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Build Your Own (Physical) 3D Models

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July 20, 2006 10:46:00 AM

3D modeling does not just mean gaming! Check out how Jason Zushman created a cool Tom\'s Hardware badge out of a silicone mold by milling a 3D object.

Speak out in the Toms's Hardware reader survey!

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July 20, 2006 12:08:53 PM

That is really cool! I like to see real world applications of computers in the work shop :)  How much do those CNC milling machines cost? This is something I would be interested in trying :idea:
July 20, 2006 12:55:44 PM

Earlier this year, as part of my degree I had to learn how to train trade students at a tech college. Their focus was on wood machining and carpentry. They had a similar (yet larger) machine and it was primarily used for special decorative joints, often used for furniture. and I was so surprised at how sophisticated the jobs the students were doing. The CAD apprentices would give to the students the data for their projects.

As Tom's article suggested, a powerful PC was required for moddeling the shapes, etc, but the actual machine itself was Powered by a 386 20 Mhz system and running a DOS shell. The students would key in some basic commands and in no time, there would be some very intricate 3D details and often some stunning patterns (I wish I took photos of them). It is surprising, so many years later the humble IBM 386 PC is still finding life.

It is always good to see how versatile computer graphics are, and Tom's deserves some credit for looking at a topic such as this one, (as CptCpu put it "the real world").
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July 20, 2006 12:58:39 PM

I wonder how difficult and time consuming it would be to do this with a Dremel?
July 20, 2006 12:59:39 PM

Quote:
That is really cool! I like to see real world applications of computers in the work shop :)  How much do those CNC milling machines cost? This is something I would be interested in trying :idea:


The one the were using looked like a Sherline or one of the Sherline clones. These are very small light duty machines. They are not a cheap as you might think.

You can find a 4 axis version here for about $4000.00 US
http://www.microkinetics.com/4axis.htm

An example of a much more capable machine is here:
http://www.industrialhobbies.com/


Peace
July 20, 2006 1:03:30 PM

Quote:
I wonder how difficult and time consuming it would be to do this with a Dremel?


The Sherline machine (or Sheline clone) Is basically a dremel on stepping motors. It uses high rpm vs torque to cut.

Certainly you can use a Dremel to do this kind of job by hand, but your accuracy and precision will not be the same


Peace
July 20, 2006 1:07:31 PM

Awesome article. That's some pretty cool stuff that I'm sure many readers (or maybe just me lol) haven't had any exposure to before.

Boy, the level of detail is impressive on that thing. I didn't really notice how small it was until the very last picture when it was attached to the top of the laptop. Since all the previous pictures had been up so close I was like "whoa, that's tiny!"
July 20, 2006 1:17:41 PM

Hey, is there a way a big fan like me can have that logo. Im willing to pay for it, I could definitely use it as asthetics for my pc and for my patronage.
July 20, 2006 2:24:11 PM

Quote:
That is really cool! I like to see real world applications of computers in the work shop :)  How much do those CNC milling machines cost? This is something I would be interested in trying :idea:


The one the were using looked like a Sherline or one of the Sherline clones. These are very small light duty machines. They are not a cheap as you might think.

You can find a 4 axis version here for about $4000.00 US
http://www.microkinetics.com/4axis.htm

An example of a much more capable machine is here:
http://www.industrialhobbies.com/


Peace


or you can get a much simpler machine for 1000 - 1500$

If I am not mistaken the guy in the article is using the MAXNC 10

you can see all the machines and software here
http://www.maxnc.com/

Yes, you are correct, that was a MAXNC, a Sherline clone. And yes, much cheaper, even with a 4rth axis

Peace
July 20, 2006 2:47:24 PM

Uh, I wasn't aware of 3dsmax ditching opengl in favor of direct draw... you sure about that one?
July 20, 2006 3:35:32 PM

If anyone wants to play around a little with some 3d modeling software, they can download alibre xpress for free. While you're limited to the number of parts you can have in one assembly, it's a great way to learn the basics of CAD. There are even some tutorials on alibre's website to get you started.

http://www.alibre.com/xpress
July 20, 2006 3:54:12 PM

Quote:
I wonder how difficult and time consuming it would be to do this with a Dremel?


In short, very, and very.

