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Home3D PrintingThe Anatomy of a 3D Printer: Controller Boards

The Anatomy of a 3D Printer: Controller Boards

Whereas some elements of 3D printers are fairly standardized, like motors, belt sizes, and even the movement system, there’s a enormous selection in what really does all of the work: the controller board.

Some printers have actually huge boards with room to develop for extra options sooner or later, whereas others have simply sufficient to meet all of the features that the printer was designed for. Some have built-in stepper drivers whereas others have separate stepper drivers – the elements that dictate to the stepper motors how you can transfer, and to find out about these, we’ll have a hyperlink to that. Let’s check out what makes a controller board work, what you would possibly discover on it, and what options are pretty customary.

What does it do?

Typically known as the motherboard, the controller board takes the inputs (G-code) and outputs to the remainder of the printer’s mechatronics what to do with it (actions). “M109 S60” means nothing, however the controller board is aware of that “M109”
means “warmth up and watch for the mattress to achieve a temperature” and “S60” means “Set to 60 levels C.” We’ll get to the specifics of the way it interprets these inputs one other day, as a result of that translation is finished by the “firmware” put in within the controller board.


It doesn’t matter what controller board you’re , there might be a chip on it that does all of the computing. A few of them are 8-bit, just like the ATmega2560, and others are 32-bit like ARM processors. If you happen to’re in any respect acquainted with computer systems or video video games, then you definately may be pondering “these can’t imply the identical factor.” Sure, an enormous variety of 3D printers are working on processors which have almost the identical capabilities because the processor in a Nintendo Leisure System, and in lots of instances, simply on the threshold of getting sufficient processing energy to compute the actions needed for a 3D printer.

Delta 3D printers must do a whole lot of calculations to determine how you can transfer their three motors on the identical time, and that may choke up the processor. Give it some thought this manner: the board must each calculate how you can transfer and dictate to the motors to maneuver in a selected route and acceleration, which is a whole lot of info to compute. When it’s caught calculating issues, the remainder of the system doesn’t know what to do till it’s completed computing the subsequent line, making a stutter at finest or a pause at worst in your print. 32-bit boards remedy these type of issues twofold: by having extra energy to do these calculations and having the room to look additional forward with actions to, for probably the most half, keep forward of the curve not have these stutters.



By way of options, each board can have both screw terminals, the place you tighten down a screw over a wire join it to the board, or dupont connectors, that are pins which have a standardized spacing between them, which might both be discovered as pins protruding of the board, pins protruding of the board with a notched socket so issues can solely be plugged in a technique (polarized), or sockets for the pins of one thing else to plug into. There’s professionals and cons to both setup, like screw terminals would permit you to reorder the wires of a stepper motor if it’s not transferring accurately, however it’s a must to ensure you have simply that the screw is tightened down over it and it’ll keep actually safe.


Relying on if the board you’re looking at was designed particularly for one machine, just like the boards in pastime stage printers like Creality printers and even Ultimakers, or if they’re standalone boards like Azteegs, RAMBos, or RAMPS, that you will discover in a pair completely different manufacturers of printers. The particular boards will normally have simply sufficient connections for the {hardware} of the 3D printer, like if it doesn’t include a heated mattress, then there in all probability received’t be terminals so that you can improve to a heated mattress later. The standalone boards can include 4 thermistor ports to measure temperature, 6 endstops, two hotend ports, 6 stepper plugs, and so forth. They’re designed to have as many options as potential to swimsuit the wants of as many individuals as they’ll.

Stepper Drivers

Like I beforehand mentioned with stepper drivers, some controller boards have the stepper drivers built-in into the board, whereas others have them as separate boards that plug in. Stepper drivers built-in with the board have higher thermal dissipation as a result of it could actually use the entire board as a heatsink, but when for some purpose a stepper motor stops transferring and the driving force is responsible, you both want to interchange your entire controller board, or very fastidiously carry out just a little surgical procedure and swap out the useless stepper driver. If the stepper driver plugs in, simply take away the useless driver and plop in a brand new one.


For communication, the commonest connector for boards USB Kind A, however I’ve seen others which have USB micro or USB mini. Some use Ethernet to affix the 3D printer to a house or work community to have the ability to print from a special room, and even additional some have Wifi capabilities (with password safety so not simply anybody can entry it). There’s nothing inherently higher with one over one other, however one factor to contemplate is that in case you are printer over USB, be certain the pc linked to it is not busy doing different duties. Watching movies, display capturing, 3D modeling, AND 3D printing, all on the identical time could cause a stutter within the print as a result of your pc simply has too many duties working without delay.

If you happen to’re printing over Wifi or Ethernet it would be best to see in case your printer can add the entire gcode onto the board quite than streaming it to the printer. As a result of identical to with Netflix, for those who’re attempting to make use of Wifi at peak hours, you are going to must buffer. That is why printers just like the Ultimaker 3, Ultimaker S5, or Makergear M3 all have the whole Gcode uploaded to stop that from occurring.

That about covers the {hardware} of controller boards for 3D printers, however preserve your eyes peeled for an article sooner or later about what goes on behind the scenes: the firmware. That is what really does the translating, calculating, and dictating. In order that’s it! There’s a whole lot of completely different controller boards on the market, so I’d love to listen to within the feedback down beneath which one is your favourite, as a result of mine has undoubtedly change into the Duet Wifi. The options it has, the interface over Wifi, how easy and quiet a printer will run all elevate it in my rankings.

Blissful printing!



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