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Anyone interested in my Roland MDX-40 milling machine story?
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CrazyFool
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 2:16 am    Post subject: Anyone interested in my Roland MDX-40 milling machine story? Reply with quote

Are you interested in hearing about my Roland MDX-40 learning experiences?

Last year, around August of 2007, I purchased a lightly used Roland MDX-40 rapid prototyping milling machine for about $8,000. Normally they sell for $12,000+ new with the extra attachments that mine came with. (It is the most expensive thing that I own - more than twice as much as I paid for my car!)

I wanted one of these things for years and finally went for it. Unfortunately, I was a bit intimidated by the learning curve and the machine has been sitting and gathering dust for over a year. But I'm about to try again. There are a few things I'd really like to make and I get upset every time I see my machine sitting there quietly idle.

Sooo.... I thought that I might fashion some sort of 'accountability device' by posting my progress somewhere (like here). That way I have a reason to make some headway, as people might be reading my posts to see how it's going.

FYI about the Roland MDX-40. I believe that the newest Darth Vader helmet was carved with an MDX-20 (discontinued little brother of the MDX-40). A silicon rubber mold was made of that 3D sculpture and then plastic helmets were made from the rubber mold. So, although the MDX-40 is considered a 'one-off prototyping machine', you can see how it might be used in conjunction with rubber molds and plastic resin to produce thousands of copies of your idea, thereby making it essentially a 'production machine'. (Note: Personally, I think the artists who did the new Vader helmet messed something up. The helmet didn't look right to me, but that's not the machine's fault!)

Episode III Vader helmet made with Roland milling machine


Vader helmet story
http://rolanddga.com/color/gallery/3d/vader/



Stock photo of the Roland MDX-40


So if anyone is interested in my trials and tribulations of learning how to use the machine please post your 'yes' or 'no' here and depending on the response I may start an in depth thread documenting everything.

Thanks!
CF


Last edited by CrazyFool on Fri Oct 10, 2008 2:09 am; edited 4 times in total
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LaughingCheese
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 10:55 am    Post subject: Re: Anyone interested in my Roland MDX-40 milling machine st Reply with quote

CrazyFool wrote:
Are you interested in hearing about my Roland MDX-40 learning experiences?


I am!

Quote:

FYI about the Roland MDX-40. I believe that the newest Darth Vader helmet was carved with an MDX-20 (discontinued little brother of the MDX-40). A silicon rubber mold was made of that 3D sculpture and then plastic helmets were made from the rubber mold. So, although the MDX-40 is considered a 'one-off prototyping machine', you can see how it might be used in conjunction with rubber molds and plastic resin to produce thousands of copies of your idea, thereby making it essentially a 'production machine'. (Note: Personally, I think the artists who did the new Vader helmet messed something up. The helmet didn't look right to me, but that's not the machine's fault!)


Were those rubber molds vac formed or something? Doesn't seem like you could vac form rubber, unless it was like hard rubber or something.

Could you vac form the 3d sculpture directly?
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ahillworks
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 12:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow thats awesome sooooo intrested. Count me in!
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jegner
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 1:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Please, tell us more!

Jim
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Indigogyre
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 7:12 pm    Post subject: Molds Reply with quote

That is so cool. You can design your items and save them and always have the ability to make more once your original wears out. Although it seems to have a limited size with proper design you can join multiple items together into a single larger mold.

Yes! So, what's your first project?

Dean
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CJanssen
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 8:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Definitely want to hear about this project. I would love to get a machine like that. Prob a similar machine that did these joker thug masks for the dark knight.

http://www.movieweb.com/video/V08F4avEIJNPRY

CJ
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CrazyFool
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 13, 2008 1:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

LaughingCheese
I don't think it would be practical to vacuform a complex 3D object. What they did with the Vader helmet was to spread liquid silicon rubber over the helmet sculpture. The liquid hardens into a flexible silicon rubber mold. Jegner is very familiar with this process. I think he even made videos that are on YouTube.

ahillworks
You're in!

jegner
Will do!

Indigogyre
Thanks! You are correct that smaller sculptures can be joined together to form one large sculpture. Somewhere on Roland's website they discuss how the dash of a Saturn car was made in just that way. My first project? Hmm.... "I have detailed files." Very Happy There are several projects on my wish list but I may have to grow up and pick the most practical project for my first run at this. I'll try not to pick something too boring, but sometimes practical can be a tad dull. When I say 'practical' I mean nothing too large, or complex... and something that maybe I can sell on eBay right away!!!

