This GCode Post-Processor Squeezes Lines Into Arcs

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This GCode Post-Processor Squeezes Lines Into Arcs

When the slicer software for a 3D printer model files into GCode, it’s essentially creating a sequential list of connected line segments, organized by layer. But when the features of the original model are dense, or when the model is representing small curves, slicers end up creating a proliferation of teeny segments to represent this information.

This is just the nature of the beast; lots of detail translates into lots of teeny segments. Unfortunately, some printers actually struggle to print these models at the desired speeds, not because of some mechanical limitation, but because the processor cannot recalculate the velocities of these segments fast enough. The result is that some printers simply stutter or slow down the print, resulting in print times that are much higher than they should be.

Enter Arc Welder, a GCode compression tool written by [FormerLurker] that scrutinizes GCode files, hunts for these tiny segments, and attempts to replace contiguous clusters of them with a smaller number of arcs. The result is that the number of GCode commands needed to represent the model drop dramatically as connected clusters of segment commands become single arc commands.

“Now wait”, you might say, “isn’t an arc an approximation of these line segments?” And yes–you’re right! But here lies the magic behind Arc Welder. The program is written such that arcs only replace segments if (1) an arc can completely intersect all the segment-to-segment intersections and (2) the error in distance between segment and arc representation is within a certain threshold. These constraints act such that the resulting post-processing is true to the original to a very high degree of detail.

A concise description of Arc Welder’s main algorithm as pulled from the docs

This whole program operates under the assumption that your 3D printer’s onboard motion controller accepts arc commands, specifically G2 and G3. A few years ago, this would’ve been uncommon since, technically, 3D printing and STL file only requires moving in straight line segments. But with more folks jumping on the bandwagon to use these motion control boards for other non-printing applications, we’re starting to see arc implementations on boards running Marlin, Smoothieware, and the Duet flavor of RepRap Firmware.

For the curious, this program is kindly both well documented on operating principles and open source. And if [FormerLurker] seems like a familiar name before–you’d be right–as they’re also the mind behind Octolapse, the 3D printing timelapse tool that’s a hobbyist crowd favorite. Finally, if you give Arc Welder a spin, why not show us what you get in the comments?

Thanks for the tip [ImpC]!