PHLATPRINTER BUILD THREAD – The Scratchbuilder’s New Best Friend! - RC Groups
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Sep 13, 2008, 08:21 PM
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PHLATPRINTER BUILD THREAD – The Scratchbuilder’s New Best Friend!


INTRODUCTION

First off, let me just state that, other than a little bit of experience running a Kongsberg Cutting Table (large 3 axis table - my previous employer’s machine) a little bit to make box prototypes for potential customers, I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO PRIOR CNC MACHINE EXPERIENCE. This being said, you should know that the PhlatPrinter is truly designed to be a machine that anyone can build to perform some serious work for those of you that are interested in scratch building our own RC Airplanes. If you already possess the skills to build an RC airplane, then you CAN build a machine of your own!

Gone are the days of having to tile out plans (no matter who authored them!), piece them together, tape them up, cut out the templates, and then, finally, use these paper templates to cut out your pieces out of the foam that you want to use. The new workflow is DXF into Google SketchUp (or designed directly in SketchUp), output of PhlatCode (gCode) via the Ruby scripted plug-in conceived by the PhlatBoyz, the PhlatCode imported into ArtSoft’s Mach3 application, then hit the "Start button" and the parts are magically cut on the PhlatPrinter!

Okay, I expect that everyone here reading this is already familiar with the original PhlatPrinter thread, so in that last paragraph I’ve just tried to summarize the concept as clearly and concisely as possible, as I expect the original thread to fall away since the product is no longer just a dream.

Please let me state here that my intention for this thread is NOT to show you how to build your machine. The PhlatBoyz have put together some really great build videos and guides that are far superior to what I’m doing here. I intend this thread to show you all what mine looks like with some pics that I’ve snapped along the way. Here we can also ask questions of one another and share all kinds of cool information, as well as our own personal mods.

The current offerings at Phlatboyz.com are as follows:

1.Phlat-Plans only – just as it sounds. These are the plans that allow you to build the earlier version of the PhlatPrinter. This earlier concept doesn’t have the tab/slot construction that the later version has, as well as the greater cutting width, but more facilitates the builder that wants to build the machine from the ground up using their own materials. I honestly wouldn’t expect the plans of this version to be around very long, as the v2 machine is far superior, and it is my opinion that the new machine is easier and cheaper in the long run to build.

2.Phlat-Bones Kit – this is the “wood” kit that allows you to build the v2 PhlatPrinter. It consists of all CNC pre-cut ¼” MDF pieces. Every wood piece that is required to build the machine is included. With this package, you also get access (through a unique password issued to you) to the build instructions and videos on the PhlatBoyz website, as well as a comprehensive parts list for all of the components needed to build the machine. I must also note that all of the parts, except the 3 gears and belt, can be obtained from your local Lowes home improvement store! The gears and belt come from an online supply house that you'll get the dope on when you order this kit.

3.Phlat-Premium Kit – this is the complete kit that supplies EVERYTHING needed to build the v2 PhlatPrinter except the glue and the computer to run the Mach3 software.

Original PhlatPrinter Thread: www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread.php?t=888387

Link to the manufacturer’s website: www.phlatboyz.com
Last edited by Crash Hancock; Sep 13, 2008 at 10:38 PM.
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Sep 13, 2008, 08:21 PM
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Arrival Of Parts


The Phlat-Premium Kit gets shipped to the customer in two parts – one box contains all of the components (metal rods, electronics, rollers, screws, etc.), while the other box is, in essence, the Phlat-Bones Kit (all of the pre-cut wood pieces). The components box comes directly from the Phlatboyz headquarters in New Jersey and the wood kit comes from a CNC machinist that has been contracted by the PhlayBoyz. You will, most likely, see delivery of these two boxes on different days, as I did.

Eventhough the boxes I received were beat all to heck, the parts in both boxes were packaged with extreme care. I found no damage to anything within either of the two boxes.