Heres a basic 'how to' on making a PC case fan by yours truely ( Me )

Making a case fan grill from scrap aluminum

Dont expect things to turn out exactly like you want them, especially from the start. I've had years of experience with making graphics from scratch, and metal working, but nothing will prepare you for doing these things 'free hand'. My experience ranges from metal working / welding schools to actually working in a CNC shop using $100,000 + equipment making very complex parts for several well know companies. Also, its very handy to be atleast somewhat artistic :) 

[EDIT]

Oh, by the way, I think you'll find that a person with a little experience can cut aluminum much faster, and accurate, with a small hand file. Atleast, I can.
July 20, 2006 3:58:43 PM

Quote:
Uh, I wasn't aware of 3dsmax ditching opengl in favor of direct draw... you sure about that one?


Im pretty sure most if not all rendering type programs use OGL . . .
July 20, 2006 4:53:00 PM

I've heard that Autodesk is slowly moving to DirectX. I think Inventor 11 makes DirectX calls already. I don't know about 3ds Max but I see no reason not to switch.
July 20, 2006 5:02:57 PM

A smalll 12" x 5.5" x 6" (X x Y x Z) 3 axis mill, CNC ready is about $1000 from guys like Taigtools or Sherline. On top of that you neeed the stepper motors, something like $150 for a set of three and the control for about $400 or so.

Then comes the software. The control software is relatively cheap, less then $200. CAD software is always expensive, I prefer Rhino 3D, which you can get for around $600 or even less. The most expensive software is the CAM software which generates the G-code from a CAD model. A decent CAM software that is able to machine surfaces (3 axis interpolation) is about $3200. You can find under $1000 software that can do interpolation only in 2.5 axis (prismatic machining only). I'm not aware of free CAM software.

Don't forget to check Ebay...

I hope this helps,
Lav
July 20, 2006 5:38:04 PM

Finally an article on 3D. Not just for gaming. Very cool article. 3D outside the screen no less! The X1900TXT might be overkill for rendering a logo. So I wonder what advantages a X1900 can do over a 20-year old Targa 3D card for making logo-things?
Off the topic - It also keeps getting easier to import 3D files into DirectX 9 (for programming) 3D outside gaming has many great abilities.

THG - Please make more non-gaming 3D articles. This might give more reasons to buy the ultra-high-end video card.

Let me read the article again, then I might make a more useful post.
July 20, 2006 6:24:51 PM

You don't need an expensive 3d video card. The computer running the control software, which is the software that drives the steppers you need a 486 "black box" with DOS on it. Of course, modern control software runs on Windows XP machines.

3d Video cards are involved in the CAD/modeling software used to design/visualize the parts. You don't need an ATI 1900XTX for that... The CAM software, used to generate the G-code from a CAD model needs also a video card for displaying the model, but it can do without. It doesn't need the video card for generating the G-code. This is strictly a CPU thing.
July 20, 2006 8:13:28 PM

Quote:
A smalll 12" x 5.5" x 6" (X x Y x Z) 3 axis mill, CNC ready is about $1000 from guys like Taigtools or Sherline. On top of that you neeed the stepper motors, something like $150 for a set of three and the control for about $400 or so.

Then comes the software. The control software is relatively cheap, less then $200. CAD software is always expensive, I prefer Rhino 3D, which you can get for around $600 or even less. The most expensive software is the CAM software which generates the G-code from a CAD model. A decent CAM software that is able to machine surfaces (3 axis interpolation) is about $3200. You can find under $1000 software that can do interpolation only in 2.5 axis (prismatic machining only). I'm not aware of free CAM software.


Thanks for that summary. Too bad the CAM software is so expensive!
July 20, 2006 9:25:21 PM

Ya,
Making logos can be done on a 20 year old DOS PC. I was just wondering how the power a good modern video card can be used in this area.
I don't know about the G-code (A CPU handled thing) But I will like to see a high-end video cards acceerate this type of thing also.
I still like to know more about the non-gaming 3D world.
July 20, 2006 10:33:28 PM

CAD-> G-code conversion. I'm going to give you a programming analogy.
You have the program source, let's say written in Java, then the compiler compiles it in bytecode, it takes a couple of seconds to do that, then the you run the program and the Java VM runs the code. Depending on your code/algorithm and input data, it may run fast or slow.

