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Buildlog Title: Terje's buildlog

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Builder: terjeio
Member Since: 2014-10-27

Sunday, May 21st 2017 - 6:24 PM

I finally got around to integrate Grbl (v1.1) into my controller code, I have HALified Grbl in my port and made it into a library to achieve that. The driver layer supports custom M-codes for controlling the PPI-mode parameters, integration with front panel buttons (including jogging) and display. My desktop application has gained a gcode streamer tab supporting the Grbl streaming protocol and has support for 3-key rollover jogging via the PC keyboard. Some fine tuning remains for the UI, I need to use it a bit to find out what features to add...

Grbl (gcode) tab in action

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reader comment Comment from: cvoinescu on Thursday, July 7th 2016 - 11:18 PM
You could get an approximate relative measure of power by engraving a series of lines, next to each other, alternating between full power at high speed, and various guesses at what should be half power at half that speed; then compare adjacent lines, pick the closest match, and call that 50% power. Continue the same way for a few more data points, especially at the low-power end of the curve.

Thursday, July 7th 2016 - 12:32 PM

Some progress, and got a crazy(?) idea about measuring (relative) power output for calibration - maybe a micrometer clock can be used? Plot a 3D grayscale in acrylic and measure depth of each level...

3D engraving in acrylic - laying flat...

... and held against light from the gray sky here today, Einstein is engraved @150dpi, cat @300dpi. 300dpi is minimum I think, at 150dpi each line is clearly visible.

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Wednesday, July 6th 2016 - 9:13 AM

First attempt at grayscale/3D engraving were successful in that the software and hardware works as expected, only some minor software issues to be corrected.
However, I now face the problem of laser supply/laser tube linearity - the combo is not linear, that is the control voltage/laser output power has a nonlinear relationship.

My controller has a 12 bit DAC for adjusting laser power, which translates to 4096 discrete levels, however about half is lost due to the fact that the usable range is about 1.0 - 2.5V from a possible output of 0 - 3.3V. The output could be corrected for by adding an op-amp to set gain/offset, however I have opted for a software solution for now.

The software solution is based on a lookup table mapping percentage power (combined with an offset) to set control voltage. This has the bonus of beeing able to use a table that corrects for any linearity issues. Since I do not own a power meter I have run into the problem of creating such a table, I can of course try to create one by trial and error - but maybe someone else has created one that could be used as a starting point?

Since the controller has 2Kb of EEPROM I have implemented functionality to download a profile from the desktop application - no need to recompile new firmware.

From the very first attempt at 3D engraving

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Monday, July 4th 2016 - 7:11 AM

Ready to try grayscale (3D) engraving - 128 levels implemented. :)

Updated UI for grayscale engraving

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Tuesday, June 21st 2016 - 1:33 PM

New controller made, have gone 32-bit - can now do a lot more fancy coding...

New board

Piggy back on Chinese breakout board (for Mach 3)

(Nearly) same connections as Chinese breakout

OLED display in front panel


1. Main board

3-axis motion controller for four motors, Y-output is switchable between two motors (Y or A)

Texas Instruments (TI) Tiva TM4C123GH6PM as main processor - ARM Cortex M4F: 80 MHz, 256 KB flash, 32 KB SRAM, 2KB EEPROM, ROM-based library (TivaWare)

TI MSP430G2553 MCU with two CPLDs provides PPI-control for lasers, controlled by main processor via I2C.

Isolated input via USB-to-serial (FT232RL) or direct serial provided by ADUM1402, optionally USB directly (not isolated).

I2C bus made available for add-on boards.

On board regulator for +5V, 6.5 - 36 V supply range (TRACO TSR 1-2450)

2. Relay control board

via I2C - for air assist, coolant pump and fans, 4 channel board made.

3. Front panel boards

Control via I2C, for display and buttons. Board made with OLED display for status, 13 buttons for power, relay control, laser test fire and axis jogging.