CJanssen
OK! I wouldn't doubt it. It is really amazing all the things we see and buy that have been designed on a PC and sculpted with a milling machine. (Practically everything these days.) What a lot of people don't realize is that it's been this way for many years now.

CF


Last edited by CrazyFool on Wed Aug 13, 2008 6:20 am; edited 2 times in total
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CrazyFool
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 13, 2008 2:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

OK, I'll go for it!! So what's my plan? Plan..? What Plan?? Full speed ahead!!! Very Happy Laughing Very Happy


1. Waiting for training kit (ETA Any Day)
I ordered a 'Training Kit' for $99 from RolandOutlet.com a few days ago. The kit is designed to help the novice user get up and running with an MDX-40 within hours. It walks you through setting up the machine and milling a couple of test sculptures. The kit should arrive in the mail any day. http://www.rolandoutlet.com/product_p/mdx-40-trkit.htm

2. Install 3D software program (08/16/2008)
I had to reformat my hard drive in March and never got around to reinstalling my 3D software program 'LightWave 3D'. It is a beast to install, mainly because I've owned it for several years and purchased upgrades along the way, so I have to install the program in stages. It took about 4 hours last time but I typed notes so hopefully it won't take as long this time. http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/

3. Carve first test sculpture! (08/17/2008)
I hope to use the Training Kit to mill my first test sculpture. That will be a BIG deal for me, because I've owned the MDX-40 for over a year and haven't carved anything with it yet! Argh!! (Note: I do not need LightWave to set up the machine and mill the first test sculpture. The training kit provides everything you need for that.)


FYI about 3D software programs & milling machine software
In order to use the Roland MDX-40 you need some kind of 3D software program to draw your idea with that can export files in a format that the MDX-40's CAM software can understand. It understands several different file types. (I don't know all of them off the top of my head.) There are many 3D software programs that can work with the MDX-40. I bought LightWave 3D long before I purchased the MDX-40 and LightWave can export files in .DXF format (which the MDX-40 understands) so that is the primary reason I am using LightWave. Even though LightWave ($895) is at the lower end of the price spectrum for high end 3D software programs, you don't have to spend that much money. There are lots of 3D programs that will do the job, and I'm pretty sure at least a few of them are FREE. I got into LightWave because I wanted to do 3D animation and some guy at work suggested LightWave when I told him that I was thinking about buying another 3D program called Maya. He said LightWave was much cheaper than Maya (boy was it ever) and already had a proven track record in the special effects industry. Lots of TV commercials, TV shows like Star Trek and even some movies have used LightWave for their special effects. It has won a bunch of awards. Now that I know more about 3D programs I'd say that LightWave is super for flying business logos, lasers, ships, etc... but Maya is better for organic objects like humans, animals and maybe water. They say that Maya has better animation tools as well but LightWave is always improving so I'm not sure where they stand in comparison right now. This is a major oversimplification (and it's been a couple of years since I checked) but... if you want a job in TV learn LightWave 3D. If you want a job in the movie industry learn Maya. And if you want a job in the gaming industry learn 3D Studio Max. Most 3D software programs like LightWave can do many jobs; 3D or 2D animation, still images (for video or print ads), special effects, or even industrial 3D "Computer Aided Drafting" (CAD). Of course, there are dedicated 3D software programs specifically designed for CAD (like AutoCAD or Solidworks) but I wanted a 3D program that could do lots of other stuff like feature film quality special effects and animations. Ever heard of CAD/CAM? What that term means is that if you want to use a machine to sculpt a real life 3D object of your idea you need to design it on a computer (CAD) and send that design to the milling machine's "Computer Aided Manufacturing/Machining" (CAM) software program that will convert your design into a 'tool path'. The milling machine then carves your object out of wood, wax, plastic, or metal using the tool path instructions. I believe that for most milling machines the tool path instructions are in something called 'G-code' but the Roland MDX-40 has its own special CAM software and tool path code that you never have to mess with, so you don't have to worry about learning G-code. However, if you are looking to land a job in the CNC field and you are also looking to buy a milling machine then you would probably be better off not buying a Roland MDX-40 (or older MDX-20). You would want to buy a milling machine that uses G-code so that you can get familiar with G-code. (Most CNC operators must learn G-code because there are times when they need to alter a tool path manually or type in a G-code tool path by hand. Blech!!) Now, if you are going the CNC route with a G-code milling machine then you need two software programs. For CAD you need a 3D program that can export .STL files, which is the standard file type accepted by most CAM software programs. And you need a CAM software program like VisualMill that can convert your CAD design into a G-code tool path. Sound confusing? It's not really. Some milling machines even come packaged with basic versions of CAD & CAM programs so that you can get started right away. Engineers just like to make things sound complicated so they can feel smart and little guys like us won't jump on the band wagon and earn a million bucks working nights at our kitchen tables! Laughing

