3D-Printed Tourbillon Demo Keeps the Time with Style

It may only run for a brief time, and it’s too big for use in an actual wristwatch, but this 3D-printed tourbillon is a great demonstration of the lengths watchmakers will go to to keep mechanical timepieces accurate.

For those not familiar with tourbillons, [Kristina Panos] did a great overview of these mechanical marvels. Briefly, a tourbillon is a movement for a timepiece that aims to eliminate inaccuracy caused by gravity pulling on the mechanism unevenly. By spinning the entire escapement, the tourbillon averages out the effect of gravity and increases the movement’s accuracy. For [EB], the point of a 3D-printed tourbillon is mainly to demonstrate how they work, and to show off some pretty decent mechanical chops. Almost the entire mechanism is printed, with just a bearing being necessary to keep things moving; a pair of shafts can either be metal or fragments of filament. Even the mainspring is printed, which we always find to be a neat trick. And the video below shows it to be satisfyingly clicky.

[EB] has entered this tourbillon in the 3D Printed Gears, Pulleys, and Cams Contest that’s running now through February 19th. You’ve still got plenty of time to get your entries in. We can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with!

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Clock This! A 3D-Printed Escapement Mechanism

Traditional mechanical clockmaking is an art that despite being almost the archetype of precision engineering skill, appears rarely in our world of hardware hackers. That’s because making a clock mechanism is hard, and it is for good reason that professional clockmakers serve a long apprenticeship to learn their craft.

Though crafting one by hand is no easy task, a clock escapement is a surprisingly simple mechanism. Simple enough in fact that one can be 3D-printed, and that is just what [Josh Zhou] has done with a model posted on Thingiverse.

The model is simply the escapement mechanism, so to make a full clock there would have to be added a geartrain and clock face drive mechanism. But given a pair of 608 skateboard wheel bearings and a suitable weight and string to provide a power source, its pendulum will happily swing and provide that all-important tick. We’ve posted his short video below the break, so if Nixie clocks aren’t enough for you then perhaps you’d like to take it as inspiration to go mechanical.

A pendulum escapement of this type is only one of many varieties that have been produced over the long history of clockmaking. Our colleague [Manuel Rodriguez-Achach] took a look at some of them back in 2016.

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Hawkeye, the 3D-Printed Tourbillon Movement

As if building tiny mechanisms with dozens of moving parts that all need to mesh together perfectly to work weren’t enough, some clock and watchmakers like to put their horology on hard mode with tourbillon movements. Tourbillons add multiple axes to the typical gear trains in an attempt to eliminate errors caused by the influence of gravity — the movement essentially spins on gimbals while tick-tocking away.

It feels like tourbillons are too cool to lock inside timepieces meant for the ultra-rich. [Alduinien] agrees and democratized the mechanism with this 3D-printed tourbillon. Dubbed “Hawkeye,” [Alduinien]’s tourbillon is a masterpiece of 3D printing. Composed of over 70 pieces, the mechanism is mesmerizing to watch, almost like a three-axis mechanical gyroscope.

The tourbillon is designed to be powered either by the 3D-printed click spring or by a small electric motor. Intended mainly as a demonstration piece, [Alduinien]’s Thingiverse page still only has the files for the assembled mechanism, but he promises to get the files for the individual pieces posted soon. Amateur horologists, warm up your 3D-printers.

Tourbillons are no stranger to these pages, of course. We’ve done an in-depth look at tourbillons for watches, and we’ve even featured a 3D-printed tourbillon clock before. What we like about this one is that it encourages exploration of these remarkable instruments, and we’re looking forward to seeing what people do with this design. For those looking for more background on clock escapements in general, [Manuel] wrote a great article on how we turned repetitive motion into timekeeping.

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The Little Mechanism That Made Precise Time-keeping Possible

There are few things to which we pay as much attention as the passage of time. We don’t want to be late for work, or a date. Even more importantly, we don’t want to age and die. Good time keeping is an all important human activity, and we started to worry about it as soon as we abandoned our hunter-gatherer lifestyle and agriculture and commerce emerged.

