Arthur Wolf and Mark Cooper are the force behind Smoothieboard, a platform for controlling digital fabrication machines designed and supported by a team of engineers and hackers from around the world and brought together by the open source movement.
Wolf and Cooper say their project is an "easy to use open source G-code interpreter for all 3d printers, laser cutters, mills, and other CNCs." The pair say their Smoothie Firmware can run 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC mills.
By making one device which can run various machines, Smoothieboard is aimed at creating a hardware platform that different projects can share and build upon. The developers say that whereas most current Open Source Hardware electronics use 8-bit AVR microcontrollers (read Arduino), their Smoothieboard runs on a 32-bit ARM, LPC1768 Cortex-M3 microcontroller. According to the team, the setup allows for smoother and faster step generation, more precise math, deeper planning, and provides room to add more features.
And the pair say it's easy to use.
No recompilation is necessary when changing parameters: simply plug the board in over USB and you will have access to a configuration file to modify. Updates, reconfiguration and playing g-code files all happen over USB.
Stepper motor drivers are cooled by the PCB with wide copper areas which allow more flexibility than off-board drivers. Additionally, all of the main connectors are on the borders of the board, which they say makes it easier to plug in and leaves the board less clogged with cables.
As yet another feature to insure ease of use, Wolf and Cooper say the firmware is modular: it's been designed so that adding functionality includes hooks which make adding those new functions very fast.
Since more than 200 beta boards were manufactured at the beginning of the year and enthusiasts from all sides of the community have been using them for months now, the developers say the firmware has matured and some small mistakes in the layout of the board have been located and addressed in the current design.
As for documentation, the Smoothieboard team are hard at building collaborative documents for both users and for developers which are "beginner-oriented and as exhaustive as possible." Should you be interested, you can find those documents on http://smoothieware.org.
The project, which began at the end of 2010, was originally intended to make 8-bit firmwares more modular. But when the team realized that 8-bit Arduino boards posed certain limitations to that goal, Simen Svale Skogsrud, author of GRBL (a CNC firmware for Arduino), suggested porting it to a 32-bit microcontroller platform.
So what can you do with a Smoothieboard? For example, the board can drive:
- A ShapeOko mini CNC router. Simply plug the 3 stepper motors into the board and you are good to go.
- You can also easily control your spindle and/or your air compressor with solid state relays.
- You can find 40W laser cutters capable of cutting 8mm wood or acrylic whose boards can be swapped out for a Smoothieboard.
- Smoothieboard can serve as an upgrade for your 3D printer: by converting a RepRap, Up! or Makerbot; which all feature small stepper motors which Smoothie can drive directly.
For pledge levels ranging from $100 to $185, depending on the type of board required, you get:
- The 3X and 3XC boards are adequate for lasercutters and small CNC mills like ShapeOko devices. They have 3 stepper motor drivers, two small mosfets, and do NOT have Ethernet support
- The 4X and 4XC boards are perfect for single-extruder 3D printers, lasercutters and CNC mills. They have 4 stepper motor drivers, two small mosfets, two big mosfets, and an Ethernet port.
- The 5X and 5XC boards are good for dual-extruder 3D printers and complex experimental projects. They have 5 stepper motor drivers, 3 small mosfets, 3 big mosfets, and an Ethernet port.
- Except for the C variants ( 3XC, 4XC, 5XC ), which all have nice connectors pre-soldered, you will receive an unsoldered, basic connector kit. This comes with enough parts to get everything to work just fine but will require some soldering.