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Old Wed 17 October 2007, 23:23
Just call me: Crush
United States of America
New Project - Salt Lake City, UT - Input Encouraged!

After haunting for a while, I've become impressed with the MechMate system and decided that it should suit my needs quite well.

(To save time, I copy/paste/edited my thread from CNCzone to fit here)

Hi everyone! I wanted to start a thread to document my new DIY project and get some input from you folks who have already done this sort of thing. I'll outline the basics here, and then update as necessary. Here's the general overview and idea of what I want to achieve:

First off, I'm a second-generation sign guy. I have a lot of family in the industry here locally, most of us work together between our shops, subcontracting out to each other whichever a certain person or shop happens to specialise in.

A few years ago, my parents and I opened our own shop, bought a Multicam, and shortly thereafter went under due to an understaffed and mismanaged sales department - at the end, management and fabrication was hitting the streets to make sales to get by. The Multi was the first piece of equipment to be liquidated (I miss it to this day), with most of the rest of equipment being folded into another relative's company, whom we presently work for. He is now trying to set the shop up to run itself, and has been making moves and changes in order to facilitate this.

This is where I come in here at the MechMate forums. Since losing the Multi, I've been looking for resources for a DIY project that I felt I could handle both mentally and financially. See, I could cut fronts and backs for sign letters all day long with a jigsaw and hand router - but I'll never really make an awful lot of money or have an awful lot of time to spend with those close to me, plus the fact that NOT having a CNC router in our shop totally baffles me as to how we get by without one in the first place.

Since the liquidation of our old shop, I've had standing orders for router work from colleagues in the industry. They miss being able to have short turnaround (1-3 days instead of a week or two) for a decent price, with consistent quality. The companies they're now running this work through are asking for more than they feel they should pay, for product that has good quality, but longer turnaround. It has been a sticking point for me over the past couple years that I could have had constant router work had I simply obtained a CNC router by now.

Software is pretty much open, of course expense is an issue. I don't want to have to learn to write GCode line by line, but I don't need it to be able to compute laser-carving in a bazillion axes (axises?), either. If I can generate the file in Corel or Adobe, feed it to the program, and have it cut my material within reasonable tolerances (within 1/32" is pretty loose, considering, but it'd be a starting point).

Some of the issues include vaccum hold-down for sheet material (a ROOTS blower/pump is freakin' spendy), an oil-misting system for cutting sheet metal (we had one on our Multicam and it was awesome) - I could pay some kid to follow the spindle around with a spray-bottle of vegetable oil, but I'd rather figure out an automated dispenser/sprayer. Material depth/height gauging (again, the Multicam had a block unit you'd set on the table, let the tool in the spindle make contact with the block to close a circut and tell the computer where the tabletop was, then repeat the process with the material set on the table).

Since I have access to oodles of scrap plex/lexan, metal, wood, et cetera, I'm considering building a double-enclosure for the finished unit. This way, I can not only keep my work area clean and somewhat less noisy, but perhaps even setup an air-flow system that will keep whatever chip/dust gets away from the head evacuator from getting into gear teeth or worm drives.

I'd focus on buying a professional unit, but it would defeat the purpose of me knowing every single little nitpicking thing I can about how it's built, how to maintain it, and what I can expect it to do (at least as far as the hardware goes. As far as software goes, I don't mind paying a little extra to have the computer do most of that work for me). Also, like I said before, with DIY, my budget will allow for a project such as this.

So - if I didn't already lose you in the above ramble, basically I need input in these specific areas:

Table with 4'x8' cutting space. Footprint is negotiable, we have enough room in the shop.

Material hold-down: I'm considering an electro-magnet hold-down for at least the thinner gauges of sheet, but for thicker materials I'm willing to consider most anything that's practical and time-effective. I'd go totally vaccum-hold, but sadly, I've never found such an animal as a cheap ROOTS blower/pump. Double-stick tape or spray adhesive? I think cutting multiple jobs a day would negate these options.

Oil mister/sprayer: I got spoiled with this option when we had the Multicam, and noticed that we went through bits faster and messed up more material when we didn't use it. The mess isn't a huge deal, since the table will be cleaned thoroughly every shift.

Software: If I can run it with Linux or some flavour of Windows, if it will process Adobe or Corel files to scale, if it will cut 2D and supports multi-pass cuts for thicker material - and I don't have to learn Gcode to use it or rob a bank to afford it, then I'll consider it.

Misc: Speed within reason, I don't know what kind of IPM I'm shooting for yet, but I'd like to be able to throw a sheet of plex or .060 aluminum or a couple inches of sign-foam and have it cut some letters or shapes out at least faster than I could cut it myself with a jigsaw. I can always find something to fill the lag time, but I'd rather not have to find busywork since the table will eventually be expected to make money.

Expectations: I want to cut letter shapes out of sheet metal and plastic. This will be the bread-and-butter of the unit's operation. I wouldn't mind being able to expand the operation to cut silhouettes out of thicker materials, carve designs into signfoam or wood and such. I don't need the unit to mill 24" car rims out of metal blanks or anything.

I'd rather not have to install three-phase power until or unless I absolutely have to, but it's negotiable.

Anyone else here use the MechMate for sign building or anything similar? What parts did you use? Any recommendations? How long should it take to build and learn to use the unit if one could afford to buy all the parts at once?
Is there a step-by-step process I can refer to?

See anything I missed? More to come as things happen.
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Old Thu 18 October 2007, 01:00
Just call me: Mike
South Jordan, UT
United States of America
Give me a call (254-3900). I'm in Salt Lake.

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