Serious progress has been made with a new mechanical design. I decided it was too difficult for the average person to make precise dovetail slides out of wood. As nice as they look and as well as they work if made perfectly, this was just not within the ability or the patience level of the average person. I checked into the cost of inexpensive alternatives for slides. Drawer slides were a possibility so I tried just about every one available. There were problems with each although several could be used with some modifications. The industrial quality ones are very expensive so I did not even try them. “Low cost” linear slides for automation are also very expensive, even the low precision types.
So, I decided to “roll my own” and came up with a low cost design that shows great promise. It uses all stock components available online from McMaster Carr and from other sources for those who want to spend more time looking and pay less. The cost for the entire linear slide assembly is about $60 not counting the motor. A similarly suitable commercial product would be $500 or so.
Constructing this slide assembly is extremely easy. A few holes have to be located accurately in the main board but that is about it. Adjustment is simple, the critical clearances are designed in and do not require any fiddling. Once setup, it should work reliably for a long time. If service is necessary, all parts are easily accessible for a quick adjustment of parts replacement. It would take less than a half hour to completely disassemble, replace any worn parts and reassemble the slide unit. The dovetail slide required finicky adjustments and is not as quiet as the new design unless extreme care was taking in making it. I am really pleased with this new design.
The new design also has a belt guard to keep fingers linens etc out of the moving parts. A more attractive design could certainly be made that was completely enclosed. I used a clear cover to make it easy to test.
I have also simplified the wiring and have switched to the use of commonly available cables. If one wears out or is broken it can be replaced in seconds.
Another feature that will be available when I make new control boards (or make a simple change to the existing ones) is the ability to connect any number of machines together to be controlled by a single joystick or PC. Simulfucking is an amazing experience.
I believe this design will be possible for beta testers to make once I draw up a few templates and finish the basic construction guide. This should be done within a week most likely. So if you are one of the interested parties, please contact me.