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HiCON Integra 7766 Install in Quad-Z Axis Router Table
« on: September 03, 2013, 02:10:30 AM »

I am putting up this post to pass along what I learned while setting up the motion control system on our router table. There are a lot of posts about four axis systems, but not much about 6 axis router tables I could find and even less about the HiCON Integra. Hopefully this post will make things a lot easier on the next person to do what we just finished.


We wanted the functionality of a router table with an ATC, simplicity, learning, and the ability to cut ¾ MDF at about 1000 inches a minute for a product manufacturing application. We also have a severely non-existent budget, not much experience, and Cadillac tastes. As they say you can have things correct, you can have things quickly, and you can have things cheaply. Pick any 2 of the 3… We chose correct and cheap.

Our total budget for the table was a bit under 15,000. This number included Software (Aspire, Mach3), the table, services to make the parts, and all supporting systems (dust collection, water cooling). We made a deliberate choice to build the table in house and farm out as little of the work as possible to maximize the learning. (Oh my did we under estimate what we were about to learn…)

From the Mechmate table design we took the idea of grinding our own v-groove rails using angle iron and a skate-mounted grinder to save about $2600. We also studied the Mechmate forums extensively for best practices. We liked Mechmate’s use of steel wheels on steel rails. It was very durable and is self-cleaning to boot. Making the v groove rails, about 90 feet of them, at home proved to be a very cheap and easy 1 day project. Building the skate and learning how to use it was about 3 additional hours. (Did I mention our shop is a 2 car garage built around a 1964 Delta Unisaw with an Incra Positioner? –Yep… we are a home based cabinet making shop. There is no Bridgeport mill here…)

For the table design we recruited an engineer who modeled and built the table in Solidworks. We treated the table and gantry as a cross-dowel based cabinet building activity. The 72 x 147 inch table is a torsion box on
a box leg base. The gantry is a second torsion box system based on 2 stacked torsion boxes. There are 5 Z-Axis. We mounted three 2.2kw water-cooled spindles and two 7.5kw water-cooled spindles from Sam at Motech (we can’t say enough good things about Sam, his spindles, the price, or his tech support –what a great experience!) The entire table system rides on a 900lb steel base we fabricated from 2 x 3 x 3/6 steel square tube on 8 removable steel castors with leveling rods.
« Last Edit: September 28, 2015, 05:17:18 PM by Vital System Support »
Re: HiCON Integra 7766 Install in Quad-Z Axis Router Table
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2013, 02:11:27 AM »
We made an extensive study of the BuildYourCNC website and learned a lot about the limits of building with signboard. We made simple decision: if we worried it would flex, we made it from steel. What we could not make from steel or aluminum for cost reasons, we delayed until version 2 of the table.

One of the great things about building your own table is that you can build the future upgrades with what you learned on the generation #1 build. One great lesson we learned from the BuildYourCNC website was that signboard router tables seems to work pretty well if they are engineered properly. We also learned that aluminum rails under steel wheels deform immediately under heavy loads… hence the choice of Mechmate rails. Buildyourcnc also showed us chain drives work just fine for holding cabinet making type tolerances.

Speaking honestly about what we really wanted… we wanted the 1800 inch per minute cut speeds you hear about with Thermwood and Onsrud router table systems. We knew we could not build a table that stiff on out first budget but we reasoned that if we bought first class hardware and components, increased our profitability some, and then commissioned a second table carved from ¾ aluminum plate or some other such (expensive) design we could swap over our drive components and make the jump to a generation 2 table a lot less expensive.

We made a decision to buy the motors and motion control equipment we wanted for our next machine now and use it to build the somewhat more limited machine we could afford to build today.

Our machine will be building a handful of products whose production we understand very well. Very little of the router table use we do qualifies as exotic or high end; however, we do plan on nesting about 200 parts per sheet and using 3-4 different cutters in the production of each part. If we tried to use a  single cutter, we would be forced to do a lot of slow carving work and it still would not look right. We will have custom cutter profiles made for our production work. We either needed a 4 tool ATC or a 4 spindle table.

