Friday, January 6, 2017

Machine Control with MQTT

MQTT is an open standard for message passing in the IoT. If a device or program knows something interesting it can offer to publish that data through a named message. If things want to react to those messages they can subscribe to them and do interesting things. I took a look into the SmoothieBoard firmware trying to prize an MQTT client into it. Unfortunately I had to back away at that level for now. The main things that I would love to have as messages published by the smoothie itself are the head position, job processing metadata, etc.

So I fell back to polling for that info in a little nodejs server. That server publishes info to MQTT and also subscribes to messages, for example, to "move the spindle to X,Y" or the like. I thought it would be interesting to make a little web interface to all this. Initially I was tempted to throw over websockets myself, but then discovered that you can mqtt right over a ws to mosquitto. So a bootstrap web interface to the CNC was born.

As you can see I opted out of the pronterface style head control. For me, on a touch panel the move X by 1 and move X by 10 are just too close in that layout. So I select the dimension in a tab and then the direction with buttons. Far, far, less chance of an unintended move.

Things get interesting on the files page. Not only are the files listed but I can "head" a file and that becomes a stored message by mosquitto. As the files on the sdcard of the smoothieboard don't change (for me) the head only has to be performed once per file. It's handy because you can see the header comment that the CAM program added to the G-Code so you can work out what you were thinking at the time you made the gcode. Assuming you put the metadata in that is.

I know that GCode has provisions for layout out multiple coordinate spaces for a single job. So you can cut 8 of the same thing at a single time from one block of stock. I've been doing 2-4 up manually. So I added a "Saves" tab to be able to snapshot a location and restore to it again later. This way you can run a job, move home by 80mm in X and run the same job again to cut a second item. I have provision for a bunch of saves, but only 1 is shown in the web page in the below.

This is all backed by MQTT. So I can start jobs and move the spindle from the terminal, a phone, or through the web interface.

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