When it comes to 3D printer controllers, there are two main schools of thought. The first group is RAMPS or RAMBo which are respectively a 3D printer controller ‘shield’ for the Arduino Mega and a stand-alone controller board. These boards have been the standard for DIY 3D printers for a very long time, and are the brains for quite a few printers from the biggest manufacturers. The other school of thought trundles down the path of ARM, with the most popular boards running the Smoothie firmware. There are advantages to running a printer with an ARM microcontroller, and the SmoothieBoard is fantastic.
Re-ARM for RAMPS — a Kickstarter that went live this week — is the middle ground between these two schools of thought. It’s a motherboard for RAMPS, but brings the power of a 32-bit LPC1768 ARM processor for all that smooth acceleration, fine control, and expansion abilities the SmoothieBoard brings.
The idea of a smaller board running Smoothie is nothing new. A few months at Maker Faire NY, we looked upon the wares of Cohesion3D, a company dedicated to building tiny 32-bit printer controllers. Smoothie has even been ported to other microcontrollers, and ST is getting into the ARM game with their own dev kit.
Despite a growing ecosystem of ARM-based 3D printer controller boards, there is one drawback: RAMPS is almost a standard. It’s effectively a breakout board for an Arduino Mega, though, which makes replacing the ‘brain’ of the board with an ARM an easy proposition. Why no one thought of putting a Smoothie-compatible microcontroller on a board designed for RAMPS is beyond me; it’s a mind-numbingly obvious innovation.
The Re-ARM will come with all the features you expect from a board designed to control a RAMPS board. The USB plug is a mini-B instead of the massive B plug from 1998 (an improvement, but bruh, micro USB). One heated bed and two MOSFETS for hotends are supported, and the power supply input can handle up to 30V. Because Smoothie firmware and the SmoothieBoard have a few more features than your standard RAMPS setup, Ethernet is available with a breakout board, and impressive graphic LCDs are a drop-in addition. Of course, like all Smoothie boards, configuration is as simple as adding a text file to an SD card.
Arduino-based 3D printer controllers have been around for as long as Makerbot, and today RAMPS is very close to a standard. There are thousands of printers out there running on a RAMPS board, but 32-bit ARM boards are the future. The Re-ARM gives these printers a rather simple upgrade path, without the cost of buying new stepper motors or the time involved in completely rewiring their printer. It’s a great addition to the current crop of 3D printer controller boards, and we wish this project all the success it deserves.