This board may look familiar to some of you. Because at first glance, it looks just like its older brother described here: Dividing Head Controller. But many things have been improved in Revision B.
It has also found new use cases. Depending on how it is programmed, it can be applied wherever a stepper motor needs to be driven from a user interface or PC. So while it was first designed specifically to drive a dividing head, it is actually quite universal.
Now what’s new? First of all, the power supply has been improved to accept input voltages in the range of 6 – 60 volts instead of 6 – 30 volts previously. For me, this was one of the main reasons for the upgrade. The stepper motor I’ve used for the dividing head lacked a bit more torque at higher RPMs when operated from 24V. This new version has allowed me to use a 48V supply which has solved all the torque problems.
The other main upgrade is a more capable microcontroller, a PIC18F47J53. Together with a 32Mbit flash chip, this allows for a USB bootloader. It enables firmware updates without any specialized hardware or software. Any PC with a USB port will do, no matter the operating system. Watch this video for a demonstration of how it woks.
Since the stepper controller behaves just like a USB drive when connected to a computer, it also allows users to customize their device by simply editing a config file that resides on that drive.
Besides the fan output, there is now also an output for a mechanical brake. But despite the labelling, these are simply open collector outputs, with flyback diodes included, capable of driving around 1 amp. So depending on the software, they can be used for any other purposes.
The remaining features are unchanged: There is still a 4 x 20 characters LCD display and two nicely hardware-debounced rotary encoders. There is still a buzzer, EPROM memory, reverse-polarity protection, an on-board temperature sensor and an input for an external temperature sensor (or any other analog input signal in the 0-3.3V range).
And there still is that USB port. But with the USB bootloader and the config file, this USB port has become much more useful. And I’v also spent some time writing software so that the device can be controlled from a (Windows) PC.
And as I’ve mentioned, the board has found new use cases that use application-specific software but absolutely identical hardware. And the modular design of the software allows for the most of the software to be re-used so you don’t have to re-invent the wheel whenever you have a new application for this device. You don’t have to re-do all the heavy lifting required for USB or smooth motion control. A few changes to the user interface and the corresponding API will typically cut it.
All the hardware and software is open source, ready for you to use, improve and adapt. It’s all on GitHub so let me just share the various repos: