Assessing Nozzle Wear In 3D-Printers

How worn are your nozzles? It’s a legitimate question, so [Stefan] set out to find out just how bad 3D-printer nozzle wear can get. The answer, as always, is “It depends,” but exploring the issue turns out to be an interesting trip.

Reasoning that the best place to start is knowing what nozzle wear looks like, [Stefan] began by printing a series of Benchies with brand-new brass nozzles of increasing diameter, to simulate wear. He found that stringing artifacts, interlayer holes, and softening of overhanging edges and details all worsened with increasing nozzle size. Armed with this information, [Stefan] began a torture test of some cheap nozzles with both carbon-fiber filament and a glow-in-the-dark filament, both of which have been reported as nozzle eaters. [Stefan] found that to be the case for at least the carbon-fiber filament, which wore the nozzle to a nub after extruding only 360 grams of material.

Finally, [Stefan] did some destructive testing by cutting used nozzles in half on the mill and looking at them in cross-section. The wear on the nozzle used for carbon-fiber is dramatic, as is the difference between brand-new cheap nozzles and the high-quality parts. Check out the video below and please sound off in the comments if you know how that peculiar spiral profile was machined into the cheap nozzles.

Hats off to [Stefan] for taking the time to explore nozzle wear and sharing his results. He certainly has an eye for analysis; we’ve covered his technique for breaking down 3D-printing costs in [Donald Papp]’s  “Life on Contract” series.

Continue reading “Assessing Nozzle Wear In 3D-Printers”

A Better Bowden Drive For Floppy Filaments

You might not think to use the word “rigid” to describe most 3D-printer filaments, but most plastic filaments are actually pretty stiff over a short length, stiff enough to be pushed into an extruder. Try the same thing with a softer plastic like TPE, though, and you might find yourself looking at this modified Bowden drive for elastomeric filaments.

The idea behind the Bowden drive favored by some 3D-printer designers is simple: clamp the filament between a motor-driven wheel and an idler to push it up a pipe into the hot end of the extruder. But with TPE and similar elastomeric filaments, [Tech2C] found that the Bowden drive on his Hypercube printer was causing jams and under-extrusion artifacts in finished prints. A careful analysis of the stock drive showed a few weaknesses, such as how much of the filament is not supported on the output side of the wheel. [Tech2C] reworked the drive to close that gap and also to move the output tube opening closer to the drive. The stock drive wheel was also replaced with a smaller diameter wheel with more aggressive knurling. Bolted to the stepper, the new drive gave remarkably improved results – a TPE vase was almost flawless with the new drive, while the old drive had blobs and artifacts galore. And a retraction test print showed no stringing at all with PLA, meaning the new drive isn’t just good for the soft stuff.

All in all, a great upgrade for this versatile and hackable little printer. We’ve seen the Hypercube before, of course – this bed height probe using SMD resistors as strain gauges connects to the other end of the Bowden drive.

Continue reading “A Better Bowden Drive For Floppy Filaments”

3D Printering: The Quest For Printable Food

A video has been making the rounds on social media recently that shows a 3D printed “steak” developed by a company called NovaMeat. In the short clip, a machine can be seen extruding a paste made of ingredients such as peas and seaweed into a shape not entirely unlike that of a boot sole, which gets briefly fried in a pan. Slices of this futuristic foodstuff are then fed to passerby in an effort to prove it’s actually edible. Nobody spits it out while the cameras are rolling, but the look on their faces could perhaps best be interpreted as resigned politeness. Yes, you can eat it. But you could eat a real boot sole too if you cooked it long enough.

To be fair, the goals of NovaMeat are certainly noble. Founder and CEO Giuseppe Scionti says that we need to develop new sustainable food sources to combat the environmental cost of our current livestock system, and he believes meat alternatives like his 3D printed steak could be the answer. Indeed, finding ways to reduce the consumption of meat would be a net positive for the environment, but it seems his team has a long way to go before the average meat-eater would be tempted by the objects extruded from his machine.

But the NovaMeat team aren’t the first to attempt coaxing food out of a modified 3D printer, not by a long shot. They’re simply the most recent addition to a surprisingly long list of individuals and entities, not least of which the United States military, that have looked into the concept. Ultimately, they’ve been after the same thing that convinced many hackers and makers to buy their own desktop 3D printer: the ability to produce something to the maker’s exacting specifications. A machine that could produce food with the precise flavors and textures specified would in essence be the ultimate chef, but of course, it’s far easier said than done.

Continue reading “3D Printering: The Quest For Printable Food”

Active Strain Relief For 3D-Printer Filament

Buying 3D-printer filament is little like eating potato chips: you can’t stop at just one. You start with basic black PLA, then you need a particular color for a special project, then you start experimenting with different plastics, and before you know it, you’ve got dozens of reels lined up. Trouble is, unless you move the in-use reel right over the printer, the filament can get a bit unruly as the printer sucks it up. What to do?

How about building an active strain relief system for your filament collection? That what [Daniel Harari] chose to do, and we have to say that it looks pretty slick. The idea is to keep the filament slack before it enters the printer’s extruder no matter where the reel is positioned relative to the printer. The active bit is a little like a low-force extruder, using a couple of pinch rollers from an old 2D-printer to pay out filament when needed. A clever sensor, consisting of a 3D-printed funnel and a copper wire contact loop, detects when the printer has taken up all the slack in the filament and triggers a payout from the feeder. In a nice touch, the feeder motor is controlled by a couple of 555s rather than a microcontroller. The short clip below shows the feeder being triggered and paying out a little more slack.

In the final analysis, this is just another in a long series of filament management projects, from dry-boxes to filament meters to end-of-spool alarms. It may be overkill, but [Daniel] put a lot of thought into it, which we always appreciate.

Continue reading “Active Strain Relief For 3D-Printer Filament”

3D-Printer Extrudes Paper Pulp Instead Of Plastic

We’ve seen all sorts of 3D-printers on these pages before. From the small to the large, Cartesians and deltas, and printers that can squeeze out plastic, metal, and even concrete. But this appears to be the first time we’ve ever featured a paper-pulp extruding 3D-printer.

It’s fair to ask why the world would need such a thing, and its creator, [Beer Holthuis], has an obvious answer: the world has a lot of waste paper. Like 80 kg per person per year. Thankfully at least some of that is recycled, but that still leaves a lot of raw material that [Beer] wanted to put to work. Build details on the printer are sparse, but from the photos and the video below it seems clear how it all went together. A simple X-Y-Z gantry moves a nozzle over the build platform. The nozzle, an order of magnitude or two larger than the nozzles most of us are used to, is connected to an extruder by a plastic hose. The extruder appears to be tube with a stepper-driven screw that lowers a ram down onto the pulp, squeezing it into the hose. [Beer] notes that the pulp is mixed with a bit of “natural binder” to allow the extruded pulp to keep its shape. We found the extrusion process to be just a wee bit repulsive to watch, but fascinating nonetheless, and the items he’s creating are certainly striking in appearance.

This may be the first pulp printer to grace our pages, but it’s not the first pulp hack we’ve featured. Pulp turns out to be a great material to keep your neighbors happy and even makes a dandy fuel.

Continue reading “3D-Printer Extrudes Paper Pulp Instead Of Plastic”

Maker Faire NY: Cocoa Press Chocolate Printer

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the hype over desktop filament printers is pretty much over. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t new avenues worth exploring that use the basic FDM printer technology. If anything, the low cost and high availability of 3D printer parts and kits makes it easier to branch off into new territory. For example, experimenting with other materials which lend themselves to being “printed” layer by layer like a thermoplastic. Materials such as cement, clay, or even chocolate.

