Upgrading the Controller on an Older CNC Device

It's hard to upgrade old equipment to a new computer, but here are some suggested workarounds for getting the most out of an outmoded setup. January 4, 2014

I recently purchased a 2000 Weeke BP60. It is running a NUM industrial PC with integrated 12" monitor and 3 1/4 floppy drive, Windows 98, and NUM 1020 3 axis controller and Indramat servo drives. Is it possible to upgrade the operating system or to simply run it off a later model Dell PC with a flat screen monitor through a serial cable? Would I need to change the controller? What are my options on controllers? Would I need to change the servo drives? Operates great now, but the older computer and operating system might be a concern down the road.

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From contributor C:
Run the hell out of it and if it's making you money, just keep going. You might want to consider your casework software posting to it, or check with Stiles and see if there is desktop software that can transfer to it. I run a 1995 Biesse with a CNI numeric controller and have had the same idea, but was talked out the expense. I put the estimated cost into a flat table and moved on. We are still using the older Rover for secondary operations.

From contributor L:
Usually not worth doing unless you already have the skills and tools to do it yourself. See if you can drip feed programs to the controller from a PC using DNC or cam software if possible. This sometimes helps with older controllers that have limited program memory, allowing you to do more complex programs and manage them from a modern operating system. Much easier and cheaper in most cases.

From contributor A:
Don't bother trying to change out the OS - it either won't work or will be cost prohibitive.

1) Buy a 32 bit XP industrial all in one and mount it on the control box, use it for programming and storing programs, map the Weeke PC's a1 folder and file locations for programs to the new PC and point the configuration file to the new PC.

2) Any Woodwop generation and programming can be done on the new machine. The old machine will do the generation if you want, and you will run and load using the built-in PC on the machine.

3) Open up the onboard PC and buy a hard drive or two of the same spec to have in storage.

4) Ghost the 98 drive to the new hard drive -if you want to be sure, swap the drives to make sure the ghost will run the machine - now you are prepared for disaster.

5) Create a virtual image of the drive.

6) Back up your files to a server/tape.

If you have security concerns, block the 98 machine from accessing your network. We have a 1998 BP150 that we do this with, except the industrial PC is at the foreman's desk and we just use to move files to, but I am getting ready to put an IPC out at the machine. We have ghost copies of the drive on the shelf. For a cost analysis, call Stiles and get a cost on a replacement hard drive for your machine and a replacement IPC.

From the original questioner:
Good ideas so far. I will get my computer guy to get me some backup storage. So I'm guessing it won't run off of a new, regular PC built with a Windows 98 operating system? My guy said he can build a new one with 98 but not a unitized industrial PC.

What is the difference, functionally, between an industrial PC and, say, an IBM compatible consumer PC, other than about 4 grand and everything being hard soldered to the motherboard so you can't replace a serial port or ethernet card on the ipc?

From contributor J
I am currently working on this project with another NUM controller on it. There is more to the machine than just the PC. The way NUM systems are set up, there is a PC card that is placed inside the PLC rack. This card communicates directly with the NUM PLC. The front end that the operator performs his functions on is just a glorified display that is connected to the PC card.

NUM can help upgrade this system, but part of the problem is their systems were designed with the OEM in mind. So they allow the OEM to really customize the setup, software, etc. Homag was allowed to create their own custom interface, etc. This is something NUM has no control over and cannot handle. They would refer you to Homag for upgrading.

In regard to the hard drive on the NUM, you can run into issues, as it may not handle a larger size hard drive. You would have to install the same type of hard drive, which is hard to locate. Most computers can handle any hard drive you put in them. But a NUM is different and has limitations to make it more stable.

One option NUM can do, is to place a graphics card in the rack. Then you can connect a monitor and keyboard to the system. This would work great and you can send programs over a DNC link. This is how the system currently functions with their built in PC card. But it is all done in the background. The downside to this graphics card is that you lose all the custom Homag Software that is your current interface. You would be dealing with the direct NUM software which would be harder to use and more like dealing with a Fanuc controller. I have unfortunately gotten very familiar with this. In the long run, it is usually easier to purchase a machine. To upgrade one of these can be very costly. Some companies do it and it is worth it. But there is a higher up front cost that would save you money in the long run.

From contributor M
I am running a year 2000 Rover 27 with a Windows 95 front end. I keep the front end PC virgin. There is no software loaded on the PC that was not originally installed by Biesse.

I briefly considered changing to an XP machine. But the reality is the machine will not function any different. Still the same software and controls. Plus I received the same advice you are getting here, and from Biesse.

From contributor C:
I would truly take the money and put into the software in the office and get it to post to that machine. Like Cabinet Vision and get advice from contributor J and see if you can turn it into a flat table. It's only 31 " deep? But cutting out three ends, dadoing, drilling is so fast. Once the file hits the Weeke, it's just load the panel and press go. I know it would require a little work and a pump, but it is pretty liberating.

I operated for 7 years off our Rover controller (after all the parts were cut to size), and it was and is so much faster that our old methods.

From contributor A:
Industrial PC - we paid about $1,500 for win7 with wireless ethernet.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor X:
It is not hard at all to change controls on old CNC machines. In fact they are the easiest and the best to do it on because new machines are not built as solid as they were in the 90's.

I have done a handful of these conversions using linuxCNC. They always end up better than before and running nice. Very accurate and easy to operate. I have even done a Large Biesse woodworking machine with 43 spindles, vacuum pods zones and all. The best part is none of the upgrades I did cost more than 1,000.00 in parts. So if you have never done one, don't comment on what you don't know. Yes it is work, but not hard unless you make it.