Build A 3D Printer Workhorse, Not an Amazing Disappointment Machine

3D printers have become incredibly cheap, you can get a fully workable unit for $200 – even without throwing your money down a crowdfunded abyss. Looking at the folks who still buy kits or even build their own 3D printer from scratch, investing far more than those $200 and so many hours of work into a machine you can buy for cheap, the question “Why the heck would you do that?” may justifiably arise.

The answer is simple: DIY 3D printers done right are rugged workhorses. They work every single time, they never break, and even if: they are an inexhaustible source of spare parts for themselves. They have exactly the quality and functionality you build them to have. No clutter and nothing’s missing. However, the term DIY 3D printer, in its current commonly accepted use, actually means: the first and the last 3D printer someone ever built, which often ends in the amazing disappointment machine.

This post is dedicated to unlocking the full potential in all of these builds, and to turning almost any combination of threaded rods and plywood into a workshop-grade piece of equipment.

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Mains Powered 3D Printer Heated Beds

Converting mains voltage down to 12 or 24VDC to drive a heating element makes no sense. To get 120 watts at 12 volts requires thick wires that can handle 10 amps, whereas at 120V, tiny 1A wires will do. If you’ve ever felt the MOSFET that switches your heated bed on and off, you know it’s working hard to pass that much current. [Makertum] is of the opinion this is a dumb idea. He’s creating a 110 / 230 V, mains-powered heated bed.

Creating a PCB heat bed isn’t an art – it’s a science. There are equations and variables to calculate, possibly some empirical measurements by measuring the resistance of a trace, but Ohm’s Law is a law for a reason. If you do things right, you can make a PCB heat bed perfectly suited for the task. You can even design in safety features like overcurrent protection and fuses. It can’t be that hard. After all, your house is full of devices that are plugged into the wall.

However, there’s a reason we use 12V and 24V heated beds – they give us, at the very least, the illusion of safety. Therefore, [Makertum] is looking for a few comments from specialists and people who know what they’re doing.

Although a mains powered heated bed sounds scary for a hobbyist-built 3D printer, there are a number of positives to the design. It would heat up faster, thin down a few parts, and significantly reduce the overall cost of the printer by not requiring another 100 Watts delivered from a 12V power supply. It’s a great idea if it doesn’t burn down the house. Anyone want to help?

Aerogel Insulation for 3D Printers

A heated bed is nearly essential for printing with ABS. Without it, it is difficult to keep parts from warping as the plastic cools. However, heating up a large print bed is difficult and time consuming. It is true that the printer easily heats the hot end to 200C or higher and the bed’s temperature is only half of that. However, the hot end is a small insulated spot and the bed is a large flat surface. It takes a lot of power and time to heat the bed up and keep the temperature stable.

We’ve used cork and even Reflectix with pretty good results. However, [Bill Gertz] wasn’t getting the performance he wanted from conventional material, so he got a piece of aerogel and used it as insulation. Aerogel material is a gel where a gas replaces the liquid part of the gel. Due to the Knudsen effect, the insulating properties of an aerogel may be greater than the gas it contains.

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Heating Up a Printrbot’s Bed

A heated bed for the Printrbot 3D printer

Heated beds for 3D printers help reduce the amount of curling and warping of parts. The warping happens when the part cools and contracts. The heated bed keeps the part warm for the entire print and reduces the warping.

As an upgrade to her Printrbot, [Erin] added a heated bed. The first plan was to DIY one using Nichrome wire, but heated beds are available at low cost. They’re basically just a PCB with a long trace that acts as a resistor. She added a thermistor to monitor temperature and allow for accurate control.

The Printrbot heated bed worked, but didn’t heat up quite quick enough. [Erin] was quick to scratch off the solder mask and solder new leads onto the board. This converted the board into two parallel resistors, halving the resistance and doubling the power.

This version heated up very quickly, but didn’t have a steady heat. The simple control that was being used was insufficient, and a PID controller was needed. This type of control loop helps deal with problems such as oscillations.

The Printrbot’s firmware is based on Marlin, which has PID support disabled by default. After rebuilding the code and flashing, the PID gains could be adjusted using g-codes. With the values tuned, [Erin]’s printer was holding steady heat, and can now print ABS and PLA with minimal warping.