Keep Your Nozzle Hot and Your Prints Cool

Despite tuning my extruder steps perfectly, and getting good results instantly on larger prints. I was still having a ton of trouble with smaller parts. PLA is the favored printing material for its low odor, low warping, and decent material properties. It also has many downside, but it’s biggest, for the end user, lies in its large glass transition temperature range. Like all thermoplastics, it shrinks when it cools, but because of this large range, it stays expanded and, getting deep into my reserve of technical terms, bendy for a long time. If you don’t cool it, the plastic will pile up in its expanded state and deform.

The old cooling fan on my trusty and thoroughly battered Prusa i2.
The old cooling fan on my trusty and thoroughly battered Prusa i2.

I am working on a project that needs a tiny part, pictured above. The part on the left is what I was getting with my current cooling set-up and temperature settings. It had very little semblance with the CAD file that brought it into this world.

The bond between layers in a 3d print occurs when the plastic has freshly left the nozzle at its melting point. Almost immediately after that, the plastic crosses from the liquid state into a glass state, and like pressing two pieces of glass together, no further bonding occurs. This means that in order to get a strong bond between the print layers, the plastic has to have enough thermal mass to melt the plastic below it. Allowing the polymer chains to get cozy and hold hands. Nozzle geometry can help some, by providing a heat source to press and melt the two layer together, but for the most part, the fusing is done by the liquid plastic. This is why large diameter nozzles produce stronger parts.

What I’m getting at is that I like to run my nozzle temperature a little hotter than is exactly needed or even sensible. This tends to produce a better bond and sometimes helps prevent jamming (with a good extruder design). It also reduces accuracy and adds gloopiness. So, my first attempt to fix the problem was to perhaps consider the possibility that I was not 100% right in running my nozzle so hot, and I dropped the temperature as low as I could push it. This produced a more dimensionally accurate part, but a extraordinarily weak one. I experimented with a range of temperatures, but found that all but the lowest produced goopy parts.

After confirming that I could not get a significant return on quality by fine tuning my temperature, I reduced the speed of the nozzle by a large percentage. By reducing the speed I was able to produce the middle of the three printed parts shown in the opening image. Moving the nozzle very slowly gave the ambient air and my old cooling fan plenty of time to cool the part. However, what was previously a five minute part now took twenty minutes to print. A larger part would be a nightmare.

I had a little cage fan my friend had given me, and a huge one from a Mac G5 powersupply lying around. This will do.
This will do.

So, if I can’t adjust the temperature to get what I want, and I can adjust the speed; this tells me I just need to cool the part better. The glass state of the plastic is useless to me for two reasons. One, as stated before, no bonding occurs. Two, while the plastic remains expanded and bendy, the new layer being put down is being put down in the wrong place. When the plastic shrinks to its final dimension is when I want to place the next layer. Time to solve this the traditional way: overkill.

A while back my friend gifted me a little squirrel cage fan he had used with success on his 3d printer. Inspired by this, I had also scrounged a 12v, 1.7A fan from a broken Power Mac G5 power supply. When it spins up I have to be careful that it doesn’t throw itself off the table.

I should have added a rib to this bracket, this fan is heavy!
I should have added a rib to this bracket, this fan is heavy!

I printed out mounts for the fans. The big one got attached to the Z axis, and the little one rides behind the extruder. I fired up the gcode from before and started to print, only to find that my nozzle stopped extruding mid way. What? I soon discovered I had so much cooling that my nozzle was dropping below the 160C cold extrusion cut-off point and the firmware was stopping it from damaging itself. My heated bed also could no longer maintain a temperature higher than 59C. At this point I felt I was onto something.

I wrapped my extruder in fiberglass insulation and kapton tape, confidently turned the nozzle temperature up, set the speed to full, and clicked print. With the addition of the overkill cooling I was able to get the part shown to the right in my three example prints. This was full speed and achieved full bond. Not bad! Thus concludes this chapter in my adventures with cooling. I was really impressed by the results. Next I want to try cooling ABS as it prints. Some have reported horrible results, others pretty good ones, I’m interested. I also wonder about cooling the plastic with a liquid at a temperature just below the glass state as it is deposited. Thoughts?