By de:Benutzer:Flyout - own work, http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bild:Kerzenuhr.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1783765
A candle clock

Measuring time needs two things: a repetitive process to mark equal increments of time, and a way of tracking and displaying the result. The first timekeeping devices relied of course on the movement of the sun. Ancient Egyptians, around 3500 BC, built obelisks that, by casting a shadow on the ground at different positions, gave an approximate idea of the time. Next came the use of some medium that was consumed at a regular pace: candle, incense, water and sand clocks are examples. A great advancement came with the advent of the mechanical clock, and here is where the escapement mechanism appears.

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A Clockwork Cradle is Baby’s First Escapement

[Scott] doesn’t have any kids, but he’s the sort of type that likes to get ahead of the game. Of course this means spending time in his garage to build a rocking cradle. Usually, these are acquired from a baby shower and are powered by batteries. Terribly uncool, considering a mechanism to keep a pendulum swinging has existed for hundreds of years now. His latest project is the escapement cradle – a cradle (or hammock) that keeps rocking with the help of falling weights.

cradle-escapementThe first video in this series goes over the inspiration and the math behind determining how much energy it will take to maintain a swinging pendulum. The second video goes over a very rough prototype for the escapement mechanism with some woodworking that looks dangerous but is kept well under control. The third video puts everything together, rocking a cradle for about 10 minutes for every time the weight is lifted to the top.

[Scott] has had a few of his projects featured on Hackaday, and he’s slowly becoming the number two mechanized woodworker, right behind [Matthais]. He recently put the finishing touches on the expanding wooden table we saw a year ago, and there are surely even cooler builds in the queue for his YouTube channel.

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Chicken-powered Pendulum

Every once in a while we get sent a link that’s so cute that we just have to post it. For instance: this video from [Ludic Science]. It’s a wind-up chicken toy that kicks a pendulum back and forth. No more, no less.

But before you start screaming “NOT A HACK!” in the comments below, think for a second about what’s going on here. The bird has a spring inside, and a toothed wheel that is jammed and released by the movement of the bird’s foot (an escapement mechanism). This makes the whole apparatus very similar to a real pendulum clock.

Heck, the chick toy itself is pretty cool. It’s nose-heavy, so that under normal conditions it would tip forward. But when it’s wound up, tipping forward triggers the escapement and makes it hop, tipping it backward in the process and resetting the trigger. The top-heavy chicken is an inverted pendulum!

And have a look, if you will indulge, at the very nice low-tech way he creates the pivot: a bent piece of wire, run through a short aluminum tube, held in place by a couple of beads. Surely other pivots are lower-friction, but the advantage of using a rod and sleeve like this is that the pendulum motion is constrained to a plane so that it never misses the chicken’s feet.

Our only regret is that he misses (by that much) the obvious reference to a “naked chick” at the end of the video.

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The Hour of the 3D Printed Clock Draws Nigh


Many have tried, but [Christoph Laimer] has succeeded in designing a working, (relatively) accurate clock nearly completely from 3D printed parts. Every gear, pulley, wheel and hand of [Christoph’s] clock is printed. Only a few screws, axles, a weight, and a string are non-printed. Even the crank to wind the clock is a 3D printed part.

[Christoph] designed his clock in Blender. It took quite a bit of design work to create parts that would work and be printable. Even more work was involved in printing over 100 failed prototype parts.

One might think that [Christoph] is using the latest  printers from the likes of Makerbot or Utimaker to achieve this feat. It turns out he’s using a discontinued Rapman 3.2 printer. Further proof that even “older” printers are capable of great things! [Christoph] does run his printer rather slowly. Printing a single gear with 0.125 mm layers and a 0.4 mm nozzle takes him 2 or 3 hours.

Mechanically, the clock is gravity powered with an anchor escapement. Rather than a pendulum, [Christoph] chose to use a balance wheel and hairspring assembly to govern the escapement.  Even the spring is printed from standard PLA. The weight is suspended from a pulley block. The clock isn’t particularly efficient. 70cm of height will run the clock for only 2 hours.

[Christoph’s] clock has proven to be accurate to within 1/4 second per hour. He hasn’t provided temperature stability data – but being PLA, we’d suggest not getting it too hot!

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