Friday, 31 December 2010

Frequency limit

I currently do my infill on Mendel at 36mm/s. The machine can go faster but the extruder flow rate maxes out at about 40mm/s when extruding ABS at 0.6mm, so 36 is a good safety margin for reliability and quality.

Although the speed is limited there is no real limit on how fast it can change direction. Suppose you make something 2.4mm wide with 0.5mm filament. E.g. a Mendel spring: -

Each wall will be 0.6mm wide leaving a 1.2mm gap in the middle. That gets filled with a zigzag infill where the head moves to within 0.3mm of each wall, so the head moves about 0.6mm on each stroke. At 36mm/s that makes 30 complete oscillations every second. 30Hz is a pretty high frequency for a mechanical system!

What actually happens is my y-axis starts to resonate. Over a few cycles the amplitude of the oscillation builds up and the infill overshoots the outline leaving a serrated edge.

The torque of a stepper motor is zero at rest and increases as it is displaced, so in that respect it behaves like a spring. That springiness together with the inertia of the rotor gives a resonance at hundreds of Hertz, known as mid band resonance. When the load is rigidly coupled, as in this case, the mass of the load brings the resonant frequency down.

As I don't get any missed steps I think the springiness might actually be in the belt rather than the motor. Timing belts have metal cables in them so that they don't stretch, but that makes them stiff, so they don't like to bend round a tight radius. That means the belt has some springiness being pulled round the pulley. A bigger pulley would be better but that would reduce the effective stiffness of the motor, so might actually make things worse. A lighter bed would be good but I haven't found a way to ensure it is flat without going to 6mm tooling plate.

I fixed the problem in software by slowing down the infill that has a high frequency content. I examine each infill path, one axis at a time, and convert it into a list of lengths between changes in direction. I then find the shortest wavelength over three cycles (less than three cycles is not long enough for the resonance to build up). I do this for X and Y directions and save the shortest of the two wavelengths. When I extrude the path I work out the frequency from the pre-calculated wavelength and the desired speed. I then compare that with a limit for each machine and reduce the speed if the frequency limit would be exceeded. I could have a separate frequency limit for each axis but I don't like the idea that the orientation of an object affects how it builds, so I pick the worst axis when deciding the limit.

I set the frequency limit to 20 Hz on my Mendel and 16 Hz on HydraRaptor. HydraRaptor does not show the overshoot problem, but it makes horrible growling noises and shakes the house. The machines make more interesting noises now because each infill run that hits the limit is extruded at an arbitrary lower speed. The overshoot is completely cured.

The builds are a bit slower and in some cases a long infill path will be slowed down by a short section that is high frequency, often a section between a hole and the outline. A more complicated solution would be to isolate the high frequency section and extrude the rest of the path at full speed.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Tip top top layer tip

When I first started printing on my Mendel I found it difficult to get the top layer infill solid and meeting the edges. It behaved differently to HydraRaptor, but since it was a different bot and extruder and I had also changed to a different type of ABS and updated Skeinforge it was hard to work out what the problem was.

The first problem I identified was backlash caused by the filament dragging on the carriage. I fixed that by switching from basket feed to spool feed, see That made a big improvement but I also set the "Infill Perimeter Overlap" ratio to its default value of 0.15, where previously I had used 0, and also increased the amount of plastic above the theoretical 100% value.

That is the way it stayed until very recently when I made a discovery about Skeinforge. A new parameter had appeared when I updated: "Infill Interior Density over Exterior Density" ratio, which defaults to 0.9. This seems like a good idea to make inner solid layers a bit less dense. It helps if the bottom layer is a bit too low by giving somewhere for the excess plastic to go. As I was using a little excess plastic anyway it seemed a good idea.

I had noticed that some outer surfaces are never well filled even when other surfaces on the same object are. Here is an example in the bottom of the well in this bracket.

I only realised recently that this was because the 0.9 is applied to some exposed surfaces, not just to internal ones. I set the value to 1.00 and things got a lot better. Not only does it fix the problem above, but it helps to make the other top surfaces solid. I normally use three solid layers to get a good surface on top of sparse infill. But with the first two at only 90% the top layer is still lacking in plastic. That is why I had to use a higher flow rate than theory predicted. Once I got rid of this parameter I could reduce the flow rate and still get a solid top surface. In fact, I can get a reasonable top surface with only two solid layers now.

Another side effect of having the flow rate too high to compensate for the layers below being only 90% was that the top layer was being forced in. When the infill goes from two different directions and meets in the middle I was getting a ridge because the plastic would be being forced into a channel that was a bit too small for it.

Yet another issue I had noticed was that some side walls were inexplicably lumpy. I.e. not in positions where the filament starts or stops. Examining the slices I realised that it was caused by the infill displacing the outline. This was because I had a 15% overlap. Since I made the inner solid layers solid I found I don't need this any more and those bumps have gone away.

So in summary I was using excess flow rate and infill overlap to compensate for inner solid layers (and some outer ones) not being 100% solid. The side effects were lumpy walls and ridges on the top surface.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Round robin

I have been making a few small tweaks to my host software to improve quality recently. One such tweak is the order in which islands of an object (or objects) are visited. By "island" I mean a closed outline and the holes and infill that it encloses. Skeinforge seems to always go for the nearest island, so when it finishes a layer it starts the next layer on the island it has just done and revisits the others in the reverse order.

This means that the plastic is added to the hottest island first and the coldest last. When an island is small it can mean that the layer below is still molten when the next layer is added. I simply reverse the order of every second layer so that the islands are visited in a round robin order. That means they all get the same time to cool down before the next layer is added.

The only downside is one extra long head move each layer from the last to the first island. If your machine leaves strings that is not ideal but mine hasn't since I started reversing the extruder. That also makes the Comb and Tower modules of Skeinforge redundant.

Sunday, 26 December 2010


My wife has assembled her own Christmas crackers from kits in recent years. She puts in much better gifts than even the more expensive commercial ones contain. It did backfire one year when she put a handkerchief in one and it ended up with a powder burn from the explosive!

This year she asked me to make some reprapped boxes instead to contain the usual cracker contents and look decorative on the table. The explosive element to be provided by a party popper. This is what I came up with: -

Having zero artistic ability myself: the star is Christmas star by andrewar from Thingiverse and the tree was grafted from the frame vertex of the Holiday Prusa Mendel by kliment.

My contribution to the design is the box. The base dimensions were determined by the hats my wife wanted to use and the height by the party popper diameter. This one also contains a magnetic bookmark, two chocolates, two PLA snowflakes and a charade instead of the usual bad joke or motto.

The lids had to be printed hollow side down because of the raised design on top. The gap is too big to be spanned without a lot of droop, so I used the support facility in Skienforge. I set the "support gap over extrusion perimeter ratio" to 10 to make it easier to remove and waste a little less plastic. I have no idea why the ends of the support are all in slightly different places.

It was still quite tedious to remove, so I tried Adrian Bowyer's technique of using oil to reduce the bonding. I knew the roof of the lid started at 8mm, and my host software prints the height of the current layer, so I just waited until it had finished the support and painted it with machine oil using small paint brush, while dodging the head. It worked very well and made the support easy to remove.

Here you can see the scars left behind, probably where I missed with the oil: -

I removed the scars by waving a hot air gun over the plastic.

The unsupported area sags a little and that makes a visible pattern on the top as there are only three solid layers. I think that actually makes it look more decorative by adding a textured border: -

The removed supports could be glued together and used as streamers.

These cracker replacements went down very well with both our families. They make a lot less mess on the dinner table and could also be reusable, but they all asked to keep the boxes, which was of course our original intention.

The files are available here.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

101 Mendels

From March up until a week ago I have run my Mendel as close to 24/7 as I can and it has printed 101 Mendels, with a bit of help from HydraRaptor. During all that time I have been able to sell them as fast as I could print them but there has been a dip in demand running up to Christmas, so I stopped printing on Monday, having built up a small stock.

I have shipped parts to England, Scotland, Isle of Man, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Poland, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Tenerife, USA, Canada, Australia and Singapore.

It seems weird now to have a quiet house and not have to stay up until midnight every night to start the overnight build. It does mean that I have time to blog again though, and print things that are not Mendel parts.

I have been printing parts of a Milestag laser tag gun for a friend of mine. I recommended CoCreate to him and he has taken it and run with it. His first design is way more sophisticated that anything I have managed so far. It is a large device broken up into parts that just fit on my 200mm bed. Here is one of them: -

You can see the rest in Tony's blog

I think a machine printing 101 copies of itself must be a bit of a milestone in the RepRap project. That is about 100kg of plastic and not far off 4800 hours of printing in about 6000 available. It is testimony to the reliability of the mechanical design and if anything, the quality of the parts is getting better as I tweak the settings.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Crème brûlée

This is what happened when the thermocouple fell off my heated bed: -

It happened while both myself and my wife were at work so the machine finished the build. When I came home the room stank of fumes.

The bed temperature will have been limited to about 170°C by the thermal cut out I have in series with the heater for safety. Since it was making a bed of six and it went wrong about 1/3 of the way through the build, they will have been cooking for about 4 hours.

Unsurprisingly the bottom of the object shrank and went brown. What was surprising was that the bottom layer became transparent and glass like. So glass like that I cut my finger on it. The meniscus edge was razor sharp. It seems to have softened over time though, this happened a few weeks ago.

Perhaps it might be a useful process if you want a transparent window on the base of an object. You could lay down a single layer and then cook it for a few hours at 170°C and then deposit the rest of the object on top of it.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Monthly maintenance

So, after just over a month more of continuous use of my Mendel, I noticed the filament not spanning gaps well. It had also gone curly again. I measured it at about 0.6mm extruded into fresh air, so decided it was time to bore out the nozzle again. I do this with a 0.5mm bit held between my fingers with the nozzle hot. This restored the diameter to over 0.7mm again, so it is able to extrude 0.6mm filament with enough stretch to span gaps. Looks like this needs to be once a month maintenance.

Another failure I had was two of the bed support lugs sheared off the 360 y-bearings: -

These are under more load on my machine because I have a heavy metal bed. They also get some strain when parts are being removed from it. Rather than strip the machine down and replace the y-bearings, I made a new part that sits between the two y-bearings and supports the bed on three rather than four points.

If the bed is slightly flexible, for example when made from Dibond, then all four corners can be levelled independently. When it is stiffer, for example 6mm aluminium, then you can only adjust three points independently. In fact, one of those can be fixed and then there are only two points that need adjusting.

I made this using the support material option of Skienforge for the first time. To use it I have to enable the raft module but then disable the raft by setting the base layers and interface layers to zero. Without the cross hatch option the support material is easier to remove, but it tends to come away from the bed. For raft-less support the first layer of the support could do with being solid.

Other persistent problems I have are connectors losing contact, so reseating them once a month is good idea. The constant vibration and heat cycling seems to make connectors unreliable. Screw terminals with ferrules over the wire end seems to be the way to go.

The M8 nuts on the frame shake loose, I wish I had used lock washers! Also the grub screw in the pulleys eventually work loose after months and the one in the extruder drive gear needs tightening after a few weeks. It seems to be impossible to keep anything tight in plastic, especially when it is oscillating backwards and forwards. The plastic gives a little and that movement causes screws to work loose. Perhaps some thread-lock in the set screws would do the trick, but I am not certain that the screw might need to be tightened to take up slack caused by the plastic creeping.

Of course running a machine 24/7 is not what most users will do, so it will take many months of normal use before these types of fault manifest.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


My Mendel has been very reliable and consistent running virtually 24/7, but about a week ago, after putting on a new reel of plastic things started to go wrong. The initial symptoms were that small parts built fine, in fact I printed a mini Mendel or Huxley that came out well: -

It took just two full Mendel beds, plus a few parts on HydraRaptor. I did the gears on Hydra for accuracy and the Bowden clamps at 100% fill because they look weak to me for the job they are intended to do. The plastic weighs 335g (including a Wade's extruder), slightly more than 1/3 of a Mendel by weight but the print time is about 1/2, because small parts need finer filament. I printed most of these at 0.5mm whereas I do a lot of Mendel at 0.6mm.

But getting back to the problem, the quality of large parts had started to fall off a bit. They were coming out with blobs on the outside formed by the nozzle oozing as it moves from one object to another. These were not well bonded, so they could be simply scraped off with a fingernail, but something I had tuned out ages ago. Another change was that it was not doing 45 degree overhangs well, so it left filament hanging down in the tops of tear shaped holes. Again, not a big problem as they just get drilled out anyway.

I started to suspect the temperature was too high so I pushed the thermistor well into the heater block. Then the filament started jamming after the first layer (which I do very slowly). After a few attempts the extruder drive gear broke where the captive nut for the grub screw is. This seemed more like the temperature was too low, so I suspected the thermistor was no longer reliable. I decided to rebuild the heater assembly as my last one was put together in a hurry from parts left over from an experiment. It had been in the wars as well, being entombed in ABS and hacked out again, not to mention running almost continuously for about 2500 hours. Originally the thermistor was glued in with RTV silicone, but that was long gone and it relied on the wires holding it in place.

Since my original heater hack using a vitreous enamel resistor I had moved on to a smaller resistor on Hydra and found that worked better. The surface area of the block is a lot less and that is where most of the heat is lost from, so the amount of power required goes down. It also warms up faster of course, both due to less heat being lost and also less thermal mass. The resistor I have settled on is a Vishay / Sfernice RWM04106R80JR15E1

The thermistor is drilled as close as I dare to the thread for the nozzle and then counter-bored so that the entrance is wide enough for the PTFE sleeving. The wires have PTFE insulation to withstand the temperature and the resistor is soldered with 300°C HMP solder. I think I could also get away with ordinary unleaded solder as well because of the length of the resistor leads, but I didn't want to chance it.

After a tip from Giles I used Rothenberger high temperature glass rope adhesive to glue the resistor and the thermistor. It sets in only half an hour, which is a big advantage over other things I have tried. I also used it to stick ceramic tape on the outside of the block to insulate it.

When I first heated it up the adhesive bubbled causing a downward slope in the temperature graph. I thought at first the thermistor had been dislodged by the blistering, but I think it was just temporarily cooled by the out-gassing. I should have heated it much more slowly the first time I think.

The new heater works much better than the old one. The warm up time to 255°C is about 280 seconds, whereas the old one took about 400 seconds (the bed takes about 350 seconds to get to 140°C). It also runs at about 70% to maintain 240°C while extruding, whereas the old one needed about 90%. The bang-bang control cycles much faster and only deviates by one degree. That is because of the close proximity of the thermistor to the heater. Because it is mounted between the heater and the barrel I can be sure the swing at the barrel is even less. I calibrate against a thermocouple inside the barrel, so any temperature difference across the block is calibrated out. It should be negligible though because the thermistor is also very close to the barrel and aluminium is a very good conductor. The extra power needed to heat the ABS when extruding 0.6mm filament at 32mm/s is about 10%, i.e. ~2W.

The new improved heater didn't solve any of my problems though. While reassembling the extruder I tried pushing filament through by hand. It was much harder than I remembered it was when I first built the extruder. At this point I was beginning to suspect the plastic was different in some way although it looked identical and was part of the same purchase.

I noted that the filament was coming out very curly. That was something I had noticed happening on both my machines when I do a test extrusion, but I had ignored it. I measured the diameter though and found whereas it normally swells to 0.7mm this was coming out oval and about 0.5mm by 0.6mm. It all fell into place then. I have read that the difference between straight hair and curly hair is whether it is round or oval. The only way the filament could be oval is if the nozzle aperture is no longer round. I put a 0.5mm drill bit through it and it started to extrude round, straight, 0.7mm filament again. The hole must have been partially occluded by the burnt plastic that tends to glaze the end of the nozzle. That caused the plastic to come out thinner and faster. It was fine when making objects with 0.5mm filament because it was still being stretched but when building with 0.6mm filament it was being compressed, so would hang loose if given the chance. The smaller hole increased the barrel pressure, which is why it oozed. The plastic would be compressed more, so require more backing up to release the pressure and stop the flow. Also the extra pressure was too much for the pinch wheel when extruding at the top flow rate I use, which is 0.6mm at 32mm/s. I think the M8 hobbed bolt is below the ideal diameter for softer plastic like ABS.

I also re-bored HydraRaptor (with a 0.4mm drill) and that stopped the filament being curly as well. It seems nozzles need occasionally re-boring. I had assumed that the hot flow of high pressure plastic would have kept the hole clean, but not so.

So a simple fault had my machine out of action for days because I didn't recognise what the symptoms meant collectively.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Some corners like it hot

Large objects with sharp corners, such as the Mendel z-leadscrew-base, produce enough stress to form a blister in the PET tape on my heated bed. These can only be flattened again by pricking the tape. I can't understand how air gets in and cannot get out again, but that is what seems to happen.

The blisters leave a small indentation in the object's base. It is only an aesthetic problem because the base remains flat, i.e. it doesn't rock on a flat surface.

Sometimes the blister allows the corner to peel from the bed towards the end of a build, allowing the corner to curl upwards a little. Generally I can avoid that by cleaning the bed with acetone before problem builds. I also use hexagonal infill on those parts and only two solid layers rather than three in an attempt to reduce the stress. When I design my own parts I round the corners, where possible, to prevent such problems.

A solution may be to use a sheet of PET rather than PET tape, but then you need to find a way of holding it down. One thing I have noticed though is that when I build a bed with four of the z-brackets closely packed the corners on the inside don't blister or lift. That must be because the air around them is hotter. As an experiment I added some little plastic walls to the build to act as baffles to keep the heat in as the bed moves through cooler air.

These have a 5mm thick base to help keep the tape flat and are 1mm away from the edge of the object. They work well and stop the blisters forming at the corners. They are very similar to Forrest's apron technique but their primary function is thermal rather than mechanical. A more general technique would be to build a thin wall all the way around the perimeter of the objects to cocoon them. I expect that would only need to be one filament thick and perhaps might give a similar effect to having a heated build chamber.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Freezing your bits off

Since I started cleaning my PET tape with acetone it can be hard to remove the parts from it sometimes. Somebody suggested trying freezer spray a while back, so I gave it a go.

I got this Arctic Spray, which is intended for freezing water pipes so that you can work on them without draining the water. I must admit I wouldn't fancy having a strict time limit if I was plumbing, you would have to be sure you had all the right tools and materials to start with. My occasional forays into plumbing rarely go to plan and usually involve a trip to B & Q in the middle.

I tried it first on an ABS part before the bed had cooled for any length of time, so it would be at about 100°C and the parts still soft. The part curled up at the edges and so came off easily. I thought I had ruined it by making it warp, but to my surprise it became flat again when it cooled. Still that seems a bit risky, and the spray isn't cheap, so now I cool the bed to 50°C with a fan and then spray any stubborn parts that I can't pull off. It works a treat but I don't know how long a can will last. It would have to be a lot of uses to make it worth the cost: £4.49 plus £2.20 on eBay. Hitting them with a block of wood and a hammer is a lot cheaper!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Friday the 13th

When I got up last Friday morning my PC had this on the screen: -

This is despite the fact that I had automatic updates set to ask me before installing. This was the result :-

The PC had stopped talking to my Mendel about half way through a seven hour build, so the axes had stopped moving but the extruder was left running for a few hours. The result was that the extruder was encased in a solid ball of ABS about the size of a tangerine. Thanks Microsoft! What I actually said at the time was less polite!

Of course I was planning to put some safeguards in the firmware and also run the machine from an SD card, but have never quite got round to it as I have been printing virtually non-stop for months.

I couldn't remove the extruder from the carriage because the blob was too big to go through the gap, so I had to dismantle the x-axis to release the carriage.

I have seen this happen to other people and it wrote off the extruder, but I thought this one should survive because it is mostly metal underneath the blob.

I tried using a loop of hot nichrome to slice bits of it off. The nichrome cut through OK, but the ABS closed up behind it, so it achieved nothing.

Next I tried a small circular saw attached to a Dremel. That worked OK, but threw off sawdust and bits of ABS hot enough to burn, even through light clothing. I got the bulk of it off that way but when I nicked one of the heater wires I decided to stop.

I got some more off by heating it with a hot air gun and pulling lumps off with a pair of pliers. That was OK but the whole extruder got too hot to hold and it was starting to soften the carriage.

I got the remainder off by running the heater up to 200°C and using a knife, wire cutters and pliers. It took me about 3 evenings in total to remove the blob and the machine was out of action for a week while I reassembled it and calibrated it again.

It now takes a bit longer to warm up, and extrudes more filament during the warm up process than it used to. I suspect therefore that the thermistor is reading low and so it is running hotter. It doesn't seem to cause a problem with the ABS that I am using. I had to increase the time I run the extruder to prime it after warm up though.

I also seem to have managed to bend one of my z lead-screws while sliding the x-axis bars in and out. It doesn't matter as the axis is constrained by the z-bars, but annoying as it rattles a bit.

All in all a bit of a disaster. It's running again now though, but I still haven't put a safeguard in my firmware. I will have to develop it on HydraRaptor and load it into Mendel between builds. I have disabled automatic updates!

Monday, 9 August 2010

Rejuvenated Bed

I put new PET tape on my heated bed at the beginning of July. Since then I have printed 15 Mendels on it, but on the last few I was getting problems with the parts not sticking. That is after about 700 hours of printing and ~15kg of plastic. I occasionally swab it down with Isopropanol to remove grease from finger prints, but Isopropanol is not a solvent for ABS. This evening I tried cleaning it with acetone instead. It dramatically increased the grip level, restoring it to new and making the parts hard to remove again! ABS must leave some traces behind on the surface of the bed and the acetone removes it.

So it looks like PET tape is almost fully reusable. It tends to get the odd blister where the corners of big objects overcome its adhesive and picks up a few scars from the odd accident with a knife. Apart from that it just needs cleaning with acetone about once a month.

Monday, 19 July 2010

A bit of a drag

One problem I have had, on and off, with Mendel is a tendency for the infill not to meet the outline. This was particularly bad with PLA. I have combated this by having some infill overlap and also extruding the plastic slightly faster than it should be, so that the solid layers are well stuffed. I don't have to do either of these things with HydraRaptor. I couldn't figure out what the difference was until I changed a reel of plastic recently. The first print on the new reel came out like this: -

The gap is always at one side like this, it is as if the infill is not centred within the outline. The reason, I have come to realise, is that the belt has some play in it because it is not infinitely taught. When the extruder pulls filament off a reel it exerts a force on the carriage, which displaces it slightly from where it would come to rest without any external force. Because the carriage moves, the filament only gets pulled from the reel at the local extremes of movement, the rest of the time it is slack. This causes small offsets in the filament paths. In particular, when it is doing zigzag infill it is using filament relatively quickly, so at the end of the zigzag furthest from the centre of the bed it is likely to give a little tug of the reel each time, causing the zigzag to stop short of the outline.

The conclusion is that the filament feed for a belt-driven moving-head machine needs to be very low drag. The hanging basket technique that I used on HydraRaptor is no good because it has to pull plastic out from under its own weight. Making the feed point high above the machine reduces the lateral drag on the carriage, but you can easily get enough vertical drag to deflect the x-bars upwards, or even lift the z-axis slightly because the backlash in the thread is only taken up by the weight of the x-axis.

The reason it was bad with PLA was because I was pulling it from a hanging basket and being very stiff, even a small coil needs a lot of tug.

The system I now use is a vertically mounted spool big enough to take 5kg coils, which last me a couple of weeks.

The bearing is just a stainless steel axle running in PLA bushes, lubricated with some lithium grease. It is low friction, but not as frictionless as a ball bearing. It needs a little friction to stop any in-balance in the coil causing the spool to spin to its low point. Also the faces of the spool need to be quite big to stop a loose loop of filament coming over the side. It pulls tight and jams if that happens.

I can take the spool apart to insert a new coil of plastic.

In general though I have to wind it all off and on again to get it tight and balanced enough to wind off smoothly. Since 5kg is about 800m it takes a long time to wind it onto a garden hose reel and then back on again. Someday I will get round to making a machine to do it for me. In the meantime I will make a second identical spool so that I can just mount the coil on one spool and wind it onto a second one to use.

Thursday, 8 July 2010


While making its 18th child, my Mendel made a real pig's ear of laying down the first layer holes at the start of a build. So bad that the infill did not join to them and started curling upwards. I had to watch it a while before I realised what the problem was. The extruder had come loose and was bouncing up and down when the filament feed stopped and started.

I thought it was just that the bolts had worked loose but after I tightened them it was still moving and there were some worrying crunching sounds, so it was time to strip it down.

The bottom of the heatsink is covered with a sticky deposit. It is some volatile component that boils off the ABS and condenses on cold surfaces,

The main extruder bracket had broken and the carriage didn't look too good either: -

I stripped the carriage down as well and found that it was cracked and severely distorted.

The main problem I realised is my modified hot end. Normally the insulator is locked into the chunky part of the bracket by a couple of M3 bolts through it. I can't get those in because my heatsink is in the way, so I rely on the mounting bolts and the upper carriage to take the extrusion force. On reflection, not a good idea!

The lower carriage is less deformed because the extrusion force does not pass though it.

The heat rising from the bed and the extruder must be enough to soften the carriage and let it deform, but also it seems to have made the ABS weak and crumbly. Even the belt clamps have deformed.

This is after about 3 months of printing though so it isn't a big problem to replace them as long as you have spares. I had just printed a carriage before it failed so it was easy to replace but I had to print another extruder on HydraRaptor. You really need to have a full set of spares on hand, or have two machines.

I did various changes to make it more durable. The main thing is I fitted nuts under the heatsink so that no force goes through the carriage. I also put large penny washers on the top of the extruder bracket to reinforce the lugs. Ideally they should be a bit thicker but that would reduce the Z travel even further. The extruder motor clashes with the frame which reduces the height. Then my heatsink loses another 10mm or so and my heated bed loses 26mm. I am left with about 35mm which is only just enough to build the tallest Mendel part (the lower carriage).

I also used nyloc nuts in the captive positions in the carriage. The wiki advises against this as it may crack the plastic but it doesn't seem to be case with my ABS parts. Ordinary nuts don't stay tight because the plastic creeps.

I intend to fit some sort of heat shield to stop the heat rising from the bed reaching the carriage. In the mean time I have started fitting the front on my cabinet after the first layer is finished, when the bed temperature drops from 140°C to 110 °C. That can be up to 90 minutes into the build, so not convenient.

Saturday, 3 July 2010


My last heated bed ran for a long time but it finally went pop on Mendel print number 15. The TO220 resistors developed a short to earth about half way though an 8 hour overnight build. It took out a 5 Amp mains fuse and destroyed the 4 Amp solid state relay that was controlling it.

Clearly the cheap TO220 resistors are just not suitable for abusing as heating elements, so I went back to using aluminium clad resistors. The disadvantage is that they are higher profile and need two accurately drilled mounting holes, but they are a lot more robust and cheaper. The more expensive TO220 resistors I used on HydraRaptor are still going strong, but there is nothing to suggest that they are any better in their spec. It is the tab insulation that breaks down though, so it could be just the fact that the voltage is much lower on HydraRaptor.

