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VFD and Belt Drive conversion for my Sieg X3 mill, Part 1

By Christian Banninger, Australia August, 2009 Copyleft protects this article

From this.....

........To this

Shortly after purchase of the X3 back in 2004 I began entertaining this idea. The X3 always made too much noise for my liking. The motor sounded like a vacuum cleaner, and the gear drive like a skeleton walking on the metal roof. The drive had a very rough feel to me. Vibrations were evident. I carefully de-burred and polished all gears, took the spindle completely apart, the noise did not change. Also I would have liked a slightly higher top speed for the spindle, and certainly a smoother running spindle at very low speeds. Alas, it took me 5 years to really do something about....

Earlier X3 drive modifications done by others

Back in 2004, there already was a VFD conversion for the X3 documented on the net by a Japanese home machinist. It was a very well done conversion. It even had a two speed belt drive. I did however not like the belt tensioning system which required tools for speed changes. This is it:

The Japanese site has a detailed documentation with plenty of

pictures on this VFD upgrade. See this webpage and the following for more information: Text is Japanese, so you may want to translate it into English, this link uses the Google translate feature to open the above webpage:

Also back in 2004, there was already a conversion for the X3 that kept the existing motor and controller, but replaced the entire metal gear drive by one single 560-8M timing belt. This resulted in a single speed setup, with spindle speeds from 500 to 4000rpm. According to its designer Jure Spiler from Ljubliana, the noise problem remained unsolved. See pics here:

Back in November 2005, Dick Stephen published in Model Engineer's Workshop issue #111, a modification that replaces the final gear set to the spindle only with a timing belt. Thus retaining the 2-speed metal gearbox and all the other drive components unchanged. He claimed to notice some reduction in noise and head vibration.

My Drive Design
I wanted it to be a VFD drive. No more stuck and arcing brushes in cheap DC motors, no more turning the scored collector over, no more carbon dust, no more ozone smell.... And I decided to use an endless Polybelt of exacly the same type and length as used in my EMCO Compact 8 lathe: a Gates 5M690. I know this belt will keep any vibrations away from the spindle. Since I only used 3 belts after owning and using my lathe for 22 years, I know it can handle the power and is going to last several years in the X3 too. And the idea of having to stock only one belt type for both lathe and mill is appealing. Having had my lathe upgraded to VFD long ago, and used it extensively for milling before purchasing the X3, I knew that a 0.5HP drive was going to be all I ever need. A French Telemecanique Altivar 28 was found new old stock on eBay Germany for 89 Euro including postage to Australia. It is a sensorless vector technology drive of 0.37kW and 240V single phase input. The motor of my choice was found on eBay Australia, it is a 3-pase Teco dual voltage 4-pole flange mount motor in IEC71 frame, again new old stock for under 60AU$ including postage. With VFD and Motor bought, next I had to make up my choice regarding spindle speed ranges. The original X3 motor has 3/4HP and a two speed gearbox to cover speed ranges of 0-1000rpm and 0-2000rpm. Being a dc drive it is constant torque from zero to its base speed, which also is its maximum speed. See the graph below. And yes, I did make sure that the original SIEG DC motor really delivers 3/4HP. I used a power meter instrument to determine how much power goes into the original DC drive with the motor fully loaded, and assuming a 60% efficiency of the Treadmill type SIEG motor, it really has the 600W shaft power claimed!!

Power vs. RPM graph for the original 3/4HP SIEG X3 motor (assuming the motor torque curve is nearly linear). At slightly over 1000rpm spindle speed, when shitching into 2nd gear, the motor produces about 300W power. Also, in first gear at just below 500rpm at the spindle, about 300W are available. The motor cannot be driven above 1000rpm spindle speed in 1st, or 2000rpm in 2nd gear, without risking damage to the armature by centrifugal forces.

