3D printer brain retrofit

Breathing new life into a Stratasys Dimension 768 with a Smoothieboard 5X

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So I've got this printer, you see, and it taught me a lot about 3D printing.

It worked well, it worked slowly, and it cost a bit of money to run because it required expensive food.

Running inexpensive food was a no-go, i learned those lessons the hard way.

Last summer, the machine went stone cold dead.

I considered troubleshooting the electrical supply, and eventually asked myself, "What's next?"

Say I resolve the software problem, there's still a looming ghosts of teenage hardware that you can't find spare parts for, that still costs a lot of money to feed, and requires proprietary software to move the motors around.

Nah, screw that. 3D printer control software, along with miniaturized robust stepper drivers, are a wonderful gift of modern society, and much better than the hardware originally equipped in this now 15-year-old machine.

We will retrofit this machine anew with modern electronics, which you can actually speak

Thanks to Mahan for pointing out the Smoothieboard 5X as a possible retrofit option. It seems most robust and has more than enough brains for the problem.

Calibration: this is where the magic happens. Luckily we have the entire Stratasys users manual updated to this project, so we can take a deep look at any wiring considerations long before we make a single cut.

we'll also need to consider how to feed material to this machine, since we're looking to bypass the microchipped cartridges altogether.

when entropy finally catches up with us and we have to improvise a homemade extruder assembly, we have an entire machine shop at our disposal to make custom parts. The only way we can dodge this bullet is with a retrofit like this, because if any pieces in the puzzle at the moment become borked, the machine sits, like it has for nearly a year.

I'd really like to get more people using this machine, and not having to fear some bozo ruining it for everyone. Even the Makerbot needs a little love, but this Stratasys is a beast, and certainly worth keeping.


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  • Motor Quirks

    machinist05/17/2016 at 21:45 0 comments

    Further disassembly yielded a few interesting insights about the hardware.

    The three stepper motors for X Y and Z axes are all within the range of the smoothieboard's output. 24V, 1.5A. The only challenge is that these motors are bipolar without center taps, so a little homework must be done to figure out which fields are coupled. This can be accomplished with a low voltage AC source, and probing the remaining field pairs looking for coupled AC voltage. With this information, we can correctly wire the stepper motor in bipolar series orientation.

    The two motors for the extruder heads, however, are 8 wire servomotors. This presents a challenge with the smoothieboard, probably requiring a piece of hardware inserted before the stepper driver to take step and direction signal and convert that to the correct servo signal. If anyone has any suggestions as how to do this, I'm all ears.

  • The smoothieboard 5X lives

    machinist05/12/2016 at 00:10 0 comments

    Protip - don't use Notepad ++ to edit the config file. CRLF is not LF.

    everything else works pretty nicely, interfacing to the Smoothieboard using Pronterface and ReplicatorG. G code created here


    machinist04/23/2016 at 06:17 0 comments

    Sexy upskirt photos of disassembly

    Outer housing off

    Blurry shot of the inside w/ 3 pcbs removed

    laid out on the table, next to the smoothieboard (on the right)

    everything out

    Front panel, begging to be replaced

    Back end of the extruder and thermocouples

    Smoothieboard 5X

    X axis stepper

    Front side of extruder / print base

    everything that came out of the case

    Blower motor inside case

    Other blower motors

    All laid out

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Zach DeLancey wrote 11/01/2018 at 18:15 point

Great project!  Were you able to finish it up?

  Are you sure? yes | no

lynn hooper wrote 11/09/2016 at 05:59 point

I am also doing the same project. Are you using the stratasys motor driver board?  Do not know the pinout to the step/direction header. I have other motor drivers that would probably work but it would be nice to use the one designed for the machine. 

  Are you sure? yes | no

George Lagonikas wrote 06/26/2016 at 10:26 point

Hello to everyone,

I am doing exactly the same project so I am very exited that I found this project on the web.

Correct me if I am wrong but I think that the motors need 3A. I read to the Motor Quirk above that they need 1.5A and could be driven directly from smouthieboard. Is this a fact? I 'll start connecting the smoothieboard later this week. When it is ready I will post some photos.Glad to help in any way I can. thx.

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AVRMP wrote 05/26/2016 at 05:46 point

Hey, Sorry for replying so late, it's the finals week I have been pretty busy. Hopefully in a few days I will head over and say hi. Thanks 

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AVRMP wrote 05/15/2016 at 01:23 point

Hi Chris! How are you doing? I just saw this haha! Interesting project, I was actually retrofitting smoothie board into a couple of our laser cutters a couple of months ago, I also came up with a touch user interface which works with raspberry pi. let me know if you need any help specially if you need to modify the firmware I can definitely collaborate. 

  Are you sure? yes | no

machinist wrote 05/17/2016 at 21:23 point

Hey Mahan!

I'm well, thanks for asking.  The smoothie is awesome, and I'd really like to take a look at the touch interface that you're setting up.  We're having a very similar RasPi class at the shop on June 11, you should come!

I was looking at using the Viki2 display, but your suggestion has piqued my interest.  

As far as modifying the firmware, it looks like i'll have to figure out how to turn a stepper signal command to drive the extruders, which are using servomotors.  i imagine this is probably easier done in hardware, but I'm curious as to your thoughts.  

  Are you sure? yes | no

machinist wrote 04/20/2016 at 21:00 point

Shane has delivered the Smoothieboard 5X and it's ready to be plugged in!  We should probably trace the wiring diagram and start making provisions for adapting the harness to the new control unit.  

A major component of this process will be to get the smoothieboard to correctly operate the enclosure heaters and blower fans - big powah

  Are you sure? yes | no

machinist wrote 04/09/2016 at 23:44 point

someone brought to my attention the difference between a 768 (with an 8x8x12 platform) and a 1200 (with a 10x10x12 platform) is merely software.  I believe in the process of this conversion, we'll also achieve a much larger build platform

  Are you sure? yes | no

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