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Need Advice: New Shop PC Purchase

Discussion in 'Computer Hardware' started by diverscott, Feb 2, 2010.

  1. diverscott

    diverscott Member

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    Jan 28, 2010
    ocala, fl
    Thanks to all for the helpful information gathered here on the site. I'm fairly new to the business, having been working in a shop for only about a year and a half. I pretty much just fell into the role of CNC operator because I was the only worker other than the owner with computer skills. I've learned the ropes and am trying to get things squared away on the technology and equipment end.

    We've suffered for a while on an old shop PC that was "old" when Windows XP was new. The machine only has a 25g hard drive, for goodness sakes. We're using this dinosaur as our primary CNC router platform and it has caused us about an hour's worth of down time each day, between crashes and boot-up scanning. I've pressed the issue and pressed it some more and am finally getting the message through to the owner that we're losing productivity and are wasting his cash because of the down time and job interruptions. So, now we're finally looking at getting a new machine. My boss doesn't like to spend a lot, but on this issue, I'm puttig my foot down, since I figure we lose over $1,000 a week in costs. What I'd like to ask is for input on what a growing shop should be looking toward to get the most bang for the buck.

    The shop produces pretty much every type of product, with the exception of vinyl. We do a good number of indoor ADA signs with braille, as well as a lot of PVC aluminum blanks and shape cutting. Another item we do is routed signage with quite a bit of detail (down to 1/16in).

    At this point, we use FlexiSIGN for our layouts, with the Enroute program to drive the CNC operation. The CNC is a Multicam "M" Series, with a serial cable connection which is plugged into the computer, which sits right next to the vacuum table. There is an ethernet port on the side of the CNC housing, but the owner doesn't know whether it works or not.

    My vision would be to run the PC from within the office and move it off of the production floor. The shop has far too much dust, shavings, moisture and oil in the air to operate the PC in. (I take the sides off the machine every day and remove about 2 to 3 cups of debris from off the boards.) To move it off the floor, I'd like to run wireless to the router, but am not sure if that's an option (does anyone know?). Another possible scenario would be attempting the ethernet connection and running some CAT-5 out from the office.

    For OS, I'm thinking of running Windows 7. Would I need the 64 bit platform, or would the 32 bit work with our Flexi / Enroute software? Should I maybe even skip Windows 7 and stay on a Vista system? The shop's PC needs to be able to run MS Office to allow us to e-mail files and collaborate on project tracking and project cost worksheets.

    Finally, are we getting the best productivity advantage with Flexi and Enroute? As I mentioned earlier, I'm new to the field and learned our software on the fly. I have no doubt I could learn new software, but it can't come at the expense of down-time for the shop's production. Most of our clients send our files in .FS format (Flexi). Additionally, the boss does a significant portion of our designs from the home office, so the software we use for the layout portion would have to be flexi-friendly. As far as the routing portion of production goes, I know there are a lot more advanced programs for the CNC, such as Rhino, but I really have no experience with those, either. Many I've noted do 5-axis routing. We only need 3-axis, but 3D textures and shapes are something we'd like to get into. We are definately looking to upgrade software, but I'd like to make sure we upgrade to an appropriate product.

    Additionally, we are also discussing expanding to a vinyl cutting system for cutting rubberized sand blasting resists. Any info on that process would be a life saver. I used a Gerber EnVision 15" a lifetime ago in a totally different line of work. I'm fairly familiar with how the vinyl process works, yet I need a quick course in today's standard industry equipment.

    Thanks, in advance, for the help. Any input would be greatly appreciated.
     
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  2. J Hill Designs

    J Hill Designs Major Contributor

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    Sep 24, 2004
    I would try ethernet before wireless...
     
  3. Gino

    Gino Premium Subscriber

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    You might consider putting this request into a more fitting category. More people might see it and then possibly respond for you.
     
  4. diverscott

    diverscott Member

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    Jan 28, 2010
    ocala, fl
    Good point, Gino! The reason I chose the newbie category was because of my lower level of knowledge about systems, software, etc. I figured I'd be able to get a more basic and insightful answer, rather than an expert-to-expert answer that might be short, to the point, and missing more of the meat and potatoes info that I'd be needing. At this point, an answer like "XYZ running in B compatability and imported as a .YYY through C" isn't the kind of ammo I need to help get my boss into action. I'll need something more substantive like "Product X lets you design and route in 3D from the same software package, so its worth the extra $50 over the basic version."

