By: Mr. Dhiren Shah Solustan, Inc.
Engraving systems have come a long way. Today’s computerized rotary engraving machines and laser machines allow creation of high quality fonts combined with eye-catching graphics. It feels like it was just yesterday when engravers used manual engraving machines.
Technology continues to march forward. As always, newer technology creates new opportunities and new challenges. The inroads made by the laser machines in the world of engraving over the last ten or more years have been phenomenal.
Why laser-engraving machines are successful?
There are many reasons for the success and acceptance of the laser machines in the engraving business. When laser machines were introduced to the engraving businesses, the machines were pricey. However, these machines captured the imagination of the user.
1. The laser machines were able to handle graphics with ease.
2. The quality of the output was high.
3. The speed of the total process from the design to the output was lot faster than rotary engraving machines.
4. Laser manufacturers started and stayed with open architecture. We will explore the open architecture later.
Why rotary-engraving manufacturers fell on hard times?
Computerized rotary engraving was a significant step forward for the manufacturers of rotary engraving machines. The progress did not continue and limitations remained.
1. The manufacturers did not move to open architecture.
2. The quality of the fonts did not improve with time.
3. Handling of graphics and logos continued to be an obstacle.
4. Lack of compatibility between different proprietary design programs from the manufacturers remained a problem.
An open architecture is a system design that facilitates easy substitution, addition, and subtraction of components of the system with minimum or no disruption to the usefulness of the system. A personal computer is a good example of an open architecture. Open architecture is generally based on agreed upon standards. Fosters innovations, reduces system pricing, expands market size, creates better solutions for the buyers, and everybody wins.
Enter Solustan, Inc.
Let us take a look at one such example of open architecture to see the benefits. Solustan, Inc. created a Virtual Controllers and provided many solutions over the years. The company set out to build the next generation of controllers.
The following decisions were made earlier:
The PC’s are plenty powerful and the PC shall do most of the controller work.
There was a new port in town. It was called USB. The older serial and parallel ports were fading future belonged to USB ports.
Keep the size and the price of the controller under control to increase the applicability of the solution.
Build the controller on the basis of a language that is most useful in the world of Motion control and Machine control.
Allow the user to generate the jobs in one of the many popular applications available on the PC.
Build minimum proprietary hardware in order to buy and maintain the total solution with ease.
The product is called LinkMotion USB. It appears to have met the goals.
Analyze LinkMotion USB
LinkMotion is a printer type driver compatible with Microsoft Windows XP operating system. Soon it will be offered on Windows 7 operating system. It is installed and feels like another printer driver within Windows architecture. However, it is shipped with a Systems Tray based applet with many useful functions for the machine control.
(1)When you launch the Applet, immediately, a Control Pad shows up on the screen. This Control Pad replaces proprietary control panels offered by most machine controllers on the market. Control panels are required to jog the machine, command the machine to find the Home position, surface the tool to the material, check out the I/O’s, and other similar functions to prepare the machine to execute a job. Proprietary control panels add to the cost of the system. They are also expensive to maintain when things break.
Solustan decided to use the numeric keypad part of the extended PC keyboard as the Control Pad. If the keyboard breaks, it is an inexpensive replacement. The user does not need to call the manufacturer for repair, just a short trip to the local computer store. The Control Pad that shows up on the screen can be easily configured for English, Spanish, and International symbols.
The numeric keypads are separately available (wired and wireless) in the PC after market at a reasonable price and by many vendors. There is an interesting surprise coming up. In the very near future, Apple’s iPhones may be used to control the machines.
(2)The USB controller is one of the tiniest 6-axis controllers on the market. It connects to high speed USB 2.0 port for speedy transfer of jobs. The controller sports a SD memory card as the job storage area. One Giga Byte storage is available on SD memory card for a few dollars and can store up to about 1,000 minutes of a machine operation.Â The controller can issue up to 75,000 steps per second for six axes.The controller requires 5 VDC to operate and consumes about 30 to 40 ma during idle operation. It can consume up to 170 ma while driving all six step motor drivers. The controller is designed to be powered from either USB port of a PC or external 5 VDC. It has multiple I/O’s plus additional lines for home switches and emergency switch.
(3)LinkMotion driver is tested with many popular applications and found to be working well in the vector mode. It was found to be working with Corel Draw, AutoCAD, DesignCAD, BobCAD, and even a $25 CAD program called Instant Engineer. A complete list of compatible applications for vector and raster work is available on Solustan’s web site. The idea is not to force the user to learn your program but allow the user to work with the program he/she is comfortable with. What can be friendlier?
Most of these programs are relatively less expensive. These programs are sold in volumes and are enhanced with new features all the time. There are user groups, trained professionals to provide necessary training, how to books, and web forums to help the user in many different ways.
Once a job is saved, it can be opened by newer versions of the program. Most programs offer many export functions. The user never feels locked into a proprietary situation.
The power of open architecture can be explained with the following real example:
A company in Chicago area has four offices. The jobs are manufactured in all four locations. The expertise for a popular program exists in the main office. All the jobs are designed in the main office and are emailed to the branches. Same type of machine set up exists at every branch. Operator opens the file along with the job order, sets up the material and executes the job. The job is ready for the customer to pick up.
(4)Solustan decided to go with the M&G codes as the basic language for the design of the jobs. M&G codes are the most popular codes in the world of CNC (computerized Numeric Control) machines. The clever part of the design is the fact that even if the underlying language for job design is G codes, it is hidden from the users who do not care to know about it.
The process goes something like this. User is designing a job in a popular program like Corel Draw or AutoCAD. Once the job is ready to be sent to the machine, the job is “Printed” while LinkMotion is selected as the output device. LinkMotion analyzes the job and creates G codes on the PC. Next, the G codes are converted to motion commands using the power and memory of the PC processor. The motion commands are sent on the USB port to the USB controller. The controller starts the machine and processes the job.
On the other hand, if the user is knowledgeable in G codes and wanted to analyze the G codes and wanted to make changes, the file can be saved in G codes and edited using one of the available text editors provided by Microsoft as part of the Windows operating system. The system is totally capable of accepting 3D G codes for true 3D processing.