I decided that with VFD and a 3-speed belt drive, I could cover a speed range of 0-3000rpm. Being a VFD vector drive, it is near constant torque from near zero to its base speed (50Hz), then its near constant power up to about twice its base speed (100Hz), then it rapidly looses power to the point where at about 140Hz it can just overcome the friction losses of belt and spindle bearings, and no more power is left to drive the cutting tool. The graph below shows

what I mean:

Power vs. spindle RPM graph of my proposed VFD drive (much simplified, the real curves are indeed curves, and different for each motor) Please notice that this is my personal choice and preference. The drive could be designed single speed, or with 2, 4, 5, 6-speed pulley speed settings with or without laty shaft. Also the final top speed could be choosen anywhere up to some 5,000RPM (that may need some better quality spindle bearings and low viscosity grease, but the current spindle design as such should cope with 5,00RPM...). I thought that for me and what I do, a top speed of 3,000 RPM at 120Hz would be fine. In practice, with the pulley diameters I did choose, I get up to 3,400RPM @ 150Hz with just the power to run a smallish end mill. My last graph today shows the two previous graphs overlayed on top of each other. It serves to get a feel how the original X3 DC drive and my new VFD drive compare:

The dashed burgundy lines are the two speed settings of the original SIEG X3 DC drive. It can clearly be seen that the orginal 3/4HP drive has more power in the speed ranges of 7001000RPM and 1500 to 2000RPM. In all other speed ranges it is either same or inferior to my VFD drive and this despite that the original drive is not even capable at all of speeds above 2,000RPM. Whilst my VFD drive reachers up to 3,000RPM. In practice, the graph does not say it all: the VFD drive is also very much smoother and quieter. It is particulary much smoother at lower speeds, where the original DC drive suffered badly from commutator torque vibration.

The Pulleys
To achieve above spindle speeds with a 4-pole motor and a 3-speed drive, the following gear ratios are necessary: 1: 3.51, 1: 1.8 and 1: 1.2. To achieve these ratios with a 5M Polybelt drive, it is necessary to consult the Gates Website and register with them, then you click on power transmission and click on drive design engineering and drive design manual online and download the Light Power and Precision Drive Design Manual. Page 97 is the most important with the dimensions for the Polybelt grooves, the following pages help a lot if you want to design a slightly different drive from what I did.

page 97 from the Gates Light Power and Precision Drive Design Manual

After some reading and a little math, I came up with the following pitch diameters for the pulley grooves: Spindle pulley: 131.3mm, 111.3mm, 95.3mm Motor Pulley: 38.3mm, 62.5mm, 78.5mm With these diameters, the fixed length belt should fit all three pulley positions with exactly the same tension. It is critical to get this real right, otherwise changing the belt speeds will be a nuisance for many years to come. The groove angles for the 131.3 and the 111.3mm pulley are 64 degrees, the other grooves under 110mm are to be made 62 degrees.

Above pulley groove diameters will provide the following spindle speeds: frequency Hz 1st gear RPM 2nd gear RPM 3rd gear RPM 10 85 175 250 20 170 350 500 30 255 500 750 50 425 875 1250 60 512 1050 1500 80 680 1400 2000 100 850 1750 2500 120 1024 2100 3000

The whole idea was to have three overlapping speed settings, with at least 1/4HP being available at any speed. Much like this: 1st gear 0 to 1,000 RPM (ideal for large diameter drilling, flycutting, boring, slitting) 2nd gear 500 to 2,000 RPM 3rd gear 750 to 3,000 RPM (ideal for small diameter tools in plastics and aluminium)

Spindle pulley, being made from a billet 150mm round Aluminum stock

Spindle pulley, being made from 150mm round Aluminum stock

How to check that all three belt positions will have the same tension (if you have 3 identical belts handy)

Makeshift setup to cut the splines on the X3

Spindle pulley, almost finished, being slotted

Motor pulley, being slotted (the liquid is WD40)

It is actually very important that the surface finish of the grooves is impeccable and smooth. It is normally done with a form tool. But form tools only work well on heavy industrial lathes. All I have is a light 8 hobbylathe. With a form tool, the surface finish would very likely show chatter marks. So I used a narrow pointed tool, and set up the compound to the groove angle, once left and once right for each groove. It is very easy to cut a single groove into a pulley this way. But I can assure you its real challenging to make a 3-step pulley that way. That is, because the next steps shoulder wants to foul the tool. I had to make an extra slim and long tool especially for this task (6mm shank). despite careful calculation, some fine tuning is necessary whilst cutting the last grooves. Look at the pictures how I use 3 polybelts to ensure the pulleys will once installed have the same belt tension on all three positions. This is crucial, because if this is off you would need a different distance between motor and spindle for each belt position. The spring loaded belt tensioner can only compensate for very minor errors. Cutting the splines into the pulleys is actually the easiest and fastest part of the job. All it takes is some 50 short strokes with the quill, not much force is needed. I used a spare carbide lathe grooving insert brazed onto a steel shaft it will probably last me for the next 10 years, since I rarely need to cut internal splines. Notice the wood to clamp the top gear (yes, one day I will make a real locking collar for this....).

Motor Modification
The IEC71 flange motor needs its rear shaft mounted fan removed for three good reasons:

Once because I intend to spin the motor at well over twice its 50Hz base speed, and at such high RPM's it would sound like a turbine. Second, because I want to be able to run the motor for extended periods of time at speeds blew 30Hz without overheating, and this calls for a separate constant speed fan. Third, I intend to install the motor in the same position left of the milling head facing downwards, and thus an as short as possible motor body is desirable. I did at first look at mounting the motor to the top of the head, but did not like the idea of making the X3 both taller and more top heavy as necessary.

The nameplate

Notice the rear shaft extension for the fan chopped off, and a rubberflex power cable with 4-pin Amphenol screw connector fitted....

...the round mounting flange has been squared up (and repainted)....

... two 80x80mm 24V box fans have been mounted for cooling, using a 12x12mm RHS aluminium profile attached to the motor's T-slots. The thin pigtail cable is the 24V supply to the 24V fans wired in parallel.

The Base Plate

The base plate is fabricated, simply because I happened to find a suitable 8mm thick Aluminium plate of this size in my scrap metal box. Had I found a larger plate, I would maybe have made it one piece. So I simply added a 4mm plate at the front and riveted all together and gave it straight milled edges all around. Sometimes a little more work seems easier than going out and order a plate of the right size and then find its bent or twisted...

Overall size is 297mm wide and 300mm deep, rectangular cutout around the spindle top bearing plate, round cutout for the motor, M8x35 studs to mount the motor by its flange....

The screw at the back left is to pre-tension the spring for the belt tensioner... I use the already existing holes in the head casting, plus drill two more at the front.... the slot milled into the bore for the motor is to tighten the lower pulley grubscrew... the two side plates are 110x50x12 Aluminium, as rear plate I use a steel plate 1.5mm from the scrap box...

...motor mounted...

... motor pulley mounted.... the large pulley just lays there loose to see how it all will come together.... I use a 5M690 belt (690mm long), so the calculated distance between motor center line and spindle center line is 205mm and in practice too, because as it turns out at final assembly, all holes are drilled spot-on.

The Belt Tensioner

That is the next job in line. I decided to use the existing hole and ball bearings of the existing first gear shaft (input to the gearbox) as the pivot for my new belt tensioner. A new longer shaft needs to be made though.

The idler roller is made of stainless steel with two 6000Z ball bearings pressed into (and a spacer in between). Mild Steel would certainly do as well, but I had a chunk of S.S. The right size in the scrap box, why not use it....

The two plates were milled out and drilled together from anodised 4mm Aluminium plate (from the scrap box, where else). At the top one can see the 8x8mm steel keyway, the excenter lever from the handle will push onto this via a small ball bearing to release or apply belt tension.

Two grubscrews will attach the whole tensioner unit to the pivot shaft, whilst providing precise high adjustment during assembly

Detail view of the idler wheel, it is stainless steel, 50mm diameter at the top and bottom flanges, and overall 21mm thick.

The hour-glass shaped steel spacer at the rear, that is where the tensioner spring will attach

Sandwiched & assembled, using medium strength Loctite on all screws

Why so many pics for a simple tensioner you may ask? If not well finished and perfectly parallel to the motor and spndle axes, it can cause nasty problems like the belt flipping over (inside out), it can cause premature belt failure, and it can be the source of vibrations if it begins dancing in an oscillating motion. A perfect tensioner is the key to a well functioning Polybelt drive. By the way, the original Gates 5M690 Polybelts can be bought on eBay from a very nice fellow called 1petspalace for $US13.99 each (his main business is pets, but he obviously has a 920 lathe..) and that price is half what most bearing dealers would like to charge.

Removing the Old Components

Notice that so far I still did all the milling in the X3 with its stock motor and gear drive I do not have a second mill available, so all parts needing milling have to finished before I can convert the X3 head to the new design. But now it is time to clean out all the obsolote components.

These are the original X3 drive components from the X3 mill head that I remove and discard...

......leaving the head emty..... this....

....and these items too can all now be removed and discarded or sold... I put the lot on eBay and got AU310 for it, or about 2x what I would have expected.

We are now ready for a completely new start, continuation in Part 2 of this document