Expanding 3D Printer Bed Stays True Under Fire

It’s hard to pass up another lesson in good machine design brought to us by [Mark Rehorst]. This time, [Mark] combats the relentless forces of bed deformation due to thermal expansion.

Did you think your printer stayed the same size when it heated up? Well, think again! According to [Mark’s] calculations, when heated, the bed can expand by as much as half a millimeter in the x/y direction. While x/y deformation seems like something we can ignore, that’s not always true. If our bed is rigidly fixed in place, then that change in dimension will only result in a warped bed as it tries to make space for itself.

Don’t give up yet though. As sinister as this problem may seem, [Mark] introduces a classic-but-well-implemented solution: and adjustable kinematic coupling. The kinematic coupling holds the bed at the minimum number of points to keep it rigid while exposing thumbscrews to dial in a level bed. What’s special about this technique is that the coupling holds the bed perfectly rigid whilst allowing it to thermally expand!

This is the beauty of “exact constraint” design. Parts are held together only by the minimum number of points needed to guarantee a specific relationship. Here that relationship is coplanarity between the the nozzle’s x/y plane and the bed. Even when the bed expands this relationship holds. Now that is magic.

With such a flood of 3D printed parts on the market, building a printer has never been easier! Nevertheless, it’s easy to pin ourselves into a corner re-tuning a poor design that skips a foundation on the base principles. If you’re curious about more of these principles behind 3D printer design, check out [Mark’s] thorough walkthrough on the CoreXY design.

Hotend Becomes the Z Probe with a Kinematic Coupling

3D Printer tool changers are bedazzling to watch, but even failed attempts at tool changers can yield something marvelous. Such is the case for [Raymond] who transformed a tool changer attempt into a perfectly capable z-level probe that uses the hotend itself as a limit switch.

The secret sauce behind this mechanism: a kinematic coupling. This coupling takes two planar surfaces and perfectly constrains them relative to each other by mating them together at exactly 6 points of contact. The result is that repeatedly separating and joining the two surfaces will always land them in the same spot within a few microns. To transform these surfaces into a switch, we need only run a small current between the points of contact. That was easy since there were all-metal balls and pins making the connection. Both surfaces are held together with magnets with the upper surface holding the hotend. To trip the limit switch, the printer simply lowers the z-height until the hotend “probes” the bed, defeating the magnets and breaking the current. Presto! No switches or P.I.N.D.A. probes. Just good old fashioned electricity and steel pins.

With so much focus on pricey probes and repeatable switches, it’s great to see some good old-fashioned geometry guiding the precision behind this printer’s sensing. It’s also heartwarming hear that the whole project was actually inspired by another coupling-equipped 3D printer that landed here a few years ago! Finally, if you’re curious to see some other folks getting some more mileage out of kinematic couplings, have a look at this homebrew CNC touch probe.

Books You Should Read: Designing Reality

These days, budget CNC builds are mainstream. Homebrew 3D printers and even laser cutters are old hats. Now I find myself constantly asking: “where’s it all going?” In the book, Designing Reality, Prof Neil Gershenfeld and his two brothers, Alan and Joel, team up to answer that question. In 250 pages, they forecast a future where digital fabrication tools become accessible to everyone on the planet, a planet where people now thrive in networked communities focused on learning and making.

Designing Reality asks us to look forward to the next implications of the word “digital”. On its surface, digital  means discretized, but the implications for this property are extreme. How extreme? Imagine a time where cnc-based fabrication tools are as common as laptops, where fab labs and hackerspaces are as accepted as libraries, and where cities are self-sufficient. The Gershenfelds invite us to open our eyes into a time where digital has vastly reshaped our world and will only continue to do so. Continue reading “Books You Should Read: Designing Reality”

Laser Cutter Resurrection Uncovers a Magnificent Machine Beneath the Ash

Trash is relative. When my coworker accidentally lit an ABS-barbecue inside the company laser cutter, he made trash. The wreckage was headed for the dump, but I managed to save it and pass it on to my friend [Amy]. Four months later, she phoenixed it back to life from the trash-it-was to a glorious new system more powerful than the original. This is her story, carefully told in detail in a three-part series (part one, part two, part three) that takes us on a journey from trash to triumph. She even recorded video of the entire process (also embedded below)

Get your notes out because while [Amy] spares every expense to keep this project cheap, she spares no expense at laying out the details for anyone’s path to success when working with these beasts.

Free Laser Cutter Starter Pack

As far as origin stories go, our story starts at my last employer’s office. I was in the machine shop asking one of our MechEs a question when the intern points a finger towards the corner of the room and asks: “hey is that supposed to be on fire?” I turn around to see billowing flames coming from our budget Chinese laser cutter. “Nope!” I say. “We need a fire extinguisher!” But our MechE was already on it. In half a moment he returned with an extinguisher. With one squirt the fire was out, but the machine was caked with a nasty powdery debris. It turns out another coworker had committed the almighty sin of laser cutting: he turned it on and walked away. Better yet, it was cutting ABS with a disconnected air nozzle.

