Hey everyone. We’re excited to share that the SLB will be launching on Dec 4, 2023. Chris and our development team have been going full bore in bug fixing, testing, and doing the final prep to get the SLB ready for production.
There are simply too many features and updates to share in one blog post, but we do have lots of different content and information you can check out to find out more about the SLB on the Youtube video, the product page, and our blog article, Next Big SLB Update .
Hey everyone. As you guys might have seen in the November update, we are now back working on the AltMill. If you have been following along with us since 2021, you might have heard about the AltMill project.
From 2021 and 2022, there were a couple of reasons and factors that led to us putting the AltMill project on the back burner, which included:
Not having enough space for the development and production of the machine in our current space
Continued need for development and focus on the current LongMill product
A general decision to focus on the lower end/hobby of the market at the time
However, in 2023, we’ve now established a strong process for the LongMill and with the move to the larger building, we feel like it’s a good time to put the AltMill project on the front burner again.
Things are already moving forward with the AltMill, as we currently have 50 machines in production for our first batch. We expect parts to start arriving for assembly in the next 2 months.
What is the AltMill?
The AltMill is a CNC router that uses ball screws and linear guides and has a 4ft x 4ft working area. This addresses the two big “asks” we get from the LongMill community for a new machine, which is to:
Having a larger working area
Getting rid of v-wheels
The AltMill focuses on the same core ideas as the LongMill, which is:
Be simple, affordable, and easy to maintain
Come with excellent support
Be beginner friendly
The AltMill is aimed towards:
LongMill users who want to upgrade to a faster, larger, and more powerful machine
Hobbyist, prosumer, and small business owners who want to use for small scale production work
The AltMill is a completely new machine, with basically no parts shared between the LongMill, but users will find the process of running the machine to be almost identical.
10,000mm/min rapids with closed-loop stepper motors
Higher rigidity with HG15 linear guides on all axis
Higher precision with 16mm ball screws on the X and Y, and 12mm ball screw on the Z axis
A working area of approximately 50″ x 50″ on the X and Y, and Z travel of approximately 6.5″ (with 4-5″ Z-clearance under gantry)
The original design used SBR16-type linear guides, which had a few advantages, with the primary one being that the height that the linear guide blocks sat met up with the exact same height as the ball screw nut, making it possible to mount everyone on the same plane like shown in the picture below. In this design, we mounted everything to machined plates.
We initially avoided using “square rail” guides because of their cost and need for more careful assembly, but with our new experience working with different manufacturing techniques and other factors such as finding a well-priced supplier for the components, using rails such as the HG15 family of parts became viable.
One of the main manufacturing techniques we’ve come to understand better and use is extrusions. We’ve used this technique for making the LongMill rails, LaserBeam heatsinks, and the t-track clamping system, so we now have a better understanding of the tolerances we can achieve, and because extrusion allows us to space the components as we want to, we’re able to make more rigid structures while keeping the whole machine lighter. Additionally, we can add extra features to the rail and position components where we want.
Adding features like t-slot and locations on the ends to tap holes, we are able to reduce the number of parts needed and provide more freedom in mounting different things to the machine.
We use three main extrusions in the X, Y, and crossbracing of the table that keep the machine rigid while reducing the number of parts needed to put it together.
Switching to an extrusion-based design also helps drastically to increase machine rigidity, without increasing weight. In the LongMill MK2, we were able to increase the rigidity of the X-axis beam while simultaneously decreasing moving mass by switching from a solid ‘open channel’ angle aluminum profile to a ‘closed channel’ extrusion. This makes for a significant strength-to-weight ratio improvement, which has been the case of the AltMill’s latest design revision as well.
This is especially relevant for the case of the X-axis beam in most CNC routers, since tend to deal with very high torsion loads; twisting the beam. Closed channels (tube structures) are the most optimal shape for dealing with these loads, the closer a profile gets to becoming a perfectly round tube structure, the better it is at handling this load, and the better our machine will perform.
The new AltMill’s X-axis extrusion has also been sized to be much more robust than the LongMill’s X-axis extrusion. With better linear motion components, faster cutting speeds, and more utilization of higher-powered spindles it’s important to rebalance different components of the machine to ensure there are no weak points.
In a CNC router, you generally want to balance any deflection across all components evenly. Having a very rigid machine with a single weak component that causes it to perform poorly usually doesn’t make sense from an engineering or practical standpoint. Looking at a breakdown of various sources of deflection on the LongMill, we can see that with the exception of the V-wheels, the LongMill does a pretty good job of balancing this across major parts and sub-systems.
Since we’re now removing V-wheels from the equation in the AltMill, we now look towards some of the largest areas of deflection, since these will make up the bulk of deflection. Some of the more trivial areas such as the router mount, and deflection from the Z-axis linear bearings (MGN12 pitch deflection) can be addressed by better component selection, but the X-rail deflection stands out as an area where improvement will be needed at the design side.