3D Printer Tool: Set Your Extruder Steps With Ease

My printer has other issues that i'm still tuning out, but the warping in PLA and excessive surface roughness has all the signs of over extrusion.
My printer has other issues that I’m still tuning out, but the warping in PLA and excessive surface roughness has all the signs of over extrusion.

I have an old Prusa i2 that, like an old car, has been getting some major part replacements lately after many many hours of service. Recently both the extruder and the extruder motor died. The extruder died of brass fill filament sintering to the inside of the nozzle (always flush your extruder of exotic filaments). The motor died at the wires of constant flexing. Regardless, I replaced the motors and found myself with an issue; the new motor and hotend (junk motor from the junk bin, and an E3D v6, which is fantastic) worked way better and was pushing out too much filament.

The hotend, driver gear, extruder mechanics, back pressure, motor, and plastic type all work together to set how much plastic you can push through the nozzle at once. Even the speed at which the plastic is going through the nozzle can change how much friction that plastic experiences. Most of these effects are somewhat negligible. The printer does, however, have a sort of baseline steps per mm of plastic you can set.

The goal is to have a steps per mm that is exactly matched to how much plastic the printer pushes out. If you say 10mm, 10mm of filament should be eaten by the extruder. This setting is the “steps per mm” in the firmware configuration. This number should be close to perfect. Once it is, you can tune it by setting the “extrusion multiplier” setting in most slicers when you switch materials, or have environmental differences to compensate for.

This little guy lets you tune the steps per mm exactly.
This little guy lets you tune the steps per mm exactly.

The problem comes in measuring the filament that is extruded. Filament comes off a spool and is pulled through an imprecisely held nozzle in an imprecisely made extruder assembly. On top of all that, the filament twists and curves. This makes it difficult to hold against a ruler or caliper and get a trustworthy measurement.

I have come up with a little measuring device you can make with some brass tubing, sandpaper, a saw (or pipe cutter), a pencil torch, solder, and some calipers. To start with, find two pieces of tubing. The first’s ID must fit closely with the filament size you use. The second tube must allow the inside tubing to slide inside of it closely. A close fit is essential.

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Robot Solves Rubik’s Cube in just One Second

Some of the fastest Rubik’s cube solvers in the world have gotten down to a five second solve — which is quite an incredible feat for a human — but how about one second? Well, [Jay Flatland] and [Paul Rose] just built a robot that can do exactly that.

The robot uses four USB webcams, six stepper motors, and a 3D printed frame. The only modification to the Rubik’s cube are some holes drilled in the center pieces to allow the stepper motors to grip onto them with 3D printed attachments.

The software is running off a Linux machine which feeds the data into a Rubik’s cube algorithm for solving. In approximately one second — the cube is solved.

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Tie-Fighter Quadcopters Anyone Can Build

These are things of beauty, and when in flight, the Tie Fighter Quadcopters look even better because the spinning blades become nearly transparent. Most of the Star Wars-themed quadcopter hacks we’ve seen are complicated builds that we know you’re not even going to try. But [Cuddle Burrito’s] creations are for every hacker in so many different ways.

tie-fighter-drone-partsFirst off, he’s starting with very small commodity quadcopters that are cheap (and legal) for anyone to own and fly. Both are variations of the Hubsan X4; the H107C and the H107L. The stock arms of these quadcopters extend from the center of the chassis, but that needs to change for TFFF (Tie Fighter Form Factor). The solution is of course 3D Printing. The designs have been published for both models and should be rather simple to print.

ABS is used as the print medium, which makes assembly easy using a slurry of acetone and ABS to weld the seams together. Motor wires need to be extended and routed through the printed arms, but otherwise you don’t need anything else. Even the original screws are reused in this design. Check out test flights in the video after the break As for the more custom builds we mentioned, there’s the Drone-enium Falcon.

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3D Printing Metal from Rust

It seems backwards, but engineers from Northwestern University have made 3D printing metal easier (and eventually cheaper) by adding extra production steps to the procedure. (Paper available in PDF).

