Added some useful features to my Marlin fork

I maintain a separate fork of Marlin with some tweak that enabled features specifically for the PRNTRBoard. The code is located in github.com .

Last weekend I spent some time adding some minor, but useful updates. First I finally got to enable support for the sd-card reader on the Nucleo-F407 board. It took a while because typically Marlin uses SPI to communicate with the sd-card. However the STM32 has much better hardware module (SDIO) which allows excellent transfer speed.

So it took some time to research what is the simplest way to add SDIO support to the Marlin firmware. There was already support for the STM32F1 series CPU, but it was written using a deprecated library (libmaple). Long story short it is working fine now. The code is in the f407 branch.

The second feature I wanted to enable is the ability to store the printer settings. Usually this is accomplished using I2C or SPI EEPROM chip. Alas I did not add one to the Nucleo-F407 board. I added an SPI flash instead.

The difference is small but significant. EEPROM chips are small, but can sustain millions of data re-writes. In contrast SPI flash chips are relatively large (the one I use is 2MB), but can only support around 100k re-write cycles.

There were two possible approaches, one use the sd-card as storage. This was already supported in the Marlin firmware, so I simply ported to code. The disadvantage is that it depends on the presence of an sd-card in the slot.

The second approach is called wear leveling – using the fact that I have relatively large storage and spread the writing operations across many locations in the chip. This way if I spread the write operation evenly across 100 separate locations I’ll achieve 10 million re-write cycles.

The error leveling code is relatively simple. For the curious you can find the changes here.

Next I finally decider to make a converter board for RAMPS style LCD controller modules. The files are checked in the main PRNTRBoard github repository. I placed and order for a few prototypes – they should be arriving in a week or so.

PRNTRboard update

The TMC2130 version of the PRNTRboard is working very well. I’ve been using it for over 6 months on my soldering robot project. It is very stable and reliable.

I didn’t have time polishing the Marlin firm ware for it. I wanted to make the SD-card work on the F407 Nucleo-64 replacement board. Alas every time I look at the Marlin code, I loose all hope and start doing something else.

A few months ago I started working again on the TMC2660 version. This was the first variant I routed successfully, but I ran into trouble with controlling the drivers over SPI and switched my effort to the TMC2130 version. Long story short, when the TMC2130 was in a good shape I started looking back at the TMC2660 version. It is on rev 5 now and I’m really happy with the layout. In my opinion it looks much better than the TMC2130.

I managed to produce a working Marlin firmware for the TMC2660 board and tested a few motors. So far it works like a charm.

My only gripe is that while the mate black finish looks awesome, it is absolute PITA to clean the solder residue from it. I washed this board 3 times and you can still see some spots on it.

As a kick all thru-hole pins on the Nucleo-F407 board underneath are soldered using my soldering robot. On the TMC2660 I soldered the two headers with the robot.

Last but not least I started working on a version with TMC2209 drivers – these are quite capable and low cost compared to other Trinamic offerings.

Completed redesign of the TMC2660 branch

I spent a lot of time getting the PrntrBoard tmc2130 version to work. I’m at the point where I’m quite happy with it and don’t see major further changes. The tmc2660 branch did not get a lot of attention in the mean time.

So I spent a weekend completely re-designing the tmc2660 board. I ported all changes from the tmc2130 version. There is now a dedicated ground plane layer and routing it much easier.

I opted to put all drivers on one side of the board. Unfortunately limiting the size to 10x10cm (or 3.9×3.9 inches), I could not fit all drivers in one row.  Hopefully cooling would not be major PITA as it was on the tmc2130 version.

Here is a screenshot of the 3D rendering of the redesigned board:

Please excuse my mistake, the top row of power connectors is facing backwards. Fortunately these are symmetrical and I can simply solder them the other way.

Here is a view from the top:

I used very aggressive layout for the connectors and I ended with some spare space in the middle of the board. I was thinking to add two automotive type fuse holders for extra protection. I haven’t quite settled on what fuse holder to use. Here are two renderings with the footprints in KiCAD:

And view from the top:

All changes have been pushed to my GitHub design repository page. The version with the fuses is in the tmc2660-fuse branch.

Controller brain – replaced

While I was working on porting Smoothieware to run on my 3D printer controller, I was going back and forth between my trusted NUCLEO-64 F446 devkit and a new acquisition from china – the “Black VET6“. That was a very capable board with onboard SPI EEPROM, battery backup, micro SD card and USB connector – all this for less that $10 from aliexpress.

While the NUCLEO has the advantage of build-in ST-LINK debugger, I was missing the SD-CARD connector and the extra pins to work with.

The NUCLEO-64 uses only 64-pin micro-controller package and I was running out of available IO pins. For example on the Rev3 of my controller I has to use every last pin to be able to connect an LCD screen – and even then sharing the SPI bus between the screen and the TMC drivers was causing some issues.

Here comes a proposed solution for this issues: a NUCLEO-64 form factor board designed with a 100-pin MCU (STM32F407VE):

This was my very first try and I did not have all parts available yet, so you can see some unpopulated pads.

The board is the same size as NUCLEO-64, and has the same dual row connector on the back:

Here is a “fuzzy” picture of the two boards side by side:

The USB connector is micro-usb, which I think is more available. There is a micro-sd card slot and a plethora of expansion ports for future extensions like LCD panel, WiFi module or even more extruders.

I also added some SPI EEPROM so we can save settings etc. Last but not least there is a power supply module which provides 5V up to 3A from 12 to 24V input. The 5V and 3.3V from the CPU board are connected to the motor controller board so there is no need for an external 5V buck converter anymore.

The only slight disadvantage is that now I have to use external ST-LINK adapter to program the board and an external serial-to-usb adapter for debugging.

Here is a little video comparing the two boards side by side:

Tested LCD interface

I had one RAMPS discount full graphics controller laying around from my RigidBot. I did use it with the original controller and decided to test it with the PrntrBoard.

In Rev1 and Rev2 of the board I did not have enough pins on the LCD connector to be able to use all buttons on the panel. In the Rev3 I used every last pin of the tiny 64-pin package and I just got enough (or so I thought).

I learned the SPI used by the LCD panel is not very standard and had to fight with Marlin to make the TMC drivers and the LCD co-exist on the same SPI bus.

Finally I was able to use the panel:

One of the pins I used for the button input did not quite cooperate, so I have only one button + the rotary controller for the UI. Lucky for me both Marlin and Smoothieware were functioning with that configuration.

I had to disable the TMC diver monitoring, because the LCD controller was getting confused by the SPI communication with the TMC drivers. I think I can create a small breakout board with a few AND gates to alleviate this interference.

Here is a video of the panel working in Smoothieware: