Aug 21, 2018 | By Thomas

Consumer 3D printing has brought small-scale, computer-driven manufacturing to the home and office, but despite the wealth of desktop 3D printing options out there, consumer-level 3D printing does have its limitations. Speed is undoubtedly one of those limitations.

Chinedum Okwudire, associate professor of mechanical engineering who directs U-M's Smart and Sustainable Automation Research Lab, is very passionate about improving the speed and precision of 3D printers at low cost through advanced software.

Last year, Okwudire and his team have developed a software algorithm called “FBS Vibration Compensation” that effectively doubles 3D printing speeds. Since then they have been working to integrate their vibration compensation algorithm into Marlin and release it open-source to the 3D printng community. "But we have not succeeded because of the low computational power and memory on the  ATMega2560 microcontroller which cannot support our algorithm," Okwudire told 3Ders. "We are now looking into releasing it open-source on firmware that run on more powerful microcontrollers. More updates on this to follow as we make more progress."

In the meantime, Okwudire's lab has been experimenting with a new way of controlling 3D printers, where stepper motor commands (and other low-level control commands) are generated in the Cloud, rather than on a microcontroller.

Currently a wide range of 3D printing services (e.g., cloud-based part modeling, slicing and printing services) rely on cloud computing. Web-based wireless host platforms like 3DPrinterOS, Astroprint, OctoPrint, and Repetier Server allow you to control and monitor all aspects of your printer and print jobs right from your browser. However, these platforms control 3D printers by sending out G-codes from the Cloud to the printers, while assigning the low-level computations to a local controller.

Okwudire's new idea is not too different from how video streaming works, and is a refined version of how OctoPrint, Astroprint and 3DPrinterOS work. It gives Wi-Fi enabled 3D printers access to advanced algorithms, running on the Cloud, without need for very powerful microcontrollers.

"Our initial results have been very encouraging. We were able to compensate the vibration of a Lulzbot Taz 6 3D printer situated in Michigan from cloud-based controllers in South Carolina and in Australia without much problems, hence slashing printing time by up 54% compared to using Marlin." Okwudire explained.

The printer is located at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, while its stepper motor commands are calculated using an advanced motion control algorithm running on Google Cloud computers in South Carolina and Australia. The stepper motor commands are sent over the Internet using the user datagram protocol (UDP) and buffered to mitigate transmission delays; checks are included to ensure accuracy and completeness of the transmitted data. All but one part printed using the cloud-based controller in both locations were hitch free (i.e., no pauses due to excessive transmission delays). Moreover, using the cloud-based controller, the parts printed up to 54% faster than using a standard local controller, without loss of accuracy.

Prints of Medieval Castle using: (a) local controller (Marlin); (b) cloud-based controller in
South Carolina; and (c) cloud-based controller in Australia. The portions of the prints highlighted in
dashed rectangles failed (broke off) during printing due to their very delicate support structures.

This work is still very experimental but it has shown great promise. It may just be the next big thing in 3D printer control, where printers can gain on-demand access to powerful algorithms that boost their performance without need to upgrade to very powerful microcontrollers. "What we picture is an OctoPrint-like platform where people can upload G-Codes and remote control their printers with the help of advanced algorithms like ours running from the Cloud," said Okwudire.

Details of this work are published in the special issue on Innovations in 3D Printing of the open-access journal Inventions. The paper, titled "Low-Level Control of 3D Printers from the Cloud: A Step toward 3D Printer Control as a Service" can be found here.

Okwudire's lab set up a website: to bring together individuals interested in further researching this idea and testing it out on their 3D printers.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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