I have used the Tyco THS10 series at temperatures up to 240°C and not had any fail yet. They are not rated for mains voltage though, so I moved up to THS15 series which are. They are slightly taller, which doesn't actually matter because I use 20mm stand-offs, so there is still sufficient gap. The mounting holes will take an M2.5 screw, but I didn't have any to hand, so I drilled them out for M3. There is just enough room for a screw head with an integral washer, a standard washer would not fit.

I have run the THS10 at about twice their rating so I did the same with these: 9 × 22Ω in series gives a total power of 290W at 240V. That gives a warm-up time of about 4 minutes to 140°C. My extruder takes longer to get to 255°C, so I set them both off together so that the bed has enough time at its steady state temperature for the nylon pillars to expand fully.

The white PTFE clamp is where I attach the thermocouple. The device wrapped in Kapton tape is a 190°C thermal cut-out to prevent melt down if the firmware crashes or the solid state relay goes short circuit. The mains wire has PTFE insulation to handle the temperature. Since the wiring is exposed it should really have an extra layer of insulation to be considered safe, but I am not about to stick my fingers under a hot bed so I didn't bother. If you have children or animals, or are completely risk averse, then you probably should.

I haven't put any magnets on this one yet as I haven't been making use of the ones on the last bed since I started using white ABS on PET tape. The objects mainly come loose when they cool down and are easily removed without having to remove the steel plate and bend it.

ABS on PET tape works well. The grip level seems to degrade much more slowly than Kapton does. After lots of use it becomes easier to remove objects, but then the amount of grip is not quite enough for some parts. I can make most of the Mendel parts time after time, but I have problems with a few. The outer corners lift slightly towards the end of the build of the large Z brackets when the PET is old and I am building more than one at a time.

Not easy to see, but the bottom right corner has lifted by about 0.5mm. It makes no difference to the function of the part but I like to get them completely flat.

At the opposite end of the scale I have problems with the bed springs and the X 360 Z bearing plates. These are very tall compared to their footprint, so as the nozzle bushes past the top of the objects they often ping off the bed due to the small contact area and the high leverage. When the PET is old I have about a 30% reject rate with these unless I do them one at a time.

I had a 5mm sheet of polycarbonate that I have been meaning to try as a bed material for some time. I think that is what is used on commercial machines. It has a high melting point (267°C), so will not melt when the hot filament lands on it. It also has a high glass transitions (150°C) so shouldn't soften on a heated bed.

I clamped it to the aluminium bed with some bulldog clips.

I tried it cold to start with but the ABS did not stick so I tried it at 140°C next. I made a test shape that I am using to research hole shrinkage. It stuck so well I broke it trying to get it off.

I had to use a chisel to get the rest off. Strangely, although the ABS is extruded below the melt point of the PC, so it can't form a diffusion weld, it forms a stronger bond with the PC than to itself.

I dropped the initial bed temperature to 50°C which seemed to be the lowest I could get the first layer outline to stick properly. After the first layer I set the bed temperature to 90°C to reduce the warping stress in the ABS. These are temperatures on the underside of the aluminium, so the top surface of the PC will be something like 15-20°C lower.

I made these tall objects that tend to come unstuck from PET. These held well, in fact, when I removed them, most of the springs and one of the bearing plates left their bottom layer behind. Not really a big problem, the bottom layer becomes a minimalist raft!

For general production I went back to PET tape. I covered a sheet of 1.5mm thick stainless steel and clamped it down with more bulldog clips. I can swap it with a sheet of glass if I need to do PLA. The steel seems to be strong enough to stay flat in the middle when clamped at the edge.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Broken bracket breakdown

Whilst printing a 16th set of Mendel parts, my Mendel printed a bed of brackets with bits missing: -

On investigation I found the idler bracket on the extruder had broken, so there wasn't any pressure on the pinch wheel.

It lasted a long time before it broke but clearly it wasn't strong enough. Wade made his in PLA, which is harder and I only use two of the four bolt holes, so mine is under more strain.

I made a stronger replacement. It is thicker and a little bit bigger in the other two dimensions. I also made the holes 4.5mm rather than 4mm so it slides on the bolts easier and I capped the ends of the axle holder as mine tended to slide sideways.

The files are on Thingiverse.