Given the large number of parts per sheet, the high cost of the material (a lot of the work will be Delrin $$$) and the extended run times, we faced a very high cost of errors. We wanted a system that could know where it was and correct position errors. We specified encoders on the drive motors.  We had some space limits that restricted us to a 4:1 reduction and then our final estimated gantry weight was well over 600 pounds (about 272kg)! Back of the envelope work projected the generation 2 gantry might weigh over 1300 pounds to get the stiffness we want.

In the end, we knew we were going to need a lot of power. In generation 2 we might have much higher reduction and increased travel speeds. To support high reduction ratios, high RPMs required, and encoders… and noting that we were willing to risk erring on the side of too much motor and over spend in the short term… we went for it and bought servo motors with encoders. We set them up running 4:1 reduction on X and Y and turning acme lead screws on the Z’s. Once the motors were installed and tuned we found them most capable of moving the gantry with very scary 2000 inch per minute rapids displaying not the least bit of struggle. We really don’t want to know where the top end is. It’s only a 12 foot long table…

All of which brings me to the crown jewels of the building experience: Vital Systems and the HiCON Integra 7766 motion controller. If you have been keeping track, you will count 7 axis on our router table. If we decided to drive the gantry at both sides to avoid racking would need an 8 axis motion controller.

We selected an 8 axis motion controller when started laying out the table but were always very unhappy with the documentation and difficulty gathering know how from the web forums. There just wasn’t much to read that we found useful. The motion control that stood out most had awesome capabilities but also needed to be programmed in C. There were also a few things we could not figure out how to do when using the control with Mach3.

Re: HiCON Integra 7766 Install in Quad-Z Axis Router Table
« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2013, 02:14:03 AM »
About the time we were about ready to plunge headlong into C programming for dummies books… and figure out the 8 axis motion control, we noticed the Vital Systems support subsection of the MachSupport forums. We noticed Vital System Inc (vitalsystem.com) had a 6 axis motion controller capable of simultaneous 6 axis movements under Mach3. We like to web surf like anybody else, so we went to the Vital Systems Inc. website and read about the Integra 7766 6-axis motion controller.

The first thing we noticed, and this was major for us, was that the system supported 6 axis motion with encoder support. Even better… when the encoders reported the tool was out of position, the motion controlled corrects the position error during the next movement instead of just throwing an error code!

On a giant sheets of 200+ parts, if an axis gets off track and mangles part of a part… the motion controller corrects the position error and the rest of the parts in that sheet come out ok. It also means an automatic tool change won’t crash due to missed steps or other position errors! Needless to say we were very excited by the ability to correct position errors.

This all looked interesting enough for us to consider not installing one of the 5 Z axis (though we can still swap cables….) The Integra Motion Controller looked good, but we had been down this road with other motion control vendors before. We decided to examine thing carefully.

Our next stop was the installation and support documentation. We cringed, clicked on the download link, and opened up Vital Systems support documentation. There are two words that best describe our impression: “Blown away”

God is in the details. Whoever put together the documentation for the HiCON Integra 7766 motion control was absolutely abundant and meticulous. The documentation was logical, step by step, clear, correct, and use an economy of words. So, even though they were 1 axis short of what we wanted (for our 7 axis table) we called anyway.

First we spoke with Marc, a programmer. He answered a lot of our questions about the board. Then he transferred us to Rufi, an engineer, for some of our more detailed questions about interfacing with our encoders. He was clear and concise. After a few minutes it became obvious we were speaking to the person who wrote the code running on the motion controller. We would later learn Vital Systems has been selling this control for years under OEM private label arrangements. (Read: it is a mature product and they understand it well.) It turns out that the motion control can run macros written in either BASIC (Yea!for simple programming languages even cabinet makers can write!) or C.
Re: HiCON Integra 7766 Install in Quad-Z Axis Router Table
« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2013, 02:14:46 AM »
We thought about the Integra 7766 for a few days, looked at what we would go through with some other motion control products, and cut a check to Vital Systems. A few days later a priority mail package showed up and the good surprises just kept coming.

The Integra 7766 is an Ethernet device we feed from a $20 5vDC power supply (thank you ebay). When the box arrived we were expecting a green or yellow PCB and not much more. We had even built a little cage in our control box to protect it,

Wow! We were in for a pleasant surprise. The motion control board arrived mounted in a metal case bearing clean silk-screened, easily readable labels for every connection on the board. There were Phoenix quick disconnects for every wire. Picking up the controller felt like lifting a little brick. Well documented, well packaged (in steel), well labeled… well we were very happy. No one will break this controller by dropping a tool on it. If we ever need to swap it we can unplug all the wires in about 60 seconds with no screw driver. No need to undo and redo 37 wires with a tiny screw driver.

If you know how to connect step motion wires, hooking up the motion control is 5 minutes. As for us, we were total noobs and clueless. Rufi and Marc helped us figure out the pinouts (10 minute phone call) and they were correct. On our end we took a while to learn servo motor tuning, but now we get it.

Installing the HiCON Mach3 plug in meant dropping a DLL file into the plug in’s folder in Mach3. (That was easy!)
Then we followed along with the directions in the installation guide and a short time later, having entered pin numbers, motor speeds, steps per inch, etc… we were rolling in Mach3 with 6 axis servos, encoders, position tracking, and error correction. (Gee, they made that easy.)
Re: HiCON Integra 7766 Install in Quad-Z Axis Router Table
« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2013, 02:16:03 AM »
We had a lot of challenges on this project. Anyone who has every built a CNC systems will tell you that you will learn one heck of a lot during that first build. We sure did. There were endless weeks of building tiny little parts, aligning things, trying something different, finding paint that would cure at temperatures below zero in January, figuring out the difference between machine coordinates and work coordinates in Mach3…

There were also some parts just snapped into place and worked right out of the box. For us, the motion control from Vital Systems was one of those “it just works” parts of the project.

The few times we did have a question or wanted to change something, Marc and Rufi were right there. They never promised it, but they even answered my emailed tech support questions at 11:00 at night and also on the weekends.

I have time on my hands to write this review because our router table is in hour 6 of a 9 hour 3D carving job with zero drama. We are productive, happy, and expect this table will be running 16 hours a day for a while.

The carving motions accelerate and decelerate our huge gantry smoothly, the spindles do their work, and our motion controller is delightfully boring, just like it should be.

The HiCONN Integra did cost us a more than some of the other motion controls we looked into. The six axis support, encoder support, position correction, great documentation, and follow up support allow us to easily reach the conclusion it was money very well spent. We are not experts in this stuff, but we did find some experts at Vital Systems who made it possible for us to build a very fast, smooth, and reliable motion control system for a fraction of what we could have spent otherwise. We never thought we could get what we now have on our budget.

I will do more posts later about a bunch of the “wish I knew it the first time” stuff, but most of that is related to learning Mach3, tuning servos, writing post processors, and out M6 macro of a quad z table.

Thanks Rufi and Marc!!!

(Pictures of everything coming once I figure out the image posting...)
Re: HiCON Integra 7766 Install in Quad-Z Axis Router Table
« Reply #5 on: September 03, 2013, 02:29:55 AM »
Images of our build for those that are curious...

Re: HiCON Integra 7766 Install in Quad-Z Axis Router Table
« Reply #6 on: September 03, 2013, 02:31:01 AM »

Re: HiCON Integra 7766 Install in Quad-Z Axis Router Table
« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2013, 02:32:00 AM »

Re: HiCON Integra 7766 Install in Quad-Z Axis Router Table
« Reply #8 on: September 04, 2013, 07:57:47 PM »
We had our first successful flip op today. We made the infamous Vectric "Candy Bowl" usinf Carve 3D and Vcarve Pro 7.5.

First we made one copy in MDF then we chopped up a rafter of unknown composition and ran four of them in a single batch.

Re: HiCON Integra 7766 Install in Quad-Z Axis Router Table
« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2013, 08:26:15 PM »
And we also did the obligatory Aztec calendar at 42" in diameter with a 90 degree V-bit....