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Feb-ulous SLB news

Greetings all, Chris here again to emerge from my SuperLongBoard development cave and provide you with my news!

For anyone who still has yet to hear about our new and most ambitious Sienci Labs electronics projects to-date, our arguably aptly named SUPERLongBoard, is the graduated version of our current LongBoard and has been designed to be even more SUPER at all things hobby CNC. 

This is a serious upgrade for a serious board, even if we had some fun with the name: culminating in what we hope to be an all-in-one solution and in many cases an upgrade to anything currently in its pricepoint on the market. The result is a 32-bit processing, on-board motor driving, Auxiliary output supporting, 4th axis controlling, laser, TLS, macro button -having board.

With that summary out of the way, you can catch up on past progress by looking at my update last month which also has links to past videos and past updates before it: https://sienci.com/2024/01/25/slb-january-updates/ 

Now let’s roll along to what new stuff I have to update you on this month 🙂

New Stuff

We’ve now pre-sold nearly 450 boards now…. and wow I’m so excited to see that everyone else is just as excited about this board as I am. To put into context: the current batch of boards we’ll be manufacturing was intended to be 500 but had to be reduced to 470 (I’ll mention the reason shortly) which means that we’ve nearly already sold out the whole batch before starting shipping! Needless to say, Andy and I already began discussions about a month ago on what our next steps are going to be if the reception to the SLB ends up being as good as we hope it will be to ensure we can have more on-hand in the coming months if possible.

Now the reason why we had to reduce to 470 is basically a math error, but in short:

  • Right on time to the schedule I posted in my last update – a couple weeks ago – we finally ordered the final production run of SLB boards! After the last run of prototype boards arrived we were able to very quickly redistribute them to Beta testers and vet any last changes we felt needed to be made so we could turn around and start prompting for production.
  • Already knowing that Lunar New Year would interrupt our delivery progress, we’d already ordered every other overseas part that we needed to produce the SLB (except the boards) at the start of January to ensure things would arrive on time by boat.
  • Knowing that we couldn’t do this for the boards since we needed more time to test them, we instead pre-ordered lots of the parts used for the board circuitry in advance as a way to help speed up production after Lunar New year finished. This included important stuff like the STM32F412 ‘brain’, TMC2660C motor drivers, and some other rarer items. We pre-ordered around 525 of these parts, but shortly after realized that we needed to do one final set of prototype boards and this used up 40 of the 525 parts.
  • After we add a small buffer for potential board failure, this left us with about 470 left for production SLBs that we can make available and would ship by air to catch up with everything else so they would all arrive around the same time.

Speaking of ordering parts, let’s take a look at what our full part table looks like right now as we start preparing to intake SLB parts and set up packing stations to check and ship them out:

SubsectionNameAmountShipping Status
Board PartsSLB important PCB components1Pre-ordered and now being used for SLB board production
SLB PCB assembly1Underway, scheduled to arrive by air on March 18th
USB-C Cable1To be ordered shortly after some more testing/validation
E-stopE-stop Button1Ordered, currently on boat and scheduled to arrive March 5th
E-stop PCB1Underway, scheduled to arrive by air mid-March
E-stop Cable1Completed, will be shipped alongside E-stop PCBs
Injection Moulded Case1Completed, currently on boat and scheduled to arrive March 15th
#4 screws3In stock
Enclosure PartsAluminum Extrusion exterior1Completed, currently on boat and scheduled to arrive March 15th
Front Panel1
Rear Panel1
Acrylic Cover1Arrived, to begin in-house production mid-March
Steel Mounting Bracket1Underway, should be made and plated in a couple weeks by our local steel manufacturer
M5-10mm SEMS3In stock
M5 T-nut3In stock
M4 Thumbscrew1Arrived
#4 screw6In stock
PackagingCardboard Box and inserts1Still being designed, should have a 1 week turnaround time by our local manufacturer

We’ve tried to time things out using a combination of boat and air freight for international parts and the shorter timelines of our local producers. Hopefully the information isn’t too much to look at, but the long and short of it is that everything looks like it’ll all show up around the same time!

Some of the great-looking production samples!

In the meantime, we’ve begun working on making space for packing and testing stations, working on designing our quality assurance procedures to test boards before they go out the door, all the while internal testing and Beta testing still continues forward as small tweaks to gSender support and to the Firmware are still being made to get everything working how we like it.

