MPCNC: Stepper Motor Power Control

GRBL responds to critical errors by disabling its outputs, which seems like a useful feature for a big-enough-to-hurt CNC machine like the MPCNC. Unlike the RAMPS 1.4 board, there’s no dedicated power-control pin, so I connected the Coolant output to the same DC-DC SSR I tried out with the RAMPS board:

MPCNC - CNC Shield - Power SSR

MPCNC – CNC Shield – Power SSR

With homing enabled, GRBL emerges from power-on resets and error conditions with the spindle and coolant turned off and the G-Code interpreter in a locked state requiring manual intervention, so turning the stepper power on fits right in:

  • $x – Unlock the controls
  • m8 – Coolant output on = enable stepper power
  • $h – Home all axes

The steppers go clunk as the power supply turns on, providing an audible confirmation. The dim red LED on the SSR isn’t particularly conspicuous.

Turning the stepper power off:

  • m9 – Coolant output off = disable stepper power

I think the A4988 drivers maintain their microstep position with the stepper power supply off, because their logic power remains on. In any event, you probably wouldn’t want to restart after an emergency stop without clearing the fault and re-homing the axes.

The board has Cycle Start, Feed Hold, and Abort inputs just crying out for big colorful pushbutton switches.

Unlike the RAMPS board, the Prontoneer CNC Shield does not feed stepper power to the underlying Arduino UNO, leaving it safely powered by USB or the coax jack.



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MPCNC: Z Axis Coupler Backlash Prevention

The MPCNC has the entire weight of the Z axis motor and stage resting on the leadscrew, so the instructions call for preloading the spring coupler by stretching it with the leadscrew butted against the motor shaft. The leadscrew end isn’t particularly flat, so I inserted a 1/4 inch ball bearing between the two before the stretch:

MPCNC - Z Axis leadscrew - coupler bearing

MPCNC – Z Axis leadscrew – coupler bearing

I’m reasonably sure the ball won’t make the slightest difference, but two slightly misaligned shafts can now pivot on a point, rather than grind against each other. There’s no evidence of misalignment; I feel better and that’s what counts.



MPCNC: Belt Tensioners

The GT2 / GT3 belt specs call for 10-ish pounds of tension, but I don’t yet have a good feel for the actual MPCNC belt tension … and it’s hard to measure in-situ. So I picked up some spring tensioners and yanked one with a luggage scale:

GT2 Belt Tensioner - 4 kg

GT2 Belt Tensioner – 4 kg

You’re looking at 4 kg = 8-ish pounds of tension. When they’re relaxed, the arms sit at roughly right angles.

I installed them on the far end of the belts, although that’s a bit snug under the roller:

GT2 Belt Tensioner - installed

GT2 Belt Tensioner – installed

An endstop switch will eventually add some clearance and it’ll be all good.

Even though they’re neither linear nor precisely calibrated, they’ll serve as a reminder to check the tension every now and again.

Install them with the same casual disregard you reserve for fish hooks and you’ll emerge unscathed.



Monthly Science: USDA Inspection Stamps

I recently bought a pair of pork belly packages, one labeled “Local” at an additional buck a pound. They were packaged skin side downward, so the USDA inspection stamps came as a surprise:

Pork Belly Skin - USDA Stamps

Pork Belly Skin – USDA Stamps

Turns out the digits give the “establishment number”, which you can look up online. These came from a processor in Pine Plains.

We presume they keep track of their pigs …

The meat is curing even as I type. Next week: smoking.

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MPCNC: Makerbot-style Endstop Switch Modification

The Protoneer CNC Shield has headers for two endstops on each axis, although they’re wired to the same Arduino input pin. I installed a pair of Makerbot-style endstops on the Y axis, plugged them in, triggered one, and … the Arduino crashed. Hard. As in, a complete loss of power and reboot.

Some fiddling around produced absolutely baffling symptoms, as I replaced each endstop board and their cables to no avail.

Perusing the schematic (the “full instructions” link is dead, of course) eventually revealed the problem:

Makerbot style endstop - schematic

Makerbot style endstop – schematic

Got it?

Although there’s a pullup on the COM switch terminal, the switch’s NC terminal is connected to the +5 V supply, shorting across the both resistor and the LED+resistor. With two endstops in parallel, triggering one crowbars the other’s power supply to ground. I’m sure it made sense at the time, perhaps by ensuring no possible noise source could interfere with the pullup.

