This Old Mouse Keeps Track of Filament Usage

Keeping track of your 3D-printer filament use can be both eye-opening and depressing. Knowing exactly how much material goes into a project can help you make build-versus-buy decisions, but it can also prove gut-wrenching when you see how much you just spent on that failed print. Stock filament counters aren’t always very accurate, but you can roll your own filament counter from an old mouse.

[Bin Sun]’s build is based around an old ball-type PS/2 mouse, the kind with the nice optical encoders. Mice of this vintage are getting harder to come by these days, but chances are you’ve got one lying around in a junk bin or can scrounge one up from a thrift store. Stripped down to its guts and held in place by a 3D-printed bracket, the roller that used to sense ball rotation bears on the filament on its way to the extruder. An Arduino keeps track of the pulses and totalizes the amount of filament used; the counter handily subtracts from the totals when the filament is retracted.

Simple, useful, and cheap — the very definition of a hack. And even if you don’t have a 3D-printer to keep track of, harvesting encoders from old mice is a nice trick to file away for a rainy day. Or you might prefer to just build your own encoders for your next project.

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Sintering Sand WIth A Laser Cutter

We are all used to Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM, 3D printers. A nozzle squirts molten material under the control of a computer to make 3D objects. And even if they’re usually rather expensive we’re used to seeing printers that use Stereolithography (SLA), in which a light-catalysed liquid monomer is exposed layer-by layer to allow a 3D object to be drawn out. The real objects of desire though are unlikely to grace the average hackspace. Selective Laser Sintering 3D printers use a laser on a bed of powder to solidify a 3D object layer by layer.

The laser creating a ring.
The laser creating a ring.

While an SLS printer may be a little beyond most budgets, it turns out that it’s not impossible to experiment with the technology. [William Osman] has an 80 W laser cutter, and he’s been experimenting with it sintering beach sand to create 2D objects. His write-up gives a basic introduction to glassmaking and shows the difference between using sand alone, and using sodium carbonate to reduce the melting point. He produces a few brittle barely sintered tests without it, then an array of shapes including a Flying Spaghetti Monster with it.

The results are more decorative than useful at the moment, however it is entirely possible that the technique could be refined. After all, this is beach sand rather than a carefully selected material, and it is quite possible that a finer and more uniform sand could give better results. He says that he’ll be investigating its use for 3D work in the future.

We’ve put his video of the whole process below the break, complete with worrying faults in home-made laser wiring. It’s worth a watch.

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Don’t Leave 3D Printers Unattended – They Can Catch Fire

The holidays are almost here, and with that comes the traditional Mass Consumption of Consumer Goods and Gift Exchange. 3D printers are getting really good and really cheap, and it’s inevitable that a lot of 3D printers will be given as gifts this year. Be careful if you’re giving or receiving one of these printers: they can cause fires as [Ben Hencke] found out when diagnosing a problem with a printer he bought this year.

The printer in question is the Monoprice Maker Select V2, a Prusa i3 clone with impressive specs for a $300 printer. This printer is a rebranded Wanhao Duplicator i3, and we’ve reviewed it favorably. It’s a capable printer that beats the pants off of any Kickstarter printer in quality (and for the fact that you can buy it right now). We’re pretty sure there are going to be more than a few of these printers under the Saturnalia tree this year.

After a few weeks, [Ben] noticed a bit of smoke coming from the printer while the bed was preheating. This wasn’t blue pixie smoke, like you’d find from an exploded capacitor. There was a lot of smoke.

After a closer inspection and help from [Elecia White] from embedded.fm, the problem was traced to the power connector for the heated bed. The green, bromine-infused plastic for this connector was charred and there’s little doubt this could have caused a fire.

3D printing is a fantastic tool, and has enabled more hacks and builds over the last few years than we could have ever imagined. 3D printers are getting very good, and very cheap, and of course this will eventually mean someone losing their workshop to a printer fire. Until someone figures out how to build a ‘thermal fuse’ or something of that nature, 3D printers — from the high-end ones to the still very good Monoprice and Wanhao units — have the potential to start a fire.

