a little confusing at times for a complete newbie, they are full of information, and if you read through it all there is a wealth of information there. Most of the questions I asked Art (at Ability Systems) were already answered in the manual! There are boxes that you check off for limit switches, a joystick if you use it, feed rate override, etc.... again, they are all explained very well in the manuals. Nevertheless, Art told me never to spend more than 15 minutes looking for anything before calling, because in most cases it only takes a minute or two to get going in the right direction.

    After the Indexer LPT features are customized into G Code Controller, you don't ever need to get back into it unless you are changing the design of your machine.

    After getting the machine set up, which I found to be quite easy, I was ready to start cutting parts. The first thing I did, though, was go into the Indexer Diagnostic and command the steppers directly, like I mentioned above. It really is nice being able to do this, and a great confidence builder for the machine designer.I played around a while then went back to G-Code Controller......

    The windows interface is nice, clean, very simple, and very un-intimidating. You go to the menu, click to move an axis, or position to, and type in where you want things to go... It really is pretty simple. It does take a little time to get used to all the different command menus, and I like to tell people to be particularly careful about using the MOVE BY box, instead of the POSITION TO dialog - One tells the axis to "move by" a certain amount (you type in) the other tells the machine to go "to a certain position"...... if you use one by mistake (thinking you are using the other).... crash city ! I did it a few times because I was always in a hurry... now I am a little more careful!

    Running my first part was quite simple. You first need to save a "CAM" file based on what you like and your machine preferences. Each time you open up G Code controller you will open this file like a default file and bingo - all your setups are ready.... You can save fixture offsets, use absolute or incremental default modes, and a host of useful set ups too long to list....

    The first part I cut was a simple pocketing tool path to cut a sign. It ran great. I was very impressed with Ability Systems machine control... when I say my machine runs smooth, I mean really smooth. Acceleration and decels are great. Feedrate override is so smooth you have to hear it to appreciate... my wife says my machine sounds like something from Star Trek, because of the smooth sounds it makes....

    In closing I have run parts from simple engravings, to large 3-d part files that took 10+ hours to cut. After 4 months of rigorous use I have yet to find a problem using this software. The improvements that I would like to see is an increased range in the graphical zoom and pan, and some set up dialogs for the feed rate override control. Art tells me that these things are being worked on, and will be available with the next major release. I would also like a some warning to alert me to turn off the scrolling graphics when running very large part files. Although the scrolling graphics don't affect the cutting speeds, it does bog the computer down as it loads the program's "look-ahead" memory. Sometimes I use scrolling graphics, and sometimes I don't - so I don't want to configure it to be always off. When I forget to turn it off for large files it can waste a lot of time.

    Nevertheless, I find it easy to use, and very reliable and crash free, which is very important when you are trying to get serious work done. The main thing is the software is very stable, and runs fantastic, which for most of us means more time to program more files, and more work out the door!




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