Check out my video on Software
I use two computers, one for design and one for machine control. This allows you to run the machine and design stuff at the same time. Design software can cause your computer to slow down and should not be run on the same machine.
Software for controlling the machine is pretty straight forward. I dabbled with linux CNC and considered another option as well but by the time I got to this point I really was just ready for something to work without fighting it. So I ended up choosing Mach 3. It allows you to download a trial version to make sure it works and there is a ton of documentation/ user forums to support it.
As you know the software connect to my breakout board through a parallel port with is a 25 pin serial port. Many people are switching to USB which is the new standard but since my older computer had the serial port I chose that option.
I use fusion 360 to do my design work. They offer it free to people who are learning to use it and when you start making some money its very affordable for subscription. They are competing with solid works and I suspect they will overtake them based on their business model of allowing students to use it for free.
I also use some different software for my laser to convert images into 2D cutouts and a slicer for my 3D printers .stl files.
I use a website called sharedrop.io for sharing files between design and control computers.
Check out my video on the Enclosure
The difference between many commercial and home built units is obviously some of the nicer finishes encapsulating the unit but mainly the enclosed work space. To enclose my work space I used a 1/8 acrylic sheet to enclose it with a cheap window curtain sprayed with a liquid rubber known an plasti-dip.
Top Cross Bracing
Also you will notice that I used extra bracing on the main gantry. This is because I compared the bottom of the gantry with the top and decided that it needed more rigidity and support. Most unit are connected to several points along the sliding rails at the bottom and the tops are attached to just the gantry. By adding some lightweight angles across the top I great stabilized the entire machine.
Open this above picture full size and you will see that I went from the standard 2 points of connection to a new 6 point connection. I estimate the weight at maybe and extra pound or two which isn’t much considering I reduced my original construction by about 10 lbs by using 1/4 instead of 1/2 aluminum plate. Of course I am not weighing each piece or testing the vibration with some type of meter. Its a very qualitative experience using my sense of sight and sound. I highly recommend this extra support although I admit this things looks like a beast!
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