This cutter was headed to the dump, but a few shenanigans later, I managed to divert this heap to [Amy]. The paint job was an absolute disaster on the outside, and the gooey ABS-and-powder mixture had caked over the inside. [Amy] dug in, stripping off the paint flakes and re-coating it. Apart from the belts, she salvaged every other part inside the machine. Her secret: “IPA and steel wool.” From there, she built her own fume extractor and lofted the whole system onto a frame she welded herself so that she could push both extractor and cutter around her wood shop as a unit. These days, it’s seeing some mileage for cutting out jigs for her woodworking projects.

Perhaps what’s truly special about this project is that she restored it with the camera rolling. As if building projects isn’t hard enough, getting the right lighting and camera angles while you’re doing the work is even more work! There’s no drop-down lofted camera setup in her garage, so each documented step is carefully set up so it captures what’s happening onscreen. While the IPA-and-steel wool might’ve been one nifty trick, by the end of these videos you’ll find that there really aren’t any secrets: just one engineer who sees the dignity in a project done well and has the patience to carry it out.

Get to know [Amy] on her blog, and you’ll discover the true finesse of her scavenging and engineering wielded hand-in-hand. From Ukuleles borne of fallen tree branches to a garage woodshop bootstrapped from a series of Craigslist adventures, it’s no surprise that a broken laser cutter would find a new life when it landed in her hands.

Continue reading “Laser Cutter Resurrection Uncovers a Magnificent Machine Beneath the Ash”

Getting Kitted to Teach your First Hardware Workshop

I was always a sucker for art classes in my early days. There was something special about getting personal instruction while having those raw materials in your hands at the same time. Maybe it was the patient voice of the teacher or the taste of the crayons that finally got to my head. Either way, I started thinking: “I want to do this; I want to teach this stuff.”

Last year at Hackaday Superconference I got my chance. Hardware workshops with real hardware were so rare; I just had to bring one to the table! What follows is my tale of joys and woes bringing together a crew to take their first few steps into the world of cable-driven animatronics. If you’re thinking about getting your feet wet with teaching your own hardware workshop, read on. I’ve packed this story with as much of my own learnings as I could to set you on a path to success.

The good news is that Supercon returns every year. I you want to take part in some epic workshops like this one, grab a ticket for this year’s conference now. If you want to host a hardware workshop, the Call for Proposals is still open! Okay, let’s dive in.

Continue reading “Getting Kitted to Teach your First Hardware Workshop”

Classy CoreXY Build Breaks Down the Design Pinchpoints

Ever since [Ilan Moyer] published the design, CoreXYs have been exploding in the homebrew 3D Printer community. Nevertheless, not all designs are created equal, and a solid design means adhering to some unspoken constraints. Fear not, though. [Mark Rehorst’s] blog post pulls the lid off these constraints and puts them up-front-and-center.  For anyone looking to succeed with their own CoreXY build, this thoughtful critique will keep us away from stray design paths.

[Mark’s] blogpost centers around the xy-stage of his UMMD printer. Here, he walks through the constraints of where belts should be located to guarantee dimensional accuracy of parts. Engineering doesn’t always result in designing the parts ourselves, but rather picking them from a list of options. This geometry-constraint breakdown gives us a more acute set of eyes the next time we pick a CoreXY frame to download and clone off of a place like Thingiverse.

What’s more, for all the antagonizing forces acting on our xy-stage like thermal expansion and frame flexing, [Mark] comes in with a countermeasure. Belts are thickened. Moving stages are constrained correctly, and pulley blocks are reinforced for a stage that is both precise and accurate. Given that it’s so easy to get another printer to start producing parts, lessons learned here will guide us on what underlying measures they need to counteract for a successful print stage.

It’s hard not to love [Mark Rehorst’s] foray into at-home printer builds. Not only do we see new ideas that constantly reinvent how we design printers, each build comes bundled with a wealth of tips and drawbacks. [Mark] gives us a tested design and a critical set of eyes on it that better helps us explore the space if we so choose. For more thoughtful additions to your next 3D printer, check out [Mark’s] CPAP-style remote cooling fan and belt-driven z axis.

Hanky-Deprived Drones Taste Whale Snot for Science

A whole world of biomass floats in the boogers of a whale’s exhaust, and it’s a biologist’s dream to explore it. Whale snot carries everything from DNA samples to hormone signatures. But getting close enough to a surfacing whale for long enough to actually sample this snot turns out to be a nightmare when done by boat. Researcher [Iain Kerr] and a team from Olin College of Engineering thought, why not use a drone instead? Behold, the Snotbot was born!

Snotbot is essentially a petri-dish-equipped commercial drone that users can pilot into the exhaust of a whale to collect samples before the cetacean dives back under. After 7 missions and over 500 collected samples, Snotbot is putting-to-rest years of frustration from researchers anticipating their next chance for a shot of snot. Along the way, the team have also leveraged it to image the whale’s fluke (a fingerprint equivalent), drop underwater mics, and collect poo samples. As opposed to darts, Snotbot is non-invasive, and the whales don’t seem to mind (or even notice) who’s downstream of their boogers.

Drones are almost ubiquitous at this point in our lives–to the point where they now fall under regulations by the US government. With so many of us building our own drones at home, it’s wonderful to see groups starting to ask the next question: cool drone; now what? With reliable drones at prices that are within reach for the everyday citizen, we’re excited that we will see dozens of applications that leverage this new skyward-bound platform over the coming years. If you can’t wait, have a quick look back in time, where drones are doing maritime deliveries and blowing up debris.