Today I’ll be discussing the unboxing of Harris Educational’s new Shark Pro Plus CNC Router manufactured by Next Wave Automation and sold by Rockler Woodworking and Hardware. I’ll also go over my initial impressions of the machine. Stay tuned for future articles including why I chose the Shark Pro Plus for Harris Educational’s manufacturing needs as well as assembly and use articles.
At Harris Educational we are a small business that manufactures science kits like Reinventing Edison: Build your own Light Bulb and Reinventing Morse: Build your own Telegraph. Up until now we’ve done all manufacturing processes totally by hand using traditional power tools and various jigs and fixtures. As we’ve expanded (and hopefully plan to expand more) its become clear that we need a CNC Router in order to produce more complex kit components, save on labor costs, improve prototyping for new kit design, and most importantly keep high quality standards. After a lengthy research process I settled on the CNC Shark Pro Plus by Next Wave Automation as sold through Rockler Woodworking and Hardware. (more on the decision making process in a future article)
The CNC Router comes in three boxes, two of which are packed full of Styrofoam. The first box is the heaviest at 92 pounds and contains the table/Y-axis. The second box weighs in at 49 pounds and contains the Gantry (with X and Z Axis), the controller/power-supply, and a box with hardware, software, and instructions. The last box is the Bosch Colt 1.0 HP trim/panel router.
The CNC Shark Pro Plus comes with a tool holder that is designed to accommodate the 2-3/4” diameter body of the Bosch Colt trim/panel router. Its possible to make your own custom tool holder for any applicable tool of similar size and weight. The screws holding the machine together are either torx or phillips head and are secured with locking nuts to avoid loosening from vibration and continued use. I love the quality and flexibility in the design of this machine.
The Gantry is fully pre-assembled and simply bolts onto the Y-axis carriage with 12 bolts. Movement along each axis is accomplished by high speed stepper motors that drive precision modified stainless steel lead-screws through anti-backlash nuts. The gantry (like the base) of the Shark Pro Plus is made out of a sturdy black PVC plastic. In my opinion the black plastic looks a lot more professional and serious than the off-white color plastic in their older Shark and Shark Pro models. Parts for the unit were machined and shipped with the scratch protection film still in place which is a nice touch to help the machine get to the end user in good condition, another of the quality packing touches.
The work table/Y-axis also comes completely assembled in its own box. The work table measures 28-1/2” wide by 36” long. The router itself can be moved over a 25” x 25” work path centered on the table. With its open end design work pieces longer than 36” can be placed into the machine, and continuous machining is possible with careful indexing of the workpiece. The table is much improved over the original Shark and Shark Pro in that its made of a blue anodized extruded aluminum channel which allows for great flexibility in clamping down workpieces. Obviously you’ll need to add a sacrificial piece of MDF underneath any workpieces that you intend to cut or drill completely through. Another design improvement that I like is the fact that the over-width table covers the Y-axis stepper motor which helps prevent any kind of accidental damage to this expensive component.
Next up is the controller and power supply unit. In the Shark Pro Plus the design for the controller has been greatly improved by including the power supply and controller inside one enclosure that also includes a new E-stop (emergency stop) button for the machine. In their older design emergency stop could only be accomplished through the software interface. The control box measures 10-3/4” wide by 8-1/2” deep by 3” tall and is made of brushed aluminum.
The front of the controller contains three LED’s on the left (that I’m assuming indicate pulses being sent to the X/Y/Z steppers) and the Emergency Stop button on the right. The back of the case contains the power connector and connectors for X, Y, and Z stepper motors. An additional axis (hopefully for future use in a rotary fixture) is also available. The back also has an unidentified connector (possibly for use with the optional 3D scanning probe?) as well as the USB connector and a slot for a micro-SD memory card. The Shark Pro Plus’s controller also offers automatic on/off control for the router via a switched power connector on the back of the unit, another improvement over their earlier design that required manually turning the router on and off.
I wouldn’t be a true DIY’er if I didn’t open up the hood and look inside the box, and so with six screws removed I took a quick look inside. By building the switched mode power supply into the case of the unit the end user is spared an extra wiring step as well as additional clutter in their workspace. Cooling is accomplished through a thick aluminum slab heat sink located underneath the power supply and main circuit board. Extra cooling for the motor driver transistors is accomplished with a secondary heat sink, another aluminum slab bolted to the top of the circuit board and vented to outside air via the only cooling slots in the case. Dust is the enemy of moving parts, especially cooling fans. Common sense says that eliminating the fan is therefore a good design choice. Actual use will tell if the cooling is adequate. To avoid dust issues I’d still recommend that heavy users of the machine consider isolating the controller box and PC from the shop area and/or frequently blowing/vacuuming out these components. Another design improvement over other similar CNC machines is the use of 9-pin D style connectors for the stepper motor wiring. This makes wiring quick and fool proof, and while wiring four or more color coded wires to a terminal block for each axis might not present much difficulty to many DIY’ers its still a nice addition considering the cost of the machine.
In addition to the larger main components of the CNC Shark Pro Plus is a box that contains all the other odds and ends needed to bring the machine to life. Included in the box are 12 torx-head bolts with lock-nuts used to connect the gantry to the work deck, two Rockler hold-down clamps with T-slot bolts, the power cord, USB cable, a V-carve router bit, software discs including V-Carve Pro, Cut 3D, and a 3D Graphics Library, and the Instruction Manual. The instruction manual is one area that I can find some fault with, weighing in at 12 pages its a bit thin on information… there are wonderful online forums for the machine, and additional materials online but for the cost of the machine it would be nice to have a little more printed matter included in the box and more illustrations of the hardware, for example a diagram of the controller box with info on the extra jack and axis control connector.
So far I’m pleased with my decision to purchase a Shark CNC Pro Plus over other alternatives on the market. The machine shows thoughtful design and a definite evolution from earlier products made by Next Wave Automation. The machine was well packaged and assembly and setup is straight forward and easy. I especially applaud the new design of the controller and the inclusion of Vectrix CAM and 3D design software (a major factor in my choice to purchase the Shark). The one area that might need some improvement, especially for the casual home user, would be a more inclusive user manual. Stay tuned for future articles about setup and use, the CAM software, and more about CNC in general.
If you liked this article, make sure to become a fan of Harris Educational by liking us on Facebook! Visit: http://www.facebook.com/HarrisEducational and click like today!
Also don’t forget to check out our website at: