An intuitive interface is important for safe and efficient operator-machine interaction. Hand wheels on milling machines and lathes give the operator control and feedback from the machine. It’s possible to “feel” the cut through the hand wheels. CNC controllers remove much of the that control, and as smart as they are, controllers do exactly what they are told, without sensing, sometimes to the dismay of the operator. A keyboard is a poor replacement of the hand wheel controls, or for the operator standing in front of the machine. And programming can’t replace the intuition of an operator.

Pendants allow the operator to be near the action of the machine, with control of the important actions in their hands. Advanced industrial CNC machines may even have feedback in the pendant. Home CNC machines are more basic, and often people use numeric keypads for CNC control, but there are much better options. For people gifted in electronics, they may take a commercial pendant from an industrial machine and rewire it for their CNC machines. For the rest of us, there are USB pendant such as the ShuttleXpress and products from VistaCNC.

In this video, we considered three pendants for LinuxCNC, the VistaCNC P4-SE, ShuttleXpress, and a numeric keypad. Features of each are examined and each are used to zero on a part. The VistaCNC pendant is preferred because of the enhanced EStop button, which is integrated into the main EStop circuit. The display of the machine position on the VistaCNC pendant make the pendant like a DRO. Other buttons provide several other options, providing variety of machine operation. It’s become one of my favorite tools.

Product links:
VistaCNC P4-S
VistaCNC P4-SE homepage
ShuttleXpress Machinekit configuration
Numeric keypad