[Evan Weinstein] brought his Cocoa Press printer to the 2018 World Maker Faire in New York, and we have to say it’s a pretty impressive piece of engineering. Hackers have been known to throw a syringe-based paste extruder onto a regular 3D printer and try their luck with squirting out an edible object from time to time, but the Cocoa Press is truly a purpose built culinary machine.

Outwardly it features the plywood case and vaguely Makerbot-looking layout that we’ve seen plenty of times before in DIY 3D printers. It even uses the same RAMPS controller running Marlin that powers your average homebrew printer. But beyond these surface similarities, the Cocoa Press has a number of purpose-built components that make it uniquely qualified to handle the challenges of building with molten chocolate.

For one, beyond the nozzle and the walls of the syringe, nothing physically comes into contact with the chocolate to be printed; keeping the mess and chance of contamination to a minimum. The leadscrew actuated plunger used in common paste extruders is removed in favor of a purely air powered system: a compressor pumps up a small reservoir tank with filtered and dried air, and the Marlin commands which would normally rotate the extruder stepper motor are intercepted and used to trigger an air valve. These bursts of pressurized air fill the empty area above the chocolate and force it out of the 0.8 mm nozzle.

In a normal 3D printer, the “melt zone” is tiny, which allows for the heater itself to be relatively small. But that won’t work here; the entire chocolate load has to be liquefied. It’s a bit like having to keep a whole roll of PLA melted during the entire print. Accordingly, the heater on the Cocoa Press is huge, and [Evan] even has a couple spare heaters loaded up with chocolate syringes next to the printer so he can keep them warm until they’re ready to get loaded up.

Of course, getting your working material hot in a 3D printer is only half the battle, you also need to rapidly cool it back down if you want it to hold its shape as new layers are placed on top of it. A normal 3D printer can generally get away with a little fan hanging next to the nozzle, but [Evan] found the chocolate needed a bit of a chill to really solidify.

So he came up with a cooling system that makes use of water-cooled Peltier units. The cold side of the Peltier array is inside a box through which air is forced, which makes its way through an insulated hose up to the extruder, where a centrifugal fan and 3D printed manifold direct it towards the just-printed chocolate. He reports this system works well under normal circumstances, but unusually high ambient temperatures can overwhelm the cooler.

While “the man” prevented show goers from actually eating any of the machine’s creations (to give out food in New York, you must first register with the city), they certainly looked fantastic, and we’re interested in seeing where the project goes from here.

Scratch-Built 3D-Printer Goes Back To The Roots Of The Hobby

It’s so easy and so cheap to order things like CNC routers and 3D-printers off the shelf that we can be forgiven for forgetting what was once involved in owning machines such as these. It used to be that you had no choice but to build your machine from the ground up. While that’s less true today, it’s still the case if you want to push the limits of what’s commercially available, and this huge scratch-built 3D-printer is a good example of that.

It’s not exactly a fresh build – [Thomas Workshop] posted this last year – but it escaped our notice at the time, and we think the three-part video series below that details the build deserves a look over. When we say scratch built, we mean it. This machine started off as a bundle of aluminum and steel stock. No 80/20 extrusions, no off-the-shelf linear rails – just metal and a plan. The build was helped considerably by a small CNC router, which also had that DIY look, but most of the parts were cut and finished with simple hand tools. The resulting gantry allows an enormous work volume 40 cm in each dimension, with a heated bed that uses four heat mats. We were impressed that [Thomas] got the build just far enough to print parts that were used to finish the build – that’s the hacker spirit.

It’s perhaps not the biggest 3D-printer we’ve seen – that distinction might go to this enormous 8-cubic foot machine – and it certainly can’t print a house. But it’s an impressive build that probably cost a whole lot less than a commercial machine of similar capacity, and it’s got that scratch-built cred.

Continue reading “Scratch-Built 3D-Printer Goes Back To The Roots Of The Hobby”