    Thanks for the reply, however. If I don;t get more replies, I'll definately consider reaching out to one of the more advanced forums. :notworthy:
     
  5. jemmyell

    jemmyell Member

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    Jan 29, 2010
    Hi,

    The most bang for your buck in new software will be Vectric products. If you want to do very high end relief carving or V carved signage then have a look.

    http://www.vectric.com/

    They do come with design tools, but people will also use things like Rhino (true 3D - big$) or CorelDRAW (2D but Aspire can use these files).

    You can also buy artwork and a complete getting started package from them.

    -James
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2010
  6. SignBurst PCs

    SignBurst PCs Very Active Member

    I would be happy to talk to anyone from Signs101.com about a new computer purchase.

    Give me a call anytime.
     
  7. jiarby

    jiarby Major Contributor

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    If moving the pc pay attention to the interface to the router. Does it still have to be serial or can your router do other types (ideally ethernet with some kind of local machine controller) Maybe USB?

    Most newer PC's no longer have DB9 Serial connections. You may need an I/O board if the same serial interface is required.

    I used to buy these enclosures to protect PC's in an aerospace machine shop environment (metal shavings, lots of oil coolant everywhere!)

    http://www.chdist.com/1/1/1384-lista-computer-cabinet.html
     
  8. Mike Jackson

    Mike Jackson Member

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    Jan 24, 2010
    I agree with many of the comments above. If you are reliant on any specific piece of hardware or software, you need to find a computer that can handle it. Moving to a 64 bit system is a bit more risky right now because not all hardware and software have been certified to run with it. Some companies are not upgrading (quickly or ever). Most new computers are now going to USB ports and won't have the old serial or parallel ports. If your equipment will work with one of the adapters, it might work. I'd ask a lot of questions to your software and hardware vendors before picking. I just upgraded to a new 64 bit Windows 7 system and it wasn't a perfectly smooth transition, but it did work for the most part.

    Mike Jackson
    www.goldenstudios.com
     
  9. diverscott

    diverscott Member

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    Jan 28, 2010
    ocala, fl
    From the impression I'm getting from the owner, whichever system we do go with will have to last a long time. (He's notoriously ... um... trying to be nice... "un-money-spending") I was leaning toward a Windows 7 OS solely for future functionality. We definitely can't stay in XP. Upgrading to Vista poses future support problems, as it will become more and more obsolete over the next few years.

    Unless the router table goes up in smoke, or we get a localized EMP pulse on the cutting table, I'm stuck with the Multicam M, which is, truthfully, quite old, itself. We will most likely not be machining parts for NASA, but we might be looking into the V-carved signs, as well as some of the 3D texturing, such as faux brick and pebble textures. Rounded lettering and surfaces are also on the horizon.

    Jhill had posted:
    ...was this simply a throughput issue, or a connection reliability issue? We handle a lot of aluminum sheeting, (as well as sheets of PVC, MDO, foam, you name it...) often an inch in thickness or greater. The floor areas aren't so great for routing wiring, although a ceiling drop is feasible, but not the greatest floorplan, since I'd like to be able to use the forklift around 340 degrees of the table. Although the table is 80" x 168", we often cut extended single sheets of metal exceeding 18 feet by hanging them over the front and back. This also presents an interference area. Our serial cable had been broken several times during material loading and unloading. A quick work around was to keep it un-screwed from the socket. Now, when something snags it, it simply falls out of the receptacle. Again, not a "quality" solution. To make matters worse, some of our projects are intensive enough that we opt to take the show on the road and transport the CNC to the job site, rather than waste time and money commuting several hours each way.

    If the wireless works with this type of equipment (unknown), it would be a good plan to keep an ethernet backup ready on the sidelines.

    Again, a lot of good info. I'm trying to get our Multicam vendor back on the phone to help me determine what the system has onboard. Their cards are all custom built and, from what I can tell, we bought the system used several years ago. Its turning out to be a challenge just to nail down what features I'm trying to accommodate, even.
     
