Last year, I built a 3D printer out of salvaged parts (mostly), a few original parts that I cut with CNC, and the minimum parts that I ordered online.
My goal for the first version of the printer was that I wanted to make a 3D printer with at least the capability to print (regardless of print quality) parts to build a proper 3D printer. Once the second 3D printer was functional I would re-print the parts in proper quality.
At least that was the goal as some things changed:
- The first version of the printer proved to be good enough and the print quality high enough that the need for a better version was not as strong as I originally thought.
- There were, along the way, many opportunities to tinker with the printer and enhance the quality, speed and even maximum print volume of the printer that kept me from taking the leap
- The original vision of printing the plastic parts of a Prusa clone were not as tempting as before as I was now enamored with the current axis layout (Head moves on the X, Y axis and table moves on the Z axis). Moving to a layout that moves the table on the Y axis looked like a step back to me.
Ultimately, some unsolvable problems that creeped up necessitated a rebuild of the original printer. I would either rewire the whole thing and solve some friction problems or disassemble the printer to make a new one.
THE ULTIMAKER AND THE ULTIFAKER
The layout I was using on my first printer is currently best represented by the Ultimaker Printers. The mechanical beauty of the rotating and sliding axes was mesmerizing and the simplicity of the design seemed like a good start point.
On the beginning I downloaded the blueprints of the original Ultimaker but as this was intended for a laser cutter I really never used them.
Then I found a project called Ultifaker. The Author of the project includes Solidworks files and partlists.
THE GOAL OF THE NEW PROJECT
I used the Ultifaker Solidworks files as a template for the head gantry assembly, to make sure all measurements are Ultimaker compatible. My goal for the new version of the printer would be to make a 40X40X50 printer (maximum printable volume of around 30X30X30) that is compatible with the Ultimaker gantry assembly, uses Arduino+Ramps 1.4 boards, the RepRapDiscountLCD+SD, and Marlin firmware. And of course, I wanted it to be a repeatable project, with parts that I can either make myself or get from the market. No more salvaged parts.
As a side goal, I wanted to design the printer on my computer with as much detail as possible. I wanted to eliminate as many extra steps as possible and build an IKEA like kit that would take a few hours and only basic tools to assemble. Of course, if you are building just one copy, there are bound to be fixes that would be included in the updated designs but not worth the trouble of starting over. With that in mind, I wanted to avoid as much retrofitting as possible through the magic of “planning”.
MATERIALS AND DESIGN
The material I decided to use for the “enclosure” is called a sandwich of two thin sheets of Aluminum with a plastic core called DiBond (also available under other brandnames). It is (as far as I know) the same material that the latest Ultimaker models use. It is a rigid material, light, ideal for printing and cutting with CNC. It has a 4mm thickness and through experimentation you can cut grooves to create corners. By digging less than 4mm deep I also created exact circular millings that the ball bearings of the axes snapped into. This was part of my vision for a multipurpose single sheet of material that would become the enclosure plus as many extra parts as it can be.
The assembly of the box went as planned (mostly) with a few adaptations noted and designs updated (in case I build a second printer).
There are notches on the backplate to accommodate the stepper motors, the PC-PSU and the Arduino/Ramps boards. Unfortunately I never got to plan for wiring and this is something that I will maybe address at some point.
The head gantry I made has a few deviations from the Ultimaker specs but I created custom parts to accommodate for my changes. I also remodeled an E3D carriage to my updated specs so as to use my current E3D clone printer head.
Currently I don’t have a heated table and I am not 100% satisfied with how I level the table but for now I will concentrate on finding out the limits of the printer in its current form
BENEFITS OF THE UPGRADE
Apart from the aesthetic element, there are many ways that the new version of the printer is better than the first version:
- Speed: The layout of the axes in this printer has major advantage speed-wise. The suspended weight of each axis is surprisingly small and is also equal in both axes. There is also no lateral movement of the printed object, just the minimal Z. This means that the speed and the change of momentum that this layout is capable of is absolutely stunning.
- Noise: Although I never planned for silent operation and some choices I made are clearly going against designing for noise reduction, the minimal weight of the axes and the reduced power that feeds the stepper motors have resulted in a surprisingly silent machine.
- Quality: There are definite improvements in print quality, with minimal vibrations on the X Y axes and perfect Z movement of the table. Still, I just started experimenting and I am far from optimizing quality to what it can achieve. (In the time of writing, I have not even connected the print cooling fans)
- Reliability: Without changing anything major (and even before redoing the wires) the printer worked reliably without any surprises. This is in contrast with the previous version that was getting more and more unreliable and quirky every day.
- Compact form: Although the printing volume is almost double (in each axis) the footprint of the printer is smaller than the previous version and in a more manageable package.
- Upgradeability: The printing head can be replace by a 2 or even a 4 head one for the same printhead size. As far as I know, the Ramps 1.4 board supports up to 2 extruders so you would need to get an official Ultimaker board for more extruders.
This project was a good learning experience especially with regards to planning before doing. As far as the availability of parts does not jeopardize your plans, there are tremendous advantages in being patient and working out future problems in the designing phase rather than working out solutions on the spot.
I am happy with how the project turned out and I will stop tinkering with it as soon as I have nailed the speed/quality relation.
Now, let’s print something!