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TweakTown's Guide to 3D Printing: Part 1 - What makes up a 3D Printer?

By: Charles Gantt | 3D Printers in Maker & DIY | Posted: Mar 29, 2013 7:22 pm





The electronics that control your 3D printer are just like your central nervous system. They take the input from your computer, and tell the printer's mechanical systems what to do. Most of the popular electronics out there today are based off of Arduino and some even come as shields that you place on top of an Arduino Mega. Below are four of the current most popular controller boards that are being used on the industry leading hobbyist level printers.




RepRap Arduino Mega Pololu Shield - AKA "RAMPS" for short, this board is by far the most widely used 3D printer controller at the moment. Version 1.4 of RAMPS features controls for up to three heated assemblies (one bed and two extruders), connections for up to six extruders, and can be powered by any 12V power source that has a minimum current rating of 20 amps or more. DIYers often use old 300w power supplies salvaged from PCs to power the board. RAMPS is truly a modular controller board. Unlike some designs, the Pololu stepper motor drivers are plugged into header pins individually for ease of maintenance should one burn out. In addition, the entire board is replaceable should something fail and not kill the Arduino it is plugged into.




Sanguinololu - Aimed more at the budget friendly 3D printers, the Sanguinololu is a simple single board design that is based around the Sanguino which is an Arduino compatible development board created by one of the founders of Makerbot. Other than a single surface mount FTDI 232 chip, the entire board is a through hole design, which makes hand soldering it a breeze. Like RAMPS, it features headers for modular Pololu stepper motor drivers, but is only capable of running five stepper motors. The Sanguinololu is also limited to just two heated assemblies so a second extruder is out of the running. Over the years I have built about 25 of these boards for customers, friends and myself and not once have I ever seen one fail.




RepRap Gen 7 - The Generation 7 Electronics from the RepRap project are designed to be a completely Do-It-Yourself project. The PCB is design is single sided which makes etching it at home quite easy. All of the components are through hole for easy soldering. Like RAMPS and Sanguinololu, Gen 7 utilizes the modular stepper drivers from Pololu for ease of maintenance. Gen 7 cannot be purchased and if you chose to go this route you most certainly will need to be mechanically and electronically minded. It is advised to visit the Gen 7 RepRap Wiki page as well as joining the RepRap IRC Discussion on what is needed to build a Gen 7 board.




RAMBo - A fairly new entry into the 3D printer controller board arena is the RAMBo, which was designed by Johnny R. from Ultimachine. It is the only all-in-one "RepRap motherboard" that I am comfortable recommending at the moment because of the standards in which it was designed to. RAMBo features an Arduino MEGA compatible Atmega2560 and Atmega32u2 processors are compatible with all RAMPS class firmwares. It houses five on-board stepper motor drivers, five PWM outputs, and can handle up to three heated assemblies through three independent power rails. If there were a Cadillac model of 3D printer electronics, this would be it.

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