Archive for the 'Programming' Category

The Polar Coaster – A Drink Coaster Drawing Machine

I designed this machine to draw custom, round drink coasters. I already have a laser cutter for square coasters and I wanted to try something unique for round coaster.

The Base

The base of the machine has two stacked 5mm bearings in the center for the bed to rotate on. There are (3) 3mm bearings on the bed perimeter that provide support and keep it level. They have little shafts that snap into the base.

The Bed

The bed is  a 156 tooth GT2 pulley. It has little springy fingers that grip the coaster when it is on the bed. The bed connects to the motor pulley with a closed loop belt.

The Radial Arm.

This is a belt driven, cantilevered arm that uses 6mm shafts and linear bearings. The belt is a cut pieces with the ends clamped at the carriage. It has a slotted mounting hole that lets the arm rotate. The pen must be adjustable to get to the exact center of the coaster or the drawing will be distorted. There is a limit switch on the top.  This is the only axis that needs to be homed. To setup the machine you home it and jog the pen until it is exactly over the center of the bed. You then set the work zero for X (Gcode: “G10 L20 P0 X0”). This only needs to be done once. If you use different types of pens, the center should be rechecked.

The Z Axis

The Z axis uses a micro servo and a cam to control the height of the pen. The firmware is setup to only have (2) Z positions, pen up and pen down. It uses 3mm rods and tiny little 3mm linear bearings.  There is a compression spring on one of the rods that applies a little pressure to the pen, and allows the pen to float a little on uneven coasters.

The Controller

I used my Grbl HAT controller. It is a bit overkill for this project but works perfectly.  It is attached to a Raspberry Pi in this photo, but I have not been using the Pi in this project yet. I just connect directly via USB.

Kinematics and Pre-Processin

See this blog post on how it was done. The pre-processor is written in C#, but it is rather simple and you could probably read the source file and convert if you cannot deal with C# on Windows.


I use a modified version of Grbl 1.1f.  Grbl does not support servos, so I needed to hack that in.  I used the PWM that is normally used for the spindle speed to control the servo. I turned off the variable speed spindle option and streamlined the spindle functions to the bare minimum I thought Grbl needed.  I adjusted the PWM parameters for use with a servo and added pen_up() and pen_down() functions. I tried to put as much of the custom code into one file spindle_control.c. I had to add a few lines in stepper.c to look at the current machine Z height and apply the correct pen up/down function.


You can use anything to generate the gcode that works with Grbl. The pen will go up when the Z is above zero and down when it is below zero. Therefore, you want the Z movement as short as possible to speed up the drawing and not have the pen dwell on the material and bleed.  I make the depth of cut 1mm and the z clearance 3mm.

CAD Files.

The design was done using PTC CREO 3.0.  A STEP version of the design is linked at the end of the post.


It does a great job. Here a recent coaster. This was done from a rasterized bitmap image found online (searched: circular Celtic braid).

Here is a Fat Tire beer themed coaster.

Coasters are made to be super absorbent, so larger tipped felt pens tend to bleed a little too much. I like to sketch with Micron pens and the thinner ones really work well on this machine.

Build You Own?

The build is not difficult, but covers a lot of areas. You should know how to work with STEP files and compile firmware.

The design is open source with no commercial restrictions, so feel free to use any part of my work. I found most of the parts on Amazon and eBay. I bought the belt from Stock Drive Products. The polar motor pulley is 36 tooth and the arm pulley is 20 tooth.  Cutting the shafts requires an abrasive cutoff wheel.

Please post any questions in the comments section and I will try to address them.







PSoC 5 Daughter Card for XCC

I finished a PSoC 5 daughter card design for X-Controller-Controller project.  10 boards should arrive in about a week. This will clean up all the wiring from the breadboard testing I have been doing. My goal is to have a clean development platform for me and possibly others to work with.

The design has the following features.

  • Mounts CY8CKIT-059 dev board directly
  • Mates directly to the X-controller-Controller
  • Independent control of 4 axes.
  • Connector for X-Controller button panel
  • Connector for  X-Controller power supply PCB
  • Connector for a Serial LCD panel (Itead Studio Nextion style)
  • PSoC controlled stepper motor current.
  • PCoC controlled idle current.

Here is an image of the CYC8CKIT-059 development board.  The CPU is a PSoC 5LP.  The price is only about $10.  It comes with a built in programmer, debugger, and USB/UART. This can be snapped off.  To fit into the X-Controller, I snap off the programmer and mount it in another location.  The connections are made on the PCB.  I plan to use stackable headers so all of the pins are still easily accessible.


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Step Pulse Extender – PSoC Style

The TB6600 stepper drivers I have in the X-Controller have a “Torque” feature.  You set the motor current with a reference voltage and the torque feature allows you to easily switch between that current and 1/3 third of it. This is typically used for an idle current reduction feature at the system level.


Why Idle Reduction?

Stepper motors have a lot of hold torque, but that torque quickly falls off with speed.   Therefore you typically size a stepper motor and set the current for your maximum cut or rapid speed.  This means your motors will have excess torque when idle and will tend to run hottest at idle.  You basically the the current as high as possible until the motors get too hot.  If you could reduce the current at idle, you would reduce the temperature and could set the current higher than normal when spinning.

This is great, but the machine will never be in idle during a long job.  At least one of the motors should always be running. If you could figure out when each individual motor was idle, you handle each motor independently.  That is not easy in firmware, but there are tricks to do it in hardware.  You could tie the feature to the step pulse.  Whenever the step pulse is active, the full torque could be active.  That has two problems. The step pulse is extremely short, in the range of a few microseconds.  The other is you might want the current high for a a short bit after the motor goes idle just to make sure the machine is stable in the new position.

