Dial In Your Multi-Headed 3D Printer With 2020 Machine Vision

Most folks that have been poking around at multi-tool 3D printing know that lining up nozzles can be a gnarly, but necessary pain point. Existing methods either have us measure offsets with a vernier scale or with a series of pictures taken with an upwards-facing camera. And this step is not to be ignored! Any mismatch between nozzles, and your multicolor prints end up looking like Scotty really screwed up those sliders on that transporter beam console. Fear not, however! [Danal] took this problem as an opportunity to write something that’s completely automated and brought to you by some machine vision.

Dubbed TAMV, for Tool Align Machine Vision, [Danal] added a Raspberry Pi alongside his existing 3D printing motion controller in addition to an upwards facing camera. A few lines of code (and a few hours of compiling OpenCV) later, and he had himself a circle-detecting script that automatically cycles through each tool, detects the nozzle center, and calculates an offset for each tool that’s stored into the machine’s configuration file. If that’s not nifty enough, he’s made the entire setup open-source, and he included both an installation script for compiling OpenCV and a well-written set of step-by-step instructions.

In a world where most hobbyists approaches still solve this problem manually, this is leaps and bounds ahead of what we know, and it’s a great application of machine vision built on top of a stack of recognizable hardware and software. While this project was outfitted for a Jubilee running a Duet3 controller with a Raspberry Pi connected in “single-board computer” mode, the core features are readily adaptable to any other multi-tool machine with a similar control board stack. And for folks willing to poke under the hood, the project could even be extended to a standalone script that you can run on your PC locally to simply print the tool offsets separately.

Alongside TAMV, it’s refreshing that even a decade after 3D printers have been with us, we’re still finding ways to make these machines more capable. For more fresh hacks in this category, check out a new spin on using sharpie ink as a support material release agent.

Sadly, [Danal] has recently passed away in the last week, but we are grateful to capture a snapshot in the history of this person’s life.

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Maker Faire Multicolor And Multi Material 3D Printing

The next frontier of desktop 3D printing is multi-material and multi-color prints. Right now, you can buy a dual toolhead for a Lulzbot, and dual toolheads from other companies exist, although they are a bit rare. In the next few years, we’re going to see a lot of printers able to print dissolvable supports and full-color 3D printers.

Printing in more than one color is almost here, but that doesn’t mean we’re on the cusp of a complete revolution. Multi-material printing is lagging a little bit behind; you’ll be able to print two colors of PLA next year, but printing an object in PLA and ABS is going to be a bit tricky. Printing something in PLA and nylon will be very hard. Color mixing, likewise, will be tricky. We can do it, the tools are getting there, but think of this year as a preview of what we’ll be doing in five years.

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Diamond Hotend Opens The Color Gamut For 3D Printing

It’s safe to say we’ve hit a bit of a plateau with hobby based 3D printers using FDM technology. Print quality is pretty high, they’re about as fast as they’re going to get, and compared to commercial machines they’re a pretty good bang for your buck. So what’s next? What about printing in color?

diamondhotend-1It is possible to print in color using a regular 3D printer and a bit of patience, but it’s really not economical or efficient. We’ve seen multiple extruder heads for 3D printing as well, but there are many problems with that due to calibration and trailing plastic from one head to another. So what if you could feed multiple color filaments into a single mixing head?

Well, it turns out you can. Earlier this year RepRap ran a Kickstarter for the development of the Diamond Hotend —  a single nozzle multi-color extruder. It’s in production now and appears to work quite well. It’s also compatible with many 3D printers as long as the motherboard has triple extruder support.

However, the big question remains — how do you program a colored print? Using Repetier Host actually. You’ll need to export your 3D model in the .AMF file format, but once you do, you’ll be able to configure it for a color print job inside Repetier Host.

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