CNC Machines

Over 70% of modern manufacturers in USA and UK depend on the use of CNC machines, and skilled machinist jobs are well-paying and abundant in number. Laboratory education in CAD/CAM software and CNC machine programming and operation is central to the teaching of mechanical, manufacturing, and production engineering students at the undergraduate level. However, in many Indian engineering educational institutions the CAD/CAM and Manufacturing Technology Laboratories are equipped mainly with large commercial CNC machines which are prohibitively expensive and moreover are overdesigned considering the pedagogical needs of undergraduate students. They come with costly annual maintenance contracts and are time-consuming and expensive to repair in the case of breakdowns.Over 70% of modern manufacturers in USA and UK depend on the use of CNC machines, and skilled machinist jobs are well-paying and abundant in number. Laboratory education in CAD/CAM software and CNC machine programming and operation is central to the teaching of mechanical, manufacturing, and production engineering students at the undergraduate level. However, in many Indian engineering educational institutions the CAD/CAM and Manufacturing Technology Laboratories are equipped mainly with large commercial CNC machines which are prohibitively expensive and moreover are overdesigned considering the pedagogical needs of undergraduate students. They come with costly annual maintenance contracts and are time-consuming and expensive to repair in the case of breakdowns. Many academic institutions seem to have (if at all) one each of the CNC mill and CNC lathe, and mainly because of accreditation requirements. As these are expensive commercial grade equipment,  Many of these arguments hold good in the case of polytechnic colleges in India, which are very hands-on and are in need of affordable laboratory CNC machines. The situation is similar for specialized equipment like PCB prototyping machines. So, it is desirable to come up with in-house, build-your-own (BYO), or do-it-yourself (DIY) design, development, and testing of laboratory equipment and systems. Low-cost, desktop and small-to-medium sized CNC machines such as mills, lathes, routers, and laser and plasma cutters can be built with an open structure so that the construction of the machine is clear and understandable to the students. The cost of the machines may be minimized by using inexpensive yet sufficiently powerful off-the-shelf stepper motors and servomotors with motor drivers. Legacy controllers can be replaced with PC-based control systems with open source microcontrollers/microcomputers as low-cost data acquisition (DAQ) cards. Open source CAD/CAM/CNC machining software can be used for design and machining.

CNC Mill

CNC milling machines and lathes are used for basic subtractive manufacturing in industry, and so engineering students need extensive CNC machining skills. Our DIY/BYO CNC milling machine is a benchtop system assembled from low-cost commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components like PVC boards, linear screws, guide rods, etc., along with low-cost stepper motors (NEMA17 or 23), motor drivers, Arduino microcontrollers, and sensors like limit switches. The CNC machining is done with free open source CAD/CAM/Simulation/motor control software. Soft materials like (machinable) wax, wood, acrylic and Delrin can be used for practicing milling operations. The prototype can readily be scaled up to larger and more powerful milling machines capable of operating on hard materials like non-ferrous metals and MS/SS , and additional subsystems like Automatic Tool Changer (ATC) and pneumatic tool holder can be designed and developed as desired.

CNC Lathe

Similar to the low-cost CNC mill, our CNC lathe is a desktop system, and is constructed from COTS components, stepper motors, ball/linear screws and guide rods/guideways, and a DC motor as spindle. The lathe can be used for basic turning operations on soft materials, and improvements like sizing up and ATC can be added by interested users.

CNC Router

The CNC router is quite similar to the CNC mill, except that the spindle motion in the z-direction is limited. The router is mainly used for engraving and cutting operations.

CNC Laser Engraver

The laser engraver is achieved by replacing the spindle motor of a mill/router with a laser source controllable with CNC machine control code. Our laser source consists of a 2.5W CO2 laser and is suitable for engraving on wood and acrylic.

CNC Plasma/Laser Cutter

Presently, the materials used for the mechanical frame of TLC CNC machines is either PVC or plywood. The parts of the frame can be cut manually with power tools like band saw or table saw, but have limited tolerances and precision of assembly. More accurate parts are also fabricated partly using our own large CNC router (30cm x 60cm).
For sturdier construction and reliable machining of soft metals like mild steel and aluminum, a metallic CNC frame is needed which needs precision metal cutting and/or commercial-grade CNC machines which are beyond our reach. Therefore, larger size CNC frames are currently being procured from commercial vendors.
Currently, the TLC team is planning to design and develop a CNC plasma cutter and later a high-power CNC laser cutter, by retrofitting motor-driver-controller and power transmission assemblies onto the CNC frames. It is hoped that the plasma cutter will enable fabrication of small and medium-sized CNC machines reliably and rapidly. Details on the plasma/laser cutter assembly and performance will be publicized when the work is completed.