The same thing here in CAD/CAM/Control software. The CAD model is similar with the Java source, the G-Code is similar with bytecode and is generated by the CAM software which acts like a compiler. It takes a couple of seconds to "compile" a CAD model into G-code. Then running the G-code can be done on a machine that has the control software or directly by an industrial control hardware.

The speed of the G-code interpreter thing doesn't matter that much. The current industrial controllers and modern CPUs are more than enough. In the end it's the physical capability of the milling machine that matters. How hast can you spin the machine's screw and linear rails components without inducing vibrations. Fast and accurate machines are very very expensive.

As a title of example, the G-code generation for a small machine can take a couple of seconds, like compiling a Java program, but running the G-code to engrave the model on a small/cheap milling machine can take from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours depending on the complexity and resolution of the model.

All the process I've talked about can be done in batch mode. If you don't want to see it and you are sure about the results you don't even need a video card.
July 20, 2006 11:27:26 PM

There is a very cool book :

FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication (by Neil Gershenfeld)

that describes the use of computers to personal manufacture things.

3D in non-gaming world? I guess there is some sort of convergence of technologies between gaming and serious computations. Pretty much 3D mathematics is used in physics computations of pretty much anything: dynamics, strength of structures, computational fluid dynamics, magnetic fields, CAD, CAM and meshing as a common denominator of all these things etc. There is an enormous need to calculate things and I can see how next generations of video cards may be helpful. There is concept outhere, callded general purpose calculations GPU (GPGPU), which means unloading the calculations from CPU to GPU so they can be done faster because of the parallel execution that video cards inherently do.

I would like to see video cards in the future that have pixel shaders capable of double precision and easier programming infrastructure. I'm not very familiar but shouldn't the unified shaders take care of this problem?

Anyway, currently there are structural analysis and comutational fluid dynamics software that are written for parrallel processing machines/clusters and they can run in single precision and give pretty good results for certain configurations if a good quality mesh of the simulation is provided. They run for hours on multiple CPU machines/clusters. In the future they may use the GPU's to do that. All these computational software end up in solving iteratively massive (millions or billions of unknowns) sparse linear or nonlinear systems of equations. Parallel execution is the way to go, and video cards processing of 3d geometry data or pixels is inherently parallel. And you can relatively easy map the physical data to 3d vertex or pixel data, then let the multiple pipelines vertex and pixel custom written shaders that implement the physics calculations solve it.
July 21, 2006 4:36:30 AM

Thanks for all the info. I read it all!
July 21, 2006 6:02:14 AM

this was an amazing article. my father is a machinest that makes lots of parts for oil exploration, linear drives, and the general areospace community. it is a very very lucrative business and one that he does extremely well. i guess i have grown up with cnc machines so when i saw how small the one used in this article was i was very suprised. i had envisioned something on a much grander scale.

the largest machine used in our shop has axis travels of 60"x30"x30"



hope this really brings the power of the cnc to light.

o and some thing really cool is that a year or so ago boeing was doing research into a plane mounted laser to shoot down incoming missles and our shop got the job to make massive bobbins for the motors that would drive them. http://www.boeing.com/defense-space/military/abl/


http://www.fadal.com/
http://www.femcousa.com/
July 21, 2006 1:27:47 PM

Quote:
the largest machine used in our shop has axis travels of 60"x30"x30"


I used to work for a company that owned a CNC machine with a stroke of 40 feet!
July 21, 2006 2:53:37 PM

There is a free modeling program out (has been out for a while now, as in years) called 'Wings3D'. Its availible for Linux, and windows. According to professional modelers that I know from IRC (who work in gamming development), its every bit as good as Maya, or 3DSMax.

I've used it myself, along with Maya, and 3DSMax, and I have to say that Wings3D seems to have a much easier learning curve.
July 21, 2006 3:54:32 PM

CNC milling i beleve has to be the most interesting form of machining.

i never knew that CNC mills could be so cheap though. the cheapest mills at my school are $10,000 and the cheapest at my dads work are $500,000.

for the best CAD/CAM program i suguest Mastercam X. its expencive $5000. but its the best. and if you want to do more disign and less precision mastercam Art is great.[/img]
July 22, 2006 12:17:54 AM

The milling machines we used at the company I used to work at 3-4 years ago, ran $125,000 recertified, and $186,000 new (shipping not included, from germany), ran Unix and a console program for milling ops (could remotely connect to it via any OS and drop a text based file in for different parts). The newest machine they had ran about $320,000 and ran Win98SE.