Another, unrelated takeaway from looking at these charts is the variance of how much deflection the V-wheels on the X-axis contribute depending on their tuning and wear state. This can be problematic when you’ve set up your cutting parameters to fully utilize the rigidity of the LongMill (or any V-wheel machine), only to have them wear or fall out of tuning causing your rigidity to decrease and affect the quality of your project.
This isn’t to say that V-wheels aren’t more than adequate for the purposes of a hobby CNC router, but this matter becomes more of a concern when dealing with much more strenuous, repetitive projects where consistency over a long period of time is needed.
Another change not specific to the new design of the AltMill is the decision to pursue a closed-loop stepper motor system.
With regular stepper motors, the motor driver will instruct the motor to move some amount, and the controller will assume the motor has moved by that amount. If there’s nothing wrong with your machine, and you’re not running into anything that’s stopping your motor from moving, this almost always works fine.
When your motor driver instructs your motor to move some amount and it fails to move, or does not move the exact amount as requested, things get out of sync. This scenario is generally referred to as ‘losing steps’ since your stepper motor has skipped moving a few steps/increments and is not where it should be, or where the controller thinks it is. This is bad for a couple reasons such as:
The next toolpath your machine makes won’t be where it should be, typically meaning your cutting paths will appear ‘shifted’ in some direction
On a ‘moving gantry’ machine with two Y-axis motors, if one motor skips/loses steps, your X-axis will no longer be square with the Y-axis, and in serious cases you may damage parts or induce excess wear running it like this.
If the motors are unpowered (such as between jobs), bumping into the machine, or pulling one the router/spindle may move the motors causing them to lose position and create ‘shifts’ in your project the next time you run it.
Unlike a regular stepper motor, a closed-loop stepper motor will keep track of it’s position using a sensor known as an encoder. The sensor typically relays this position information back to the motor driver (ergo, closing the loop), to let it know if everything is in sync and motor is where it’s expected to be, or if something has gone wrong.
If something is off, the motor driver will correct for the difference, and move the motor’s position to wherever it should be. If it’s unable to, such as in the case of running into one of the travel limits, the motor driver will send an alarm signal to the controller to let it know that something has gone wrong, in order to salvage the project and prevent any sort of serious machine damage.
Closed-loop stepper motors also have some other neat benefits such as:
The ability to run at high speeds with reliability
More efficient operation (and resultantly with less heat)
In some cases, quieter operation
There have been a number of advances to hobby CNC technology and industrial technology in general that have made closed-loop steppers more affordable and easier to use. We’re excited to bring some of the new hardware into our designs.
We expect the base price for the AltMill to start at $3600CAD/$2650USD, which comes with the mechanics, hardware, and electronics. This price does not include a spindle or router, but we anticipate that we’ll have something available at the time of shipping that would be suitable for the AltMill, such as a spindle package or our Sienci Router that is currently in development for around ($250 to 800CAD).
Because the AltMill uses a frame structure to ensure the whole machine is level and square, we are planning to have specially-made table legs that can be added to the machine to allow the AltMill to be its own standalone bench, eliminating the need for users to need to build a bench like the LongMill. We expect this addition to come as a kit for around $150-300.
Other accessories (and necessities) such as T-tracks and dust shoes will be available specific to the AltMill near the time of launch as well. Most accessories that currently exist for the LongMill system of CNC routers will be compatible – this includes things like the LaserBeam, Vortex Rotary Axis, and any of the future add-ons that pair with the upcoming SuperLongBoard controller.
Users will need to provide a wasteboard (3/4″ MDF) to be mounted on top of the machine.
The AltMill is already in production and we expect the first batch of parts to arrive at the end of December. We expect to have our first working machine in February. We are ordering enough parts to build 55 AltMills and expect to yield a minimum of 50 units in this batch. We expect to have units start shipping in March or April.
50 units is a pretty small batch to start with at our scale, but since we’re not sure how much demand we’ll see for the product, we’ve decided to keep the number pretty low. I think even if we only sold 50 machines, since they are fairly simple and use a lot of off-the-shelf parts, we can keep them supported on a small scale as well. My expectation in the long run however is to be able to ship and sell around 1000-2000 AltMills per year.
We expect to start pre-orders sooner or later based on the demand for this machine. Basically…
If people want to give us their money right away and pre-order now, we will set things up so that can happen. This would be the ideal situation since it would be less risky to invest in this new product for us financially, but be the most uncertain for the customer on when they would be getting their machines.
We launch the pre-order when we have a fully working machine so that people can see what it looks like and have more confidence in a specific launch date.
We start to sell and ship once we get all of the parts in and the design is complete. There would be a short wait time as we build and pack machines.
Let us know what you think. If you’re interested in ordering an AltMill now, please fill out the survey below.
