XChange Promises Inexpensive Tool Changes For 3D Printers

[Teaching Tech] has been interested in adding a tool changer to his 3D printer. E3D offers a system that allows you to switch print heads or even change out a hot end for a laser or a (probably) light-duty CNC head. The price of the entire device, though, is about $2,500, which put him off. But now he’s excited about a product from PrinterMods called XChange. This is a kit that will allow rapid tool changes on many existing printers and costs quite a bit less. Preorder on KickStarter is about $150, but that probably won’t be the final price.

Not all printers are compatible. It appears the unit attaches to printers that have linear rails and there is an adapter for printers that have V rollers in extrusions. Supposedly, there is an adapter in the works for printers that use rods and bearings.

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CNC Router Frame Repurposed For Colorful String Art Bot

Pandemic lockdowns have been brutal, but they’ve had the side-effect of spurring creativity and undertaking projects that are involved enough and complex enough to keep from going stir crazy. This CNC string art robot is a great example of what’s possible with a little imagination and a lot of time. (Video, embedded below.)

According to [knezuld11], the robot creates its art through mathematical algorithms via a Python program that translates them into nail positions and string paths. The modified CNC router frame, constructed of laser-cut plywood, has two interchangeable tool heads. The first places the nails, which are held in a small hopper. After being picked up by a servo-controlled magnetic arm and held vertically, a gear-driven ram pushes each nail into a board at just the right coordinates. After changing to a different tool, the robot is able to pick up one of nine different thread dispensers. A laser sensor verifies the thread nozzle position, and the thread starts its long journey around the nails. It’s a little mesmerizing to watch, and the art looks great, with a vibe that brings us right back to the 70s. Groovy, man.

This reminds us a little of a recent [Barton Dring] project that makes art from overlapping strings. That one was pretty cool for what it accomplished with just one thread color, while this one really brings color to the party. Take your pick, place your nails, and get stringing.

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Tool Changing 3D Printers Shouldn’t Break The Bank

Close-up on the magnetic coupling
Close-up on the magnetic coupling

One of the Holy Grails of desktop 3D printing is the ability to print in multiple materials, for prints that mix colours or textures. There are printers with multi-way hot ends, add-ons that change your filament, or printers with tool changers, that swap hot ends as needed. [Amy] has taken the final route with her Hypercube, and her Doot Changer allows her to print in two materials with ease. Best of all, she tells us it only cost her $20 to make.

For those not familiar with Hypercube-style printers, they have a roughly cubic frame made using aluminium extrusion. On the rear upper rail are a couple of receptacles with metal locating pins onto which a hot-end unit can be slotted. The printer carriage has a magnetic coupling that can pick up or disengage a hot end from its receptacle at will, as can be seen in action in a short video clip.

All the parts can be found on Thingiverse, and there is a photo album with plenty of eye-candy should you wish to see more. Meanwhile as far as tool changers go, we’ve been there before in great depth.

Enclosure Needs Labels? Make The 3D Printer Do It

Tool changing on 3D printers is hot right now, and it’s going to be really interesting to see the ideas that reliable tool changing lets people try out. One such idea is having the 3D printer use a marker to label the enclosure and buttons it just 3D printed.

The 3D print shown is an enclosure for a Pocket Operator by Teenage Engineering. [Marc Schömann] made the enclosure on Blackbox, a tool-changing 3D printer that he designed. The video below shows a pen holder drawing the labels directly onto the printed object. Pocket Operators may look like calculators, but they are clever electronic musical devices capable of producing real music. (The best way to learn about what they are and what they can do is to watch a tutorial video or two.)

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3D Printer Tool Changer Gives You Access To Lots Of Extruders

The benefits of having a 3D printer with multiple extruders are numerous: you can print soluble support material for easy removal, print a combination of flexible and rigid filament, or simply print in different colors. Unfortunately, traditional multi-extruder setups have some serious drawbacks, even aside from the cost.

Usually, the extruders are all mounted next to each other on a single carriage. This increases the mass, which can cause print quality issues like shadowing. It also reduces the printable area, as each extruder needs to be able to reach the entire area. All of this means that the design becomes more and more impractical with each extruder you add, and that’s why it’s uncommon to see more than two extruders on a printer.

Over on Hackaday.io, [rolmie] has come up with a very practical (and affordable) solution to this problem. He has designed a tool changer that gives the printer the ability to switch out hot ends on the fly. The system is very similar to the tool changers we see on CNC machining centers: tools (the hotends) are stored on a rack, and a tool change in the G-code sends the carriage over to the rack to drop off the old hotend and pick up a new one.

The benefit of the design is that both the mass and volume of the carriage are kept to a minimum, while allowing you to use many different hot ends. Each hotend’s settings can be configured individually, and you can even use different models of hotend altogether (maybe one model works better for PLA, while another is better for ABS). The design is still in the prototyping stage and needs some refinement, but it’s a very promising proof of concept that seems like it could be implemented fairly easily into most 3D printer models.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: DIY Automatic Tool Changer

Choosing between manually changing endmill bits on a CNC machine and investing in an expensive automated solution? Not for [Frank Herrmann], who invented the XATC, an eXtremely simple Automated Tool Changer. [Frank’s] ingenious hack achieves the same functionality as an industrial tool changer using only cheap standard hardware you might have lying around the workshop.

xatc_carouselLike many ATCs, this one features a tool carousel. The carousel, which is not motorized, stores each milling bit in the center bore of a Gator Grip wrench tool. To change a tool, a fork wrench, actuated by an RC servo, blocks the spindle shaft, just like you would do it to manually change a tool. The machine then positions the current bit in an empty Gator Grip on the carousel and loosens the collet by performing a circular “magic move” around the carousel. This move utilizes the carousel as a wrench to unscrew the collet. A short reverse spin of the spindle takes care of the rest. It then picks another tool from the carousel and does the whole trick in reverse.

The servo is controlled via a WiFi connected NodeMCU board, which accepts commands from his CNC controller over HTTP. The custom tool change sequences are provided by a few JavaScript macros written for the TinyG workspace on chilipeppr.com, a browser-based G-code host. Enjoy the video of [Frank Herrmann] explaining his build!

Thanks to Smoothieboard creator [Arthur Wolf], who is currently working on a similar project, for the tip!

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