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A Sneak Peek at the X-Controller

A while back we we did a blog post about a powerful TB6600 Stepper driver shield and asked you if we should “Carry it or Bury it”. We got a huge positive response, so we decided to move forward with the project.


We were concerned that the project relied heavily on a third party product.  We were not able to find a supplier with whom we were fully comfortable. Additionally, most of the driver boards were designed for use with a PC parallel port, had a lot of unneeded hardware, and had awkward form factors. Therefore, we decided to custom design our own.


Once we had complete control of the design, we created the ultimate Grbl based, high power 3d carving controller, the X-Controller. This is a complete, high power 3d carving motion control system in a strong, compact chassis.


Functional X-Controller in a 3d Printed and laser cut prototype housing.




Stepper Drivers


The X-Controller uses powerful TB6600 stepper driver chips. These are actively cooled with a fan and large heatsink. You can run them up to 4 amps/phase continuously without any risk of overheating. The X-Controller is designed for 3-axis systems, but it includes two Y axis drivers.  This feature supports machines that have two Y motors like the X-Carve. Each axis can be set up for full step mode to 1/16th microstepping.  


We have also implemented a hardware-based idle current reduction feature that works independently for each axis. This reduces the current on any axis shortly after it stops moving. This generally allows you to run a lot more current into each motor before it gets hot, especially on motors like the Z axis that spend much of their time idle. This feature can be overridden.


Powered By Grbl




This controller runs stock Grbl firmware, so it is compatible with Easel, Chilipeppr, Universal GCode Sender and other programs without any modifications. We voluntarily support the Grbl project with corporate sponsorship and payments for every installation we do.  


Chassis





The chassis body is made from heavy gauge aluminum. The top and sides are thin aluminum panels.  The chassis has anti-slip rubber feet. The feet can be removed to reveal bolt holes if you want to hard mount it. The power supply is mounted inside the chassis. All power goes through an E-Stop button, so it will turn off everything when pushed.


DC Spindle Speed Control


It has an integral DC spindle speed controller. The spindle speed control PWM signal is also brought out to an external terminal block for other types of speed control.


Wiring Interfaces







The external interfaces are designed to be as clean, easy and intuitive as possible. All connections are clearly labeled. No soldering or crimping is required.  The connections are logically grouped on removeable terminal blocks. Each connection has its own location, so there is no doubling up on things like ground wires. Limit switches have integral noise filtering to reduce false readings.
  • X, Y & Z Limit switches
  • Z Probe.  This can be used for auto Z zero.
  • (2) Control signals.  Can be used for AC spindles, vacuums, coolant systems, etc.
  • Spindle PWM signal for external speed controllers
  • Spindle+/- is an internal DC speed controller.


Accessories



We plan to also offer accessories for the X-Controller. The first one will be an AC accessory control box. This will allow you to control your AC spindle, vacuums and coolant systems.




Project Status


We have been working on this project for about three months. We have been running a fully-functional prototype for several weeks, and it works great. We got some big 570 oz/in motors to suck up as much current as possible. It makes the Z look a little ridiculous. The unit in the pictures is fully functional.


EDIT (the final X-Controller has buttons on the front this picture below is a prototype)


We ordered the tooling for the chassis about a month ago and should see samples within the week. If the samples check out, the next step is to move this into production. We hope to have them in stock ready to purchase at Inventables in six weeks.

36 comments:

Peter said...

Is there a built-in power supply? I see the AC socket and switch.

I also don't see in the pictures the terminals for the Z-Depth probe.

Any ideas on the retail price yet?

Thanks.


Krestian said...

Will there be a 220V version too?

Dennis K Martin said...

In english for us noobies please!! :)

Dave Skowron said...

This looks promising to me. I have an old MaxNC machine whose firmware is severely outdated. It can't be run on modern computers, only the old DOS based ones with parallel ports. If these motors can be mounted to the MaxNC machine then I'd probably go for this minus the actual machine. The motors and controller would be great for this purpose.

Unknown said...

Where's the demo video?

Stephen Wilson said...

also interested in a 220v version and is it compatable with my 48v quiet cut spindle or only the newer 24v.
but must say i like the idea very much

Bart Dring said...

@peter.

- The power supply is built in
- The terminal that is unlabeled is the probe terminal
- We are still working with preliminary cost information, so we don't want to announce a retail cost yet.

@Krestian

It works at either 110V or 220V

@unknown

We can do some video soon. Go to the Inventables party at Maker Faire to see the prototype.

RayM said...

Are each of the sockets on the AC accessory individually controllable?

Ray M.

Bart Dring said...

@RayM On that version the AC sockets are controlled in pairs (upper/lower). We might do some other accessory boxes in the future.

Martin Lightheart said...

What's the price of the X-Controller going to be? Also, will the X-Controller be part of the X-Carve kit or an option for it in the near future?

Zach Kaplan said...

@martinlightheart We are still working with preliminary cost information, so we don't want to announce a retail cost yet.

