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3D printer dev kit runs Linux on new Marvell ARMv7 SoC

Jan 7, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 1,883 views

Marvell announced the first Linux-based hardware/software development kit for 3D printers, built around a new, 533MHz “88PA6120” ARMv7 SoC.

Marvell’s 3D Printer SoC Solution, also known as the Marvell 88PA6120 3D Printer Development Kit, provides a complete reference kit for turnkey development of 3D printers, says Marvell. The hardware platform is built around a new Marvell 88PA6120 SoC clocked to 533MHz. The company did not offer processor details, but said it is an ARMv7 compatible processor.

Prototype device built with 3D Printer Development Kit
(click image to enlarge)

The hardware platform, which supports multiple 3D printer designs, also includes dual real-time microprocessors for enabling customizable precision motion control. In addition, four crypto coprocessors ensure that users are feeding in the right plastic materials. As with paper printers, it seems, 3D printer vendors can potentially make more money on the materials than selling the printer itself. In addition, users could potentially damage the devices by using the wrong type of plastic.

Marvell 88PA6120 SoC

Marvell’s kit is not open source, such as the many open source printers that use RepRap or other third party open designs. Instead, the kit is aimed at large printer manufacturers looking to get into either the industrial or consumer 3D printing market.

However, the kit ships with schematics, board layout files, and bill of materials. It also integrates a Linux 3.14 SDK with source code for developing rich user interfaces for LCD touchscreens, as well as wired and wireless networking functionality, says the company. The platform also supports integration of Marvell’s cloud-oriented Kinoma Javascript platform for connecting IoT devices.

3D Printer Linux stack architecture
(click image to enlarge)

The Marvell Kit is the first Linux-based development platform we know of for 3D printers. The vast majority of 3D printers are, like most paper printers, basically dumb peripherals using microcontroller platforms such as Arduino. They usually lack an advanced OS, and hook up directly to a PC for issuing commands and downloading software routines.

Last year, however, MakerBot introduced the first commercial 3D printer based on embedded Linux: the fifth generation Replicator Mini, Replicator, and Replicator Z18 3D printers. In November, a Linux-based iBox Nano device billed as the “world’s smallest, cheapest 3D resin printer” hit Kickstarter, and went on to collect almost a half million dollars in funding.

Linux is not likely to quickly displace microcontroller based 3D printers, especially on the low end, but we’re likely to see more of them, especially when you need portability or otherwise don’t want a PC around. Linux is particularly suited for printers that require WiFi, LCD screens with GUI interfaces, and customization options.

Linux will likely grow the fastest in the industrial 3D printing market, which is expected to take off in the coming years. Marvell quotes an IDC analyst as saying that products based on kits such as Marvell’s could play a big role in vertical markets such as aerospace, automotive, education, dental, manufacturing applications, while also playing a role in recreational applications.

Inside the 3D Printer Development Kit

In addition to the 88PA6120 SoC, dual unnamed microcontrollers, and four crypto chips, the 3D Printer Development Kit ships with 256MB to 2GB of DDR2 RAM. It also features microSD and eMMC interfaces, which support optional Marvell WiFi cards. A Fast Ethernet port is also available, and there’s an I2C interface for attaching a Bluetooth module.

3D Printer block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

LCD touchscreens are supported, and the dual USB host ports, one which appears to have device support, can plug in USB cameras. There’s also a separate USB device port, as well as SPI, GPIO, and serial interfaces, plus two debug port options. A variety of printer mechanism features are listed, but it’s not entirely clear which mechanisms ship with the kit, as opposed to the kit supporting third-party printer components (see spec list below).

A story in, which features an interview with two Marvell execs, says the printer will support multiple printer technologies. These include SLA, as well as the FDM/FFF technology used in the prototype demonstrated at CES.

The platform will be able to evolve to the point where “3D objects can be sliced and the gcode can be created all on the 3D printers themselves,” says the story, paraphrasing the execs. The SDK will not only support the driving of the printer’s motors, but also the rendering of any 3D Object files for printing, connectivity, WiFi, and more, says

Specifications listed for Marvell’s 3D Printer Development Kit include:

  • Processor:
    • Marvell 88PA6120 SoC (1x ARMv7 core @ 533MHz ARM v7)
    • 2x real-time microprocessors
    • 4x 88PA800 security chips with IPSec and SSL support to ensure authorized materials
  • Memory/storage:
    • 256MB to 2GB DDR2-800 RAM
    • MicroSD slot
    • eMMC slot
  • Display:
    • LCD touchscreen support
    • Parallel control panel/display support
    • Parallel-to-MIPI DSI converter
  • Wireless — Optional Marvell WiFi card via memory card interface (Marvell 88W8801 Avastar); optional Marvell Bluetooth module via I2C
  • Networking — 10/100 Ethernet port
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x USB host ports (1x dual-mode) with camera support
    • USB device port
    • SPI
    • I2C (for Bluetooth)
    • 16550-compatible UARTs
    • GPIO
    • Serial and JTAG debug ports
  • Printer mechanism support:
    • Up to 7x bipolar stepper drive (4x simultaneous)
    • Up to 8x DC motors (5x simultaneous) with quadrature encoder feedback
    • 4x extruder heaters with heated build plate
    • Support for 3x limit switches and 4x thermal feedback ports
    • Support for 2x DC fans
    • UPC expansion for inkjet/Piezo-based technologies
  • Power — supports 20–24V supply
  • Operating system/dev stack:
    • Linux 3.14 SDK and BSP with source code
    • I/O drivers and integration libraries
    • Multi-source UBoot booting
    • GNU toolchains
    • Eclipse IDE
    • XDB–GUI/CLI for real-time debug
    • Example applications
    • Real-time 3D motion control code
    • High-volume production validated wireless and wired networking stack
    • Cloud integration via Marvell Kinoma

“Combining the high performance of our advanced silicon hardware with the ease-of-use, flexibility and cloud service capability of our unique Kinoma software, I believe our complete platform solution will empower our global customers and partners with cutting-edge, cost-effective 3D printers for the masses and enable a new era of 3D printing,” stated Weili Dai, President and Co-Founder of Marvell.

Further information

No pricing or availability information was provided for the Marvell 88PA6120 3D Printer Development Kit. More information may be found in this 3D Printer datasheet [PDF]. Marvell is demonstrating its 3D Printing kit, as well as other printer solutions, at CES 2015 in the Marvell booth, Level 3, Murano 3304, at The Venetian, Jan. 6-9.

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0 responses to “3D printer dev kit runs Linux on new Marvell ARMv7 SoC”

  1. Max says:

    …well, frankly, anyone retarded enough to buy a 3D printer that only works with its own proprietary filament is getting what he deserves (as long as non-branded options exist – and they do exist, unlike inkjet printers today). Oh, and let’s not insult each other with claims about manufacturers giving a damn about what other materials might do to the printer – all they care about is what those would definitely do to their bottom line, if they’re relying on their little consumables racket. Thankfully, one can always rip out and throw away the electronics and replace it for pennies with a proper, free board – not something one can generally do with inkjets…

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