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The Anatomy of a 3D Printer: Controller Boards

The mind inside your 3D printer has to do and hold observe of lots of issues. Learn on to see what it takes to manage and run our favourite little machines.

Posted on October 8, 2018


Alec Richter

Whereas some components of 3D printers are fairly standardized, like motors, belt sizes, and even the movement system, there’s a large selection in what really does all of the work: the controller board.

Some printers have actually massive boards with room to develop for extra options sooner or later, whereas others have simply sufficient to meet all of the features that the printer was designed for. Some have built-in stepper drivers whereas others have separate stepper drivers – the components that dictate to the stepper motors the best way to transfer, and to find out about these, we’ll have a hyperlink to that. Let’s check out what makes a controller board work, what you would possibly discover on it, and what options are pretty commonplace.

What does it do?

Generally known as the motherboard, the controller board takes the inputs (G-code) and outputs to the remainder of the printer’s mechatronics what to do with it (actions). “M109 S60” means nothing, however the controller board is aware of that “M109”
means “warmth up and look ahead to the mattress to succeed in a temperature” and “S60” means “Set to 60 levels C.” We’ll get to the specifics of the way it interprets these inputs one other day, as a result of that translation is finished by the “firmware” put in within the controller board.


It doesn’t matter what controller board you’re , there might be a chip on it that does all of the computing. A few of them are 8-bit, just like the ATmega2560, and others are 32-bit like ARM processors. If you happen to’re in any respect aware of computer systems or video video games, then you definitely is perhaps pondering “these can’t imply the identical factor.” Sure, an enormous variety of 3D printers are operating on processors which have practically the identical capabilities because the processor in a Nintendo Leisure System, and in lots of instances, simply on the threshold of getting sufficient processing energy to compute the actions essential for a 3D printer.

Delta 3D printers must do lots of calculations to determine the best way to transfer their three motors on the similar time, and that may choke up the processor. Give it some thought this fashion: the board must each calculate the best way to transfer and dictate to the motors to maneuver in a selected route and acceleration, which is lots of info to compute. When it’s caught calculating issues, the remainder of the system doesn’t know what to do till it’s completed computing the subsequent line, making a stutter at greatest or a pause at worst in your print. 32-bit boards clear up these form of issues twofold: by having extra energy to do these calculations and having the room to look additional forward with actions to, for probably the most half, keep forward of the curve not have these stutters.



By way of options, each board may have both screw terminals, the place you tighten down a screw over a wire join it to the board, or dupont connectors, that are pins which have a standardized spacing between them, which might both be discovered as pins protruding of the board, pins protruding of the board with a notched socket so issues can solely be plugged in a technique (polarized), or sockets for the pins of one thing else to plug into. There’s execs and cons to both setup, like screw terminals would let you reorder the wires of a stepper motor if it’s not shifting accurately, however you need to be sure to have simply that the screw is tightened down over it and it’ll keep actually safe.


Relying on if the board you’re looking at was designed particularly for one machine, just like the boards in passion degree printers like Creality printers and even Ultimakers, or if they’re standalone boards like Azteegs, RAMBos, or RAMPS, that you’ll find in a pair totally different manufacturers of printers. The particular boards will often have simply sufficient connections for the {hardware} of the 3D printer, like if it doesn’t include a heated mattress, then there most likely received’t be terminals so that you can improve to a heated mattress later. The standalone boards can include 4 thermistor ports to measure temperature, 6 endstops, two hotend ports, 6 stepper plugs, and so forth. They’re designed to have as many options as attainable to swimsuit the wants of as many individuals as they will.

Stepper Drivers

Like I beforehand mentioned with stepper drivers, some controller boards have the stepper drivers built-in into the board, whereas others have them as separate boards that plug in. Stepper drivers built-in with the board have higher thermal dissipation as a result of it will possibly use the entire board as a heatsink, but when for some cause a stepper motor stops shifting and the motive force is responsible, you both want to switch your complete controller board, or very fastidiously carry out a bit of surgical procedure and swap out the lifeless stepper driver. If the stepper driver plugs in, simply take away the lifeless driver and plop in a brand new one.


For communication, the most typical connector for boards USB Kind A, however I’ve seen others which have USB micro or USB mini. Some use Ethernet to affix the 3D printer to a house or work community to have the ability to print from a distinct room, and even additional some have Wifi capabilities (with password safety so not simply anybody can entry it). There’s nothing inherently higher with one over one other, however one factor to contemplate is that if you’re printer over USB, make certain the pc related to it is not busy doing different duties. Watching movies, display screen capturing, 3D modeling, AND 3D printing, all on the similar time could cause a stutter within the print as a result of your pc simply has too many duties operating without delay.

If you happen to’re printing over Wifi or Ethernet it would be best to see in case your printer can add all the gcode onto the board slightly than streaming it to the printer. As a result of similar to with Netflix, in case you’re making an attempt to make use of Wifi at peak hours, you are going to must buffer. That is why printers just like the Ultimaker 3, Ultimaker S5, or Makergear M3 all have the whole Gcode uploaded to stop that from occurring.

That about covers the {hardware} of controller boards for 3D printers, however hold your eyes peeled for an article sooner or later about what goes on behind the scenes: the firmware. That is what really does the translating, calculating, and dictating. In order that’s it! There’s lots of totally different controller boards on the market, so I’d love to listen to within the feedback down under which one is your favourite, as a result of mine has undoubtedly grow to be the Duet Wifi. The options it has, the interface over Wifi, how easy and quiet a printer will run all elevate it in my rankings.

Blissful printing!

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