Before you get started with your build, take the time to round up the few tools that will be helpful during your build:

Rubber Mallet
Hammer (if you find the rubber mallet to be too wimpy, or just don’t OWN one)
Small Flat-head Screwdriver
Phillips Screw Driver (be sure to ask him before you take it)
Wrench and Sockets
Drill with 1/16” and 1/8” bits
Glue (I used Liquid Nails “For Small Projects”, Aliphatic glue, Gorilla Brand CA, Zap a Dap a Goo)
Lots of Paper Towels (If you’re messy with glue like I am)




Now let’s get started!
Last edited by Crash Hancock; Sep 14, 2008 at 01:56 AM.
Sep 13, 2008, 08:22 PM
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Testing Your Electronic Goodies


The first part of the build requires you to test your electronic components. The way this machine is built isn’t really conducive to replacing the parts later down the road, so you want to be certain that the stepper motors function as they are supposed to. The worst thing in the world would be to have done the entire build only to discover that one of the stepper motors doesn’t work. This would result in your having to rip the machine apart again to replace the defunct motor and would most likely result in the destruction of the cabinet to a point where you would need to purchase replacement wood parts, or make your own, to get the thing back together.

In the Electronics Testing video, you learn what all of the wires coming off of the steppers are for and you get to learn a little bit about how the card works. You also get some good foundation knowledge of how the card and steppers interact with the Mach3 front-end.

I’ve included a couple of pictures of my components so that you can see how the wires go to the terminal blocks and into the card.
Last edited by Crash Hancock; Sep 13, 2008 at 09:48 PM.
Sep 13, 2008, 08:23 PM
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Component Preparation


After you’ve tested all of your electronic parts to be sure they function properly, your next task is to prepare the rest of the components for the build. Keep in mind that I purchased the complete Premium kit, so all of my rods and such were already cut to the proper lengths. If you purchased the Phlat-Bones kit, the website has links to guide you through the preparation of the parts that you have purchased. I won’t be covering that in my build, but we can certainly address questions or concerns in this thread at a later date.

The video instructionals provide more than adequate information on this subject, so I didn’t bother with taking any pictures. Sorry, guys.

One thing that I’ll mention here is a step that you should consider doing. All Thread threaded rods can, and often do, have burrs on them from being banged around against their brothers and sisters during shipping. On my machine, I took the T-nuts and threaded them all the way across each of the rods to be sure that there were no burrs to hinder movement down the line, thus loading up the stepper motors and causing the machine to miss steps in the cutting sequence. If you do find a burr, you can clean it up with a small file until the nut moves smoothly across that area. As well, if you have a wire brush, it’s a good idea to carefully brush all of the threads to remove any paint, tape residue, or other substance that may be on the rod. Remember, the goal is to have the least resistance possible when the stepper is turning the rod to move the gantry!
Last edited by Crash Hancock; Sep 13, 2008 at 09:05 PM.
Sep 13, 2008, 08:23 PM
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Yeah! Assembly Time – Z and Y Gantry


The first piece that you get to build is the “Z” gantry assembly. This is the fixture for your Dremel and allows the Dremel to move up and down. The pictures below are some that I snapped as I built this sub-assembly.

The glue method that I preferred was to use regular wood glue (aliphatic glue, Elmer’s and the like) on all wood-to-wood joints, with the Liquid Nails glue for fillets in all 90 degree areas.

When I glued in my vertical PVC pipes, I noticed that mine were a quarter inch longer than they should have been. If you find that yours do not fit flush to parts 3 and 4, you should trim them down so that they do. If you do not, you will end up with less total travel up and down along the Z axis!

A step that you should not skip is the one where you are instructed to test run the Dremel before you mount it in the fixture. You are doing this to kind of “calibrate” your ears to the sound pitch that the Dremel emits when it’s not under any kind of load. When you mount it in the fixture with the u-bolts, care must be taken to be certain that the bolts are not too tight or damage and a shortened life of the tool will be the result. I used a socket to tighten the nuts to the u-bolts, but did not use a ratchet! I snugged them down fairly tight by hand so the Dremel would not move and then I put some Liquid Nails glue on the thread of the bolts to prevent the nuts from loosening. When you are done, you can turn on the Dremel again to hear if the pitch emitted sounds the same as before so that you will know that the bolts holding the Dremel in place are not too tight.

I apologize for not having more pictures of this sub-assembly. I didn’t get any good pics of the Y gantry build. The batteries in my camera went dead and I did not want to wait until they recharged before continuing with my build!
Last edited by Crash Hancock; Sep 13, 2008 at 10:06 PM.
Sep 13, 2008, 08:24 PM
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Cabinet And X Axis


This was the best part of the build for me because the PhlatPrinter was finally taking shape!