The trick is to use the step pulse, but extend it to the desired duration.  It should stay on through all the step pulses and extend the last pulse.

Discrete Hardware Solution

The X-Controller uses a discrete logic chip to do this. It uses a retriggerable monostable vibrator (74HC123D).  The R/C circuit on the right of the schematic snippet sets the duration. It works great, but this adds a lot of parts and things are locked down and not easily adjustable. If you needed to override this function, you have to break out the soldering iron.

PSoC Solution

With PSoC, when you hear “discrete logic” you should know there is probably a good way to do it on the chip. In this case I designed a custom component using verilog.

The verilog code is quite simple.  The best part is none of this is done on the CPU, so there is no impact on the motion control performance. What the video to see the details.


Yet Another Way to do the Kinematics


Paul Kaplan, originator of the Easel project, came up with another way to do the kinematics for the Line-us Clone. My method used intersecting circles. His method uses the Law of Cosines.

The Law of Cosines relates the lengths of the sides of a triangle to the cosine of one of its angles.




This can be used to find the angles of the servo arms.

(Click on the images if you want a larger view)

The Goal


The goal is to find the two angles, A1 and A2, of the servo arms

Known Values

  • Px is the desired X location of the pen
  • Py is the desired Y location of the pen
  • L1 is the length of the upper servo arm (50mm)
  • L2 is the length of the end of the Pen Arm (50mm)

Step 1

Find the distance “D” of the pen to hub using the Pythagorean Theroem and the angle T1 using arctangent.

Px2 + Py2 = D2

rewritten … D = Sqrt(Px2 + Py2)



T1 can be found using the arctangent or inverse tangent formula. Note: When programming use the atan2(x,y) function to preserve the quadtrant.

T1 = atan2(Py,Px)

Step 2



Find T2 using the Law of Cosines

L12 + D2 – L22 = 2 * L1 * D *cos(T2)

rewritten …  T2 = acos( (L12 + D2 – L22) / (2 * L1 * D))

Step 3



Find T3 using the Law of Cosines. We want the left one of the two T3 angles, but since the linkages form a parallelogram that same angle shows occurs in several places.  We will use the right one and the dimensions associated with it.

L12 + L22 – D2 = 2 * L1 * L3 * cos(T3)

rewritten … T3 = acos( (L12 + L22 – D2) / (2 * L1 * L2))

Step 4



Determine A1 and A2 from the angles we figured out.

A1 = T1 + T2

A2 = A1 + T3


I think I will switch the code to use this method. I think I can optimize it better in C code. The speed of the code is important.  The faster it runs, the most times per second we can run it.  The more often we run it, the smoother it will run.


Hobby/RC Servo Control in PSoC



The PSoC family is my go to line of processors for prototyping.  It is like having a breadboard full of digital and analog circuits that you can wire up on the fly. I have been doing some stuff with hobby servos lately so I needed to figure out how to do it on the PSoC.

Hobby Servos


From Wikipedia


Image from Adafruit


Hobby servos set their rotation based on the length or a repeating pulse. The pulse should be 1ms to 2ms long and repeat every 20ms.  One end of the rotation is at 1ms and the other is at 2ms.

The PSoC PWM  Component


The PWM component is perfect for this job.  The PWM component can be setup to have a period and an on time.  The period should be 20ms and the on time would be between 1ms and 2ms.  The component uses a clock and two counter values.  The component will count on every clock pulse.  It resets the counters after the period count has been reached and the CMP value determines how long the pulse is logic high.

The PWM output goes to the servo control line.  Here is the configuration dialog box for the PWM component. The graph at the top is a good reference for what the output will look like.


The goal is to have a pretty decent resolution to set the 1ms to 2ms pulse.  I chose a 2MHz clock.  I picked the fastest clock that would still fit within the 16bit (65535) limit of the control.  PSoC clocks are derived from system clocks, so you need to pick values easily divided down from them.  The IDE helps with creation of these clocks.  At 2Mhz the period (repeat rate) should be set to 40,000.  The equation is the clock * period(in second) = period counts (2,000,000 counts/sec * 0.02 secs = 40,000 counts).

The CMP Value is how many counts the high pulse should last.  The equation is the same. For 1ms the count would be (2,000,000 cnts/sec * 0.001secs =  2,000 counts) and for 2ms the counts would be 4,000.  The range is 2,000 to 4,000 (2,000 count resolution).  This is better than most hobby servos can do.

The Code

The IDE will generate a bunch of functions, a custom API, for each component used when the application is built. There are two PWM Component functions we need to use for this application .

  • PWM_Servo_Start() This will initialize the component and get it running. This is called once at the beginning of the program.
  • PWM_Servo_WriteCompare(val) This sets the CMP Value that will be used to set the pulse length.

I also wrote a function the can set the value by degrees.

void setServo(float degrees)
unsigned int val;
// convert degrees to compare value
// 2000 to 4000 = 0 to 180
// value is
val = (degrees / 180.0 * 2000.0) + 2000;


The Results

Here is a screen shot of my logic analyzer. The output was set for 1/2 rotation. The pulse is 1.51ms and the period is 20.14ms.  That is close enough for me.  It is likely the clock speed is different between the PSoC and  and the analyzer.



Typically you will have to tune the to the actual servos used.  Just tweak the endpoint values until you get the rotation you want.