The solution is simple: disconnect the NC terminal from the power supply. As it turns out, the PCB layout routes +5 V on the bottom layer, up through the via around the NC switch terminal, thence to the LED and resistor, leaving only one choice:

MPCNC - dual MG endstop hack

MPCNC – dual MG endstop hack

Yup, amputate the NC terminal and be done with it.

After that, the pullup resistor lets the endstops cooperate like you’d expect: triggering either one lights up both LEDs.


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MPCNC: 12 V Supply vs. Stepper Current vs. Axis Speed

The default MPCNC configuration wires the two stepper motors on each axis in series, doubling the total resistance and inductance of a single motor. The stock Automation Technology motor presents 2.8 Ω and 4.8 mH in each winding to the driver, for an L/R time constant of τ = 1.7 ms. Doubling both doesn’t change the ratio, but including the harness wiring resistance gives 1.6 ms = 9.6 mH / 6 Ω.

The default DRV8825 driver configuration uses 1:32 microstepping, which I thought was excessive. I replaced the stock RAMPS setup with a Protoneer / GRBL setup using A4988 drivers in 1:16 microstepping mode, got it configured, and made a few measurements:

MPCNC CNC Shield - Current Measurement Setup

MPCNC CNC Shield – Current Measurement Setup

The current probe measures the winding current in the red wire. The voltage probe at the bottom isn’t doing anything, because I ran out of hands.

Here’s a 10 mm X axis move at 3600 mm/min = 60 mm/s:

MPCNC X 10mm 60mm-s 500mA-div

MPCNC X 10mm 60mm-s 500mA-div

The top trace shows the winding current at 500 mA/div. The bottom trace shows the voltage applied to the winding at the A4988 driver pin.

Basically, the +12 V supply doesn’t provide enough headroom to let the driver force the required current into the winding at full speed, which is why the peak current decreases as the step rate increases and the sinusoid becomes a square(-ish) wave. The applied voltage switches rapidly to maintain the proper winding current when the axis is stationary or moving slowly (where the driver’s PWM current control works fine), but turns into a square (well, rectangular) wave as the pace picks up (and the driver loses control of the current).

The motor drives a 16 tooth pulley with a 2 mm belt pitch, so each revolution moves 32 mm of belt. With 1:16 microstepping, each revolution requires 3200 = 200 full step × 16 microstep/step pulses, which works out to 100 step/mm = (3200 step/rev) / (32 mm/rev). At the commanded speed near the middle of the trace, the driver must produce 6000 step/s = 60 mm/s × 100 step/mm, so each step lasts 167 μs, about τ/10.

In round numbers, the first full cycle on the left has a 20 ms period. Each full cycle = 4 full steps = 64 microsteps, so the belt moved (60 step) / (100 step/mm) = 0.6 mm, at an (average) speed of 30 mm/s = 1800 mm/min. The current begins to fall off by the third cycle with a 12 ms period, a pace of 50 mm/s = 3000 mm/s, and pretty much falls off a cliff by 60 mm/s in the middle.

To be fair, those are aggressive speeds for milling, but lasers and 3D printers tick along pretty quickly, so they’re not unreasonable.

More study is indicated, as the saying goes …

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Sandisk 32 GB High Endurance Video Monitoring Card

Despite my misgivings, “Ships from and sold by” suggests I could return a Sandisk 32 GB High Endurance MicroSD card if things turned out badly:

MicroSD 32 GB - Samsung EVO and SanDisk High Endurance

MicroSD 32 GB – Samsung EVO and SanDisk High Endurance

Unlike the Samsung cards, Sandisk charges a substantial premium for not buying through Amazon.

Verifying the card using f3probe produced the same results as with the earlier 64 GB card and copying the existing files from the Fly6 card (on the left) went smoothly:

rsync -rtv /mnt/Fly6/ /mnt/part

“High Endurance” means it’s rated for 5000 hours of “Full HD” recording, which they think occurs at 26 Mb/s. The Fly6 records video in 10 minutes chunks, each weighing about 500 MB, call it 1 MB/s = 8 Mb/s, a third of their nominal pace. One might reasonably expect this card to outlive the camera.

As with the AS30V, we shall see …