Machining is not easy but it can be with CNC conversion kits.
Let’s see for example.
You have to consider many factors before you even turn on your mill, lathe, or grinder.
Some of these factors have become a daily task for you.
For instance, taking appropriate measures, doing the math, taking enough time out of your day for the task to complete, and so on.
Other factors are a bit more tricky, causing you to go in-depth with your research and analysis.
These factors could include the use of material, work-holding, tooling, axial and radial depth of cuts, spindle rigidity, rpm limit, etc.
What if we tell you most of these factors will become irrelevant with one modification to your machine?
You will most likely ask us, “what kind of modification?”
And the answer is CNC conversion.
What is CNC conversion?
To better understand CNC conversion, you will have to first learn about CNC machining.
What is CNC Machining?
CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control.
CNC machining is the process of using pre-programmed computer software to dictate and control the movement and functionalities of a machine.
Many industries use CNC machines, with the most saturation in metal and plastic production.
Compared to manual machining, CNC machining is faster, more efficient, and more accurate.
CNC machining is a subtractive manufacturing process, which means such machines typically employ computerized tools to remove layers of materials from a workpiece to produce a custom design part.
You might think that the computer has always been an intrinsic part of CNC machines, but that’s not true.
The first CNC machine was a mere machine with a metal frame. It was invented in 1751 and was developed later to become what it is now.
The automation part came in the late 70s, and the inclusion of computer precision technology came later.
It was not until the Cold War when computers started to become a part of the NC machines.
At that time, US Navy commissioned Parson Works to increase the productivity of its product line for helicopter blades.
John T. Parsons, the owner of Parsons Works, motorized the machine’s axes to fasten the production of helicopter blades.
Later, working with IBM, Parsons studied the use of computers in controlling these machines. And thus, CNC machines came into existence.
In 1952, Richard Kegg, in collaboration with MIT, developed the first CNC milling machine. And that’s how CNC machines came into commercial fame.
What are the Different Types of CNC Machines?
CNC milling machine
Perhaps the most basic type of CNC machine, CNC milling machines, are used to produce a wide range of shapes, including face-milled features and peripheral-milled features. CNC milling machines have built-in tools for cutting and drilling.
Most CNC milling machines come in 3 to 6-axes configurations. They can produce gears like spur gear and drill into workpieces.
You can use CNC lathes to cut workpieces as they rotate. These machines can make precise cuts quickly and efficiently using various tools.
Compared to manual lathes, CNC lathes are more precise and come with a wide range of features to make shaping workpieces easier.
CNC lathes come with similar features to CNC mills and can read G-codes and other proprietary programming languages.
Similar to the commonly used handheld router used for cutting, a CNC router is automated and you can use it to cut woods, glass, composite, plastic, steel, and foam.
A CNC router powered by a computer uses numerical control to route tool paths that allow the machine to function according to set parameters. They are incredibly efficient and fast, enabling the operator to produce large amounts of products in a shorter period.
CNC drill machine
CNC drill machines are primarily used in mass production industries. They are multipurpose and can also be used for milling and turning.
One can equip these machines with various tools to make them more versatile in production output. Moreover, the kind of drilling you need also mandates a change in the tools.
CNC plasma cutter
You can use CNC plasma cutting machines to cut through materials using a plasma torch. You can use these machines to cut through heavy materials such as steel and other metals.
A plasma cutter has gas blowing at a very high speed through the nozzle, which produces an electric arc. The electric arc formed through the gas is applied to the workpiece.
This process converts some of the gas into plasma, which ranges from 10,000-50,000 degrees.
CNC Electric Discharge Machine
Electric Discharge Machines–EDM for short–are machines used to create specific shapes from a material by using electric discharge or sparks.
The machine removes the material from the workpiece by producing a series of recurring electric discharges between two electrodes. A dielectric fluid separates the two electrodes and receives electric voltage.
In EDMs, you put the material between the two electrodes, and the machine calculates the amount of electrical discharge each electrode needs to produce to create specific shapes.
Modern CNC machines are capable of great things.
They are fast, efficient, consistent, versatile, accurate, and capable of greater production.
Unfortunately, CNC machines are expensive and massive, making them a difficult choice for hobbyist machinists and small shop owners.
This brings us to the topic at hand: CNC conversion.
What is CNC conversion?
CNC conversion is the process of converting your old machines (lathes, mills, grinder, drill, etc.) with the help of external components.
Converting your manual machines into CNC gives you all the advantages of a CNC machine without burning a hole in your pocket.
Simply put, CNC conversion drastically improves the performance of your manual machines by automating their functions with the help of motors and software.
But how do you transform your old machine into CNC?
Using CNC conversion kits.
What is a CNC Conversion kit?
A CNC conversion kit is a set of tools that you can integrate into your old machine to turn into CNC.
A typical CNC conversion kit comes with new hardware components, motors, and up-to-date software to keep it all running.
It also comes with a new control unit, home and limit switches, and a motor control system.
Some CNC kits are designed specifically for particular machines, while others can be implemented in most machines.
Not to mention, CNC kits also vary in terms of the features they offer.
Some CNC kits are extensive and come with complete electronic packages, control units, and software.
Others are simpler and offer only hardware components and motors to make your machine CNC-ready.
Benefits of Using CNC Conversion Kit
CNC conversion kit is an excellent option for those looking to amp up their production and improve their machining capability without investing in a full-fledged CNC machine.
The first and foremost reason for using a CNC conversion kit is that it is a much cheaper option than buying a new CNC machine.
