It’s been a cold winter. In an effort to help moderate the temperature in my shop I decided to add another piece of equipment. The extra mass will help smooth out large temperature swings. What machine did I drag home this time? That’s a bit of a long story because I found out later that the machine I brought home wasn’t exactly the machine it was advertised as.
The machine is branded as a Torcam (not Tormach!) ~ 24″ x ~ 24″ x ~ 3″ (X / Y / Z) Router table. It is constructed out of aluminum extrusions and utilizes linear rails and ball screws. This was the main reason I decided to purchase the machine. Once I saw the linear rails and ball screws (and how little the machine had been used) I was sold. After loading the machine into the Sienna, (yes we did break down and buy a minivan for our family and it has been once of the best loathed decisions we ever made!) I snapped a quick picture of my purchase:
The machine did not come with a control which didn’t bother me one bit. I had full intentions of fitting a more up to date modern control anyway. The very very reasonable price I purchased the machine for left plenty of funds to put together a new motion controller.
But I was curious the whole time about this Torcam company. I had never heard of Torcam before and I didn’t do any research regarding the company beforehand. After some digging on the internet I found out that Torcam was a machine tool distributor company out of Ontario Canada who built and sold CNC machines for the educational market. It seems they rebranded machines for sale and it is doubtful that they actually designed and built full machines but I could be completely wrong. It appears the were a going concern in the 1990s to early 2000s and then they disappeared. Given the timeframe of business operations (just before the internet exploded) and what appears to be a limited market for product, very little information is easily found about Torcam and their machines today.
This machine appeared to be very well designed and assembled with care. But who actually made the machine? As soon as I purchased the machine I posted a picture on Instagram and Stefan Gotteswinter immediately commented “ISEL?”. ISEL is a German CNC machine builder who also sells various motion components. ISEL has been in business for a very long time and according to Stefan builds good components and machines for the price. I think most in the industry agree that ISEL stuff is built to a price point and does the job very well.
The machine does look suspiciously German and like something ISEL would manufacture so I decided to find out. After taking a few covers off I noticed this:
It was confirmed. This machine was made with ISEL components and I also now had an approximate date of manufacture. All the components say made in West Germany. That gives you a good idea when this machine was made: early 1990s. I suspect Torcam started importing these machines and selling them. I don’t know what control they shipped with it (did they make their own?) but the hardware was ISEL made.
I made a video and posted it on Youtube (see below). Shortly after posting John commented on the video: “What you have is a Techno Isel router table. Originally released in the late 80’s and early 90’s I can with what was called a machine 100 MS cos controller. Back in the day a new on would be about $ 8000 or so. I have the same machine from the 80’s it ran model and prototype production 24-7 for about two years. I mothballed it for some while then had a new controller built and I still use it today. I made a mount for. 3 h.p. Ryobi router when I first got it in 1987 and it still works like a charm. I run V carve desktop and Mach 3 on it making sings and doing woodwork. My table is 52 by 52 . By the way the stepper can get warm but they seem to convey the heat well. Never any problems running it for 10 to 12 hour runs. Just stay inside the feeds and speeds. The ball screws are a big plus but keep them clean. Like yours mine had no goers on the x and y rails.” Thanks John!!!!
The first step in getting the machine working was building a stand. I took a Saturday morning and put together a quick wood stand. I would have liked to have a welded or concrete stand for it but the weather didn’t permit me working outside so I settled for wood. Maybe in the future I might make a more substantial stand.
I also took some time to make up some leveling feet that would screw onto the legs of the stand:
Once the stand was built it was time to decide upon the motion controller. I looked at a few options like the Centroid Acorn and Mach 4 but I decided upon LinuxCNC. Lot’s of folks are scare of Linux but let me tell you that this was a very straight forward process to get going. I used the Mesa 5i25 and 7i76 LinuxCNC plug and go kit. It was pricey but is a proper motion control interface that utilizes a FPGA in the 5i25. If you purchase the plug and go kit it has the proper firmware flashed on it already that saves you from having to re-flash the Mesa board. Even that though isn’t as hard as it sounds!
For motors and drives I used some stuff sitting around in the shop for a few years. I purchased 3 motors and drives used a number of years back. The motors were 60BYGH303-13 425 ounce inch dual shaft steppers that were almost a drop replacement for the small steppers that the machine came with. The drives were knock offs of knock offs drives. Very little information is available for the CW230 stepper driver but I did some comparing and it appears that they are copies of the Keling KL4030 drive which seems to be based on an older Leadshine or Gecko drive. I set them up to run at 36 volts (using a linear power supply which will probably burn out) and used 1/8 micro stepping – the highest you probably should go. I built up a panel and put all the bits inside. Here you can see it in progress:
Setting up LinuxCNC was a simple as wiring up the Mesa interface board, installing LinuxCNC on an older computer and running the configuration wizard. You need to be careful to enter the information into the wizard properly. I entered everything carefully and once done I ran LinuxCNC and moved the table around. I used stock drive timings for the KL4030 that were directly out of the wizard.
I wired up the homing switches and tried to tidy up the wiring as best I could with some cable chain and wire loom. Now I need to mount a spindle and start cutting out parts! I may spend some more time tuning the drives and getting the system dialed in but so far I’m very pleased. I’m hoping to post some more information regarding setting up LinuxCNC soon so stay tuned!
I also made a video of the work. Have a look: