All posts by Josh Pieper

Solid model of wcubed Pocket NC vise

Some time ago I wrote about using the wcubed vise for the Pocket NC. While I don’t end up using it very often any more, mostly because I rarely work with rectangular stock, it can be useful from time to time. Unfortunately, it is no longer manufactured. In case anyone is interested in replicating it, I’ve taken at least a minimal stab at modeling it up based on measurements of my unit along with necessary hardware as picked from McMaster. I suspect the model should be good enough to get something that works.

Note, that there are a number of quirks and annoyances that you’d probably want to fix if you did make more of these:

  • The main drive screw is an imperial #8-32. Ideally you would use a metric one, as everything else on the PNC is.
  • The nut that you use to tension is annoyingly small and easy to strip.
  • There is no reason to have holes for only 2 alignment pins, it might as well have 4 at least.

The bigger problem is that as the jaws are aluminum, you can’t actually apply a lot of clamping pressure before stripping out the threads. But, as long as you keep that in mind, it is serviceable.

With those caveats out of the way, here’s the link!

https://a360.co/3u6E8IM

customizable PWM rate for moteus

Being a switch mode 3 phase motor driver, the moteus controller changes the current flowing through the phases of a motor by rapidly switching the phase terminals between the positive input voltage and the input ground. The control of this switching is denoted “pulse width modulation”, or PWM for short. To date, the rate at which it has switched has been fixed in firmware at 40kHz. As of release 2022-03-12, this can now be altered anywhere between 15kHz and 60kHz to better optimize peak power capability, control bandwidth, maximum speed, and heat generation.

Read on for more details:

Peak power

Switch mode motor controllers typically have large banks of capacitors across the input immediately next to the active switching elements. This bulk capacitance has the primary goal of minimizing voltage ripple during switching events. When a switch is engaged to apply more current into the motor, that energy is pulled from the capacitors, and when a switch is engaged that pulls energy back out, that energy is stored back into the capacitors. Only more slowly is the energy pulled to and from the primary input terminal. The magnitude of the ripple is determined by the effective capacitance, the power applied to the motor, and the switching frequency. More capacitance decreases the ripple, more power increases it, and higher frequencies decrease it, all in roughly linear relationships.

For moteus r4.5 and r4.8 (and likely subsequent revisions of this design), this voltage ripple is what controls the peak power that moteus can drive. moteus is designed to have a very small form factor, and thus uses only MLCC capacitors for its bulk DC decoupling. This results in it having an abnormally small bulk capacitance compared to otherwise similar controllers (doubly so because of MLCC capacitor derating).

The rated 500W of peak power for moteus (limited to 450W by default in config), can be achieved with the default 40kHz switching rate. By increasing the switching rate, the peak power can be increased to 750W, and if the switching rate is decreased to the minimum of 15kHz, then the rated peak power is around 190W.

Heat dissipation

Switch mode controllers generate heat while operating as a result of many factors. The two biggest ones for moteus can be broken down into “dynamic” and “static” components of the gate drive and switch MOSFETs.

The easiest to understand is the “static” component of the switching losses. When the power MOSFETs are fully turned on, the power dissipated in them is determined by their on resistance and the amount of current, using the formula P=I^2*R. The on resistance for MOSFETs generally increases with temperature, so the worst case will be at the maximum rated temperature of the device.

The dynamic component encompasses a few different pieces. One, is that while the MOSFETs are in the process of turning on and off, their resistance is much higher than when fully on. Another is that during the “dead-time” window between when the high side and low side of the H-Bridge is enabled and neither is actively driven, the current is conducted through the body diode of one of the MOSFETs, which has what can be modeled as a fixed voltage drop. The third big component of this is the energy required to charge and discharge the gate capacitors of the primary switching MOSFETs. The energy used in the dynamic region for a given power output stays roughly constant for each switching event. Thus switching faster results in more energy used per unit time scaling in a roughly linear manner.

Further, the dynamic component significantly depends upon the input voltage. Higher input voltages mean that the MOSFETs take longer to switch for a given gate drive current, that the power dissipated is larger during the switching events, and that more energy is required to charge and discharge the gate capacitors.

Thus as the switching frequency increases, the power used consumed during the switching events goes up, while the total time spent in the static region goes down. That means the efficiency goes down as the switching frequency goes up.

