Recore Hacks The Hidden Microcontroller For 3D Printing

No stranger to the world of 3D printers, [Elias Bakken] from the [Intelligent Agent] workshop has released a new controller board called Recore. The typical 3D printer has a dedicated controller which handles the real-time aspects of driving stepper motors. Many setups also have a second computer, often Linux-based, which is dedicated to supporting tasks like running an Octoprint server and interfacing to a digital camera to monitor print progress remotely. [Elias]’s design merges these together into one compact 12 x 12 x 4 cm package.

The Recore board is powered by an AllWinner A64 system on chip (SoC) which packs four ARM Cortex-A53 AArch64 cores running Debian Linux. The applications include Klipper, a project we wrote about when it was first introduced, and the OctoPrint print server. “But Linux is not a real-time operating system”, we hear you cry, “and controlling stepper motor drivers from an A64 SoC is just asking for trouble”. [Elias] could have addressed this problem by putting a secondary microcontroller on the board, but he found an even more elegant solution instead.

It turns out that there is already a secondary microcontroller hidden in plain sight, integrated into the A64 itself. See that small box labeled AR100 at the top of the block diagram? Meet the AR100, a controller originally intended to manage low-power operations of the A64. It is an OpenRISC 32-bit OR1k processor. But the AR100 is extremely underutilized, and [Elias] takes good advantage of this by repurposing it to those real-time tasks associated with a 3D printer controller. Watch the short video down below to learn how he solves a few of the nitty-gritty implementation details such as timers and communicating with the Linux processors. You might learn some tips from the other short videos in the series featuring some interesting debugging and problem solving sessions. There is a project GitHub repository and a Wiki full of good information and testing results.

[Elias] has a long history of building printer controllers. While his last one had to be abandoned because of manufacturing issues, he learned from that experience. Manufacturability was a top priority in the design of the Recore. We’re jealous of the well-appointed [Intelligent Agent] facility in Norway, but even more so of the nomadic lifestyle that [Elias] appears to enjoy — in his videos, he can be seen working from far-flung locales such as a tropical island resort and a laboratory floating in high Earth orbit. We’ve featured [Elias]’s projects in the past, including the Replicate 3D printer controller, a semi-automatic liquor cabinet, and the dog-operated treat dispenser.

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3D Printer Control Board Packs A Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4

Traditionally, 3D printer control boards have used simplistic 8-bit microcontrollers to command the stepper drivers and ultimately move the machine where it needs to go. Newer boards have switched over to 32-bit microcontrollers, but they’re still relatively limited computationally. Because of this, a Raspberry Pi running OctoPrint is usually used to provide more complex features such as remote management and live video.

Looking to combine these different devices into a single all-in-one board, [pkElectronics] developed the Sigmoid S7P. With an STM32 microcontroller, TMC2209 stepper drivers, a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4, and plenty of room for expansion, it promises to be a drop-in upgrade for essentially any 3D printer running on an open source firmware that could be ported over.

An earlier concept for the Sigmoid

According to [pkElectronics], the idea for the Sigmoid had been floating around for several years, but never got off the ground due to the difficulties in dealing with the SO-DIMM interface used by previous iterations of the Compute Module. But with the switch to smaller and denser connector for the CM4, the board finally started to take shape.

Whether you just used it as a convenient way to integrate OctoPrint into your printer, or want to get into something more advanced like Klipper, the Sigmoid S7P looks like a very exciting project. [pkElectronics] says they are considering producing the board commercially if there’s interest, so if you want one of these for your own custom 3D printer build, let them know.

Tiny Smoothies At Maker Faire

For almost the last decade, desktop 3D printing has, at its heart, been centered around 8-bit microcontrollers. The ATmegas and other Atmel chips are good enough to move a few steppers and squirt some plastic. With faster processors, you get smoother acceleration, leading to better prints. Modern ARM devices have a lot of peripherals, allowing for onboard WiFi and Ethernet connectivity. The future is 32-bit print controllers.

Right now there are a few 32-bit controllers, from the very weird, out-of-nowhere controller for the Monoprice Mini 3D printer to the more traditional SmoothieBoard. Only one of these boards has the open hardware cred for a proper 3D printer controller, and a this year’s Maker Faire, Cohesion3D introduced a few machine control boards built on top of Smoothie that add a few interesting features and techniques.

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