Remotely Control Your 3D Printer With Free, Open-Source Software

As part of a project for America Makes, a team of engineers at Michigan Technological University (MTU) has released free, open-source web-based software and firmware that remotely control your 3D printer. It can also control any 3D robot.

The team is led by Joshua Pearce, professor of materials science & engineering and electrical & computer engineering. The America Makes project is aimed at developing low-cost metal 3D printers. The team has already demonstrated, open-source, weld-based metal 3D printing technology that can be built for under $1,200.

Bas Wijnen, a doctoral candidate at MTU, wrote the free motion control software and firmware, called Franklin. "Franklin can recover from communication problems that we encountered when using low-cost welders to print steel and aluminum," he said. It can be operated from any web-connected device, including laptops, cell phones, or tablets.

Franklin was developed as a software platform and is scriptable, so it can be easily integrated into others' projects. The team has used it for several different applications in addition to weld-based metal 3D printing. These include plastic 3D printing on Cartesian and delta machines, laser welding, PCB micromilling, food printing, and digital microscopy. The Franklin project page is located here, and you can download the software itself here.

Wijnen, Pearce, and the rest of the team describe the Franklin software and firmware in an open access technical paper you can access here.

The low-cost 3D printer previously designed by Pearce and his team combines gas-metal arc welding and a version of the RepRap open source 3D printer. You can access a bill of materials and download plans for building this printer on that project's
wiki page.

Ann R. Thryft is senior technology editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 28 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.

Correction: A previous version of this article identified MTU as Michigan Technical University. It is actually Michigan Technological University.

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