Technically not an FAQ, but more of an anticipated FAQ…
Will the AltMill be compatible with a spindle?
Yes, we actually believe most customers will want to default to a spindle to take advantage of the AltMill’s higher speed and rigidity. We will be working on a spindle or higher-powered router option at the time of shipping that will be able to be used with the AltMill.
Can I upgrade my LongMill to an AltMill?
No. Because this is a completely redesigned machine, there will be little to no parts shared between the two platforms.
I want to pre-order an AltMill right away. Do I need to put down a deposit?
At the current time, we are planning to ask customers to pay the full price of the machine upfront once we decide to open up pre-orders. You may change or cancel your order at any time before your machine ships.
Do I need to assemble the AltMill?
The major parts of the AltMill such as the X-axis rail and Y-axis rails will come pre-assembled, but will have some basic assembly to help keep shipping costs low. We expect set up for an AltMill to take around 2-4 hours with a basic set of tools.
Will there be a 4×8 AltMill?
At this time, and for the near future we will only be offering a 4×4 AltMill. It’s possible we may look into creating a 4×8 variant of the AltMill much later on.
Will there be an ATC (auto tool change) spindle/system for the AltMill?
It’s not in our immediate plans to offer an ATC system for the AltMill, however, this is something that could be possible much later on as we continue development on the Sienci Router project. In the short term, it will likely be possible to integrate such a system on your own since the AltMill’s controller will run grblHAL firmware which supports more advanced tool-changing features needed for these systems to function.
Will I need to connect a computer to control the AltMill?
The short answer is, yes. The AltMill will need to be tethered to a computer at the time of launch. That being said, some of the development to move the computer onto the board or for us to provide a separate computer module applies that we’re working on with the SuperLongBoard for the LongMill, so we expect at some point, we’ll have a more integrated system for the AltMill. Currently the options we are assessing are expected to cost around $200-300.
Happy Friday! Thanks to all who entered this week’s contest, showcasing your LongMill hosting/entertaining projects.
Last Week’s Winners
We are happy to announce that Cam Luchak, Brooke Piercy, Philip Christian, Carlo Quadrilatero, Bill Thorne, and Phil Cannizzaro are the winners of the latest projects contest. A prize is on its way!
This Week’s Theme: Autumn/USA Thanksgiving Projects
Happy Thanksgiving, neighbors! We’re reviving the Autumn/Thanksgiving theme. Share your fantastic LongMill projects inspired by the season, and we’ll pick our favorites to send some cool stuff your way.
Hey everyone! We have a small change we’ve made to one of the key components to the LongMill that we’ll start shipping for machines going out in the next few weeks.
For the uninitiated, every LongMill comes with a “Maintenence Wrench”. We include this in every LongMill kit as a tool for assembling the machine and adjusting things like the ACME locking nuts and eccentric nuts. Every LongMill comes with a wrench and a set of Allen keys for assembling the machine.
Functionally, the new wrench remains the same but with the biggest difference being:
Adapted to fit new ACME locking nut hardware
More ergonomic shape
And most importantly… a bottle opener!
We hope that small improvements like this make a big difference in your enjoyment of the LongMill.
Also, it looks like the hanging hole got missed…but should still be functional the way it is, but we’ll have to fix that in the next batch.
Hi everyone, Chris here. It’s great to be speaking with y’all again, it’s not often I get around to writing blog posts since I tend to be more behind the curtain on the tech development we do here at Sienci. As Andy mentioned in his November Production Update post, there’s a lot to update on so I’ll spread as many juicy details as I can. We’re now at over 400 people interested in buying the new SLB system we’ve been working very hard at so thank you for your support! It’s very clear that our community is very excited about this massive upgrade to the LongMill and for the future of the hobby CNC industry.
There’s also a video I filmed which you can feel free to watch if you prefer to see more of my face 🙂
Let’s start with a quick refresher about how the SLB came to be Sienci’s biggest project to-date.
As many of you know, Sienci Labs has historically been built up by our mechanical solutions – an expected direction seeing as myself and Andy co-founded the company while studying Mechanical Engineering. Our goal with Sienci was always to take advanced, industry technology and try to find a way to simplify it in ways that made it less expensive and easier to use so that everyone could have access to making complex things at home. We feel like that goal of price-point and ease-of-access is something we’ve been proud and successful at to-date with our big projects like the LongMill turned LongMill MK2 CNC, LaserBeam laser system, Vortex rotary axis, AutoZero touch plate, and our unique MK2 Magnetic Dust Shoe.
What’s been clear to us since the start though is that the CNC experience won’t be able to be improved with mechanics alone. Most hobby CNC communities have quirks with their machines, but once those quirks are understood the majority of confusion comes from everything else you see day-to-day when you use it: designing projects, tool selection, feeds and speeds, machine control, and reliable cutting. This is why we started working hard on non-mechanical solutions that we’re also very proud of like gSender for open-source CNC control, our in-house feeds and speeds charts, our expansive resources for learning and understanding CNC, ever-growing roster of tutorial videos, and now the SLB.
Why the SLB?
The SuperLongBoard is a next-generation CNC control board we’ve been dreaming of making for years now and is getting closer to completion. We believe that at this current stage, integrating smarter, more reliable, and more capable CNC control electronics will make the biggest improvement to the CNC experience. If you look at options on the market there’s been a large divide between the capabilities and reliability of the typical hobby CNC boards in the $40-$200 price range and the far more expensive, semi-industrial options that can reach the several-hundred-dollar range to over $1000. With chips getting more powerful and lower cost, we thought that gap in ability could be reduced while still staying in the lower price range by making a board with those new technologies. We knew this was going to be a big challenge – there are reasons why it’s typically easier to up-sell older technologies than it is to develop new ones – but we felt strongly in our decision. We felt that creating a new, improved, and unique solution could bring new innovation to the market to benefit everyone by reducing barriers to entry, keeping the industry progressing, and making more reliable and capable CNCs at lower price-points.
Working alongside Andrew and his team at Expatria Technologies, and building off of Terje Io’s amazing grblHAL project, all these tools need to work hand-in-hand so we can set our sights on resolving two major areas that we think hobby CNCs could benefit from:
Reliability: this is such a broad topic to solve, but it can be more-or less divided into a couple categories.
Board wiring and protections: designing a board with proper grounding and plenty of voltage protection and isolation takes a lot of time and experience but is needed to shelter the electronics from CNCing – an electrically ‘noisy’ environment from all the moving motors and static electricity buildup from cutting and vacuuming materials
USB protocol: this is implemented in firmware and grblHAL comes with far more checks with data communication mechanisms in place to guarantee delivery over USB and know when to resend lost information
Backup Communications: adding Ethernet on top of grblHAL’s already robust USB implementation isn’t necessary but having an alternate communication method to turn to is always a great option if you’re ever experiencing problems with the primary style – an onboard SD card also gives you that flexibility
Processor speed: a slower processor can’t buffer as much information when dealing with short and complex movements, meaning better chips can reduce the chance of errors popping up
Room for growth & “Wow factor”
Motor drivers: the same stepper motor controlled by different motor drivers can see notably better performance with all else being equal – so why not upgrade to newer-age drivers to get better speed with less motor noise out of the same CNC
Smarter CNC: having the CNC better tell you when something has gone wrong, automatically fix a problem for you, or make one of your existing processes easier creates far less room for error
More control options: there are typically specific limitations on what a CNC can do, so why not expand it’s options to support all commonly used CNC accessories plus leave space for even more customizable outputs. This can include things like independent Macros buttons, independent Spindle and Laser control, Modbus over RS485 for more closed-loop VFD control, tool length sensor support, ring and rail lights, door sensor, CANBUS, CNC pendant options to control the machine more easily, adapting to plasma cutting, and more
Multi-axis control: benefits those who have started to dive into cutting rotary projects to create ornate, fully 3D projects on their CNC and want either a simpler transition between cutting styles or are interested in full 4-axis cutting
Onboard computer: if you’ve ever run into problems with a Windows update, USB port falling asleep, or having hardware too underpowered to run your CNC, these problems can all be solved with a dedicated, purpose-built, and built-in computing solution running something like gSender onboard
We think we can address most of these aspects with the SLB at the time it ships so it can play a part of the next big step in hobby CNC technology. It’s advanced electronics and software will bring not just new features and functionality to the LongMill, but at a price point that we believe will be affordable for hobbyists. With it being a Sienci project, it can also guarantee that the SLB will be backward compatible with ALL LONGMILL CNC MACHINES OF ALL GENERATIONS, which means that users can upgrade their machine’s capabilities by simply replacing the controller. It will also support all our current plug-in add-ons. We also plan, just like with gSender, to make our board well documented and able to be adapted to many other CNC form-factors when we start to work through rolling it out in production.
How it’s coming along
Very well! Since Andy’s last update, our SLB team has been working hard to prioritize checking the functionality of the physical circuitry on the V2 prototype board are we’re now feeling confident that the following circuity is good to go:
24V 12.5A brick power supply input with power switch (no more power over computer USB)
External, detachable E-stop with light, controller feedback, plus 3 customizable buttons
More reliable implementation of serial communication over USB-C (no drivers needed) as well as Ethernet
4 higher-end, independent motor drivers rated for 2.8A RMS (TMC2660C, higher efficiency, less noise and resonance)
RGB Machine status LED
‘Contact’ style touch plate input
4 independent limit switches with two connector styles and 5V or 24V output
Coolant digital output set via M8 and M9 commands (5V 40mA)
Independent rotary axis support with dedicated limit switch
Tool length sensor input for easier tool changes
Modbus over RS485 to control spindles and other accessories with two connector styles, terminal breakout and CAT3 cable with RJ11-6C/RJ25 and supports daisy-chaining
Very dust resilient enclosure with quick assembly
Many status LEDs for troubleshooting
Tons of opto-coupling for optimal protection against incorrect wiring and electrical noise
Less heavy boards with less fragile components should lead to lower failure rate
Extendable RGB LED ring light and rail strip output
4 customizable outputs to external circuits, controllable via M62/64/63/65, M7/M9, M8/M9, and M3/M5 (2 SSR pin shorting and 2 relay/solenoid/motor driving)
SD card to store onboard information and possible g-code file overflow (min 512MB)
Door sensor for input to pause cutting
Special CANBUS for pendant communication
Extra breakout IO to access spare MCU pins and other alternate outputs
ADC input for future sensor input
Communication connections (e.g. Rx and Tx) available for future control via external controller / pendant
These could still change a little on our way to production but I’m very confident that this will give an accurate image of what the SLB will be capable of. The gray items on the list might not be ready at the time of launch but the great news is that we have verified all their circuitry and put them on the board so all that’d be missing is a firmware update we plan to put out after shipping boards to enable those features as well.
The main items absent from the list are twofold:
Firstly, though we aimed for the V2 board to be our second and last prototype, we did find some areas that we wanted to tweak. These were: changing the Spindle 0-10V output back to 5V PWM to support the new spindle we’re working on, changing the Laser PWM and Flood output circuitry to deliver a signal that’s more in-line with the previous LongBoard, tweaking the RGB LED driver buffer, fixing some onboard status LEDs that were floating, and adding some more EMI improvements. Most of these changes are quite small, but we decided that getting a V3 prototype made will help us feel confident in finalizing the design for production. This is a hard decision as it’s likely going to add another 1 month to our board release timeline, but we really wanted to be sure to support one of the key features we wanted the board to have “Independant 5V PWM and EN Spindle and Laser control set via M3, M4, M5, and S g-code commands, plus SpinDir“. The V3 design should be sent out to get made in the next week and should now lock-down the full SLB design. While we wait for it to arrive we’ll be focusing fully on testing and firmware improvements.
Secondly, for those who might not have been following Andy’s production updates, we’d originally envisioned the SLB as being a system of two different parts working together. The first being the board itself, containing all of the core CNC functionality controlling motors and handling g-code, and second being an optional onboard compute module that would act to replace a computer or laptop and instead be integrated. Users could connect a keyboard, mouse, and monitor to control all functions of the machine directly through the SLB. This was very exciting to us given the considerably low price of the compute module over a computer, around $40-80 dollars plus the cost of the monitor, keyboard, and mouse, as well as the extra speed, user experience, and reliability of an onboard system.
In our extended tests with this idea in mind, we weren’t finding the success we’d hoped in creating a seamless user experience with this solution. Despite trying many Linux kernels, drivers, GPU acceleration, and bringing many more efficiencies to gSender, the Broadcom and Rockwell-based processors used on smaller compute modules were not powerful enough to accommodate the visualization of g-code directly onboard. This also meant they didn’t have extra headroom if in the future we wanted to implement other features such as having a camera monitoring system or other sensor inputs. With many months delay trying to chip away at a resolution we decided to split the development of SLB back into its two parts; prioritize improving the baseline machine performance first so CNCers don’t have to wait any longer for the SLB to make better machines, and strip out all the on-board connectors and switch to a higher-power off-board solution that we’ll implement at a later stage. This will mean anyone could still upgrade at a later date. Higher-power Fanless PCs will cost more, from our initial budget of around $80CAD/60USD for the compute module, to somewhere around $100-$200USD depending on the specs and configuration, but would ensure a smooth and seamless experience as well as provide headroom for future applications.
To summarize, we decided to take the concept of the onboard computer and divide and conquer on it at a later date. It would’ve been really cool to have a fully integrated system but it kept pushing our board delivery back further and we felt it would benefit everyone if we just pushed ahead on the other features that will all still bring great benefit to the CNC experience. This means that users will still need to connect their computers to the board to control their machines when the first batch of SLBs release, but should still see drastic improvement.
