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A Step-by-step Guide to Milling Machine CNC Conversion

There are some things you should know if you want to convert your existing manual mini-mill to a CNC mill or if you want to buy a new mini-mill to convert to a CNC mill.

Converting a mini-mill is not a simple plug-and-play solution with a kit. A successful transformation requires planning, expertise, and the correct components. In this particular guide, we provide an overview of the entire process.

Knowing the Mini Mill to CNC Conversion Kit

Converting a mini mill or benchtop mill entails installing a new set of mechanical and electronic components in your Mini Mill. The mechanical component replaces the mini-lead Mill’s screws with ball screws and double nuts.

The lead screws in benchtop mini-mills have backlash and are not designed for CNC operation, so you need a new mechanical system. Ball screws have minimal backlash and are an excellent choice for a CNC drive.

Components for Electronics (Kit)

The electronics to control the CNC are the second component of the conversion.

Stepper drivers, a controller, limit switches (3), and mechanical test probes would be required for controlling the X, Y, and Z axes.

If you would like to regulate the spindle manually with buttons, you can purchase a VFD. Of course, a desktop located at the other end of the controller is required to run your CNC software and provide regular instructions to the Mill.

Unlike the mechanical kit, there are several paths to go here depending on your favorite application (Mach3, GRBL, or LinuxCNC are some examples).

A Step-by-step Guide to Milling Machine CNC Conversion

The exact steps rely heavily on the framework of your mini-Mill and the electronics you choose. This guide only gives a detailed framework to adopt and follow.

Step 1: Mechanical Retrofitting

Knowing the basics of assembly and disassembly.

For the conversion, the entire Mill must be disassembled. It’s not as easy as swapping out the handles for stepper motors.

To begin, each axis of the Mill will be disassembled, and ball screws will be installed in place of lead screws for each axis.

A ball screw’s threaded shaft is designed to just be spiral raceways for the ball bearings within the unique nut.

The weight of a typical benchtop mill’s Z-axis can exceed a thousand pounds, necessitating an engine hoist to choose up and move the axes.

Adding in the CNC Components by removal and fastening of flooring nuts

You will need to remove your Mill because it might be fastened to the floor using nuts and bolts. You must manually add the CNC components to each axis after removing it. Remove the lead screws from each axis and swap them with ball screws. Be aware that you must use caution to avoid snagging oil lines when installing the ball screws.

The ball screw nut block must then be installed in place of the lead screw nut block. You will require an adaptor to secure the ball screw nut block to the axis of the mounting holes in the nut block that do not line up.

Additionally, you might need to manually grind the entire thing to fit. Your Mill may have been screwed to the ground with nuts and bolts, and you’ll have to remove it. With each axis removed, you’ll need to add CNC components to them individually. Remove the lead screws from each axis and substitute them with ball screws. 

Assembling everything again

The lead screw nut block must be supplemented with the ball screw nut block. If some of the mounting holes in the nut block do not complement, an adapter will be required to secure the ball screw nut block to the axis.

You may also have to do some manual grinding to get everything to fit properly. This is understandable, given that this is not a plug-and-play solution. The other option would be to make some of the sections yourself. After inserting the ball screws into the axis, the oil lines must be replaced.

Connection of Stepper Motors and Tramming

The stepper motors must then be connected to the axis. Verify that the stepper motors can support the Mill’s considerable Z-axis weight. For the remaining two axes, use the same procedures. Reinstall the X and Y axes first on the base.

The Z-axis or the column block must then be put in position. Before using the Mill, ensure the Z-axis is squared up so that it is exactly perpendicular to the table. The micro-Mill is trammed in this circumstance. A tramming indicator, which is for sale, is used for this. 

Shimming the Mill

If the Mill is not trammed after checking with the indicator, you must place thin metal sheets under the foundation to correct the tilting. Shimming the mill column is the term used for this.

To correct the lean and push the column to the opposite side, you should place the metal sheet on the base’s side where the column is slanting. To determine whether the tramming is finished, you’ll need to experiment with sheets of various thicknesses and test the lean using an indicator at each step.

Tramming the spindle and correcting Tilt.

Following the tramming of the column, you must tram the spindle to ensure it is not tilted. The table or base that the Mill is set must be square to the spindle.

The Tilt on the spindle has to be checked using the tramming indicator, much like the Tilt on the column. Several YouTube videos demonstrate how to achieve this precisely. Once you’ve located the Tilt, you must touch the headstock in the opposite direction to make up for it.

In order to correct for the Tilt, loosen the nuts and tap them with a hammer. You must tighten the bolts again and test the indication to determine if the issue has been resolved. In order to get any assistance, you can reach out to us.

Sep 2: Fixation of Electronics for the CNC to our tiny Mill

Configuring the Electronics and Installing Stepper Motors

After finishing the mechanical component, you must configure the CNC’s electronics. Remember that you must first install the stepper motors for each axis.

The stepper motors’ brain/control system, something that transforms the machine into a computer-controlled one as opposed to a manually driven mill, has to be fixed right away. 

The CNC’s electronics can be built in a variety of ways. I’ll merely describe how to create a simple system. 

Creating the electronics needed for the machine

Along with an unregulated DC power source, you’ll also need two probes and three limit switches.

Additionally, three stepper motor drivers are required. I advise using lead shine DM860T stepper drivers to run NEMA 34 stepper motors (up to 7A). For the X and Y axes, NEMA 23 stepper motors will likely be enough. Simply determine how much torque you want and choose the proper stepper motor.

You may select any controller that utilizes Linux CNC, Mach3, or GRBL as a controller. To ensure that you have adequate power for your tabletop mill, it contains very powerful motors and drives.

Know the limit switches

Noting that the Mill has spatial awareness thanks to the limit switches, which prevent it from going beyond its physical boundaries. Before starting the milling, the stock position is evaluated using probes. Additionally, you need a computer linked to the controller through a USB, Ethernet, or parallel port cable. Depending on the controller you choose.

Before starting the milling, the stock position is evaluated using probes. Additionally, you certainly need a computer that is linked to the controller through a USB, Ethernet, or parallel port cable, depending on the controller you choose.

Retrofitting the spindle system

The spindle system needs to be retrofitted next. You must change your mini-spindle Mill’s motor system from a gear-driven system to a belt-driven one. Whichever route you choose, be sure you select a NEMA 34 with a Z-axis holding torque of at least 900 oz. In.

You will require a VFD motor controller to control the spindle. You must get a VFD controller that is compatible with your spindle motor.

Typically, the VFD will feature manual spindle RPM adjustment buttons. The spindle’s direction of rotation can also be reversed. If you’d rather use your computer to manage the spindle speed than the manual buttons, you may also connect the VFD to the controller. Which controller you choose will determine the software you use to control everything from your computer. It may be Mach3, GRBL, or LinuxCNC. It may potentially be something else. There are a ton of options available.

Should you go for CNC Conversion?

Before taking any hazard, please note that this procedure will need at least a week of labor and, if you can only work on weekends, perhaps a month.

Additionally, one would want assistance from a second person owing to the necessity of hoisting hefty components. You also need to have a basic understanding of how a small mill works. Additionally, it is very helpful if you have constructed or used at least a small CNC mill in the past.

You can read our article, ‘5 Best CNC Machines For Beginners In 2022,’ to know more about CNC machines. 

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The Final Word

In conclusion, whether you’re purchasing a new mini-mill for CNC conversion or retrofitting your current mini-Mill, be sure you know what you need and how to do it.

If done properly, it may offer you a usable home CNC mill for a price that is far less than a brand-new entry-level CNC mill from many companies.

 

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