Control bandwidth and motor speed

For PWM rates of 40kHz or less, moteus implements its entire control loop at the PWM update rate. When this control rate is decreased, the bandwidth available for control of torque, and subsequently position decreases.

Also, the maximum electrical RPM that the controller can achieve is also directly related ot the control rate. However, few applications reach the 1.5kHz electrical frequency possible at 15kHz, so this is not often a concern.

Due to the implementation details, selecting PWM rates above 40kHz results in the control cycle running every other switching event. That means that the maximum control bandwidth and electrical speed is achieved for a pwm rate of exactly 40kHz. Higher or lower and those bandwidths and speeds are decreased.

Thermal experiments

To show the effects of changing the PWM rate on thermal performance, I made up a simple experiment with a moteus r4.8 and an mj5208 attached to a devkit bracket but disconnected from the moteus so that they would be thermally decoupled.

The fixed voltage mode was used to slowly spin the motor while progressively larger amounts of current were applied to the motor. This approximates operating with full torque at a standstill, where the motor performs almost no mechanical work. For each current, I waited for the temperature in the motor windings and the controller to stabilize.

Using this data, I was able to roughly estimate a few parameters at these different operating points. First, in ambient air with no heat sinking or forced cooling the mj5208’s thermal conductivity is around 4 C/W. moteus’s thermal conductivity in the same environment is around 40 C/W. The thermal efficiency and effective idle thermal generation of the controller at various operating points can be seen below along with the available peak power:

PWM FrequencyPeak Power24V36V
15kHz190W94% / 0.20W92% / 0.25W
40kHz500W88% / 0.25W85% / 0.30W
50kHz625W84% / 0.30W84% / 0.35W
Thermal efficiency for moteus r4.8 driving a nearly-stationary motor

These efficiency tables can be used to roughly determine the thermal design for moteus in a setting with air cooling, no heat sink, and any motor heating dealt with independently. If you are running the default 40kHz PWM rate at 24V and are applying 5W of power to your motor, that means the total power consumed will be 5W/0.88% +0.25W=5.93W. The 0.93W of waste power dissipated in moteus will result in its temperature being approximately 0.93W* 40C/W=37C higher than ambient.

That value can be improved either by lowering the PWM frequency or input voltage to improve efficiency, or by using heatsinking and/or forced air or liquid cooling to decrease the effective thermal conductivity of the controller.

How to configure moteus

Once you know the PWM frequency you want to use, selecting it is as simple as setting the servo.pwm_rate_hz configuration value to something between 15000 and 60000.

It is important to note that the maximum power configurable value, servo.max_power_W is now defined as the power when configured at 40kHz. Internally it is scaled accordingly if the PWM rate is changed. This means you can change the PWM rate without worrying about accidentally having too large of a power limit configured.

external primary encoders for moteus

With the r4.8 release of moteus, a not-yet-announced feature was included — the ability to have an off-board primary encoder! It didn’t get announced at the time, because the connectors necessary to populate the board were not obtainable. In fact, that is still the case, but I’ve located a substitute part which works well enough, so here we go!

Theory

The moteus controller uses an absolute magnetic encoder to determine the relationship between the rotor and stator of the motor at each given instant. That allows it to produce torque in the motor at any speed, from standstill to the maximum possible speed. Until now, the only magnetic encoder that was supported is the one mounted to the backside of the board. This is largely acceptable, as moteus is intended to be used in integrated applications.

However, some users like the moteus form factor and capabilities, but don’t have room to put the entire board right next to the sense magnet. Now the pads on the back can be used for just that:

These pads contain SPI signals that can be optionally configured to enable an external primary encoder. As of now, the only encoder IC supported is the same one that is mounted on the board, the AS5047P (or anything with an identical SPI protocol).

Usage

To use this mode, you need to connect the external AS5047P IC to the pads on the back of moteus. You can do that with either connectors, or by soldering bare wires to the pads. The following connector set is in stock at Digi-Key as of 2022-03-07 and is compatible:

Additionally, Digi-Key stocks a breakout board for the AS5047P, with which slight modification can be used:

To use this, you need to position the jumper to connect the 3.3V supply as the primary source. In my example here, I pulled out the pins and soldered a bridge across it so it could fit flush against a motor.

AS5047P breakout configured for 3.3V

Finally, you need to enable the external encoder in configuration:

  • encoder.mode – Set to 1 for an external AS5047 SPI compatible encoder

At this point, the motor can be calibrated as usual.

