If you buy a 3D printer kit or a pre-assembled 3D printer, it will come with a control board. Once you get it running, you’ll likely never think about the control board again. But there are a few reasons you might want to upgrade the control board. The most obvious reason is to add new features that your original board doesn’t have, such as wireless connectivity. You may also want to take advantage of new advances, like better stepper motor drivers for smoother, quieter movement. If so, this new open source 3D printer control board based on the ESP32 may be worth checking out.
The Espressif ESP32 module was originally developed for IoT applications, which is why it has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities. But it has a fairly powerful dual-core processor as well, and a standard complement of I/O pins and connections that you’d find on other microcontrollers. That means it could work very well for use in a 3D printer control board — someone just has to write the code and design a PCB breakout board for it to work. Luckily, Simon Jouet has done exactly that, and has been able to get Marlin 2.0 firmware working on it.
The firmware running on a 3D printer’s control board is what gives it the ability to understand complex G-code and translate that into stepper motor movements, hot end temperatures, fan speeds, and so on. There are a few open-source firmware out there, but Marlin is one of the most popular. So far, the ESP32 control board seems to have most major Marlin 2.0 features working, though it’s still early in development. There also isn’t a commercially-available PCB available yet, which means you’d need to build your own. But, if you like experimenting with your 3D printer, it may be worth trying.