Replicape - a smart, silent and user friendly controller board for your 3D-printer.
Yeah OK, but what does that mean?
It means that if you are building a 3D-printer and you want that printer to be connected to the internet, not be noisy and be accessible from every phone, tablet and computer in your office, you should get this board.
I'm intrigued. Moar details please!
All settings are controllable from software and end stop connectors double in function. Once the board is installed, physical access is no longer required. Dual extrusion, Single 12 to 24 V PSU, four fan ports, cold end monitoring, inductive sensor support and two servo outputs.
With OctoPrint, a browser based system for controlling the printer running directly on the board, all the units in your office or home will immediately have access to controlling and seeing the status of the printer. You can still use your favourite desktop application if you want though.
One of the biggest problems with today's printers is the noise level. Once you get into printing, the noise is half the fun, but when you want to be productive, it's not that great any more. Replicape has state of the art stepper motor drivers (TCM2100) and a great 4 layer layout makes the board run smooth as silk.
Once a printer is connected to the local network instead of being tied to a printer, it becomes placement agnostic. That is great, but it does place a higher burden on the control of the printer through it's native user interface. For that reason, Manga Screen has been developed, a 4.3" high resolution multi touch display, perfect for controlling the printer.
With all that power, the slicer is integrated directly on the board, just upload STL files directly and print.
The BeagleBone Black has 1GHz of processing power, giving a standard Linux distribution plenty of headroom. But mainline Linux is not a real time OS. Therefore two dedicated 200 MHz processors (Programmable Realtime Units) are utilized to handle the real time aspect of the printing, so stepper and end stop monitoring happens at the right time.
The daemon controlling the printer, similar to the "firmware" on other printers is written in Python with a small core optimized in C. This makes extending the capabilities of the printer easy and simplifies further development and bug fixing. Development can happen directly on the printer, via SSH using Nano and git, you can be up and contributing within minutes.
Molex connectors, reverse polarisation protection and up to 15V tolerant end stop inputs makes this board able to withstand even the dumbest engineers. When we are building 3D-printers, we get excited too and we fall well into that category.
The hardware is licensed as CC BY-SA, meaning that you are free to modify and remix anything, even for commercial use. The design files are already available, have a look at the Replicape repository.
All the software is open source as well, mostly GPL and AGPL. See the Kamikaze wiki page for details and attributions.
Where is the project today?
A developer edition has been sent out to a few selected beta testers. The feedback has been great, and no major show stoppers were found among those who did the testing. There are a few minor hardware adjustments to be made, some pull-ups to be added and some silk screens to be moved, but nothing major, so production is ready to begin. Have a look at what they had to say about it.
Spoiler alert: They all love it!
Who is already using this?
The previous major revision of Replicape, A4A, has been shipped out to more than a hundred customers and has been implemented in a bunch of printers (and at least one coffee machine). This has allowed the development of the software to become mature. The list of companies that have ordered this is impressive! Obviously we can not reveal who they are, but a lot of the names would astonish you!
How did this happen?
Back in 2012 Texas Instruments announced a competition for who could make the best cape (add-on board) for their BeagleBone development platform. The winner would have his design manufactured by their PCB fab house. Elias had been working with the BeagleBone since the start and decided to enter with a 3D-printer cape for RepRap printers, called it Replicape and lo and behold, it was selected as the winner!
After some 5-6 prototype iterations, the board was sent to manufacturing and 150 units were made and sold to maker enthusiasts around the world.
The Revision A capes were loved by some, and hated by others. Loved for it's beautiful craftmanship and design, hated for it's high price tag, high noise and low documentation. When the first batch was sold out, a decision was made to rectify these mistakes in a new revision, this time backed by a Kickstarter. We are doing it right this time, documentation and everything.
Who is this for?
It's for people building their own 3D-printers and CNC machines, and for 3D-printer manufacturers. If you like what you see here, but you would rather want to spend your time printing than building, you should get in touch with one of the manufacturers with plans for using this board in their printers. For instance Type A machines.
Why do we need another board?
The short answer is: We don't. But by that rationale, we did not need the smart phone when it was introduced in 2007 either. We were all completely happy with our Nokia 3210s. Still, most people have now transitioned to a more modern mobile platform, and it's not necessary to wait 20 years for the same to happen to 3D-printers.
What is new with revision B?
There are always uncertainties with Kickstarters, but here is a timeline we feel can be reached. It's ambitious, but not impossible!
Who are you to pull this off?
Great question! First of all, we've done it before. We did a successful Kickstarter for Manga Screen that launched back in January 2015. The rewards have been delivered, and the backers loved what they got!
Secondly, we have partnered with one of the best PCB curators in the business. Elmatica have connected us with a great fabrication house, hooked us up with an incredible deal on shipping and had had their best guy look over the design files before starting production.
They have also been generous enough to offer a three month extension of the payment, so that as soon as the goal for the Kickstarter is hit, production will start! Normally you would have to wait the 30 days for the campaign to finish, and another two weeks for the money to come through. This way, there won't be any delays from goal reach to production start. Awesome work Elmatica!
Intelligent Agent AS is a Norwegian company, mostly run by Elias, but with great support from the rest of the bearded share holders.
What are the rewards?
Besides the Replicape board itself, you can add either a BeagleBone Black or Kamikaze SD card. The two latter rewards are mostly meant to be a service to the backers so that you do not have to buy a BeagleBone Black in a separate location. The SD card is nice to have, so you can be up and running with your new board right out of the box. It's also nice to have as a backup in case you really screw up the software!
Risks and challenges
We have done this before, and know the difficulties logistics can pose. The good news is that this project only has a single manufacturer to deal with, and the manufacturer has made 8 units that all turned out great. That being said, scaling up to 500 units does pose it's set of additional potential problems. Here is a list of possible issues that might arrise:
* The flashing and testing procedure has not been tested by the PCB manufacturer. Getting this handled was the cause of the delays for the last KS. The flashing procedure is ready, but the testing jig needs to be shipped and then learned by the manufacturer.
* The shipping alternatives are different. The last KS offered postal service delivery only, which offered no tracking and proved to be varying in times of delivery. This time, we offer only delivery with DHL to US and Europe, and to use China post for the rest of the World. Shipping rate is fixed at appoximately $15.
- (30 days)