CF

P.S. There are 3 basic types of milling machines that I know about. The first kind has a drill that points straight down and moves up/down/left/right/back/and forward cutting away material to expose your sculpture. If you want a true 3D sculpture with all sides carved you must carve the sculpture in two parts (because your block of material does not 'flip' or rotate on the table so you can't get at its back side) and attach the parts together after the milling is done... or carve one side, flip the piece over by hand and carve the other side. The second kind of milling machine is just like the first one but it has a '4th Axis' attachment that rotates your block of material so that you can sculpt a completely 3D object in one piece. (This is what I have. My MDX-40 has a 4th axis attachment but I may not always use it because it makes the workspace a bit smaller when you put the attachment inside the machine.) The third kind of milling machine is a 'robotic arm' with a drill for a hand. The arm moves around your block of material, cutting and carving away. These robots are cool but very expensive and typically used for large objects like car bodies or boats.

P.S.S. My knowledge of these subjects is far from complete. If you have anything to add, by all means, be my guest! Cool
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ahillworks
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 13, 2008 6:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow that is awesome. A whole lot of information. Question is it possiable to place a image of an object in the 3d program and then have this made??? If so Crazy Fool and I may have to start talking business!
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CrazyFool
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 14, 2008 1:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

ahillworks

Thanks man. Guess I wrote a book there. Oh well! A cookie for anyone who actually reads it. The short answer to your question is 'yes'. The long answer is 'it depends'.

If you wanted a flat, 2D image made into a 3D object there are a couple of ways to do it. Say you typed the word AHILLWORKS in Microsoft Word and wanted a plate made for your desk that had AHILLWORKS in raised letters. That could be accomplished without involving rocket science. Basically, you would import the 2D image into a 3D software program and then 'extrude' the flat 2D letters into 3D letters. Fairly straight forward. A model of that 3D artwork could then be carved on a milling machine.



But... if you had a photo of your girlfriend and wanted to make a 3D action figure from her photo you are talking serious work. In fact, most 3D artists would probably not attempt it unless you provided them with a photo of your girlfriend from every angle (while she stood still holding the same pose). The artist could then import those flat 2D photos into the 3D program and use the photos as templates while the artist essentially created a 3D model of her figure painstakingly by hand. The work could take days (maybe weeks) depending on the skill of the 3D artist. But the final 3D sculpture could be carved in real life on a milling machine. Many action figures you see in the store are made this way, though a lot are still sculpted by hand in places like China and Korea.



So the answer is 'yes' but it depends on if you're talking about sculpting a 3D box from a drawing of a box that you drew on a napkin, or sculpting a 3D Star Destroyer from a drawing you drew on a napkin. The two projects would be galaxies apart.

If you give me an example maybe I can give you more information. At this point, I am not skilled enough in 3D to do something like the second example (of the man's face). But there are literally thousands of 3D artists out there who would leap at the chance to 'model' a 3D sculpture of your 2D image for a fee. For many of them it would be the first paying 3D gig they ever had! So I doubt it would cost too much. After that you would just need to find someone with a milling machine. The milling portion would be more expensive. Milling can take many hours, sometimes days, depending on the complexity and size of your object. For very complex objects (like an action figure) either the 3D artist or the milling machine owner would have to slice up the 3D sculpture into pieces. Look at a Storm Trooper action figure and you will notice the seams along the body and/or arms and legs. So that takes time. Then you have the electricity expenses and wear and tear on the expensive milling machine and cost of the block(s) of material that will be carved (e.g. blocks of wax). It can add up. But I don't say this to discourage you. Any idea you have can be made into a real world object. You should just know that you might want to shop around for a good deal on the milling step and be aware of what's involved.

This toymaker is a real inspiration. He uses a high end $35,000+ Roland milling machine to carve his stuff but mainly because he produces a lot of toys for big name companies and needs a really fast machine. The same sort of thing can be done on a much less expensive machine. It just takes longer. www.bntstudios.com

CF
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CrazyFool
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 15, 2008 9:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ahillworks,

I realize that I sort of side-stepped your comment about potentially joining forces with someone. Although I'm not opposed to that idea, right now I'm suffering from some pretty heavy big burn out. Most of that burn out is related to working on projects for other people. I'm really eager to finally focus on a project that it completely my own. I'm sure you know the feeling.