The best advice I can give you regarding this build sequence is to take the time to bevel-sand all of the tabs because when it’s time to join the sides (18A, 18B) to middle part 17, you’re gonna be in for a battle if you don’t!
Last edited by Crash Hancock; Sep 13, 2008 at 10:27 PM.
Sep 13, 2008, 08:25 PM
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Hood Assembly


What can I say? This is, perhaps, the easiest part of this build. Everything snaps together nice and easy. While I was not able to assemble mine in the 1minute 42 seconds that Mark did in his demonstration video, mine went together very fast.

One point to make is that I did not use any of the other glues used earlier to put on the window. Instead, I used Zap Industries Zap a Dap a Goo (funny name, but a great, flexible glue that dries clear and holds the window down really well!).

The hinges were fairly easy to put in, but be certain that you use the longer 1 1/8” drywall screws that are included with your kit, rather than the screws supplied with the hinge kit. Once the pressure rollers are installed in the hood, the extra length and biting power of the drywall screws will help to ensure that the hinges don’t pull out under the weight of the rather heavy hood when it's in the open position.
Last edited by Crash Hancock; Sep 13, 2008 at 10:35 PM.
Sep 13, 2008, 08:25 PM
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Final Wiring and Set Up


The next phase of this assembly required me to mount the drive card to the side of the machine. After doing this I mounted the wires to the wire taps following the same order that i did earlier when I tested the stepper motors.

Since I already had Mach3 installed when I tested the steppers, I took the opportunity to download and install the PhlatPrinter skin. Wow! This thing is so much nicer than the skin that comes with Mach3. The buttons are labeled with wording that makes much more sense than the terminology that Mach3 uses "stock".

The first thing that I noticed is that when I looked at the machine using the orientation that is shown on the custom Skin, and then used the arrows and page up/page down buttons to "jog" the machine, some of the directions were off. One way to remedy this is to take the wires of the taps on the card for the offending axis and change the order 180 degrees. It turns out that I had 2 axis that needed reversing like this. Well, thanks to reading the Mach3 QuickStart documentation, I was able to determine that you can go into the Config pull-down menu and then select the "System Hotkeys" option. When you get into this menu, you can reassign the arrow keys so that you get the correct key for the corresponding machine action. Man, that's much easier than removing the wire from the taps only to replace them in a different order. I have big hands that don't fare well with tiny little taps!

Okay, now. Only two more things need to take place before I can start cuttin' me up some foam - finding the correct run speed of the motors and getting them calibrated.

First off, let's talk a little about the physics of stepper motors and Mach3. Mark explains a starting reference point of the VFD setting on the cards during his Electronics Testing segment in the instruction videos. The VFD pot on the card controls the voltage going to each stepper motor. He advises that a good starting point for testing is the "straight up" position on the pot (approximately 50%). Remember way back when I mentioned that the threaded rods need to be "burr free" and clean of any paint or adhesive? Well, that has a great affect on the performance of the stepper motors. If the rods have any resistance in them, or the voltage set at the VFD pot is too low, then when you jog the machine axis, the motor may stall and make a squealing sound. If there is no resistance, but the voltage is too high, the motor and card are gonna get "hot as Hades". You have to find a good balance between the motor speeds (as set up in the Motor Tuning menu in Mach3) and voltage. As everything in the machine "breaks in", you will be able to optimize your machine's performance more easily, but in the beginning stages, everything's kinda sensitive.

After much trial and error, as well as spraying the rods down thoroughly with WD40 lubricant, I was able to get my machine to jog all axis' without any stalling and squealing.

If everyone builds their machine with the exact parts specified, we should all arrive at the same calibration settings (you tell the machine to move a specified distance on a specified axis, it moves that exact distance), so theoretically, if I give you MY settings, you should only find yourself having to adjust the VFD pots for each of the three axis to get your machine operational. I could be wrong (remember, I have never done any of this before!), but at minimum, it's a great starting point for you.

Go to the "Config" pull down menu and then select "Motor Tuning". A pop-up window will let you enter in the following specific information to get your machine calibrated:

Click on the X Axis button and enter the following info into these fields ONLY - don't adjust info in any other field!

X Axis: Steps Per=1031.925343, Velocity=20, Acceleration=20

Click on the SAVE AXIS SETTINGS button, and then click the Y Axis button and enter this information:

Y Axis: Steps Per=31817.7444, Velocity=20, Acceleration=20

Click on the SAVE AXIS SETTINGS button, and then click the Z Axis button and enter this information:

Z Axis: Steps Per=31038.91852, Velocity=15, Acceleration=20

Click on the SAVE AXIS SETTING button, and then click OK.

