|How To Use SuperCam|
I was using a pen plotter to make drawings of parts that I would paste to plates and then drill and cut out the parts using power or hand tools. After many hours fascinated by the moves the plotter was performing, I decided I could make a more powerful mechanism that could move a power tool about instead of an ink pen. Such was the beginning.
When making mechanical parts I most often use AutoCad. First I draw the part that I intend to make. Where there are holes to be drilled I put points in the center of each hole. If a hole is to big to drill, I draw a circle inside the hole that is offset, on the inside, half the diameter of the tool that will bore out the hole.
When there are areas on a part that needs to be pocketed, I first draw the perimeter of the pocket. Then I must determine what size end mill will be used to make the cut. I turn the perimeter of the pocket into a polyline by using the pedit command and join all the segments. Then I create an line offset on the inside by half the diameter of the end mill. I make consecutive offsetting lines until the pocket area is filled. If the pocket perimeter is rectangular and not to big in relationship to the end mill, I find it more effective at times to draw the tool path that will cut out the pocketed area.
When an odd shape hole has to be cut through, I draw the hole perimeter and create one offset line to cut the hole out and another to get the finished cut.
I put the tool path lines on a separate layer from the drawing of the part that I want to create. I make the part drawing layers invisible and export the tool path layers to a DXF file, in the SuperCam sub-directory, setting the option to select what objects to export. The DXF file that is created is imported into SuperCam and used as the machines tool path.
In SuperCam, I import the DXF file. The tool path imported is displayed graphically just like it was in AutoCad. At this point I make sure the tool paths to make the part are where the raw stock plate is positioned on the attached machine. If it is not I use the Move command to move the drawing of the tool path to where it needs to be.
I align the tool to the surface of the material, by using the set surface command, and set the depth that I want the tool to cut at. Generally I engrave the text first, if there is any. Then I drill the holes, then I make the cut outs and pockets. The last thing done is to cut the part out of the plate. Cuts through the material generally have to be made progressively by using the incremental cut option in the PlotBuff or PlotItem commands. The peeking mode is most useful for drilling holes.
I have found CorelDraw to be a very good program for doing artistic things. It has great features for sizing text and making it follow a path.
I get many symbols from CorelDraw fonts, Animals, Transportation, Signs etc& I start with characters and then turn them into curves.
Then I create a contour line around the outside half the width of the cutter, that becomes my tool path drawing. This way I can cut out letters in a sheet of material.
For doing relief engraving, where the letters stand out, I create an ellipse or rectangle that surrounds the text. I combine the surrounding graphic item with the text based curves. Then use the contour to center feature in CorelDraw. This creates a tool path that will pocket everything but the text.
I then put the tool path drawing on a separate layer and make all other layers invisible and not printable, then I export the layer that has the tool path drawing to a HPGL/PLT file. That's the file that I import to SuperCam software and cut with. Machine operates like pen plotter, except there is a cutter instead of pen.
In SuperCam, I can select the imported lines individually or in groups, with the selected graphic Items I can make progressively deeper cuts until a final cut depth is reached.
The surface coordinate of the material to be cut is found by using the Setmsurf command, with it the the mouse keys either move the spindle up or down, I use a piece of paper as a gauge and bring the tool down until it drags or pinches the paper, that is the Z coordinate of the top of the material. Cuts made below the surface are offset from this coordinate.
In SuperCam, I can select a line and change the direction of cut. I can change the order in which it will be executed in relationship to all the other lines.
I can also join one line to another, even if they do not touch. This can really screw things up or can be a great advantage when dealing with lines that pocket cut out an area. By joining the lines together a background area around letters can be cut progressively without lifting the tool.
Essentially SuperCam is a Plot file editor. I have come to believe it is a unique approach to controlling a machine tool. There is no G-code file stage to the process of taking a drawing and generating machine movements from it. The drawing is imported and presented as a graphically displayed drawing. The graphic objects can be selected and the attached machine follows the center line of the object.
I originally wrote SuperCam to control a computerized wood router that had two motors controlling the Gantry. There was no way to manually move the mechanism around, so I put many different ways to control the machine from the keyboard and mouse, to make it not necessary to have any knobs on the axis motors. I thought why make a control panel when I have a hundrend and twenty-eight switches on the keyboard.
SuperCam is a program that can easily handle 100k plus of coordinate nodes, with the limiting factor the capacity of the host computers RAM size. This makes it wonderful for creating art with a machine tool. When it comes to making parts from drawings it can be incredibly efficient. From drawing to cutting without converting to G-code coordinate move text files saves a lot of time and work. The drawing effectively becomes the the tool path program.
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