But if I'm not able to work with someone right now I might be able to answer questions, point people in the right direction or possibly even help find a 3D artist and/or milling machine owner. I know a few guys who own Roland machines. One guy even mailed me example parts he made from England and refused to accept any money for it.

CF
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jegner
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2008 7:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is really neat, but DANG! What a price tag! Ouch! I've been playing around with an idea that would require some complex milling from CAD files, and would require a 4th axis. Hefty enough from small runs of 10 -20 pieces, but the price tag of the hardware has really held me back.

Jim
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CrazyFool
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2008 9:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I know what you mean about the $$$. I have two jobs (not including the sign job), no wife and no mortgage so I got away with spending more than most people might be able to justify. And if I think the expense can generate income in the long run that helps to justify it too.

It's possible that you could get a setup for under $3,000. There are guys selling used Roland MDX-20's for under $3,000. I may have been wrong about the MDX-20 being discontinued. I might have been thinking about the MDX-15. I'll have to check into that but I did hear that whatever model was discontinued, Roland still plans to support it as there are a lot of users out there. You can make practically anything on an MDX-20 that you can on a larger machine that has a 4th axis. It would just require more steps. You might have to make your object in pieces, make molds for those pieces, cast copies of those pieces, glue those copies together... then from that final object make a two part silicone rubber mold and cast away to your heart's content. After all, Vader's mask was made with an MDX-20 that had no 4th axis and a rather small work area!

The CAM software you don't need because the Roland's come with that. So apart from a Roland MDX-20 all you would need is some kind of 3D software for the CAD that can export .DXF files. Although I can't name them at the moment, I know there are several 3D programs out there for free.

CF
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Culvan
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2008 1:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm excited to see your progress here Crazy Fool. I hope to start some CNC adventures in a few months. I'll be very interested to see what you learn in your journey.

Just a quick suggestion. If you are trying to learn how to use it, there is a tradition amongst people who make replicating rapid prototypers (a similar technology). They will use the device to make a shotglass then toast the machine and drink a shot.

There are many ways to make 3d models. I've been trying to learn some 3D modling tools (3dMAX) for a while and it takes some work. Fortunately there are many short tutorials available for free online. There are some alternatives for people like me who want an occasional short cut.

If you have a physical object you could use a laser scanner to quickly make a 3d model. I think this one looks pretty cheap and easy. The software is free for the basic version. That's all you could use with a 3 axis milling machine anyway.
http://www.david-laserscanner.com/

There's the whole topic of 3d scanners. These provide a lot of theoretical solutions. Might give you an idea what to look for.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3d_scanning

The one on there that seems the most exciting to me is "image based modling" You take a series of pictures and the computer can make a 3d model out of the pictures. Can you imagine being able to take multiple pictures of an object (say successive images from a movie) and using them to make a 3d model? It looks like the technology is not quite there yet, but it's getting close.

Andy
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CrazyFool
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 5:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

PROJECT 01 UPDATE: 2008-08-17
Managed to install the 3D software program I will use for the 'CAD' (Computer Aided Drafting) portion of my CAD/CAM setup. The program I chose was 'LightWave 3D' mainly because I already own a copy. The installation took about 2 very dull hours. But hey, it's done now!

Found out the MDX-40 tutorial I ordered from RolandOutlet.com on 08/06 will not arrive until 08/20. Argh! Oh well. I could probably set up the machine with the (very thin) manual it came with but I'm still not sure which drill bit ('tool') to use and the tutorial kit comes with bits. I'll just hang tight and wait.

So I'm behind schedule but this will give me a chance to think some more about the first project. I've narrowed it down to two fairly simple ideas, but we'll see.

Culvan,
I might need a shot before even turning on machine! Just looking at it is intimidating. And the 3D software is even scarier. Some 3D software is so deep a person could spend years just learning one part of it. For example, some guys only specialize in the 'Modeler' portion of LightWave while others work primarily in the lighting or animation portions of LightWave. I think the best way to approach something so vast is to focus just on what you need to learn to get your specific job done and worry about learning additional bells and whistles later. I'll have to look into the scanning and imaged based modling. Sounds pretty cool. Thanks.

CF
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