Building “The Machine”: A Case Study of How Geeks DIY
This blog post is a technical post from one of our R&D team members, Eli Billette. Eli has spent the last quarter researching, prototyping, and finally building a large format CNC and 3D printer – “The Machine”. The R&D team will use the additive and reductive platform for our hardware prototyping efforts. We’re excited to share the process of designing and building “The Machine”.
Graham Leslie, R&D Team Lead
What is “The Machine”?
“The Machine” is a large format 3-axis CNC router and 3D printer located in the R&D Labs of JBKnowledge corporate headquarters in Bryan, TX. It was created as a platform for testing additive and reductive methods of printing large prefabricated structures for the construction industry. As the construction industry turns to more prefabrication, automation, and 3D printing methods; owners, operators, and even CEO’s will need to know how these advancements will affect their business models and their ROI.
“The Machine”, a 3-axis CNC router and 3D printer.
“The Machine” measures 63in(W) x 180in(L) x 88in(H) and has a build area of 48in(W) x 170in(L) x 48(H). The overall structure is composed of approximately 1706 linear inches of extruded 2 3/8 in x 1 5/8in T-Slotted aluminum railing. The build area is 3⁄4 in 4ft x 8ft standard MDF, and the upper area that houses the electronics is a 1⁄4 plywood. The area on the top that houses the electronics was specifically chosen because of the ease of mounting, moving and replacing components during the build phase of development.
The 48”x170”x48” build area.
“The Machine” is powered off of standard 110v 15amp breaker. It uses 2 x 12volt 350 watt PSUs, 1 x 5v 1.5a PSU, 1 x 12v 3a PSU, and 1 x 24v PSU to control the water cooled spindle. The machine uses 5 x KL23H286-20-8B stepper motors for movement. Two for the Z axis (up and down), two for the Y axis (forward and back), and one for the X axis (left to right). Those stepper motors are controlled and fed power from 5 x ST-M5045 stepper motor drivers. The water cooled spindle is controlled independently from the rest of the system. It has a HY02D223B all-in-one PSU and motor controller. The spindle head is cooled with a 500 gal / hr submergible water pump that is fed by a 2 gallon reservoir. It currently uses standard distilled water with food coloring added for leak detection. Antimicrobial solution will need to be added to prevent bacterial growth in the cooling system.
The primary assembly.
“The Machine” is controlled by a beaglebone black with a CRAMPS cap. The beaglebone runs a version of linux cnc called Machinekit that controls the overall movement of the system. The beaglebone by default has a mini hdmi port and one USB 2.0 port that would allow you to connect a monitor keyboard and mouse for control. “The Machine” is currently connected to wireless and allows for ssh and remote desktop access for control. A future revision will implement machinekit’s remote interface for tablet based control and code execution called Machineface. In this design the beaglebone is connected to the CRAMPS cape board via 2 custom 48pin ribbon cables. This was done to break out the GPIO for the X, Y, Z axis movements. The CAMPS board is specifically designed with its own stepper motor drivers and is incompatible with external stepper motor drivers at this time.
The primary controls of the system.
“The Machine” is a work in progress, and probably will always be considered one. As with many projects in R&D parts get shifted, designs (if there were any) get modified, priorities get over-written, bosses change, and new and better technologies get developed. But one thing will always remain. It’s your experience that you will take with you into your future. Whether that is collectively as a company, or individually as a person. “The Machine” was built to build things, perhaps other machines, but those machines were meant to serve people, and it’s the people that ultimately matter.
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Use it to get where you are going and make it better along the way.
About the Author
Eli Billette is developer on the JBKnowledge Research & Development Team Lead (JBKLabs), which is dedicated to disrupting and accelerating the architecture, engineering, and construction industries by building solutions with the emerging technology. Eli is a craftsman with a background in IT and a degree in computer science, specializing in systems and hardware design. JBKLabs is available for advisory, research, and custom software development services. Learn more at jbknowledge.com/labs.