View Full Version : EtherCat musings, and moving to Mach 4

02-04-2023, 10:56 PM
Since seeing a couple videos about Ethercat, and liking the idea of simplifying lots of wiring, I invested in a test setup.

It consists of three Lichuan closed loop stepper drivers and motors, and a second hand Beckhoff MPG module.

I opted to test on a RaspPi with LinuxCNC, but after hitting an issue with getting the drives to enable, I removed the mini-ITX board from my Triac, but that resulted in a couple different issues. I then bought an Odroid H3+, but the drive enabling issue remained, and also introduced various other issues.

After doing quite a bit of digging, it turned out the H3 required a newer version of Linux to avoid any compatibility issues with the hardware, but then that caused python issues due to changes in the graphics libraries that LinuxCNC uses.
But the key problem of the drives not enabling correctly remained, which turns out to be an issue with the Linux Ethercat stack. The developer was surprised to see the issue I found, but they don't have time to do anything about it, and I've got lots of other time constraints just now.

However the whole experiment with LinuxCNC made me realise, it's not really a finished product. It's a group of peoples' pet projects bundled into a single entity, with all the luggage that brings. Yes, it can do the job, but once you go beyond a basic machine, I'll just say it gets quite rough, with little support.

So I've been looking at other Ethercat options, and the other main one seems to be Mach 4.
You can buy a complete PC which does the Ethercat via software, but you have to buy the complete licensed PC bundle, not just install it on your own hardware. The EtherCAT plugin that they're using requires specific Intel networking hardware, but they won't just sell the software/license and let you supply suitable hardware, and I'm not a fan of having a PC I can't swap out quickly, as that's the most likely component to fail.

Which leaves the other option of a Vital Systems EC01. Bit expensive, but ticks various boxes that I like.
I'd only have to buy the EC01, as I already have a currently unused Mach4 license.

I'm still undecided on which approach to take, but funds are low just now, and I'm lacking time to progress projects much, so I'm in no rush, and just thought I'd have a ramble about what I've found so far.

My current thoughts are to re-retrofit my Triac with this setup (the stepper motors were spec'ed with this in mind), as it would remove a lot of wiring, and give it some better functionality.