Controllers: What is what? A primer please.

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Controllers: What is what? A primer please.

Postby Nick Brawne » Fri Jun 29, 2012 8:24 pm

Help please, I am confused before I have even started. I understand what a controller does, but I don’t understand all the terminology, or advantages, disadvantages and differences of all the boards that are out there.

Azteeg X3

I am trying to build a printer of my own design (I do mechanical design for a living), but when it comes to the choice of controller board I am completely flummoxed, and everything I read does nothing to help in sorting out what does what, what the differences are, and what is the easiest (read most trouble free) to install, wire and get printing. Then there is pricing and availability.

What I would really like is a complete plug and play solution in which I don’t have to wade through a bunch of board options, order lots of add on daughter boards (shields?) and then have to select and install some custom firmware. I understand that I will need to tweak firmware, but the less I have to do the better.

My ideal board would support 3+2 steppers (3 axis+2 extruders) six end stops, 2 x hot end temperature control and build platform heater temperature control. It would also allow control of the machine without the need for an attached PC, while also allowing remote monitoring, ideally WiFi. It would be nice if there was a display that showed progress / build time / remaining time, error messages (no confussing codes to look up), and also allow me to start and stop jobs on the device. Does such a board exist, or can it be easily built out of parts that are out there. If so, what. I don’t want to get a board and bunch of add ons then have to try and de-bug the whole system.
Nick Brawne
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Re: Controllers: What is what? A primer please.

Postby mxk » Sat Jun 30, 2012 8:39 pm

Yes, such a solution can be relatively easily built. I don't know of any turnkey packages yet.

Arduino is the processor module that runs the controller. RAMPS is the Reprap Arduino Mega Pololu Shield, a card that interfaces to an Arduino Mega board and provides the interfaces you want plus the Pololu stepper drivers to move the bot. Azteeg and ORDuino are both monolithic boards in that that they bring the interfaces onboard, but I believe both still use daughter stepper boards like Pololu or stepstick. You can purchase them preassembled, I know Ultimachine offers a plug n play RAMPS setup that almost meets your requirements. You would need to add something like the PanelMax to get the sd card and console and then switch from the Sprinter firmware they preinstalled to Marlin. I am pretty sure the PanelMax would also work with the other boards and they would save you money, but I don't know if it's been done yet, taking you farther from turnkey.
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Re: Controllers: What is what? A primer please.

Postby Liberty4Ever » Sun Jul 01, 2012 1:35 am

A couple of eBay vendors are selling low cost integrated systems. A few weeks ago, I bought an Arduino with RAMPS and four stepper drivers with Marlin 1.4 pre-installed for $152. Now, for about the same price, they include SDRAMPS, the SD card reader for the RAMPS board. There is now a pre-assembled version of the PanelMax user interface kit that I bought. It's less expensive and it looks better IMO. It plugs into the controller.

At the rate it's going, you'll probably be able to buy something very close to what you want very soon, for about $150. Screw it on and wire it up.

BTW - For the LCD user interface with the SD card reader, you'll need Marlin 1.3 or higher.
Apparently, I didn't build that! :-)
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Re: Controllers: What is what? A primer please.

Postby Nick Brawne » Sun Jul 01, 2012 6:49 am

Thanks so much for the reply and explanations. I never would have guessed that RAMPS was a RepRap Arduino Mega Polulu. I think that a big part of the problem for me is that all of these bits and pieces use such weird names that have absolutely nothing to do with their function - unless you are in the know, and then it all makes sense.

Am I right in assuming that all of the available boards are Arduino based? Does that mean that the daughter cards / function cards / shields are interchangeable and compatible so they behave like lego brick type function blocks. Its then just a matter of finding a firmware either Sprinter or Marlin that supports all the functions I have assembled in hardware?
Nick Brawne
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Re: Controllers: What is what? A primer please.

Postby Enraged » Sun Jul 01, 2012 4:43 pm

most of the controllers all run on various Arduino chips as far as I know

I bought an Azteeg X1 for my ORDbot, and I think it's a fantastic little controller. It comes with nice connectors for all of the wiring, and it's nice and compact. I'll probably upgrade to the X3 eventually to get dual extrusion. The nice thing about the boards that use Pololu drivers (Azteeg X1, RAMPS, etc) is that if you change controllers, you can simply move the Pololu drivers, and they are cheap (~$15) if you do accidentally blow one up.
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