My 6090 CNC Router
In February 2004 I purchased my first
CNC router from an agent in Melbourne (no longer importing machines). It is a Chinese import from Stepmores (www.stepmores.com
- Jinan Chentuo Industry) who manufacture/distribute a wide range of CNC
machines of all sizes. Mine is the 6090
bench-top model, i.e. it has a bed size of 600 by 900 mm.
It has a 1.5 kW water cooled spindle, and comes with a Z-height
sensor (absolutely necessary) and a LED light that attaches to the spindle
that greatly improves visibility.
CNC routers at this smaller end of the scale are
available from quite a few manufactures, mainly in the USA, Germany and,
of course, China. The Chinese products are
widely available on the internet (eBay and the like).
Importing one directly from China seems a little daunting with the
risks associated with service, support and perhaps quality control.
The web is awash with sad tales of poor quality products from
China and the difficulties of getting support. The
chance to buy locally (in Australia, that is – even though I am 3500 km
way from Melbourne) was a risk-reducing strategy, though probably adding
AUD$1000 to the price for the privilege.
Many of the smaller CNC routers provide controllers
driven through parallel (LPT) ports from a PC. This
type of connection was developed before the days of USB communications and
was necessary to achieve the required high speed two-way communications
required between the CNC machine and the host computer.
With the advent of USB and the more sophisticated windows
operating systems there is a move towards supporting USB communication
interfaces. There are a
number of USB/LPT converters available, and also some comments that some
work better than others. These allow the
computer's USB port to be connected to the LPT port provided in the
controller box and thus allow a computer without a LPT port to be used. This also reduces the complications of using a
modern Windows OS (W7, W8 or W10) where access to the LPT port (perhaps
via a new add-in card) is more difficult to achieve, or using a notebook
computer that may not support an LPT card.
My 6090 controller comes standard with a USB interface
and the appropriate drivers for Mach3. It is
the AKZ250 Mach3 USB Motion Card from leafboy77.com
(a Chinese supplier). It comes with the
appropriate driver that, once installed, works with no problems on my
Windows 7 (now W10) computer. This
USB-based motion controller seems to work quite well, I have not detected
any communications problems.
Machine Arrival and Installation
My machine had to be shipped from Melbourne to Perth,
and it arrived safely after a week or so after transit across the
Here it is in its packaging box as delivered:
It was bigger than expected, even though the supplier
indicated that it would weight 170 kg. It is
a “4-man” job to unpack, move and install it, though with a bit of
technology support 2 people can do it. Here
is how it looks with the top of the box off:
It came well
packaged, with a plastic cover to keep moisture at bay.
Given the weight and size (it is nearly 1 metre wide and 1.5
metres long) relocating into a workshop requires a wide door, or some
cleaver maneuvering to get in indoors. After unpacking and moving to
workshop here it is, still on the floor.
I did not make any specific plans for installing until
I had it to measure up, so the first task was to build a table to place it
on. This table is half home grown. One
must be creative and opportunistic. After
looking for a “proper” workshop bench I decided to use a rather cheaper
IKEA wooden kitchen table with some modifications to increase its
rigidity. These also provide a useful bench
for the controller and water tank, as well as strengthening the whole
unit. I also added locking casters as a means
of moving it about as it is too heavy for one person to move.
To improve the stability, once in position, I have added four
heavy duty lifting levellers (these can be found in the internet); these
jack the table up off the casters when operating.
The only part of the supplied package that looked
“poor” was the water tank used for the cooling water supply.
A rather flat container with a large removable lid was provided.
While this might have worked well enough I decided to get a somewhat
larger (30 litre) and more robust water container from my local hardware
Here is the controller, front and rear views of the
At the rear we have the 3-axis motor cables, a power
cable for the spindle, a power cable for the light, and another for the
Z-height calibrator and one to the water pump that goes inside the tank. All these cables are collected into a single
umbilical cable that goes to the rear end of the machine. There is a spare
spot for a 4th axis (since installed). There
is a socket for the USB cable from the host computer.
On the front there is a power on/off button and an
emergency stop button (that has been used a few times already).
There are on/off switches for the spindle, light and cooling
water pump. Also, the spindle motor speed
controller control panel. This comes
pre-configured for remote operation and seems to work as required with no
Setting-up the Machine
I am sure that as my experience grows I will find many
more ways to configure the set up to make the operations run more
Some initial observations:
machine looks quite well made and is well presented.