Yeah! Your machine is now calibrated!

What do these numbers mean? Well, the "Steps Per" references how many steps the stepper motor needs to make to equal the calibration standard. The "Velocity" is the maximum speed the motor should turn in any given situation. The "Acceleration", is how quickly the motor should move from stop to full speed, naturally. Mark had stated long ago that his machine is capable of processing 40 inches per minute. So why am I only cutting at half of that rate? Well, since my machine contains all new components, it just needs to be broken in. I found that reducing the speed to half rate, I am able to process files without stalling the stepper motors. Once the threaded rods "break in" with the T-Nuts, and the lubrication totally penetrated into the threads of the rods and nuts, I should find that I can increase the speed to cut my files in half the time!

I cajoled Mark into sending me some PhlatCode files since I completed the build so quickly. I fully expect him to make these files available to everyone in the next day, or so.

Let the testing begin!!
Last edited by Crash Hancock; Sep 14, 2008 at 12:15 AM.
Sep 13, 2008, 08:26 PM
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Test Cuts


So now that the machine is calibrated, and it seems that I can jog it all over the spectrum of travel, it's time to put it to work and see how well it performs.

I only have about 18 sheets of FFF left and my Lowes store is smooth sold out right now! No problem; I have been collecting some sheets of 18x18x1.5 white EPS foam that I have been intending to hot-wire cut some delta wings out of (my wife brings it home from work - it's used to pack medicines in for cold storage transport from warehouse to the hospital. Lucky me!). One of the files that Mark supplied me was the "ear" 3D carving - a great candidate for a machine shakedown.

I loaded the foam squarely into the PhlatPrinter, loaded the PhlatCode into Mach3, set the "zero" position (home) on the machine, and pressed the "Start Cycle" button. Off she went! About 20 minutes later (remember, I'm processing at half-speed until the machine breaks in), the file finished processing and I pulled out the foam to have a little look-see. Well, the results were less than ideal. From studying the carving, I was able to ascertain that the X and Y axis cuts seemed to be fine, but the Z axis movement of the spindle left much to be desired (see pic below).

Hmmm....what to do, what to do? Since I know that I've lubricated the rods thoroughly, perhaps I need to increase the voltage at the Z axis VFD pot? Why not? Throughout the run, I noticed no heat at all on the card's heat sinks and no detectable heat on the motors, so I decided to crank up the pot setting from the mid-value I previously set to about 3/4 value.

I then loaded the Ripple file that Mark supplied. This baby is INTENSIVE! It took an hour to process, but when it was finished, I saw an accurate cut on all 3 axis! I did, however, notice that I must not have had my Z axis zeroed in at a high enough level, because I could see flat spots at the top of the ripples. Partial success, I would say (see pic below).

Not wanting to wait a whole hour for the third test, I decided to go back to the "ear" file and see how that worked with my adjustments (Z axis VFD pot set to 3/4 and this time setting the Z axis "zero" point to where the cutter was just touching the foam). Twenty minutes later - SUCCESS!!

Okay, time for the fourth trial. Now I loaded up Totaly Wicked's little P51 flattie. The main reason for this test was I wanted to cut FFF (since that's a profile that I will be using quite a bit, rather than 3D carving), and the file only requires use of about a half-sheet of FFF. Seventeen minutes later - SUCCESS (see pic below). I did notice that after the file processed, there was some evidence that I still needed to tweak my Z axis "zero" setting. One of the hinge cutouts came completely through the foam, and on the bottom side of one of the wings I could see where the cutting bit had made contact with the foam where it shouldn't have. Being a former professional in the printing industry, I know line weights! lol I reset the zero setting for the bit to a level 0.025" lower and then cut another one on the other half of the sheet. TOTAL SUCCESS!

Oh my gosh this thing is COOOOOOL!
Last edited by Crash Hancock; Sep 14, 2008 at 12:50 AM.
Sep 13, 2008, 08:27 PM
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Final Thoughts


First off, thanks to all of you that have followed my thread here! I expect lots of activity in this thread by all who embark on this journey!

Secondly, thanks to Totaly Wicked for creating the little P51 and Mark Carew for working it through and creating the PhlatCode for it! Seventeen minutes to cut one at a half-speed setup on the machine and about 3 minutes to build. I found that if you glue on 2 pennies and a nickel to the nose, the plane glides better than any store-bought glider you can get! My 6 year old and 3 year old daughter each have one now and have been playing with them significantly more than the EXPENSIVE toys we buy for them! Furthermore, I am so impressed with the plane's glide ratio, I am gonna be hunting down some uber-small electronics to try to get one in the air!