Proprietary code for engraving, supporting desktop application written in C# for Windows.

Mach3 option via piggyback to common paralell port breakout board, supported in proprietary code (mode select).
PPI mode available, controlled by desktop application.

GRBL option in the making, code has been ported from latest version - must be integrated with proprietary code.
My plan is to make a HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer) for GRBL, and change it into a library.

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Sunday, May 3rd 2015 - 3:36 PM

Finally got Mach3 working, some problems with the BOB as my CPLD-counters were counting more or less randomly when fed with pulses from Mach3. A pair of Schmitt-triggers cured that problem. PPI-control is a must, it gives very fine control of both engraving and cuts - however I need to add preset support to my control software as there are to many combinations to keep track of... I have used dirktheengs code as a starting point for Mach3 PPI-control but had to convert it to integer math as MSP430 is too slow to handle floating point in real time - I think any rounding errors due to this does not affect the final result that much. So, I have a useable machine now :D
Engraving on paper, not possible without PPI?

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Sunday, April 19th 2015 - 12:39 PM

Thanks for nice comments, it helps tremendously to have access to the wealth of information provided by all the previous builders.
My CNC mill is also a vital tool to have when fabricating parts.

I got my prototype controller PCB back from China a few days back, and I have now ported over my test program and the core functions are all up and running.
Next step will be to let Mach 3 gain control of the machine and then implement PPI control for cutting.
I will then try to implement a plugin for Mach3 - for controlling PPI, power and maybe even share current position with my controller...
Two MSP430s on board, then main controller and a dedicated PPI processor. The second (now missing) CPLD will be added when I get the first working correctly.
My controller on top of Mach3 breakout board.

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reader comment Comment from: sshwarts on Wednesday, April 8th 2015 - 5:34 PM
You do beautiful work! Very impressive.


Wednesday, April 8th 2015 - 3:32 PM

My prototype controller is now working as it should so I have spent a few days designing a PCB for it. It will piggy-back onto a chinese breakout board to factilitate a clean interface to Mach 3. I have to submit it to fabrication as I am not able to make it myself, too many vias for that - I will not try plating it myself. The whole design is broken down into separate subsystems and I am using i2c for communation. The setup consists of no less than five MSP430 microcontrollers and two CPLDs... MSP430 are only a few euros each so cost is no issue. The separate processors are tasked with power control, input switch handling, relay control (fans, pump & air assist) & cooolant flow monitoring, PPI handling for Mach 3 and motor/laser control for bitmap rendering. The CPLDs are for the stepper pulse counters used for PPI, 24-bit each with latching since the counters are read a byte at a time. Laser power is controlled by a 12-bit DAC, maybe this will come in handy if I want to try grayscale engraving?
Closed loop cooling, air intake is only ΓΈ 50mm - enough?
Brushed aluminium skin, PCBs for power control & switches behind panels. I am abit old fashioned so no LCD-display, 7-segment leds for power level
Coolant reservoir in electronics bay - maybe a bit dangerous?
Closed electronics bay, air intake inside - hopefully it will work...
Second mirror mount

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Friday, March 27th 2015 - 8:23 PM

After my 24V PSU literally blew up, I have been a bit slow on starting my 2.x build again. Luckily my drivers survived even as the PSU voltage surged to nearly 60V...
Yesterday I finally powered up the laser tube so I am now ready to move on. Today I have modified my PCB Exposer software to match the CO2 tube and the initial results looks promising.
Having been spoiled by the resolution of the 405nm laser it is quite a change to work with the CO2, I have started out with 3ms/pixel which seems to be a bit on the fast side. Maybe my tube/laser PSU combo is a bit slow to react, when I increase power to get single pixels to show up continuous pixels (> 10) gets too much power. Maybe this can be solved by implementing PPI?
Anyway, I think I'll stick to my plan to use my own software for engraving and Mach 3 for cutting for now.
From my initital attemps at engraving, image is 90mmx90mm @ 300dpi on some scrap cardboard. Artefacts are from me moving the cardboard while engraving.

