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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.