May 27, 2016 | By Andre

3D printing hit the mainstream a few years ago thanks in part to the open-source 3D printer market. The origins of this transition had to do with expiring patents held by the traditionally held commercial 3D printing companies. Since then, several small businesses have sprung up around the emerging low-cost 3D printer market. Some of these companies embraced the open-source mentality, while others are seeking shelter with patents.

Well, recent developments brought on by the Michigan Technological University is guiding things back into the intended direction thanks to Franklin, the open-source wireless 3D printer controller.

What the controller does is allow the 3D print operator to control their 3D printer from any cellphone, tablet, or laptop from anywhere around the world. And while this isn’t the first tablet enabled 3D printer controller on the market, it is the first open-source one (although OctoPrint does support remote web-based printing).

Franklin (named after Benjamin Franklin who was hesitant to patent in his day) requires an app on your tablet or smartphone as well as dedicated firmware to be installed on your 3D printer. The team notes that “Franklin has the ability to recover from communication problems that we encountered when using low-cost welders to print steel and aluminum.”

It’s this recovery and streamlining for reliable 3D printing that is key to the team's code. They suggest g-code (the standard instruction set for 3D printing parts) is limited in how speedily it can communicate data to the 3D printer (or any CNC based coordinate technology for that matter). Franklin resolves with communication issues prevalent in wireless transfers with its server system that can handle multiple devices simultaneously.

Just like any good controller software out there, Franklin has temperature, GPIO and Stepper Motor options and the more I read into the research team's paper, I realize just about every aspect of their code is customizable for those able to get into the nitty gritty details of machine programming.

Bas Wijnen, PhD candidate student and lead coder of Franklin suggests, “Franklin was developed as a software platform. It is scriptable – it is not a single-use piece of software. It can easily be integrated into anyone else’s projects. It makes your computer a general purpose machine that can help you make anything you can think of.”

I’m been so far removed from the open-source 3D printer world in my daily life that it’s a relief to see how much cross functionality their Franklin system allows for. Wijnen continues that “we have used it for plastic 3D printing on Cartesian and delta machines, laser welding, PCB micromilling, digital microscopy, vinyl cutting, plotting, food printing, embroidery and of course weld-based metal 3D printing.”

The thought of using my Makerbot software on any other 3D printer, let alone laser cutters and the like is somewhat of an outlandish thought because the closed nature of that brand. Franklin allows all manner of communication to take place from a single driver and that’s definitely something that should be commended.



Posted in 3D Software



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