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Backlash in Your CNC – What You Need to Know

( NOTE : This article references FANUC controls but is basically applicable to all CNC controls. )

A machine is a machine is a machine. Just because the words CNC are attached to your machine tool doesn’t mean it doesn’t get old or lose it’s accuracy. And one of the main reasons your CNC machine losses it’s accuracy is due to the ever infamous backlash.

What is backlash ?

The axis motion that makes up your machine tool is done through the use of ballscrews attached to your machining center’s table and spindle housing or your lathes tool turret. The nut for the screw is usually attached to the table or turret and is connected to the ballscrew which is connected to your drive motor. As the motor turns the ballscrew, the nut moves the table or turret and your machine has motion. All ballscrew assemblies have some “slop” or backlash at assembly – the match between the screw and the nut. Basically backlash is the amount of motion the screw has to make when reversing direction before the nut and therefore the table or turret start to move.

How is backlash compensated?

Using the machine tools CNC controller, the builder can tell the controller how much motion is lost when the axis reverses direction due to the backlash. This value is stored in the machines parameters and when the particular axis goes to change direction, it looks in this parameter to know how much motion it needs to have (how many revolutions of the screw it needs to make) before the axis will physically start to move. The value of the parameter is usually in MM, although they may be in INCH settings in some instances

Why should I care ?

As the machine tool wears or as contaminants get onto the ballscrew and therefore in the nut, the original backlash settings lose their accuracy and therefore effect the accuracy of the machine tool. Positioning problems arise, straightness problems arise, as do a host of other related problems. Basically, the machine does not meet the specs like it did when it was new.

As mentioned above, sometimes contaminants can get onto the screw and then get carried into the nut. Although most nuts are protected against chips and debris, poor conditions can sometimes force the debris into the nut causing premature wearing of the screw and a pronounced backlash problem. Those contaminants can range from coolant to cutting chips. That is why it is essential to keep the machine areas clean and free from an excessive amount of chips. If chips are allowed to accumulate, they can become packed and when the machine tool moves, it forces the chips under guards and into areas where they shouldn’t be. Eventually they get forced into the screws and nut areas causing un-repairable problems. Ballscrew replacement is not a cheap repair. Keep the expression: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound or cure” in mind when planning your maintenance efforts.

What can I do about backlash ?

The normal method for adjusting the machine’s backlash involves adjusting the backlash parameter values. This can be done by a qualified technician or you can give it a try. Outlined below is a brief but complete explanation of how to check for backlash and how to adjust it in FANUC controlled machine tools.

How often should you check it ? Recommended time frame would be about every 3-6 months. If you create the following sample programs in your memory and leave them there or upload and download them from a shop floor PC, you shouldn’t spend much more than one hour or so keeping your machine accurate and at the same time you’ll be checking for any other damaging problems. For example, if you see the backlash changing drastically, you might find a way lube problems or chip build up problem before they cause bigger problems.

How much backlash compensation is acceptable ? As mentioned above, all machines have some backlash adjustment, even when brand new and at ship time. As the machine wears, that value needs to be increased. Normal wear might have .005″ – .010″ adjustment in a ballscrew. If the value needs to be more than .010″, it might be time to take a deeper look. Also, you need to check the backlash at various areas of the screw as it might be wearing more in one area than another. One example might be on a machining center where the set-up people always mount the vise or fixture in the middle of the table. Looks good but also causes a massive amount of wear in one confined area. the best scenario is to mount the vise or fixture all over the table, changing the location for every job – spreading the wear around evenly.

The best way to check the backlash is to first clear out the current parameter value in the control. The various parameter numbers for the variety of FANUC controls are listed further down in this page. First, write down the current values, then clear them by setting them to zero. Then make the machine move through the memory mode. We have found discrepancies in the past between the machine’s handle or MPG mode and the memory mode, so we recommend you run the machine through MDI or through the machines memory mode. Below are a couple of sample programs for FANUC controls that you can use to gather your backlash data. Remember, the backlash is the amount of wasted motion when the particular axis changes direction.</p>

<p>If possible, check the backlash at different areas of the screw. On a machining center, mount the block in different areas of the table and check. On a lathe, check the backlash as various distances away from the chuck. If the values are different in the different areas, this could mean that the screw is worn in one place different than others. On a lathe, this tends to happen close to the chuck where the majority of the cutting is performed. You can’s do much about to prevent it on a lathe but on a machining center, you can help yourself by mounting the chuck or fixture in various places on the table to allow for even wear. If you find big differences in the backlash in different areas, it may be too late and you may have to replace the screw.


Machining Center Backlash Adjusting Program.

If you have a Vertical or Horizontal machining center, the following program will give you an idea of how to create a program to test the backlash for each axis.

The following is a sample program for the X axis. Start the program with an indicator mounted to the spindle, touching a block mounted on the table, touching the right side of the block.

You can let the program run a couple of times to make certain that you get the same readings at the M00’s in the program. The difference between Reading #1 and Reading #2 is the amount of backlash in your X axis.

You can use the same style program making changes as required to perform the same function for the other axis as well. Basically, you just want the machine to move one way then back, stop so you can and collect the indicator reading, then move the other way and back and collect that reading.

CNC Lathe Backlash Adjusting Program.

If you have a CNC lathe, the following program will give you an idea of how to create a program to test the backlash for each axis.

The following is a sample program for the Z axis. Start the program with an indicator mounted to the spindle or chuck, touching a block mounted on the turret or the tool turret itself, touching the spindle side of the block or turret.

Once you collect the value and know the backlash for your machine, you’ll need to adjust the parameter values. Parameter values for FANUC controls are usually given in MM  values, without the use of decimal point. So, for example, a parameter value of 30, actually means .030 mm – the decimal point is imaginary and placed three places from the right. You can use the following conversion formula to change your backlash data to mm, then enter that value into appropriate parameter – don’t forget to drop the decimal point and add any zeros as required.

MM = inch x 25.4

For reference, 1mm = .0394 in.

On a CNC lathe, the value can either be a radius or diameter value. Since there is no easy way to tell, input a radius value then re-run the test program. Adjust as necessary and make a note so next time you will know.

When you’re done, you should re-run the particular axis program again to double check that you did the backlash adjustment correctly. When you re-run the program, you should see less than .0001″ backlash.</p>

FANUC Backlash Parameter Numbers.

Listed below are the parameter numbers for the various FANUC control models. One note, lathe controls are T models whereas machining centers are M models.

FANUC Version 6T :

X Axis = Par # 115

Z Axis = Par # 116

FANUC Version 6M :

X Axis = Par # 115

Y Axis = Par # 116

Z Axis = Par # 117

4th Axis = Par # 118

FANUC Version 10/11/12T :

Par # 1851

Seperate line for each axis.

FANUC Version 10/11/12M :

Par # 1851

Seperate line for each axis.

FANUC Version 0T :

X Axis = Par # 535

Z Axis = Par # 536

FANUC Version 0M :

X Axis = Par # 535

Y Axis = Par # 536

Z Axis = Par # 537

4th Axis = Par # 538

FANUC Version 16/18/20T :

Par # 1851

Seperate line for each axis.

FANUC Version 16/18/20M :

Par # 1851

Seperate line for each axis.

NOTE : This 16/18/20 series of control can have a seperate backlash amount when moving at a feedrate and for moving at the rapid rate. This is an option – check with your machine tool builder. If this is the case, Parameter number 1851 is for feedrate and # 1852 is for rapid. You can use the programs above, just change from G00 to G01 and add a feedrate to test for the feedrate backlash amount.

Until Next Time … Happy (and accurate) Chip Making !

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