After taking a break on development for the CNC Explorer 2.0 Excel App I had a chance to reset my bearings. I always knew developing on Excel was not going to work long term. It limits which platforms the app will run on. Excel needs to be on the machine which is expensive to buy. It is very difficult to develop interactive code.
After extensive research, I believe I found an excellent platform to develop my next version 2.0. I and have chosen to use Google’s Flutter environment and create a PWA (Progressive Web Application). A PWA runs entirely in a Web Browser but can also be installed on a Home Screen for quick access. Probably most have not heard of PWA’s but it is becoming more and more popular. You can download the application just by clicking on a link. No need to go to Google or Apple stores. Once installed you don’t even need internet to run the app. All the data and processing are done through the Browser. It will run on virtually any device that can run any of the following major Browsers:
Flutter web apps can run on the following browsers on any device look exactly the same:
- Chrome (mobile & desktop)
- Safari (mobile & desktop)
- Edge (mobile & desktop)
- Firefox (mobile & desktop)
Any tool that is not handy to grab and use will collect dust in the toolbox. The CNC Explorer App loads very quickly and is handy wherever the CAD/CAM software is being created. PWA’s fit that bill nicely. But just as important a tool needs to solve a problem and do it in a way that is understandable and useful. My design goals for the CNC Explorer 2.0 App are:
- Able to run on any device
- Not require any special support program such as Excel
- Geared for the Hobbyist Level CNC User
- Present information affecting Speed and Feed Settings rather than just present a solution.
- Build on the concept of the original CNC Explorer by keeping the interactive controls allowing the user to “Play” with the settings
- Take the hard work out of calculating idea Feed Rates taking into account the many factors that can affect the ideal speeds.
- Allow fine Tuning to chose between slow rates and maximum rates. Optimizing between conservative and aggressive settings.
- Use Expandable Tool and Material Databases to choose from.
If I can hit on many of the goals I believe many will find the tool very useful in their CNC adventures. And if the tool can help prevent a few broken bits and squeeze out some extra life then we all win.
Demo Version Available Now
I would say I am in mid-development of the App now. The user interfaces are close to their final form and most of the interactive controls work along with all the calculations and error checks. The main feature yet to be worked out is the Tool and Material Databases. The Demo version does not allow any Tool or Material changes and is defaulted to a very common 1/4″ 2 Flute Endmill. The material is a mid-hardness Cherry board. Also, the Spindle is a Makita Router 10K-30K RPM with 6-speed adjustments. The CNC Feed Rate range is 0=300 IPM. A pretty common Hobbist level setup.
As things finalize I am planning on creating a series of short videos explaining the features. But for now, there are tool hints you can hover for explanations of what each display is reporting. By covering a demo this early in the development I hoping to get some feedback on I am meeting my design goals and any lacking feature to consider. My hope is the tool will be fairly intuitive to learn and use.
I really want to send out a big thank you for all the great feedback I am receiving. I have tried to incorporate a lot of it into the latest version 1.3.0 and I think it is starting to look pretty good.
But now you ask how can I download and try out the demo? It’s really easy just click on the following link.
A new help file is being written that will help understand the new CNC Explorer Web App
Installing the Progressive Web App on your device
Now it is perfectly fine to keep running the App in your browser link and bookmarking. However, a PWA also allows installing the app on your home page. I will say however the Flutter universe is not very consistent on how to do this.
Using Chrome on a Windows machine is the easist:
- The demo will not let you change the material or the cutting tool (yet)
- You can run just from the Browser link or you can install it on your device:
- Chrome you will see this icon in your address link. Click on the install button to install on your device.
Using Edge on Windows you have to jump down the menus:
I don’t have an Apple so I can’t run Safari so the install is TBD
On an Android Phone Chrome installs very similar to the Windows Edge. But strangely enough Edge gives an install button on the bottom of the page.
Again I don’t have an iPhone so install is TBD
Just launched a Forum to discuss the new CNC Explorer Web App. Check it out.
If you have any comments, questions for suggestions please use the following form
David – I think this will be incredibly useful!
Allen – After toying with it for under a minute, I caught on to how it is meant to work and it seems pretty intuitive to me. The hover-over help boxes worked fine on my browser (Firefox 86.0.1 64-Bit). I’m not 100% sure, but the IPM slider at the top is mostly meant to let you see the impact that changing feed rate has on spindle/router power consumption (as well as volumetric material removal and surface speed). I really like this approach already, compared to the spreadsheets that I’ve tried using. I can see myself using this app a lot in the future. Well done!
Edwood – Exactly right the top slider is to mainly give the ability to fine-tune the feed rate to adjust the power consumption and MRR. If you are using a router like the Makita or Dewalt the speed steps are rather a course and it is sometimes not possible to pick a speed that is in the sweet spot but yet not overpowering the spindle. But in those cases, the CNC has a much finer adjustment to find an optimum solution. And very glad you are noticing the tool is intuitive. Thank you for your great feedback.
Brett – like the layout. Seems like it will be easier than the spreadsheet. I would suggest lot fewer colors. Its really busy. Colors should be reserved for the info to plug into your cnc software. When running locally, will users be able to add tools to the tool database?
Edwood – +1 on the look and ease of use. I get your comment on the colors. My idea was to group the sections by color but perhaps I went a little overboard? I am trying out some combinations now to see if that can be cleaned up. BTW whenever you click on the link you will get the latest version on the server although you might need to do a refresh on your browser to see it. If the App has been installed there is a “Flutter Feature” that requires you to close the instance you have and the next time you load it will update from the server. I do hope Flutter can fix that “Feature”
And yes you will be able to add tools and materials into the databases. It actually won’t matter if you run from the link or install locally. The data will always be stored locally which is a very cool feature about Flutter Web. Initially, this will be the approach I will be taking. The downside of this approach would be the database would be tied to a specific device. For those only running on the same device, it’s not an issue but for someone who would like to occasionally run it say on their mobile, I am not sure yet how to handle it. The other option would be to make a cloud database that could be accessed everywhere. That approach would be I think more difficult to implement. Maybe some will have an opinion.