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CNC Fabric cutter - lots of questions

Discussion in 'CNC Mills/Routers' started by zeeNzee-im-dynamite, Nov 21, 2018.

  1. zeeNzee-im-dynamite


    Nov 21, 2018
    Likes Received:
    I want to build a CNC Fabric cutter to be used for rapid prototyping and small scale production. The machine will be used to cut various technical textiles from 4-way stretch to Corduras and light sailcloth. It also needs to be able to cut shapes from foams up to 12 mm or so. To complicate things the machine is going in my spare bedroom so a laser with it's fumes and fire risks does not feel to tempting, also some foams contain vinyl. Fabric comes in 150 cm wide rolls, so I am aiming for a 1500x1000 mm work space.

    Please note that I am fairly handy but I am not an engineer, to me this is a tool to get a job done more than something I would enjoy building. Therefore I am looking for build kits. I am considering the following set up but would really need some advice.
    • Openbuild Workbee table
    • Ecocam EOT Oscillating tangential knife
    • Vacuum table

    Here comes a barrage of questions:
    • Would the above set up do the job?
    • Are there other CNC tables I should consider? There is neither money or space for a industrial machine, so it needs to be something from the same segment as the Workbee.
    • Are there any decent alternatives to the Ecocam EOT cutter? It is bleedingly expensive...
    • The vacuum table is something of an headache. The only ready made tables I have only found are super expensive ones in metal. Is there someone who sells these in wood? If not I suppose I could get a shop somewhere nearby to build one for me. If so I would need a really good build instruction to hand them. Has anyone seen anything good that you care to share?
    • I would also like to ad a pen to the system. Ideally this would be something that just pops down when needed. So only up or down, maybe with a spring mount. What tool could I use to achieve this?

    One of my main concerns is that this will not be the time saver I am hoping for. Cutting will of course be much faster. But I am worried that it will be very time consuming to get everything set up properly. I have some friends with CNC experience that can help me get up and running, but they have families so I don't want to burden them to much. I do my designs in Rhino 3D and Illustrator so I feel comfortable with that part of the process, but CAM is completely new to me. I am guessing that what I want to do is fairly simple? Once the knife height is set it should really only be about tracing the pattern at a reasonable speed?

    • Should I expect to spend a lot of time setting up the cutting commands for each job?
    • What CAM software would you recommend to a newbie that only wants to cut in 2D? Please note that it needs to handle the tangential movement of the knife.

    Thanks in advance for any advice! The cost is significant and I am in unknown waters here.
  2. Peter Van Der Walt

    Peter Van Der Walt OpenBuilds Team
    Staff Member Moderator Builder Resident Builder

    Mar 1, 2017
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    cam.openbuilds.com handles the "corner swivel actions" needed for offset drag knife cutting, in the "Drag Knife" operations. Give it a try, it was coded for vinyl cutter style drag knives, not sure how different the fabric industry is
  3. rickynaps

    rickynaps New

    Dec 12, 2018
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    I'm putting together a kit as we speak primarily to cut fabrics and foam. I ordered a Workbee from Ooznest just because the Duet 2 has 5 stepper motor drivers. I'm hoping I can cobble together a DIY tangential knife and use the fifth driver for it.
    Up till now I had access to a fablab with an industrial machine with vacuum table and drag knife. The drag knife leaves something to be desired when you're cutting intricate patterns on fabric and foam.
    If you have a fablab/maker space anywhere close by, go and play around. Get a feel for the software, the machines and the work flow.

    To answer your questions as best I can:
    1. Yes. But it's expensive.
    2. Cheapest ready made alternatives are Chinese machines which I have no experience with. I've read good and bad.
    3. See below for Stepcraft.
    4. Vacuum table is a headache but as far as I can tell necessary. You can make a plenum out of HDPE and stick a piece of MDF on top. You'll have to cover the fabric with plastic to maintain vacuum. Best I've found are the thin plastic sheets made by 3m used when painting or the cheapest thinnest garbage bags you can find. Donek tools also has a video on how to make a cheap vacuum table with wood.
    5. There are ready made options that escape me at the moment. I remember seeing NYC CNC on youtube make an arduino based cnc with Bimba air cylinders hooked up to a solenoid to take care of the up down motion for the pen. I'll like later if I can find it.

    Alternatives to the vacuum I've tried or thinking of trying:
    • Double sided tape but it gets expensive and it's difficult to pull off. Not really ideal.
    • Yesterday, I tried something called Sulky KK 2000 on a cutting mat and ran a knife as fast as I could by hand. It was great. Looking forward to trying it on a CNC. Downsides, expensive in the long run and difficult to ship outside the continental US.
    • Other suggestions I've come up with but haven't tried: contact paper; sticky mats like the ones found on construction sites and clean rooms to clean shoes as you enter; rubber flooring something like anti slip rubber like the gym or anti fatigue.

    In the past few months/year there has been a few people attempting it.
    V1 engineering has a forum post:
    Tangential cutter in development | V1 Engineering
    Thingiverse has a few models of 3d printed tangential knives that look interesting. I believe designed by the same people that were active on the above forum.
    Inkscape has an extension called gcodetools that has the option to output code for a tangential knife / 4th axis. This is the first thing I'll try when I get up and running. I'll let you know.

    Stepcraft just released a tangential knife for $479. When I called the US office they couldn't give me much information as they just received it. The European site says that you need to use their software to run it. I've asked if there is a workaround but I'm not hoping for much.
    Oscillating Tangential Knife OTK-3
    #3 rickynaps, Feb 26, 2019
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2019
  4. lewismilton


    Dec 21, 2023
    Likes Received:
    Hello. What do you guys use to sew quilts, tarps, etc. with? I don't have a sewing machine, but I know my wife has wanted to get one for some time. Maybe now is the time:) Thanks for your help,

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