Turning A CMM Into A 3D Printer

There are two paths to owning a 3D printer: purchasing one or crafting your own 3D printer designed to your own exacting specifications. [Roetz 4.0] has decided to go this latter route and converted a 1.3-ton air-bearing Coordinate-measuring machine (CMM) into an FDM 3D printer. (Video, embedded below.)

A CMM is a tool used to precisely measure the geometry of an object via gently lowering a calibrated probe. We’ve seen scratch build printers before, but this particular build benefits from having the CMM machinery and its 18 air bearings. The CMM head is moved by [Roetz 4.0]’s own custom system, but it takes advantage of the bearings. After some careful CAD planning as well as a fair bit of milling, lathing, and prototyping, he had buttery smooth controlled motion.

With an off the shelf driver board wired together with a large red button, he was ready for a maiden test print. A determination to finish before the year was out pushed things along. There are still a few quirks to fix, like the hole in the air drying system but those can be tackled next year. Ultimately, we think the results are stunning and it was a journey we were glad to go on with [Roetz 4.0]. The final episode of the series is after the break.

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[Ben Krasnow]’s Take On DIY Air Bearings

We’ve got to admit that watching [Ben Krasnow]’s new video on air bearings is tough. We found our eyes constantly checking the spherical air bearing in the foreground, which for the first eight minutes of the video just kept going. It was strangely hypnotic, and made it hard to concentrate on all the other cool stuff [Ben] was up to.

If the topic of air bearings seems familiar, it might be because we recently reported on DIY air bearings made from used EDM electrodes. [Ben] saw that too, and dusted off his old air bearing project. Literally, as it turns out, because the graphite blocks whose porosity and softness make them the perfect material for air bearings also makes for a dusty workshop. We’d recommend breathing protection of some sort while machining graphite. In addition to simple puck bearings, [Ben] came up with more complicated designs, including the aforementioned spherical bearing. He used the steel ball itself as a precision tool to grind the graphite out, first by coating it with abrasive and then by cutting grooves in it to act like a file. A cylindrical bearing was also cut, this time with sandpaper glued directly to the ground steel rod that would seat in the bearing.

[Ben]’s other innovation is vacuum preloading, where he applies both vacuum and pressure to the bearing plenum. The vacuum provides the force needed to capture the moving element while the pressure bears the load. It’s a careful balancing act, but it works well enough to capture the large steel ball and keep it turning effortlessly.

We really liked [Ben]’s take on air bearings, especially his thoughts on creating fully enclosed cylindrical bearings. Those could be useful for low-friction linear drives, and we look forward to seeing more on those.

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Used EDM Electrodes Repurposed As Air Bearings For Precision Machine Tools

If you’ve ever played air hockey, you know how the tiny jets of air shooting up from the pinholes in the playing surface reduce friction with the puck. But what if you turned that upside down? What if the puck had holes that shot the air downward? We’re not sure how the gameplay would be on such an inverse air hockey table, but [Dave Preiss] has made DIY air bearings from such a setup, and they’re pretty impressive.

Air bearings are often found in ultra-precision machine tools where nanometer-scale positioning is needed. Such gear is often breathtakingly expensive, but [Dave]’s version of the bearings used in these machines are surprisingly cheap. The working surfaces are made from slugs of porous graphite, originally used as electrodes for electrical discharge machining (EDM). The material is easily flattened with abrasives against a reference granite plate, after which it’s pressed into a 3D-printed plastic plenum. The plenum accepts a fitting for compressed air, which wends its way out the micron-sized pores in the graphite and supports the load on a thin cushion of air. In addition to puck-style planar bearings, [Dave] tried his hand at a rotary bearing, arguably more useful to precision machine tool builds. That proved to be a bit more challenging, but the video below shows that he was able to get it working pretty well.

We really enjoyed learning about air bearings from [Dave]’s experiments, and we look forward to seeing them put to use. Perhaps it will be in something like the micron-precision lathe we featured recently.

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