During the two months I spent waiting on this project to come into fruition, I have read everything I could get my hands on to learn about CNC machines. Before that, I knew next to nothing about these kinds of machines - only that i just knew I had to get into the world of CNC machines.

Twelve hours ago, the Build Log was finally posted. Twelve hours later, I'm able to cut my own CNC files! Twelve hours ago, there was coffee in the pantry. Twelve hours ago, my blood sugar level was just fine (I didn't expect that I would be skipping meals to get this project finished and over-estimated my insulin dosage!).

Not only did the PhlatBoyz (Mark and Trish Carew) come through with their promise of showing us the way to a purpose-built and affordable CNC machine, they've also provided education to their customers on how the stuff works! I WILL NEVER HAND CUT OUT ANOTHER FOAMIE AIRPLANE AGAIN!

With the instructional videos available to you while you work, I cannot see how you could possibly make a mistake in building this machine. All of the wood parts are cut precisely and fit perfectly. The whole build-it-on-the-cheap-with-parts-readily-available concept is incredible and shows awesome creativity and perseverance of the designers.

Mach3, especially with the PhlatPrinter skin, is very easy to learn to use and is an incredibly affordable CAM application. I can completely understand why it has been specified as the best route to go in running your machine. I honestly have no desire to explore any other alternative to this great application. If you intend to create simple files and don't mind setting your designs up to process as many lines of code as the free version allows (500), then the Trial version is all you will need. If you want to expedite your processing and be able to run larger coded file, the $159 purchase is one that you won't regret!

The only aspect of this project that I have been unable to evaluate is the Ruby scripted plug-in to allow the export of PhlatCode direct from SketchUp. I fully expect it to become available to all of us in the next day, or two. Of course, that will force me to get all under SketchUp's skirt and learn all of her secrets! I have been given no reason to believe that it will NOT work as well as it should and live up to the hype like everything else Mark and Trish have supplied thus far!

My final thanks this evening (or actually morning now!) go to Mark and Trish for all of their hard work on this project. After reviewing their videos, I'm certain that they've spent countless hours getting everything right. After reviewing the design of the machine (which definitely borders on the descriptor "work of art"), more hours were certainly spent leaving no stone unturned to get it down to the most affordable and easy to understand tool that it is. Now you guys get some rest so you can start designing me a PhlatBed CNC router that's as easy and affordable as the PhlatPrinter!!
Last edited by Crash Hancock; Sep 14, 2008 at 01:29 AM.
Sep 14, 2008, 12:23 AM
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WOW! Awesome! Really great instructions here.

I hadn't realized how small the thing was until I saw it next to your keyboard!
Sep 14, 2008, 12:26 AM
"It's a Quad" :O
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Great man I am so glad to see someone out there with one in his hands! I have to wait until next Wednesday....drat...

Are you going to add any foam extensions to the printer like Mark did?

Keep us in the loop.....we are all waiting.....
Sep 14, 2008, 12:49 AM
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Thanks for the good words, fellas!

Yes, I will be cutting the front and rear tables tomorrow sometime. Man! It's been a busy and long day!
Sep 14, 2008, 05:36 AM
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Great job crash-man, glad to see one out in the public and working.

All and all it sounds like things went pretty smooth.
Sep 14, 2008, 08:22 AM
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Unbelievable!!! This is so awesome. From our point of view, it's more awesome than you guys could realize to see this idea become a reality in someone else's home. It's been a long hard road but reading this post has made every bit of it worthwhile and we would do it all again. As a matter of fact, we are Well, our work is not quite through. We are still tweaking the build log section of our website.

Great job on the build crash-man. The amount of work you did putting this thread together in the middle of building your Phlatprinter and in the middle of Ike (hope all is well with you and your family) is amazing. And, in such a short time. We really are blown away by the details you have listed. It makes us feel like we have been able to explain the Phlatprinter and the build in a way that is easy to understand which was our goal the whole time. We read everything you wrote to check for accuracy and didn't see anything out of place (just so eveyone knows). The only thing we can't totally vouche for is your Mach settings but obviously you have them working. Another Phlatprinter may need to tweak the axis calibration to fit their machine.

Thanks again. This is so exciting!! We can't believe the day is finally here that we are seeing this.


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