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Dawn of the Tripteron 3D Printer

Cartesian 3D printers were the original. Then delta printers came along, and they were pretty cool too. Now, you can add tripteron printers to the mix.  The tripteron is an odd mix of cartesian and delta. The system was invented at the robotics laboratory at Université Laval in Quebec, Canada. The team who created it say that it is “isotropic and fully decoupled, i.e. each of the actuators is controlling one Cartesian degree of freedom, independently from the others.” This means that driving the bot will be almost as simple as driving a standard X/Y/Z Cartesian printer. The corollary to that are of course delta robots, which follow a whole different set of kinematic rules.

trioptera-renderA few people have experimented with tripteron printers over the years, but as far as we can see, no one has ever demonstrated a working model. Enter [Apsu], who showed up about a month ago. He started a post on the RepRap forums discussing his particular design. [Apsu] works fast, as he has now demonstrated a working prototype making prints. Sure they’re just calibration cubes, but this is a huge step forward.

[Apsu] admits that he still has a way to go in his research – especially improving the arm and joint implementation. However, he’s quite pleased that his creation has gone from a collection of parts to a new type 3D printer.  We are too — and we can’t wait to see the next iteration!

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Drop-in Laser Cutter Alignment Beam Works like a Charm

Every laser cutter enthusiast eventually pops the question: how on earth do I align an invisible beam that’s more-than-happy to zap my eyeballs, not to mention torch everything else in its path? We hate to admit it, but laser cutter beam alignment is no easy task. To greatly assist in this endeavor, though, some folks tend to mix a red diode laser into the path of the beam. Others temporarily fixture that diode laser directly in the beam path and then remove it once aligned.

One deviant has taken diode laser mixing to the next level! [Travis Reese] has added a servo-driven diode laser that dynamically drops into the path of the laser tube when the lid pops up, and then tilts comfortably out of the laser path when the lid closes again.
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Parametric 3D Printable Wheels And Treads

When it comes to robotic platforms, there is one constant problem: wheels. Wheels have infinite variety for every purpose imaginable, but if you buy a wheeled robotic chassis you have exactly one choice. Even if you go down to the local Horror Freight, there’s only about five or six different wheels available, all of which will quickly disintegrate.

To solve this problem, [Audrey] created OpenWheel, a system of parametric, 3D-printable wheels, tweels, tires, and tracks for robotics and more.

Like all good parametric 3D-printable designs, OpenWheel is written in OpenSCAD. These aren’t 3D designs; they’re code that compiles into printable objects, with variables to set the radius, thickness, diameter of the axle, bolt pattern, and everything else that goes into the shape of a wheel.

Included in this toolset are a mess of wheels and gears that can be assembled into a drivetrain. 3D-printable track that can be printed out of a flexible filament for something has been almost unobtanium until now: completely configurable 3D-printable tank treads. All we need now is a 3D-printable tank transmission, and we’ll finally have a complete hobby robotics chassis.

3D Printed R/C Lifeboat

Radio control boats usually bring up thoughts of racing catamarans, or scale sailing yachts. This build takes things in a slightly different direction. A radio controlled lifeboat with a built-in First Person View (FPV) transmitter. [Peter Sripol] used to be one of the awesome folks over at Flite Test. Now he’s gone solo, and has been cranking out some great builds on his YouTube channel. His latest build is a lifeboat loosely based on the totally enclosed lifeboats used on oil tankers and other seafaring vessels.

[Peter] designed the boat in 3D modeling software and printed it on his Lulzbot Taz 6. The files are available on Thingiverse if you want to print your own. The lower hull was printed in two pieces then epoxied together. Peter’s musical build montage goes by fast, proving that he’s just as good editing video as he is scratch-building R/C craft. Along the way he shows us everything from wiring up speed controls to cutting and soldering up a rudder. The final touch on this boat is a micro FPV camera and radio transmitter. As long as the boat is in range, it can be piloted through video goggles.

[Peter’s] boat is destined to be tested on an upcoming trip to Hawaii, so keep an eye on his channel to see how it fares in the monster waves!