Moreover, a CNC conversion kit allows you to revitalize your old machine with improved performance.
Most CNC conversion kits come with comprehensive guides that you can follow to perform the conversion yourself.
Some of the advantages CNC conversion kits offer over new CNC machines include:
Familiarity with the machine
You know your machine the best. When you work with a machine for years, you develop an uncanny familiarity with it. So when you convert your old machine into CNC, you are more likely to be in sync with its functionalities compared to when you buy a new CNC machine.
Improved Accuracy and Productivity
CNC conversion kit helps you improve the performance of your old machine at an affordable price. With the integration of external components, you can get your inactive machine up and running efficiently and more accurately than ever.
Reduced Manual Labor
One of the most beneficial aspects of converting your machine to CNC is that you don’t have to spend hours finishing a product. Automation allows you to set the parameters on your machine and let it do the work for you. A CNC-converted machine will produce thrice as many products in an hour as you produce within an entire day.
How Does a CNC Conversion Kit Work?
A CNC conversion kit is a set of supplementary components.
A CNC conversion kit does not add new axes or movement to the machine. It automates the existing ones.
CNC conversion kits come with a range of hardware components along with power units and motors.
These components fit on your machine are connected with a motor to automate the movement of the machine.
Installing the new hardware may require removing certain components from your old machine.
Most CNC conversion kits come with a detailed how-to guide to help you make the conversion yourself.
How to Build Your Own CNC Machine Using a CNC Conversion Kit?
Before you get started with converting your mill/ lathe/ drill/ router into CNC, understand that it is a challenging process.
Despite the comprehensive guide that comes with most CNC conversion kits, you need technical knowledge and skills to make the conversion.
A successful transformation requires planning, expertise, and, most importantly, time on your part.
It will most likely take you a week to complete the transformation, and if you are tight on schedule, it might even take a month.
Moreover, CNC conversion kits are targeted at hobbyists and small shop owners.
While you can improve the productivity and efficiency of your machine by converting it into CNC, you will not be able to use it for any commercial operation.
You will also need another person with you to help you out with the conversion.
Now that we have got that out of the way, let’s look at the tangible things required for a successful conversion.
First up, you will have to replace the lead screws in the machine with ball screws. Lead screws have backlash and aren’t suitable for CNC operations.
Ball screws have little to no backlash and are an appropriate choice for CNC operations.
Moreover, you might also have to remove some other components of your machine to make room for the conversion kit.
Next up, it is time for the electronic components.
You would need stepper drivers, a controller, limit switches, and mechanical test probes for controlling the X, Y, and Z movements.
The kind of speed and movement you need determines your choice of motors.
Lastly, you would need a computer to run your CNC software and provide instructions to the mill.
Making the Conversion
The exact steps of conversion depend on the machine that you are using. In this article, we are taking a more general approach that you can apply to most machines.
If you get stuck at some point or are unable to follow the instructions, you can reach out to us, and we will help you the best we can.
The first step to the conversion is disassembling the entire machine to its bare structure.
Remove each axis and replace the lead screws with ball screws.
If you are converting a mill, bear in mind that the weight of the Z-axis can be quite heavy, and you will most likely need an engine hoist to pick up and move it.
When you have dismantled each axis, add the CNC conversion kit components individually.
After replacing the lead screws with ball screws, replace the lead screw nut block with a ball screw nut block.
If the mounting holes in the nut block do not match, use an adapter to fix the ball screw nut block to the axis.
You might also need to manually grind a bit to make the whole thing fit correctly.
Once you have put the ball screws inside the axis, put the oil line back on.
Now, attach the stepper motors to the axis. For a mill, make sure the motor can handle the heavy weight of the Z-axis.
Repeat the same procedure with other axes.
Once you have put all the axes in their place, ensure they are all in perfect alignment to avoid any accident.
For mill conversion, make sure the Z-axis is perfectly perpendicular to the table. You can use a tramming indicator to ensure the alignment of the Z-axis.
You will also need to tram the spindle so that it is square to the bench.
Managing the electronics
Once you do the mechanical part, you will need to move on to the electronic components.
You have already installed the stepper motors on each axis. Now, you need to fix the control system of the motors.
You will also need limit switches, probes, and an unregulated DC power supply.
Moreover, you will need stepper motor drivers.
The limit switches help prevent the machine from going beyond its physical limits. The probes are for assessing the position of the stock.
The computer connects to the controller using USB, ethernet, or Parallel Port Cable.
The software that you use will depend on your choice of controller. It could be Mach3, GRBL, LinuxCNC, or something else entirely.
Wrapping It Up
We hope that this piece of content gave you a clear idea about CNC conversion and its applications.
If you are looking to transform your old mills, lathes, drill, grinder, router, or other machines into high-performance, efficient, and powerful machines at affordable prices, CNC conversion is your best bet.
They provide you with the same features as a full-fledged CNC machine and help you scale productivity and accuracy to the next level.
Let us know what kind of machine you work on and whether a CNC conversion seems the right way to move to automation.
If you are looking for more expert advice or are stuck in the middle of a conversion, feel free to contact us, and we will help you build the perfect CNC machine for your needs.
Better yet, we will build a turn-key CNC machine for you from scratch and deliver it to your doorstep.
Whether you need a CNC conversion kit for your mill or lathe or need a pre-built CNC machine at low prices, contact CNC Conversion Plus for all your CNC needs.
In the meantime, be safe, keep your machines well-oiled and keep experimenting.