To-date, SLB development costs have tallied to more than $300k, making it easily our most expensive project to-date if you don’t count gSender which is I’d guess is around $500k at this point. These costs are pretty standard and have mostly come from paying salaries to do in-depth research on board infrastructure options, decisions on features that CNCers would like, designing robust PCBs, lots of custom firmware development, and testing. The new board uses a large number of components, adding to the challenge and complexity in manufacturing, but this was expected and we’re working through it. We feel confident that we’ve done something useful here and we’re excited to see the interest in the SLB on launch and continue moving development forward.
grblHAL support in gSender
Another big effort we’re having to undertake to support the SLB has been with gSender. Though grblHAL has “grbl” in the name, it might as well be a completely new firmware with all the new work that our development team has had to put in so far to make a seamless CNC control experience and UI. Since grblHAL is such a new firmware on the hobby CNC scene, it’s still growing and not widely adapted, and we want to help change that. There’s so much documentation that has already been made but there’s also a lot more we have to figure out. We’ve been working on an all-new firmware flashing utility for the new board, and had to build in a lot of modularity so gSender can be compatible with old and new boards alike
Iteration on the SLB enclosure I think is coming along well, the design is now pretty much locked in 🙂
Back in April I put out a post on our Forum with the leading design we had at the time to get peoples feedback on what they thought (https://forum.sienci.com/t/official-call-for-feedback-on-new-board-in-development/8519) and the results were positive but still mixed. I wanted to take a new approach to the enclosure design to accommodate all the new plugs without them all being exposed, as well as improve cable management on the LongMill in particular. Though many people were on board, many still expressed concern with my idea behind mounting the board to the Y-axis rail due to their fear of dust, vibration, or accommodating enclosures.
After going through way more iterations internally, this is now our revised design which I feel much more confident will suit everyone’s needs:
The main perks of this enclosure is it’s mounting versatility and wire management. With this new setup, anything that you’d expect to have more common access to faces toward the front and all other wires can be routed out the rear. The RGB status LED will be visible through the faceplate put the panel will also be easily removable for troubleshooting or servicing. All the components on the board face upwards so everything is accessible and the board has been tested to run very cool so even in hot environments and with the bit of venting we’ve added in we expect everything to operate as normal.
The rail mounting is also a separate piece that can be used or not. This gives versatility to mount the SLB on any surface (rail, vertical, or horizontal) with 2 or 4 screws. We’ve already begun production of the parts and should be getting them in Nov-Dec.
This is also mostly completed, just waiting for some last few checks. You’ll notice on the earlier feature list that we wanted to move away from the 3 buttons attached directly to our board. This is because there was feedback that people didn’t tend to use the existing buttons because of their fixed function, and when people mounted their board out of the way they couldn’t access the buttons anyway. We wanted to fix this by making the buttons separate and customizable, and this lead to a new E-stop design with 3 other customizable buttons integrated into it! Now you’ll have the freedom to have 3 physical buttons perform a myriad of custom functions to suit your workflow right next to your E-stop.
Beta Testing progress
As we’re turning the corner on finalizing the board design and implementing our initial set of firmware features, our main goal over the next month will be: test, test, test! We’re now in Phase 2 of Beta testing where our main goal is to make sure that all our new features play nicely with each other, since we already know they work well in isolation.
We currently have 3 boards with testers and 2 dedicated machines in our own shop running CNC jobs every chance we can get and have already found unique situations that cause problems which we can now work toward resolving. This also involves comparisons between the old and new board and real-life durability and performance testing. One example is Ian’s Onefinity where his former setup used our original Longboard and with the SLB he’s seen drastically reduced noise and nearly doubled movement speeds. This hasn’t been as drastic for our other testers but we’re also already noticing some of the stability and perks that the SLB has to offer. Once the batch of V3 boards arrive, the plan will be to redistribute them as well as contact a new wave of testers to complete one final round of feedback. Some people we reach out to will be those with persistent and existing EMI and disconnection problems to see if the SLB is able to resolve those issues. At that point we expect to feel confident in the performance and features we can promise with the board that we can prepare for release.
Here’s a video from Andy’s last post of us testing the new programmable macro buttons. These allow you to program a specific code or function to 3 unique buttons, rather than just start, pause, and stop, which is hardwired into the current control board. In this case, it’s being used to move the machine to a specific position to assist with getting the machine out of the way for changing tools and materials.
The pricing is likely to be refined as we’ve made new decisions and near production, but I think no matter how you slice it you’ll be able to expect that the SuperLongBoard will be giving you every bang for your buck.
As far as timeline, many followers of this project would know that we’ve had to push our originally anticipated late-summer, early-fall launch. We’ll be putting out another update soon on the roll-out strategy we have in mind moving forward because we want to give people a guarantee to be in line for the SLB before Christmas, so stay tuned to hear more about that. You can get a glimpse of what some of the steps will be with the roll-out in Andy’s original post as well under “What’s Next?”.