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Sunday, January 11th 2015 - 9:51 PM

PCB Exposer: nearly completed, no endstop switches and Z-axis control (for focus) implemented - not sure they are really needed. The laser sled is cannibalized from a 3.5" Sony floppy drive - from the days when these drives were high quality stuff. Controller is a MSP340 in companion with a FTDI 232 chip and Polulu drivers, amazing what can be done with only 512 bytes of RAM - code is just over 3k! Laser power is controlled via a DA converter, so I will look into using the controller for my 2.x for greyscale engraving. The data stream from the controlling PC is packed as 7 pixels per byte and transferred at 38 kbaud, for the 2.x this can be extended to 1 pixel per byte due to the 2.x beeing a lot slower (10-30 times) than the exposer.

2.x: got the axes moving today - soon time to order the laser tube :)

Front view, some finished PCBs to the left.

Controller board, made by the exposer for itself. Microcontroller and FTDI chip surface mounted on the copper side.

Exposer application

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reader comment Comment from: cvoinescu on Friday, December 26th 2014 - 4:18 PM
That is a very nice result!

Friday, December 26th 2014 - 2:13 PM

PCB Exposer: problem solved, artefacts were a combination of buggy program, bad focus, laser power and noise. I am using Dupont dry film photoresist,
it is very sensitive and I have to run the diode just above its lasing threshold in order to avoid fogging around the tracks.
SOT23 footprint, 0.5 & 0.3mm track widths - from final driver board

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Thursday, December 25th 2014 - 4:58 PM

PCB exposer: after being forced to design my own diode driver due to the Chinese driver being totally useless I am now ready to move the electronics from a breadboard to some real PCBs. Hopefully I will then be able to get rid of some artefacts which I suspect is due to noise in the current setup...
Detail of first succesful exposure, looks promising.

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Sunday, December 14th 2014 - 11:51 AM

Most of the mechanical parts completed now. I have decided to bolt the frame together for two reasons, corner brackets are insanely expensive here and I think they do not provide the same stiffness as bolting does. Lots of tapping to be done, but that is part of the fun making stuff. X-axis rail is a real beauty, not much frcition to overcome - bougth SH from US-based eBayer. Laser head I got is wrong way around, so had to make a fancy mounting bracket for it.
The homemade CNC-mill used for creating the parts
Fixed mirror assembly, tapped and bolted joints
Moving mirror assembly (prototype)

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reader comment Comment from: sshwarts on Thursday, November 20th 2014 - 6:51 PM
Very cool.

Thursday, November 20th 2014 - 5:22 PM

Hi all,

I have started building two lasers, one based on the 2.x design and a smaller one for exposing photosenstive PCBs by utilizing a 405nm laser diode.
The 2.x frame is nearly complete, waiting for bits & pieces from China so I can proceed with construction.
So, for now I am working on the PCB exposer, this is based on a TI MSP430 controller, FTDI USB -> UART communication and Polulu drivers.
Toolchain is Visual Studio 2010 and C# for converting a 1200 dpi BMP file to a datastream for the controller which code is implemented
by using CCS and C as the programming language. So far so good, axes are now moving and a more or less harmless red laser diode is happily blinking.
I have got the 405nm diode already but I am not ready to fire that up yet - I guess it is best to wait until the safety goggles arrives.

The plan for this is to implement a printer driver that can drive the exposer directly, maybe a bit ambitious - we'll see what I am able to put together.

The fun thing about the exposer controller is that it may be used for the 2.x as well, my initial plan was to control it from Mach3 but a combo might be a better idea?
I want PPI control and I am thinking of implementing the counters for this, and selection logic for swiching controllers, in a TTL-tolerant CPLD, again hopefylly within my abilities.

Prototyping for the PCB exposer:



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