Updated: Mar 11
My First Laser Engraver
In 2018 I got an Eleksmaker laser engraver. I was very interested in using it to create photographic quality greyscale engravings on wood. I started using the Eleksmaker finding that the 8 bit nano was very limited and could not accomplish true greyscale due to processing limitations. I got some really good advice from the guys at Picengrave John and Jeff were true pioneers and Jeff especially helped me. They invented the use of diodes to create greyscale as we know it today. I got really frustrated and gave up for a while, then I saw the work of Nicky Norton the inventor of the Norton White Tile method and his work on tiles and got interested again.
My First Controller Dec 2019
The laser engraver market is completely barren of good 32bit controllers. This work proceeded even Ortur who developed the first commercial 32bit engraver 4-6 months after I was shipping Black-N-Blue nano. At the time I had >25years hardware design experience, so I took matters into my own hands. I decided to develop 32bit STM to 8 bit nano adapter such that we could plug directly into the place an 8 bit nano resides. At the time there were no other dedicated 32bit laser controllers on the market and the closest thing was Smoothie which is too slow for greyscale. I intended to sell maybe 20 or so in order to compensate for my design time.
This is a very tight design and takes a lot of time to build manually, but it resolved the issue. The 32bit nano taking advantage modular nano and stepstick is still better than for instance Ortur's STM offering, it is faster and much more precise as well as silent steppers. It uses a Black or Blue pill STM32, so it's called Black-N-Blue.
After showing some of my engravings on Facebook groups, I shipped Nicky a prototype of the Black-N-Blue nano. Nicky posted this image in Lightburn forum and to this day it's still the most beautiful engraving I've seen. Oz (Lightburn creator) indicates that intrinsically a 32bit 72-96MHz should be >10x faster than 8bit 16MHz. https://forum.lightburnsoftware.com/t/playing-with-a-32-bit-nano/13541
The Full Deal Dec 2020
The main issue with the 32bit nano in addition to how much time it took to build by hand was lack of control of other design aspects because it was the brains only. So I decided to make the Black-N-Blue 2. This is a fully dedicated controller resolving all the design issues with whatever the Black-N-Blue nano plugs into.
Ortur also used a STM32 and their first laser offering lagged my nano by about 4 months. I wanted this design to be able to plug into many, many other machines and gave all the features such as gCode control of Mist and Flood for relays, external pendants. This design fully adapts to many other machines such as Ortur, K40, etc... K40 added a new learning curve to proper control of firing the laser power supply is much more involved than simple isolation, it requires proper biasing and I see so many commercial controllers on the market that don't even get this correct on the K40. Below you can see the BnB2 plug and play with Ortur LM2 Pro. Speed, accuracy and modularity are still better than anything else on the market. LaserUpgrades claims the win again!
Adapt or Die
Staying on top requires persistence and keeping the winning edge requires constant improvement. Customers want more connectivity and SD card. Someone from Ortur actually pointed me in this direction. I developed Black-n-Blue 3 (codename Drogon) in late 2021 and announced it in early 2022. BnB3 additionally adds all the features of BnB2 such as modularity, adaptable to other machines, silent high accuracy steppers, high speed but adds ESP32 dual core 240MHz, wifi and SD card. Side benefit is field upgradable firmware.
Always evolving... recently features have been added to BnB3 which include powering down the diode, gCode controllable fan, lots of signal conditioning and protection, gCode clustering, and full software control of the TMC drivers. LaserUpgrades still winning!
We're not done yet. Black-N-Blue 3 is codenamed Drogon. For those of you that are Game of Thrones fans you'll know that Drogon was one of 3 dragons, there was also, Rhaegal and Viserion. They are formidable beasts, but let me share a little more about the dragons to carry the metaphor of laser controllers to dragons further. Rhaegal and Viserion were imprisoned beneath the pyramid during Daenery's rule. I have personally seen Rhaegal and Viserion and can guarantee you of their existence. They have not been released to the wild yet due to cost of raw goods and I'm still adding features. Little is known about dragon gender and how how eggs are produced and given how much time Rhaegal and Viserion were out of sight, Dragon lore suggests there could be more eggs in the catacombs beneath the pyramid.