As far as ongoing project schedule, much of it has been laid out in the sections above which I’ll try to summarize here:
Last tweaks will be made in the next week to start a batch of V3 SLB prototypes
Firmware, Beta testing, and gSender support will continue over the coming month while we wait for the V3s to arrive
SLB Enclosure and E-stop designs should also become finalized and be ready for production in the next month or so
Once V3s arrive, final checks can be made to feel confident about the circuit design and begin board production
Phase 3 of Beta testing will continue to refine Firmware and gSender support while all other production is underway
I’d say that this means the boards won’t be ready to ship in December / Christmas and are instead more likely to be able to ship around Feb-March. The first major steps we took until June 2023 involved much of the initial product churn that we expected to see, though with delays in board prototypes and unexpected difficulty interfacing with the drivers we lost about 2 additional months. Add to that the outcome of the compute module testing meant that we had to pull out a lot of components for a full redesign between V1 and V2 and now we have to address some of the missed items between V2 and V3. This is the reality of developing such a complex product and is why we now feel much more confident with the recent testing and steps that we’ve taken that the completion of the SLB for launch is just around the corner 😀
Thanks for sticking along for the ride on this big update, I hope it answers most of your questions on where the SLB is currently at and gets you excited about what’s to come. I expect the SLB to be very unique in it’s abilities to exceed the capabilities of many hobby CNC boards, perfect even for the DIY hobby CNCer for all it’s additional IO, and still have many more plans for it in the future. Of course it’ll be an Open-source design so hopefully all this time and effort that our team has put in will be able to return to the community and benefit other efforts toward easier CNCs.
Leave any comments you have that I missed and I’ll try to answer them. As I mentioned I don’t tend to put out updates because I’m a very slow writer but I’ll ensure to keep Andy in the loop as progress continues so he can update y’all as things keep moving forward. Just remember to read the Production Updates!
Hey y’all, Andy here with the Nov 2023 Production Updates. For past updates, make sure to check out our blog.
Some of the info we’re sharing here may refer to stuff we talked about in the October update, so feel free to read the last update if you haven’t yet.
This one is a super long update so…..enjoy.
We found a guinea pig
A few weeks ago (I was away), someone (I think Jen) saw a guinea pig run around in the parking lot and living under the shipping containers we have in the back. Eventually, we were able to capture it. What we suspect is someone let it go for some reason.
It appears that everyone has appointed it as the new CEO, and the team is looking for another guinea pig to keep it company (perhaps as the CTO?).
As we mentioned in the last update, we’re moving! Moving has already started and we are working on putting in new plumbing and electrical. We should be getting a truck to move most of our stuff in the first week of November.
Because of the move, we may need to put shipping on pause for 2-3 days. We are working on planning this currently and we’ll put a note on the website when this will be the case.
There will be a video coming out soon so keep your eyes peeled!
LongMill MK2 Production
LongMill production continues to go smoothly, with most machines shipping out within a day or two, and the same day for Beginners Kits.
LaserBeam also continues to move along smoothly. We are currently working on building a new batch and parts are trickling in.
Vortex Rotary Axis Production
The Vortex Rotary Axis continues to ship within a few days from stock. However, we are down to our last 30ish units. We are currently in production for the second batch, and expect to restock on another 300 units around the start of December. There may be a chance that lead times may increase once we run out of stock.
So it’s been a big passion project for Ikenna to develop a CO2 laser. For those who don’t know, Ikenna is the guy who developed the LaserBeam.
One of the main downsides of using diode lasers like the LaserBeam is that they are limited to how powerful they are, and thus limited to what and how thick of material they can cut. For context, while the LaserBeam offers a 7 watt optical output, most CO2 lasers can put around 40 to 100 watts of cutting power. A
CO2 lasers that exist on the market have some things we believe need to be addressed to make the technology more accessible to hobbyists. I won’t get into too much detail in this update, but look out for a video from Ikenna and Daniel soon that covers details about the project, as well as a survey coming to help us make some design decisions for the project.
We’ve continued to work on the design for the Sienci Router. Thank you for everyone who participated in the survey to provide us feedback on the features and designs.
One of the things we’ve been working on deciding over the last few weeks is the communication interface for speed control of the router, because at this current time, there are several different protocols used in hobby and industrial CNC controls, but the ones that we are addressing are RS485, PWM, and 0-10V analog.
GRBL, the firmware that the LongMill and many hobby CNCs run on, uses ATMEGA 328/Arduino hardware to do the motion control and run the functions of the machine. While this isn’t confirmed information, I suspect that GRBL-based machines primarily offer external control for peripheries like spindles and lasers using PWM because the hardware offers the support. PWM is basic, simple, and is generally fairly reliable for this type of application.
However, from my experience, while PWM is the primary interface for laser control, it’s rare to find on VFDs. More commonly, there is an analog voltage input, so in a VFD with a 0-10V range, sending a 5V signal would run the spindle at 50% of the rated speed. A lot of users plug their PWM signal into the analog input (which isn’t the proper way to do things), because the electronics in the VFD can sometimes average out the duty cycle of the PWM to a voltage. You can read a bit more about it in this previous article.
We also have been looking at different motor options and designs, some of which are here.
Spring Loaded Anti-Backlash Nuts
We have now started manufacturing of the T12 Spring Loaded Anti Backlash nuts! Thank you to everyone who participated in our open beta of the T8 Spring Loaded Anti Backlash Nuts. We are also finalizing the design for the second iteration of the nut.