Please still bear in mind though, due to there being things that could still be outside our control, I would still conservatively estimate that SLBs begin shipping out the door last week of March or the first or second week of April. This would cover instances where delivery by boat or air has a slowdown, or we find something with the final batch of boards that need our attention. For example:

  • We’ve now had problems with a couple RGB LEDs out of the 50 prototypes we’ve made where they light up random colours rather than turning the colour they’re told to be. This makes us think that our manufacturer is giving us slightly water-damaged components, so we spoke to them about baking the LEDs before installation and are also working on a way for them to validate the boards before shipping so they don’t show up broken. This is an example of nothing we’ve done wrong, but could pop up unexpectedly on a board as complex as the SLB.

Will there be more Videos?

Yes of course! To be honest, after the inrush of pre-orders after the SuperLongBoard launch I’ve had more of a sense of duty to test-test-test the board as much as I possibly can as a higher priority than filming the boards capabilities. This is because, though I know there’s lots that the board can do, clearly everyone who’s already pre-ordered is already on ‘board’ with the SLB so I don’t think it would be fair for me to spend my time building more excitement for the board when I can instead focus my time on making it more bulletproof 🙂

And I think the nose-to-the-grindstone work has been paying off! There’s been tons of bug squashing and pushing machines to their limits by us and our trusty team of Beta testers:

  • We’ve now had over 15 firmware iterations since the start of the project
  • We’re continuing to work closely with the grblHAL firmware creator to ensure great compatibility between the board and its functionality, we actually sent him a pre-production SLB of his own that he’ll be receiving shortly
  • Major work thus far has included implementing major features like reliable USB and Ethernet, standby current reduction and individual axis holding, 4th axis control, TLS support, action buttons and ensuring their behaviour is predictable in different situations when using the CNC, controlling the custom outputs, honing in on the new LongMill default settings
  • Lots of tweaks have been made to gSender to make it know all the things it needs to know to effectively communicate with a faster and more feature-diverse controller. There have been more delays than originally thought due to continuing to find unexpected edge-cases in how the SLB behaves differently from the LongBoard, but we’ll keep trucking along and expect to be done in time
  • Ikenna has now thoroughly vetted the SLB to work with our LaserBeam laser diode and is very happy with how it’s working, even now using SLB in his LaserBeam livestreams

When it comes to roadblocks we’ve hit, the last month has actually been very good. Beta tester feedback has been a split of 40% gSender compatibility problems, 30% improvements to board documentation, then about 15% tweaks to firmware and the last 15% changes we had to make to the board design before we began production. This is good news because software and firmware are things that we can -and have- continued to work on while things are being manufactured and shipped over.  This means that the gSender and Firmware teams still have most of March to finish polishing things up which seems very doable. The last remaining hurdles are to get things like 4th axis cutting and switching between spindle and laser working as smoothly as we can in gSender, and then completing the remaining documentation tweaks based on Beta testers continued feedback, then writing up a guide on how to do a full board swap for existing MK1 and MK2 owners. I’ll also be setting aside some time mid-March to establish final movement speeds and motor noise that can be expected.

With all that said, videos will definitely still be making more of an appearance as we begin to near the delivery date since I want you guys to see what you’re going to be getting before shipment begins 👍 Alongside this will of course be: continued updates to FAQs, starting to release parts of the SLB manual, starting to release a list of recommended hardware to use alongside your SLB for 4th axis, lights, and more. I might even do some Livestreams so you guys can see more of the board in action and have any of your other questions answered! Some of my current video/livestream ideas are:

  • Speed and noise comparison to the LongBoard
  • Trying and SLB retrofit onto a Mill One
  • I’ve been messing around with a RapidChange unit and am hoping to see if I can get it fully set up and working to answer any questions about the SLB supporting an ATC. If you haven’t seen this unit yet I’m very excited about what it might do to shake up the hobby CNC space for more affordable automatic tool changing, and Don who I’ve been speaking with over the last year is a really nice guy who’s direction I really love so far

Conclusions

If you’ve made it this far, here’s your award 🏅. This is to recognize that you once again lasted through another one of my treacherous, Engineering-writing posts, complete with its poor sentence structure and also a lack of pictures on this post especially.

In all seriousness, thanks for everyone’s continued support for this project and the other projects we’ve continuously strived to do with Sienci Labs over the years. It’s never been easy for us but the kind words and reassurance that the work we’re doing matters really helps to keep us going. Thanks for anyone who’s been helping give me and the gSender team the needed feedback to keep making more cool features and fix iterations that sometimes break things and thanks for posting all the cool stuff you do and helping each other out too.

If you have any other ideas for SLB content you’d like to see, please leave them in the comments of wherever you were when you saw the link to this post whether it was on Facebook, our User Forum, or elsewhere and I’ll try to find them and write them down.

Until next time!

-Chris