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Crowd-funded project hopes to create $700 3D printer

31 March, 2014

UPDATED: A group of German open-source motion engineering enthusiasts has raised more than €20,000 via the crowd-funding site Indiegogo to produce a motion control board that could be used to create a 3D printing platform for less than $700. By the time the appeal ended on 1 May, they had raised €20,621.

The board will provide the motion control hardware to enable 3D printing, milling, laser-cutting and other machine tool applications. It is designed to provide a critical link between the BeagleBone Black open-source computing platform, costing $45, and the Reprap Mendel 3D mechanical printing head, costing $520. The add-on card – known as a ‘cape’ in BeagleBone parlance – has been called T-Bone, partly because of its unusual curved shape.

“We think the T-Bone cape will create a new, affordable entry-point for 3D print-makers, tinkerers and experimenters,” says the group’s ‘chief tinkering officer’, Marcus Nowotny. “That is the fundamental goal of our project.”

The board will handle real-time operation of five stepper motors that control the 3D movement of the printing head, as well as operating a plastic extruder. The T-Bone performs real-time calculation of motor velocity, direction and acceleration parameters, and communicates with its host BeagleBone via a small microcontroller.

By offloading complex motion control processing requirements, the T-Bone will allow users to focus on applying the software and existing tools of the well-established BeagleBone host.

The German motion engineering specialist Trinamic Motion Control is providing design support and manufacturing expertise for the project.

Some of the main elements and functions of the T-Bone motion control board

“The BeagleBone Black is a powerful processor board that can easily run a G-code NC interpreter, Linux O/S and user and Internet interfaces,” explains Trinamic engineer and T-Bone project participant, Jonas Proeger. “The T-Bone will augment the BeagleBone with the required motor drives and real-time control software to complete an affordable and highly functional 3D printer.”

The money raised by the Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign is aimed at building an initial run of T-Bone boards. It will allow the the group to design a professional board layout and to complete an initial production run of several hundred boards.

The group is also planning to create expansion boards with special functions such as support for rotary-axis drilling and milling, laser-cutters and touch-panel displays.

“We hope to put 3D printers into the hands of hundreds of new users worldwide,” says Nowotny.

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