We are expecting production for the T12 nuts to take about 4 weeks. We’ll put out an update for everyone on the status and when they will be available for sale.
Roughing End Mills
We just received our first batch of 1/4″ Roughing end mills and are working on testing and checking the new design. For a little info, we wanted to make an end mill specifically designed for cutting guitar blanks. Cutting guitar blanks comes with a couple of unique challenges. The first is that guitar blanks are typically around 1.75″ thick. Most 1/4″ bits are usually designed to cut around 1″ to 1.25″ thick material, which means that most standard bits have trouble cutting through 1.75″ material from a single direction. The solution to this is to make a longer end mill, but longer end mills present a new challenge, which is that the longer the bit is, the more deflection is in the tool.
To get around this, we’ve made some specific design choices. First is to make the end mill stronger, we’ve gone with a 3 flute design, which means that there is more material in the flute area to give strength to the bit. The second is to add a serrated “chip breaker” edge to the flutes, which helps shear chips apart and prevent them from clogging up in the cut.
Overall we believe that this will be a great tool for guitar builders in general. And we also think that this will be a great addition to CNCers working with thicker materials.
We are currently doing testing and expect to have this available for sale in the next week or two so keep your eyes peeled!
Wanna see our video where we make a guitar body? Check out the video below!
We are continuing to work on the AltMill. This project was put on pause since we had a lot of work we needed to get done in building our production and processes for the LongMill, as well as due to lack of space in our current workplace. Now that the LongMill has become more mature as a product and we are moving into a larger space, we feel its a great time to revisit the AltMill project. You can read about the initial launch here: https://sienci.com/2021/09/10/going-bigger-announcing-the-development-of-the-altmill-and-extended-versions-of-the-longmill/. We have just placed an order for the main linear motion parts and expect to have the rail manufacturing starting in the next week or two. Our plan is to build around 50 machines as a small test batch and build a larger batch based on interest.
For the uninitiated, the AltMill is our foray into larger format CNC machines using linear guides and ball screws. We are starting to work on forming the basis for upper-range CNC machines, while still keeping our core values of value and ease of use for hobbyist and small-scale production. These first units will have a 4×4 foot working area and offer an upgrade to the current LongMill. Prices are expected to be around $3000 to $4500 depending on the configuration.
We don’t have exact timelines yet, but I expect to see our first prototype units being built in the start of 2024.
SuperLongBoard development continues to move forward. Chris will be putting out an update soon specifically for the SLB, so make sure to watch out for that. Progress feels like two steps forward, one step back sort of situation. Because the board is a lot more complicated than before, we’ve found that changing different parts of the board which depend on each other can cause things to change in other areas.
Additionally, the hope was that the second version of the controller would be our final version of the hardware, with features only needing to be implemented by updating the firmware. However, we’ve found a couple of mistakes and certain changes and improvements we can make to improve the board.
This past October, Leandro (our marketing manager) and I went to Brazil. Just for a bit of background, we were invited by one of the Canadian trade commissioners to do a trade mission in Rio Grande Do Sul, a southern province known for manufacturing. The goal of the trip was to establish relations between Canadian and Brazilian advanced manufacturing. We went to represent our company and the Canadian government and make connections with different organizations and companies in the region.
It was an amazing experience. One of the things that we got to do was visit and tour several large factories, including Randon, Tramontina, and Marcopolo, which are multibillion-dollar companies that employ tens of thousands of employees. There were a couple of takeaways that all the companies shared.
An emphasis on doing as much in-house as possible, with different departments that focus on making tooling, molds, robotics, and more for production, rather than outsourcing to other companies. Additionally, they have their own financial institutions, educational facilities, medical centers, and hospitals on the grounds where employees can get further support from their companies. I feel that this makes sense because of the scale of each company, and it is more efficient and effective to specialize their needs to the environment and employees that they have.
High volume production of commodity or commonly used items. Because all of these companies make products on such a large scale, they need to focus on making products that people use a lot of. For example, the Tramontina factory produces 20,000 pans and pots per day. Because they make so many and have the resources to optimize their manufacturing, they can make the pans cheaper than basically any company just starting out. This protects them against competition since other companies won’t be able to produce at the scale and efficiency they can.
The process for production and the departments are the same regardless of how big you get. In our company, we have people who work specifically in packing, engineering, QA, and customer service, to name a few. We need these different areas because it encompasses all of the different tasks that a company needs to do. In a larger corporation, it’s still the same, just at a larger scale. I think that once the company gets larger, the growth of certain departments, such as management and engineering, doesn’t grow linear compared to production and labor, because the products that are being made are the same, and you only need to scale certain areas to produce more.
I believe that there are many ways to take some of the things we saw and learned from this experience that we can apply to our own company as we continue to develop.
And also, the bbq in Brazil is incredible. Will return again soon!