Tropical Labs, an electromechanical systems lab based in Washington, DC., has launched a Kickstarter campaign for Mechaduino, an open-source industrial servo motor for 3D printers and other machines. Mechaduino can be used as a drop-in replacement for NEMA 17 stepper motors and drivers.
Dubbed the “Arduino for mechatronics”, Tropical Labs’ Mechaduino servo motor looks set to bring affordable, closed-loop motion control to a new generation of 3D printer and CNC mill users—in two distinct ways. The device can function either as a self-contained motion control platform for developing custom servo mechanisms or as a drop-in servo motor for 3D printers and CNC machines, and having already smashed its $7,500 Kickstarter Campaign goal, the clever gadget will be in the hands of backers by September.
Servo motors are used in robotics, CNC milling, 3D printing, and other disciplines in order to precisely control the motion of moving parts. For many consumer machines, cheap and simple servos will suffice, but a far greater degree of accuracy can be attained by using industrial servos, which often support advanced motion control modes. Unfortunately, industrial servos can be incredibly expensive. That’s why Tropical Labs has developed the Mechaduino, an affordable open-source industrial servo which leverages the low cost of mass-produced stepper motors while achieving high resolution via 14b encoder feedback.
Initially conceived as a personal project, the Mechaduino story goes back to when members of Tropical Labs were looking for affordable servo motors that performed at a high level. Having little success in their search, the tech experts started to develop their own servos, documenting their progress on Hackaday and accruing a significant fanbase in the process. As the project gathered steam, the team’s ambition’s grew, with further objectives made for the new servo. These included anti-clogging capabilities, PID auto tuning, and adjustable commutation profiles. The team decided to launch a Kickstarter in response to the positive messages coming from Hackaday, and reached their target goal long before the close of the campaign.
The Mechaduino has already been tested on a RepRap Prusa i3 3D printer, functioning as a drop-in replacement for each stepper motor and stepper driver of the printer. “Closed loop motors run more efficiently since they only apply the required torque to track a position command,” explained Tropical Labs’ [jcchurch] in a Hackaday project log. “Stepper motors must apply their maximum torque all the time. This means that the closed loop motor will run much cooler and can apply much higher peak torques.”
While Tropical Labs has already raised more than double its Kickstarter goal, backers from anywhere in the world can still secure early copies of the Mechaduino until the campaign closes on July 21. A Mechaduino PCB can be secured for $45 and a Servo for $60, with discounts on offer for larger orders. Estimated delivery for all orders is September 2016.