Building Your Own CNC Controller

Thoughts on the hardware and software challenges involved in custom-building a controller for an older CNC machine. March 28, 2015

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
We have a Biesse Rover 35 and are cringing at the thought of buying a new controller. The problem is this one has so many limitations and runs super antiquated software. I built my own CNC machine at home, and even though it's obviously a simpler machine, I was wondering what the possibility was to build our own controller for our Biesse machine? The goal is to make the interface at the machine easier for the operator. I wonder if I could use something like Mach 3 to run the machine.

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From Contributor J:
I understand only too well your frustration with venerable controller software. I don't know too much about Mach 3 except that it seems to be the default choice for homebuilt CNC controllers. I don't know how many computers are sold these days with parallel ports. I think it might be worth looking at USBCNC.

From the original questioner:
It is an NC1000 controller but the monitor on the machine is small and it's hard to upgrade the computer because the software licenses freak out. I would like the operator to have a bigger screen and more ability to write and edit code if they need to. Right now we use NC HOPs as our cam software but it's expensive to upgrade and I don't think it's cost effective. I've been using Cambam and it has plenty more features than HOPs and it's 1/100th the price.

From Contributor D:
I have a Rover 22 with NC1000, one of the first things I did was install a remote, larger flat screen with keyboard, mouse and USB cable outside the machine. I also had a local shop clone the hard drive for back up, the PC does seem kind of anemic but sufficient and way more storage space than my old machine. This machine has a couple of issues but I do not believe they are inherent to the NC1000 controller.

From contributor T:
Is your R35 a pod and rail or flat table? What is your end product? Biesse controls are different but what I observe is most Cam software manufacturers give them less than stellar reviews because it is harder for them to post code to them due to their uniqueness. The irony here is if you fully understand that control, and have the right applications (primarily if it is a pod and rail) you can be more efficient parametrically programming at the control. Upgrade to a larger monitor should not be an issue. Upgrading to an OS newer than XP can be an issue.

From the original questioner:
Pod and rail. Right now we're having issues with flush cabinets but that's another issue. The software licensing flips out if the registry changes so we can't do much to the computer in terms of upgrading, especially video card and drivers and so forth. I wish there was a bigger community of Rover users out there to bounce ideas off of.

From contributor G:
I've seen videos of a Mach3 controlled Biesse Pod and Rail machine on YouTube, and the guy who did it frequents the Mach3 Yahoo Group. As mentioned, be prepared to spend 100 or more hours, depending on your skill level. This is a very complex undertaking. Plan on a $700-$2000 Mach3 motion controller and possibly replacing some of the electronics. While you may gain some functionality by using Mach3, I suspect that you'll lose some of the built in features of the Biesse Control.

From Contributor D:
The NC1000 is very good at parametric programming I use that a lot but also use Vectric Vcarve pro for all the odd stuff. I might draw a prototype MDF door in Vcarve to make one or two then re-program at controller to dial in production runs. Vcarve drives me nuts sometimes with its strange moves and nesting that I have to play with all the time. Still I am amazed at the program with all its post outputs for only $600.

From contributor P:
To contributor D: Will the NC1000 read DXF files and handle normal G code?

From Contributor D:
I do not think it will convert DXF files that is one of the original reasons I purchased Vcarve to have something to convert DXF files to code and to draw and make code. Biesseworks would but I do not have that. What is standard G code? I have seen many different versions of G code. I guess I would not call Biesse's version as standard but that is what the post processor is for. Still need to bring programs into control editor and re-save to get all the right stuff before the G code and I do not get a router RPM from Vcarve so I need to add that, probably just a tweak of the post but have not bothered with it.

From contributor C:
When this issue comes up I think of CAD CODE they have been posting to Rovers for years. They can really help. Then I always remember the advice I got when I got my first ptp - learn this software at the machine, but to be making serious cash the info has to come from the office and the operator is just going blow and go. I have an NC481 on older Rover and it's tough. Now, no joke, we are running a Rover 30 with NC1000, and smashing through bunks and the office is driving it. I took the money I was going to spend on posting to the older Rover and bought a newer one and took the advice and started pushing from the office.

From contributor B:
I run a rover 30 with the NC1000 controller. Itís a wonderfully powerful and rock solid controller. The problem is interfacing with the controller is really tough. The interface PC runs Windows but the actual dedicated controller runs unix. I have written my own post for the machine.

There are two things to understand. If you want to run you file directly it must be in unix format. Window txt files end each line with CR LF and unix ends the line with LF only. I wrote a vb script (copied one I got online) to do this conversion it actually quite easy as I would not call myself a real programmer pretty much a hack. The next issue is that the actual text file is broken up into many sections. You wonít see this on the machine editor but if you use a text editor you can see it. (Notepadd++ a free program you set the opting to see the CR LF commands at the end of the lines)

Here is the hard part. There is a header that has a character count to the beginning of each section. Off by one and it will not run. It have seen a lot of cam programs gave up on doing these things. To get around it you must open the files they generate in the Biesse editor and save it. This does all the work for them. For us running custom nests of closet parts it was not an option. Opening and saving 40 files just to run a job was out of the question. If you can get through all this then you can look at the subroutines to get a look as some of the advanced code. They are wonderfully documented - in Italian.

Biesse support guys are awesome on the hardware but either don't know much of the software side or don't want to get into it. Bottom line is I love my Rover 30 and the NC1000 controller after a bit of a rocky start. We will probably be adding another machine in the next 12 to 18 months. If I can find another rover 30 in good shape I will get another in heartbeat.

From the original questioner:
Thank you all for the input. I've obviously got a lot of options. I'm going to steer away from Biesseworks and find an office software combination that I can post to NC1000. I'll probably have to write some VB scripts though to get it tuned to how we like it.