Just small number of paint chips
the screw drives are well protected from dust and wandering fingers.
cabling seems quite secure and well protected.
T-slot table is a great plus as it makes hold-down a breeze.
Some initial additions have been:
a wireless controlled MPG pendant controller for Mach3.
I purchased the XHC model with wireless communications to a USB
port. These a readily available on the
internet via eBay. This has been a most
useful add-on as it allows me to control the machine at the machine and
not be backwards and forwards to the mouse/keyboard.
It works reasonably well though occasionally seems to stop
working, but still good value for the price. It
comes with a number of standard functions programmed, and others can be
added to the spare function keys to suit personal preferences.
- I have made an extension cable for the Z-height sensor, as the one
supplied is rather short and will not reach across the whole machine
Mach3 user interface looks rather dated (Mach4 is on the way, this may
be better), but I found a rather good screen layout alternative (the
2010 Screenset, from http://home.comcast.net/~cncwoodworker/2010.html),
screen set provides a much better (IMHO) user experience and access to
the various control functions. As a part of
this package you also get an improved Z-height calibrator compared to
the one provided with the machine.
of the challenges I have found is re-aligning the XY origin when it is
necessary to remove and re-attach a work piece. To
assist with this I have purchased a laser edge finder (from http://www.lasercenteredgefinder.com).
This fits in the spindle collet and provides
a vertical laser beam that provides a quite accurate (with care to about
0.1 mm) sight for alignment or resetting the XY zero position.
- Another approach is to use a mini-USB camera
mounted on a spindle, like this one (from www.homanndesigns.com).
Basically it is a fairly standard USB camera attached to an alignable
spindle shaft for insertion into the spindle collet.
The image from the camera can be observed
using a camera plugin in Mach3. Though, I have found that the
standard Mach3 video plugin does not work reliably - the driver
crashes. But an alternative video plugin (from
to work quite well. Once correctly aligned this option appears to be
the most accurate, as it seems possible to align to within 0.1mm without
- For more approximate, and quick to use, I have built a laser-based
cross-hair tool that is attached to the side of the spindle
holder. After alignment, the offsets from the spindle centre can
be measured, so a small Mach3 macro can be used to move the spindle by
these X,Y amounts. The macro will move the spindle to the required
postion and set the local X,Y coordinates to zero at the same
time. The laser module produces a cross beam, perhaps about 0.5 mm
- To maintain an eye on the flow of the water coolant to the spindle
(see Machine Issues below) I have installed a small flow meter in the
plastic tubing on the return side to the water tank.
This flow meter has proven very useful as it
provides a continuous feedback on the state of the coolant flow (about 0.7
litres/min from a small garden fountain pump). This flow meter is
battery driven, but only runs when there is a detectable flow.
My machine is used several days per week, so that means quite a few hours
of use since installation. Naturally there have been some issues to
deal with. The most significant ones have been:
- Power supply failure: The power supply inside the controller has has
failed twice, probably due to overheating. The symptoms were a
loss of power to the motor drivers after running for 30 minutes or
so. Given that these failures occurred outside any warranty period
I have to get replacements from China. At is turned out this was a
painless process, the manufacture was quite cooperative, though I had to
pay (not a lot , $150 or so). The second (similar) failure
was more concerning, but the third power supply seems to be OK.
- I have had to also replace the spindle, my fault this time. I
failed to use distilled water for the coolant, so the first spindle
become clogged with salt deposits. Again the manufacturer supplied
a replacement for a modest price (about $200). The only issue was
that the wiring of the connector plug was the reverse of the original,
so the spindle ran backwards. Once identified, it was only a
matter of swapping one pair of the 3Ph power cables at the VFD in the
For a machine that does get a reasonable amount of use, you can expect to
have some issues. It is important, therefore, to be confident that
you can be support and parts.
There are many products available that assist with
creating the graphics and the cut paths. What
you need depends very much on the type of work.
create DXF files I use NanoCAD,
this is a free drafting package that we well suited to producing complex
drawings, mainly 2D. There are paid, and more update date
versions, but the older free version is quite useful.
primary CAM package is CamBam. This is an excellent product and reasonably
priced tool for those tasks that are mainly “geometrical” and you want
full control of the cutting operations. It
also has a growing range of plugins and can be scripted for specialised
tasks, and an active user community.
path viewing and simulation I am using CAMotics which is free and does a
More details on the software options is provided elsewhere.