It was a bit difficult to find out what was wrong because it was full of solidified plastic when cold. I unscrewed the nozzle and placed it in some acetone to dissolve the ABS. It appears that the hole in the nozzle was blocked by burnt plastic. It probably formed when I had some high temperature accidents and experiments recently.
I should have realised the nozzle was blocked, but it has never happened before. If I had then I could have just unscrewed it, cleaned it out with acetone and put it back on again. In the event pushing the heater out of the PTFE pretty much wrote it off.
Not for the first time, I decided to rob parts from the extruder I was making for my Darwin. These are all made from different materials in order to see if small improvements could be made.
The barrel is made from aluminium. It is a better thermal conductor than brass, is easier to machine being a lot softer, and is cheaper.
To make the thermistor more easily removable I mounted it in ring of aluminium with a tapped hole.
The thermistor was glued in with Cerastil H-115 and the ring was screwed onto the barrel with some heatsink compound in the thread. By adjusting the beta I was able to get the reading to agree with a thermocouple inside the barrel to within a couple of degrees. I don't know if that means the ring was at the same temperature as the middle of the barrel or if it was lower and I compensated with a beta value that is not actually the beta of the thermistor. Either way it produces the desired result.
I also made an aluminium nozzle with a 0.3mm aperture. I broke the drill bit as it went through. I am not sure if that was due to the aluminium snatching more than brass does, or me being careless. I have broken loads of small drills recently and blunted some bigger ones by accidentally drilling with my lathe in reverse!
The picture also shows where the thermistor ring mounts.
Another modification I made was to put a PTFE cap over the nozzle.
This has two benefits: -
- It is a good insulator so it helps to keep the nozzle warm.
- Being non-stick, and also cooler than the nozzle surface, it stops filament from sticking to it. I use a brush to wipe the nozzle. This works well with HDPE but ABS tends to curl upwards and stick. Since I added this cap the nozzle wipe has worked 100%. It remains to be seen if it works with PCL and PLA.
Another new material I used was Polyetheretherketone (PEEK) instead of PTFE for the thermal break. This has similar insulating properties to PTFE and a slightly better working temperature range. It machines well but forms burs very readily.
I found it much sturdier at working temperature, I don't need a pipe clip to stop the barrel popping out now, but I think it may be a bit harder to push molten plastic through, being less slippery.
The other thing I changed was I used insulated nichrome. When using bare nichrome I have to put down a thin layer of Cerastil to insulate the barrel, leave it to set, then wind the heater and cover it with more Cerastil. That makes it a two day job. By using insulated nichrome I can just wind it straight on the barrel and then cover. But what I didn't think about was that I normally make the soldered connections under the Cerastil, which I could not do this way. All in all I think bare nichrome is best as it makes a much neater job. Here is the previous heater that I made way back in March :-
So after all these "improvements" how did the new extruder perform?
Not very well! I tried it with green ABS first but could not get it to extrude reliably. I swapped the nozzle for my previous 0.5mm brass one and that got it working.
I then switched to some plain ABS that I bought a while ago but have not been able to use because it is very oval. It was too wide for my previous extruder. This extruder has a 3.5mm bore so it should easily fit but I could not get it to work reliably. It takes an enormous force to push it into the extruder. I am not entirely sure why. If I pull it out and push some green in I can extrude the plain that is left in the barrel easily so it isn't any harder to push it through the nozzle but it is to push it into the heater.
Since I foolishly changed every material at the same time it is hard to evaluate which things are better and which are worse. I have recently formed the opinion that the extruder design is far from optimum. I think we need a much sharper thermal gradient and a shorter heater barrel. I think a lot of force is wasted pushing slightly softened plastic down the thermal break.
My next attempt will have a very short thermal break with a heatsink at the cold side. I will also make it easier to strip down and reassemble. A problem with the current design is that once the heater barrel is screwed in and full of plastic it is hard to remove it.