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Autodesk open sources Linux-based 3D printer

Sep 23, 2015 — by Eric Brown 3,558 views

Autodesk has open sourced the electronics and firmware of its resin- and DLP-based Ember 3D printer, revealing it to run Linux on a BeagleBone Black clone.

In releasing the design of its Ember 3D Printer under open source licensing, Autodesk has revealed a mainboard that runs Linux on a customized spin-off of the BeagleBone Black hacker SBC. In March, the company published the recipe for the printer’s “PR48” Standard Clear Prototyping resin, and in May, it followed through by open sourcing its mechanical files. As promised, Autodesk has now opened up the BeagleBone Black based electronics and firmware.

Ember 3D Printer with resin-generated jewelry
(click image to enlarge)

Like the resin details and mechanical design, the electronics were released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. The firmware is being shared using a GNU GPL license. Electronics files were provided separately for the printer’s four main boards, each of which is now detailed with design files, schematics and PCBs, bill of materials, approved vendor lists, and assembly drawings. An SD card image is available to run on a standard BeagleBone Black for evaluation and prototyping.

Ember 3D Printer (left) and internal view showing the BeagleBone Black-based mainboard
(click images to enlarge)

The 3D printer industry is unusual in that it was driven from the start by open source, most notably RepRap, which has spawned a variety of successful companies selling similar printers using open source designs such as the Mendel, Prusa Mendel, and Huxley. Despite stiffer competition from proprietary products from Stratasys and 3D Systems, which dominate high-end 3D printing, as well as from MakerBot, which offers open source software, but not hardware, the RepRap-based companies continue to dominate the low end of the market.

Notwithstanding all the open source competition, the Ember 3D Printer is one of a handful of 3D printers that run Linux. Most low-end printers lack any operating system, as they are essentially peripherals that are controlled via an attached PC. Linux-based exceptions include the MakerBot Replicator, Replicator Mini, and Replicator Z18, which use a fused deposition modeling (FDM) technique for building plastic objects.


There is also the low-end, iBox Nano, which like the Ember, uses resin instead of plastic, but adopts an LCD-based UV technology instead of the Ember’s DLP projection method. In addition, earlier this year Marvell released a Linux-based 3D Printer SoC Solution development kit.

Ember exploded view (left) and kit contents
(click images to enlarge)

Designed primarily for jewelers and polymer research engineers, the $6,000 Ember is a much higher end resin printer compared to the iBox Nano. The product is supported with Autodesk’s Fusion 360 3D CAD design application.

The Ember supports build volumes up to 134 x 64 x 40mm, and supports 10-100 micron resolution on the Z axis and 50 microns on the XY. (By comparison, the $299 iBox Nano is limited to a 90 x 40 x 20mm build area, and has lower 0.39-100 micron resolution on the Z and 328 microns on the XY.) The Ember can print at a speed of 18 mm/hour at 25µm layers, claims Autodesk.

Ember architecture (left) and mechanical diagram
(click images to enlarge)

The Ember integrates a DLP projector with a Catalog 0.45-inch WXGA DMD, along with a 5W 405nm LED and all glass lenses. The system is touted for its 30-second calibration process, fast-changing resin trays, and the minimal force mechanics of its separation mechanism. The system measures 434 x 340 x 325mm, and runs on a 12V, 100W power supply.

The Ember’s modified BeagleBone Black mainboard runs Linux on a Texas Instruments Sitara AM3359 SoC, which controls external communications via WiFi, Ethernet, and USB ports. According to Autodesk, the major addition to the basic BeagleBone Black design is the doubling of flash memory to 8GB, improved power management, and the addition of a USB hub, which houses a USB-based WiFi dongle.

Ember mainboard silk screen
(click image to enlarge)

Also, as shown above, the Ember mainboard is much larger than the BeagleBone Black SBC on which it’s based, and takes the shape of the printer that encloses it. (Here, we see a sterling example of why silicon companies like TI foster the development of hacker-friendly open source SBCs like the BBB, and encourage the communities that coalesce around them.)

The main board also includes an Atmel AVR microcontroller based motor controller. An AVR-based satellite board controls an OLED display, as well as a ring of LEDs. All the boards communicate with each other via I2C.

Further information

The Ember 3D Printer is available in a $6,000 package that includes the printer, two resin trays, two build heads, two liters of clear resin, and a finishing kit. More information on the Ember 3D Printer may be found in the Autodesk blog entry announcing the open sourcing of the electronics, as well as the Ember 3D Printer product page.

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2 responses to “Autodesk open sources Linux-based 3D printer”

  1. Carling says:

    Quote :- available in a $6,000 package
    Reply :- At that price they can keep them I have ordered two full kit system and far bigger system at $400 each

  2. underpaid says:

    Autodesk used to be David when it started out. Now it is just a greedy monopolistic Corporation. They stick their nose into everything and eventually own it. Watch out world…it would suck if they one day control the SAT file format.

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