Automated Bed Leveling For 3D Printers Is Now Solved

The latest and greatest feature for 3D printers – besides being closed source, having no meaningful technical specs, and being on track towards pulling in $10 Million on a Kickstarter – is automated bed leveling. This amazingly useful feature makes sure your prints have proper adhesion to the bed, reduce print errors, and put even inexpensive printers into the realm of extremely expensive professional machines. Automated bed leveling has been extremely hard to implement in the past, but now [Scottbee] has it figured out with a working prototype on his Makerbot Replicator 2X.

Earlier attempts at automated bed leveling used some sort of probe on the tool head to measure the build plate, calculate its flatness and orientation in space, and compensate for any tilt in software. [Scottbee]‘s solution to the problem took a different tack: instead of trying to compensate for any odd orientation of the build surface in software, he’s simply making the bed level with a series of springs and cam locks.

[Scottbee]‘s device levitates the build plate on three springs, and replaces the jack screws with three “gimballing pins” and pin locks. With the pin locks disengaged, the bed plate is pressed down with the printer’s nozzle. By moving the extruder across the build plate and locking the pins in place one by one, [Scottbee]‘s device defines the plane of the build plate along three points. This makes the build platform parallel to the extruder nozzle, and also has a nice benefit of setting the distance from the build platform to the nozzle precisely with incredible repeatability.

The mechanics of locking the three gimballing pins in place  only requires a single DC gear motor, driven by an extra fan output on the Makerbot’s electronics. It’s simple, and with a bit of rework, it looks like most of the device could also be 3D printed.

An awful lot of RepRaps and 3D printers out there already use three points to attach the build plate to a frame. With a little bit of effort, this same technique could be ported and made a bit more generic than the Makerbot-based build seen above. It’s amazingly simple, and we can’t wait to see this applied to a normal RepRap.

Thanks [Josh] for the tip.

Ask Hackaday: Auto Bed Leveling And High Temperature Force Sensitive Resistors

FSR

[Johann] over on the RepRap wiki has an ingenious solution for making sure a borosilicate glass bed is completely level before printing anything on his Kossel printer: take three force sensitive resistors, put them under the build platform, and wire them in parallel, and connect them to a thermistor input on an electronics board. The calibration is simply a bit of code in the Marlin firmware that touches the nozzle to the bed until the thermistor input maxes out. When it does, the firmware knows the print head has zeroed out and can calculate the precise position and tilt of the bed.

Great, huh? A solution to bed leveling that doesn’t require a Z-probe, uses minimal (and cheap) hardware, and can be retrofitted into just about any existing printer. There’s a problem, though: these force sensitive resistors are only good to 70° C, making the whole setup unusable for anything with a heated bed. Your challenge: figure out a way to use this trick with a heated bed.

The force sensitive resistors used – here’s a link provided by [Johann] – have a maximum operating temperature of 70° C, while the bed temperature when printing with ABS is around 130° C. The FSRs are sensitive to temperature, as well, making this a very interesting problem.

Anyone with any ideas is welcome to comment here, on the RepRap forums, the IRC, or anywhere else. One idea includes putting an FSR in the x carriage, but we’re thinking some sort of specialized heat sink underneath the bed and on top of the FSRs would be a better solution.

Video of the auto bed leveling trick in action below.

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