All of these machines were liquid cooled ( mixture of water, and a special coolant), had automatic tool changers (8 tool head, for ops that required more than one tool) , and mainly were used to machine aluminum, and brass. Depening on how fast the machines ran, tolerances could be fair, to terrible, but not much accuracy needed when machining keyways for door locks, and the like, well, the produced parts were accurate, depends on what you want to compare them to, I've seen some machines that are truely atonishing (not in this price range though).
July 22, 2006 4:14:35 PM

Generally the industry milling machines, everithing is controlled by the industrial programmable logic controller which hasn't change much since the 60's (I mean it's architecture and even programming language) and the axis control board and they don't need much computing power we are talking about 100 lines of code for a control board.
If you are interested in milling here are some basic tips:
- avoid 90° angles (they are impossible to make)
- make sure you are always milling with the exteriour of your tool not the center (the cuting speed at the center is ZERO)
- with the 3d modeling program you also need a file which tell the simulater the limits (turning speed advancemt) and borders, this file is generally expensive
- search for books and catalogs which will help you choose the optimal speed for the tool your are using and the material which you are milling.
July 23, 2006 4:46:29 PM

For Real 3d modeling software look up ProEngineer or SolidWorks
They btw use OGL only I believe.

And both are...Not Cheap...
Last i knew the educational package that is sold to colleges and the like is $3000 (this is for ProE, which i use at work).
a Full blown version can, depending on the features/packages you need (ie unneutered) will cost you in excess of $30k for a single seat, not too mention Yearly "maintenance" subscription of several $1k per seat. (seat == liscence) (and you thought yearly av subscriptions suck)
(if you dont pay the "maintenance" when a new version comes out you have to pay full price over again and if theres any like "half" versions or major updates instead of a full release...well then you have to buy it all over again...its a specialized market and they bend you over for it)
the place where im at now doesnt pay as much for their seats and so im missing functions i used to use daily at previous employer and it drives me nuts (funny thing is i went from small tool shop to very large international co. that will blow money like water on sideaction tool cause they dont want to think hard but wont get a fully fleshed out ProE...wtf)

the preferred graphics cards for software like this are the Quadro series from nvidia and the Firegl from ATI
entry level prices on those cards are $400ish (which is like using an mx4000 for gaming) and ranges up to $1500 on egg for a worth while card. these cards btw are almost completely worthless for gaming.
there are other companies that make other Expensive cards but as in gaming ati and nvidia are everywhere

for milling machines the used market is where you find reasonable prices for mills, though if you have plenty of time on your hands just get yourself a nice bridgeport (ie glorified drill press)
for sharp corners you'll need to get yourself a ram edm machine
July 23, 2006 5:23:48 PM

Quote:
There is a free modeling program out (has been out for a while now, as in years) called 'Wings3D'. Its availible for Linux, and windows. According to professional modelers that I know from IRC (who work in gamming development), its every bit as good as Maya, or 3DSMax.

I've used it myself, along with Maya, and 3DSMax, and I have to say that Wings3D seems to have a much easier learning curve.


I personally never liked wings 3d due to its limtations

You can down load some CNC CAD/CAM demo programs for windows here:

http://www.microkinetics.com/cncsoft.htm

Theyre just demos, and so very limited, however they are useful to get a feel for the type of software available for smaller non production machines


Peace
July 24, 2006 7:29:29 AM

There are some trial versions of AutoCad and Solidworks which can output to DXF for 2 and 2.5 D. Then just use some G-Code interpreter like Mach or TurboCNC.

You can also convert a small mill like the ones at embeddedtrinics and fignoggle.com which can do the work for under $1000.
July 24, 2006 9:54:34 AM

I use Catia v5r13 and Unigraphix nx3, don't ask about the prices beacuse you might fall of your chair :)  .
July 24, 2006 3:31:59 PM

Check out CNC Fusion, there are a lot of videos, and info on making your own CNC mill.
July 27, 2006 5:33:19 AM

it depends on the application (milling soft to hard metal or milling of soft plastics or wood).cost of a cnc milling machine can cost from s$40,000 to the expensive high speed milling machines which cost a cool s$400,000.
!