Laser sintering works by laying down a thin layer of metal powder and then hitting it with a strong enough laser to sinter the particles together. (Sintering sticks the grains together without getting the metal hot enough to melt it.) The rapid local heating and cooling required to build up 3D objects expands and cools the metal, and can result in stresses inside the resulting object.

The Northwestern team still lays down layers of powder, but glues the layers together with a quick-drying polymer instead of fusing them with a laser. Once the full model is printed, they then sinter it in one piece in an oven.

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3D-printed copper lattice. Credit: Ramille Shah and David Dunand

The advantages of adding this extra step are higher printing speed — squirting the liquid out of syringe heads can be faster than fusing metal particles with a laser — and increased structural integrity because the whole model is heated and cooled at one time. A fringe benefit is that the model is still a bit flexible before firing, opening up possibilities for printing a flat model and then bending it into shape before sintering.

And if that weren’t enough, the team figured that they’d add a third step to the procedure to allow it to be used with rust (iron oxide) as the starting powder. They print the rust and polymer model, then un-rust the iron using hydrogen, and then fire it as before. Why rust? Do you know anything cheaper to use as a raw material?

What do you think? The basic idea may even be DIYable — glue metal particles together and heat them up enough to stick. Not in my microwave oven, though. We’d love to see a more energy-efficient 3D metal printer.

Thanks to [Joe] for the tip!

Hacking Chipped 3D Printer Filament On The Da Vinci Printer

XYZ Printing has been selling 3D printers for years now with one very special feature not found in more mainstream printers. They’re using a chipped filament cartridge with a small chip inside each of their proprietary filament cartridges, meaning you can only use their filament. It’s the Gillette and ink jet model – sell the printer cheap, and make their money back on filament cartridges.

Last week at CES, XYZ Printing introduced their cheapest printer yet. It’s called the da Vinci Mini, a printer with a 15x15x15 cm build volume that costs only $269. Needless to say, a lot of these will be sold. A lot of people will also be disappointed with chipped filament cartridges in the coming months, so here’s how you defeat the latest version of chipped filament.

A little bit of research showed [WB6CQA] the latest versions of XYZ Printing’s filament uses an NFC chip. Just like the earlier EEPROM version, the latest spools of filament just store a value in memory without any encryption. [WB6CQA] pulled a board from the printer, connected it up to a logic analyzer, and checked out the data sheet for the NFC chip, giving him access to the data on the filament chip.

After running a few prints and comparing the data before and after, [WB6CQA] found a few values that changed. These values could be written back to their previous values, effectively resetting the chip in the filament and allowing third party filament to be used in this printer. It’s a kludge, but it works. More effort will be needed to remove the need to capture data with logic analyzers, but we’re well on our way to chipless filament on da Vinci printers.

3D Printed Tourbillon Clock

3D printed clocks have been done before, but never something like this. It’s a 3D printed clock with a tourbillon, a creative way to drive an escapement developed around the year 1800. Instead of a pendulum, this type of clock uses a rotating cage powered by a spring. It’s commonly found in some very expensive modern watches, but never before has something like this been 3D printed.

3D Printed Clock[Christoph Lamier] designed this tourbillon clock in Autodesk Fusion 360, with 50 printable parts, and a handful of pins, screws, and washers. The most delicate parts – the hairspring, anchor, escapement wheel, and a few gears were printed at 0.06 layer height. Everything else was printed at a much more normal resolution with 0.1mm layer height.

Because nearly the entire clock is 3D printed, this means the spring is 3D printed as well. This enormous 2 meter-long spiral of printed plastic could not have been printed without altering a few settings on the printer. The setting in question is Cura’s ‘combing’ or the ‘avoid crossing perimeters’ setting. If you don’t disable this setting, the print time increases by 30%, and moving the print head causes the plastic to ooze out over the spring.

There’s a 26-minute long video of the 3D printed tourbillon clock in action that is horrendously boring. It does demonstrate this clock works, though. You can check out the more interesting videos below.

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