Limitations

As moteus uses a high bit-rate for SPI (12Mhz), the allowable connection length is short, <20cm is recommended. The wires will be somewhat sensitive to interference, so the allowable length may be even shorter for environments with large amounts of EMI.

While encoders other than the AS5047 may be supported in the future, the possibilities are somewhat limited due to the way moteus samples the encoder currently.

Video

Here’s a video showing all this put together:

New machine day: A manual lathe

With the Artisan’s Asylum closed for a relocation, I’ve been without access to a manual lathe for a while. Fortunately, import mini-lathes aren’t that hard to come by!

What’s inside?
Well, look at that!

This is a Sieg C4 derivative from Little Machine Shop, which was about the largest machine I could reasonably move into my basement.

All set up

It isn’t as rigid as the Colchester at AA was, but it does have power feed and power cross feed which both work just fine. I’ve run into a few minor quality issues, and the spindle runout isn’t great, but it should do for my needs.

Here’s a draft of the first “useful” part made on it — a Dremel mandrel to hold wheels with a 1/4″ center.

Draft Dremel 1/4″ mandrel

I know, probably not the safest thing to make, but I’ll be careful, honest!

Fixed voltage mode for moteus

The most recent moteus firmware release, 2021-12-03, added not one, but two new control modes for less common applications. Previously, mentioned was the “voltage_control_mode” for using gimbal style high resistance motors without changing the sense resistors. In this post, I’ll describe a similarly named, but very different mode “fixed voltage mode” for operating brushless motors as if they were a stepper motor.

For some applications, you don’t care about torque control, or about power consumption at all. Traditionally you would use a stepper motor in those applications, with a correspondingly less expensive stepper motor driver. However, in some cases you may still want to have high rate trajectory control, CAN based telemetry, or have already standardized on moteus controllers for other moving parts of your solution. There are two new options that can be used in such situations:

  • servo.fixed_voltage_mode: When this is non-zero, the primary encoder is not used for control at all. Instead, positioning is performed entirely in the electrical phase space, with a fixed voltage applied always to the phase windings.
  • servo.fixed_voltage_control_V: The fixed voltage to apply to the phase windings.

When this new mode is active, the controller will continually burn power in the windings of the motor and uses no feedback from the motor at all. As mentioned above, this makes it operate like a micro-stepping stepper motor, or an inexpensive gimbal motor controller. If the externally applied torque is greater than that produced by the fixed voltage, the motor will “skip” and lose track of its position.

pi3hat firmware and python release 2021-11-29

There’s an updated release out for the mjbots pi3hat which features a useful bug fix and a minor feature.

First, the configuration of automatic retransmission was broken in several ways. The symptoms for previous versions would be that any attempt to change the CAN configuration for a bus would result in all channels attached to that controller having auto-retransmit turned off. Since it was by default on, that would typically result in a decrease in transmission reliability, and in some particular cases with arbitration conflicts, could result in frequent packet loss. Fixing this requires updating both the firmware on the device and the C++ and python libraries. Fortunately, this would only come up if you were communicating with non-moteus devices using the pi3hat, which likely isn’t that common.

Upgrading the firmware of existing pi3hats is not trivial, since it requires use of the external stm32 programmer and an openocd version that is not yet packaged in any major Linux distribution.

Second, the python packages have been updated to support the newly released Raspberry Pi OS “bullseye” 11.0 out of the box.

Voltage mode control for gimbal motors

The moteus brushless controller can drive many motors out of the box, but until now it has been challenging to use with gimbal style brushless motors. They are wound with thin wire so that they have a very high winding resistance, and thus can be driven by inexpensive low current controllers. Using something like moteus with a gimbal motor isn’t absolutely necessary, but does give benefits in terms of high performance trajectory tracking and torque control.

The problem

The primary challenge when using moteus with high winding resistance motors is the mechanism moteus uses to sense current through the motor phases. It has a set of 3 current sense shunts, basically resistors, that have a small voltage induced across them proportional to the amount of current flowing. When commanding a specific current, moteus continually adjusts the voltage on each of the phase windings until the desired current is achieved. These resistors are sized so that moteus has reasonable resolution up to its 100A maximum current rating. When used with a motor that has a maximum current of 1A though, almost all of this resolution is wasted.

