Saturday, 26 July 2008

Every little helps

The RepRap Darwin design has 10 diagonal tie bars across the corners of all but the top face of the cube, making it very rigid. These are attached by 20 diagonal tie brackets.

The brackets are held onto the protruding 8mm stubs by M5 set screws through a captive nut. The diagonal bars are then held in place by M8 nuts either side of the bracket.

When fitting them I noticed that the set screws and nuts are not necessary. All the holes I make come out a little undersized and stringy so I clean these out with an 8mm drill. This makes them an interference fit onto the M8 rods. The force exerted by the M8 nuts is enough to squeeze the bracket to make it a tight fit. This is the case when they are made from ABS with 25% fill. Other plastics may be too strong or brittle.

This shortcut saves 20 grub screws and nuts and the time to fit them (inserting the nut can be quite fiddly). Not only that, the bracket can be simplified and made smaller because it does not need space for the nut and grub screw. This optimisation is well worth doing because, although these brackets are quite small, there are 20 of them so they are a significant part of the time taken to replicate.

Here is my smaller design which uses 21% less plastic and reduces the time to make 20 from 11.5 hours to 9 hours on my machine :-

I also used a truncated teardrop for the lateral hole. This relies on the fact that filament can span gaps as well as being able to build out at 45°. The drawing below illustrates that, even for an 8mm hole, the difference between a proper circle, which would require support material, and this truncated shape is very little. It also shows where the full teardrop would extend to.

Here is a picture of it installed alongside the old design: -

I think this is a beneficial mutation that will slightly increase the rate at which Darwins reproduce in the wild. The new DNA can be found here.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

A bit of a contraption

As I was adding the diagonal tie bars my wife said "it's becoming a bit of a contraption". I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing!

My alternative z-axis using four tin can stepper motors works reasonable well. I am running them from 36V with a constant current chopper drive. They are all wired in parallel and the total current is set to 1.25A. They have 22Ω coils so that corresponds to about 7V. I am guessing they are rated for 12V, but if you run steppers at their maximum rating they get very hot, especially when mounted on plastic rather than a metal chassis. Under running them, as I am, they only get to about 40°C, which should be fine even for PCL and PLA brackets. Total power used by the axis is about 9W.

The standard Darwin z-axis can carry a small child: reprap-prints-child. Not having any small children, I tested it with a vice that weighs 3.3Kg. As it would take 300 hours to print anything that size so I think it is a reasonable worst case test.

The pull-in step rate (i.e. the maximum rate that the motor will start at with no acceleration) is about 400 steps/second. It runs reliably at 320 steps/s, which is 8.33 mm/s. If I understand the settings page on the wiki then this is more than 10 times faster than people are running the belt drive version. Still much slower than HydraRaptor's z-axis though.

Here is a video of it in action: -

Alternative RepRap Darwin Z-axis from Nop Head on Vimeo

As you can hear, it doesn't make a lot of noise, something that is a big improvement on HydraRaptor, which has a very noisy z-axis.

The total travel is 230mm, which is also a bit better than the standard Darwin I think, but you have to subtract the length of the extruder barrel to get the maximum work height.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Deviant Z axis

The RepRap Darwin Z-axis has four screw thread drives linked by a timing belt and toothed pulleys, driven by a large stepper motor.

There are a few things about the design that I am not keen on: -
  • The beefy motor and timing belt make it expensive.
  • The belt tension puts lateral force on the threaded rod, which causes a lot of friction and looks like it will cause the plastic bearings to wear.
  • Making the pulleys and splicing the belt seem like tricky things to get right.
When Forrest Higgs came across a small fast stepper motor I decided try an alternative scheme using four motors wired in parallel, eliminating the pulleys, belt and lateral forces. The four small motors are about the same price as the big one, so the cost of the timing belt is saved.

When the motors arrived I got a bit of shock at how small they were. Although I had seen photos from Forrest's blog they were about half the size I had imagined. They are lowish inductance and large step angle (15°) so they can go very fast.

I designed a bracket to hold the motor and mate up with the Darwin corner bracket: -

As you can see there is vast discrepancy between the shaft sizes and one quarter of the weight of the table is born by each of the tiny motor bearings. I was staring to get a bad feeling about the idea.

I had several unsuccessful attempts at making a flexible shaft coupling from ABS: -

None of these were flexible enough or concentric enough. My final design used a piece of plastic piping to get the flexibility.

It has a captive nut for the M3 set screw. The piping is just a friction fit and the rod screws into it.

Even with this design I had a problem with the eccentricity of the hole for the motor shaft.
When you make a hole with fused filament fabrication, the outline of the hole has a start and an end. This causes a bump in the perimeter. Possibly, the outline should end one filament diameter short of where it started, rather than being a full circle. Also each layer should start and end in a different place. When I get chance I will try this.

To remove the bump I ran a drill though the hole. When the hole is as small as this (2mm) the bump displaces the drill leaving the resulting hole off centre. I ended up having to drill them on the lathe, which is cheating.

I mounted the four motors and wired them up in parallel to a micro-stepping chopper drive and a 36V power supply.

I don't like the RepRap scheme of distributing the electronics around the machine so I mounted mine all together at the bottom of the machine on a sheet of perspex. The perspex rests on one of the base diagonals and is held in place by four brackets which clamp around the lower frame.

As soon as I powered it up I realised that the motors had nowhere near enough torque to turn the M8 threaded rods. It wasn't a big surprise, two things that were though:

The motors got ridiculously hot, well over 100°C before I switched them off. The coil resistance is 27Ω which is smaller than some much larger 12V motors, giving a dissipation of about 10W. These look more like 5V motors to me, either that or they are not continuously rated.

I found that my micro-stepping drives don't work well with tin can motors. The micro-steps are very uneven in size. Micro-stepping assumes that the torque displacement curve of the motor is sinusoidal, which doesn't seem to be the case for large step angle tin can motors. Not a big problem in this case as I don't need the extra resolution. I will replace the drive with something simpler when I have got the machine working.

So all in all a big failed experiment! I should have wired up one of the motors before I wasted the plastic making all the mounts.

My fall back plan was to use some larger tin can motors I rescued from a skip recently.

The one on the left is bipolar and the one on the right is unipolar. I decided to try the bipolar ones first, I may switch to the unipolar to simplify the electronics, if they have enough torque.

The shaft coupling was much easier to make because the shaft is bigger (4mm) and has a pin through it. I didn't need to resort to the lathe this time.

I designed and made a new set of motor brackets, they took about 8 hours to print in total.

Here is one motor installed: -

It seems to have plenty of torque for the job. I am waiting for more bolts to arrive to mount the others.

These are not low inductance motors so they won't be as fast as the original single motor design. The large step angle (7.5°) and my 36V supply will help to mitigate this. I originally thought the z-axis speed was unimportant because it moves so rarely, but actually on HydraRaptor I use the z-axis to lift the head 0.4mm when moving between filament runs so it does need to be reasonably quick.

This scheme certainly simplifies the mechanical construction but may not make economic sense. The motors are cheap in large volume (£2-3) but I haven't found a retail price.