  10. jiarby

    jiarby Major Contributor

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    Wired (1gbps) is faster, more secure (not broadcasting data in open air), and more reliable (low powered radio waves suck)

    It is ALWAYS better to run a cable, but usually more difficult from an infrastructure perspective. Think about it like this:

    Wireless... easy & cheap to setup initially but you cuss daily for the next 5 years.

    Wired... expensive to install new wiring (if done right), but then rock solid forever (well a decade or two anyway).


    My choice is to cuss up front about the expense & hassle of running cable, but then have smooth sailing for the next 5 years. Wireless is going to be changing every 18months. Then you also will have driver issues, bandwidth issues, connection issues, encryption & security issues.

    Make signs.... not radio waves.
     
  11. J Hill Designs

    J Hill Designs Major Contributor

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    more signal dropout than anything to answer your question...must be a pain to move that thing to the jobsite...
     
  12. SignBurst PCs

    SignBurst PCs Very Active Member

    absolutely agree 100%
     
  13. diverscott

    diverscott Member

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    Jan 28, 2010
    ocala, fl
    For the CNC, files are small. The largest ones typically range from 500K to 800K. So, speed isn't an issue there. However, I'm not sure what file sizes will look like if we add a vinyl process or if the world stops spinning and we actually invest in a new CNC system.

    Now, if we do add additional systems (plotter for templates or vinyl machine), would we need to add a job controller into the hardware mix, or just set them all up on the router as seperate network output devices? Our shop functions essentially as a one-person cutting operation with a few employees who back me up with prep and finishing work. In other words, as we sit now, the computer is never in use for design or editing while the CNC is running, since I can only be in one place at a time. This seems to infer that I'd only be running one device at a time, however we never know if we'll expand.

    The security issue is pretty benign. We're located rurally and I always use an encryption key on the network. To interfere with the system, you'd have to be in the parking lot. I agree it is an additional level of hassle, but the system will be receiving its internet feed through wireless G, so there's always some exposure. I know our printer is bluetooth enabled, which means it has to be set up to accept signal from certain discoverable systems and can hide from discovery the rest of the time. Is this a technology that's seen on modern sign industry equipment, or does it lean more to the rudimentary ethernet / USB connection as the high-end option?

    Actually, you'd be surprised how easy it is. As long as the site provides us 3 taps of 220 power, we just un-bolt 4 bolts from the air compressor feet and load it on a truck with its hoses. The vacuum tube pulls out of the CNC's vacuum table because when it runs the vacuum pulls the tube together, preventing us from needing to have it permanently fixed. We load the vacuum and piping then forklift the table onto a flat bed trailer. Then comes the PC cart. A few straps on the CNC and some protective sheeting complete the load. When we get to the site, we assemble the vacuum and air; level the table and run a few calibrations on the cutting motors and we're in business. Again, this isn't something we'd do every job, but when we're working 3 hours from home on... say... a military base, where we're doing several thousand custom signs, it saves us a lot of hours in travel time each day. Plus, when we cut the signs and the customer wants them changed to say something different after they see them on the wall, we can typically do them on the fly.
     
  14. diverscott

    diverscott Member

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    Jan 28, 2010
    ocala, fl
    Yeah - If you were out there at Luke AFB, in Phoenix, at the time, you might have gotten the idea from me. I ran the support section at the 308th AMU for about 8 years, before I retired in mid-2008. We were Canyon State's first Air Force contract, on the base. (Canyon State has the franchise rights for Lista in the Phoenix / Tuscon area.) I think I spent over $400k on their Lista cabinets and shelving, over the few years I was out there.

    The cabinets are nice for a machine-side system, but I only really need the control head next to the CNC. The computer is mostly for design and needs to be moved. (Reading between the lines will show that we work in an open bay shop with no air or heat in central Florida. The boss isn't keen on amenities. We have air conditioning in the office, which opens into the bay area, so that's where the PC belongs -- to keep it cool and in a lower humidity environment.) Also, having a desktop is nice for spreading out stacks of blueprints, engineering diagrams, production sheets and submittal packages.
     
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