It will be an option for X-Carve.

Craig Dunn said...

This is an outstanding project, guys. I absolutely love it. This will certainly move things forward towards an overall plug-n-play CNC product and make things much easier for the DIY'ers who cringe at the thought of all the wiring specifics and intricacies of setting up a controller with all the extra bells and whistles (limits, spindle control, probe, etc) that really should be the default by now for home brew setups. I can't wait for this to be available...and the controllable outlet accessory as well. Kudos!

Stephen Wilson said...

Just a couple of quick questions as i'm trying to my head around this.

1 ) Will the built in power supply power a 48v qc spindle or with either an accessory box for a second power supply (48v)' or an alternate taller box that has space for a second power supply

2 ) Will the built in power supply power a 24v qc spindle

3 ) Will the outlet accessory and other similar boxes be stackable or bolt together.

4 ) Will the outlet accessory parts be sold separately so as to allow other non US sockets etc.

Sorry if questions do seam a little obvious, but other than assembling pc's my wiring knowledge is starting with my cnc

Bart Dring said...

@Stephen Wilson

1. The stepper drivers should not be run higher than about 40V, so the quiet cut would not work out of the same box.
2. Yes, very well
3. Right now there is no provision for that.
4. We can do 220V, but the number of outlet types is concerning. We might be able to sell the chassis for DIY versions.

Gino Lanzi said...

I only see a single y limit, but when homing y many machines need separate limit switches to properly home the y axis and maintain parallel.

Bart Dring said...

@Gino

That function is not supported by GRBL. If it ever is, we could probably support it.

Tim said...

You could indiegogo/kickstart this to get a nice big first bulk order to bring the retail price down for that first order. If the price is right I'll certainly be buying one.

John Baum said...

So, is it worth waiting to buy an X-carve till this comes out?It looks like it would make it easier to set up. How hard would it be to add this later?
I have experience making stuff, but nothing like the X-carve or anything electronic.

Craig Dunn said...

In thinking further about the connections panel...can you elaborate on the types of connectors involved, what it would take to put together wiring sets, and whether Inventables will be supplying (with controller) or otherwise making available pre-fabbed wiring harnesses that are ready to connect to the controller? Thanks.

Bart Dring said...

Craig, We did a survey on our forum looking for opinions on the easiest connection method. The method used here was voted the favorite.

This uses two piece screw terminal blocks. The terminal block splits in 2 pieces. One part comes pre-soldered into the X-Controller. The other half attaches to the wires using screw clamps. You simply slide a stripped wire into the terminal block and tighten a screw. You then plug the two pieces together.

Sss Zzz said...

What the heck is that Red & Yellow thing sticking out of it?

Craig Dunn said...

I believe that is the e-stop button...AKA emergency stop. It kills all power instantly when activated to guarantee an immediate shutdown of a runaway CNC.

Craig Dunn said...

That sounds perfect. So, in addition to the pre-soldered halves poking out of the panel, we will also receive the mating halves when ordering an X-Controller? I hope that's the case...and the connector solution described certainly gets a thumbs up from me as well (with respect to convenience and ease-of-use). Appreciate the replies, Bart.

Sss Zzz said...

by the looks of the first picture it looks like it was where you pour the beer in for beer cooling :)

Bart Dring said...

Craig,

Yes, you get the mating halves of the terminal blocks. Once the wires are screwed in you could quickly detach and re-attached a complete systems in less than a minute.

We might even sell extra machine side halves in case you want to be able to move the controller to a second machine.

jonpro said...

Do you plan a version with slightly more modern stepper drivers? I really love the concept, but my job makes me a bit picky with the stepper drivers :)

Bart Dring said...

jonpro,

You might be thinking about the TB6560 stepper drivers. These TB6600HG chips are a significant upgrade and have only been in production for less than a year and a half.

jonpro said...

I have tested these and current control is still not what we expect to day - in addition the high RDSon of 400mR is quite high so that you require active cooling and the massive heatsink mentioned in the Blog post.
I know there is nothing better in a single package, but solutions with external TRENCH-type FETs and a modern gate driver shouldn´t be more costly and go down to 40 or 50mR...

jonpro said...

Anyhow - really looking forward to having one like these for my machine.

David Annetta said...

So does this make me xcarve upgraded (comes monday) supply obsolete?

Bart Dring said...

David,

Your X-Carve will not be obsolete. There are no features here that you won't have with your setup.

This will just be a easier to assemble, look cleaner and do some faster rapid (no cutting) moves.

Eric K said...

Any new updates/progress on this?

Tim said...

Any news on this?

Gino Lanzi said...

Bart, Is there any update as far as this controller is concerned?

Nick Holmes said...

From the post I couldn't really tell if this could supply the power needed to run the 600W 110VDC QC spindle. I have the stock version that comes with the XCarve and I would LOVE to be able to upgrade with all these new goodies. Will it fit the bill?

Wombat said...

This entry dates back to May 2015. What is the latest on price and availability of this controller?