In the past I have replaced the sense resistors on moteus boards in order to drive gimbal motors. That is the optimal solution, as it allows moteus to continue to sense the current through the windings and provide accurate torque control. But not everyone is set up to perform surface mount soldering, and accurate torque control at all speeds and temperatures is not required in many applications.

Voltage mode control

As of release 2021-12-03, moteus now has a new configurable option, called “voltage_mode_control”. In this mode, torque commands no longer use the current sense resistors for feedback. Instead, they use the calibrated phase resistance of the motor to derive what voltage would be necessary to achieve a given torque.

The downsides of this approach are that there are many factors that will make the mechanical output torque not match what was intended. For instance, the back EMF if the motor is moving at non-zero velocity, changes in the winding resistance due to temperature, or inductive coupling between the quadrature frames at non-zero velocity. All of these factors will reduce the accuracy of the torque command, so that the mechanical torque output will not match what was commanded. However, for many applications, the motor is not spinning quickly and precise torque control is not required.

Since this control mode takes effect only at the end of the normal moteus control loop, it means that all of the “position” mode control works as before. Thus the constant velocity mode, stop position, and the “within” mode can all be used without regard to whether the controlled motor is running in the normal “current mode control” mode, or in the new “voltage mode control”.

Results

With the new moteus_tool calibration mechanism, this means that gimbal motors can be used in a basic fashion out of the box with moteus by tweaking only a single configurable value: servo.voltage_control_mode. Here’s a video showing how that works with a real motor.

AS5600 support for moteus auxiliary encoders

The initial implementation of auxiliary encoders for moteus supported exactly one encoder, the AS5048B. The hardware can support any I2C based encoder, so supporting additional encoders has always been on the TODO list.

I’m excited to announce, that as of firmware release 2021-12-03, AS5600 encoders are now supported as well. They are a lot cheaper than the AS5048 as they have a much lower update rate and resolution, but that isn’t necessarily a problem if it is only used to disambiguate a modest gear reduction.

I tested this using an AS5600 evaluation board available from digikey:

Improved moteus_tool calibration

To use the moteus brushless controller with a motor, you first have to calibrate it with moteus_tool (for history, see “Encoder autocalibration” and “Auto-tuning current control loops“). This calibration process is primarily used to measure the mapping between electrical phases and the encoder, but as a secondary parameters also measures the winding resistance and Kv of the motor and determines the parameters necessary to set the current control bandwidth.

Motivation

To date, this process can be used with any motor, but making it work can involve fiddling with a number of inscrutably named command line parameters to moteus_tool. --cal-power, --cal-voltage, and --cal-speed are all there, however they don’t really do what you think based on their name, but it is necessary to adjust them to make many motors work.

I went to address this and make the calibration process more robust across a range of motor types, from small high speed motors, to large low Kv ones, high winding resistance, and low winding resistance. All of these can now be handled with mostly no additional options required.

The new process

In the new world, with no additional options, moteus_tool gradually eases up the voltage applied when measuring resistance and when measuring speed, so that it can be safely used with many motors with no additional tweaks. The power expended in the windings is limited to roughly 5W, which is about the only remaining necessary configurable parameter. You’d only need to change that for a very small motor for which 5W would unnecessarily heat it up.

The existing parameters all get new names which more precisely describe what they do. You rarely need to specify any of them anymore, but you can if for some reason you don’t want to trust the auto-detection mechanism.

NewOldWhat it does?
--cal-ll-encoder-voltage--cal-powerThe voltage used when spinning the motor open loop for encoder calibration.
--cal-ll-encoder-speed--cal-speedSpeed in electrical revolutions per second when spinning the motor open loop for encoder calibration.
--cal-ll-resistance-voltage--cal-voltageThe voltage used when measuring the winding resistance.
--cal-ll-kv-voltage--cal-kv-voltageThe voltage used when measuring the Kv parameter.
--cal-motor-powerThis new parameter controls how much power is dissipated in the windings when performing the encoder and inductance calibration with a default of 5W.
--cal-motor-speedThis new parameter controls how fast the motor is spun when measuring Kv with a default of 6Hz.

The old parameter names will continue to work for now and just emit a deprecation warning. Even so, the new parameters should now only very rarely be needed, as every motor I have tested works fine without specifying anything at all.

How to get it?

Just update your moteus python package to at least 0.3.30 and you’ll get all the new features in moteus_tool!

pip3 install --upgrade moteus