Category Archives: SOFTWARE

First Look at OpenSCAD

openscad-sphere

“Disco sphere” made with 1 line of OpenSCAD code

After my review of Meshcam, it was suggested that OpenSCAD (available on various OS versions, or here’s the Ubuntu install instructions) could be used to turn 2D DXF files into solid parts for cutting on my CNC router.  After trying it out, this solid modelling package is really like nothing I’ve ever seen.  Instead of the mouse-driven interface that you see on ProE or Solidworks, you instead have a text editor where you can enter commands that are used to form a solid part.

Oddly, it felt very intuitive to me to use it, and the fact that you can copy-and-paste text into a drawing makes an example extremely easy to follow along with. With professional 3D CAD packages, you may have to poke through 5 menus to get what you need, in OpenSCAD you just type the needed command in.

AutoCAD (or Draftsight – my review) has a text interface that can optionally be used, but it’s interesting to think about what would have happened if other professional CAD packages evolved this way.  My feeling is that it might have made things harder to use initially, but once the interface is learned it would have been incredibly fast.  Fixing a poorly-programmed design or initially visualizing what you wanted might be harder, however.

Hypothetical thoughts aside, OpenSCAD is really a lot of fun to play with.  To draw a sphere, for example, all you have to do is type in “sphere(30);” and press F5.  A 3D sphere pops up on your screen.  As shown in the video after the “read more” thing, Read more »

A Review of MeshCAM

meshcam engraving screenshotI’ve been able to use and review several CAM programs with my CNC router, and was happy to try out another when I was offered a license of MeshCAM Art from GRZ Software.  My first impression when booted up was that it had a polished interface that seemed better than the other programs I’d tried so far.

Before I go into my full review, here’s a quick summary of my first impressions of this package:

The Good:

meshcam-engraved

First try cutting with MeshCAM-generated Gcode. No disasters, so I would consider this a success!

  • Hands down, the most polished looking CAM package that I have tried so far
  • Easy learning curve
  • Easy machining setup
  • Free updates
  • Will translate picture files into Gcode

The Bad:

  • 2D DXF functionality is somewhat limited
  • More expensive than some other hobby-level CAM programs
  • With ease-of-use seems to come some loss of control

Visual polish isn’t everything, Read more »

Setting up a New Zen Toolworks CNC Router from 0 to Gcode

I’ll go into the why later, but I’ve now set up three computers to run my Zen Toolworks CNC router. This time I carefully documented what I did, so if you want to set one up yourself, just follow along!

lenovo-computer-in-router-shelf

More details on the CNC router shelving unit here.

CNC Router Computer Setup from start to Gcode

Physical Setup:

Software Setup:

  • Install Mach3 or other CAM software, including parallel port driver (further steps assume Mach3).  If purchased, (here) register by putting the key in the root Mach3 directory
  • Restart computer and Mach3.  Under config => ports and pins change the inputs and outputs as described here. – Once this is done, you should be able to move all your axes, but the tuning will be off.
  • If you installed Read more »