Tuesday 20 May 2008

Mystery material

The bed material I am using for ABS works very well but the problem is I don't know what it is. My wife bought it for 10p when I was trying lots of things for HDPE and was disappointed when it did not work. She is now delighted I found a use for it as she loves to get a bargain.

It originally looked like this :-

It is about 3mm thick. Most of that is the plastic backing. On the front is printed paper, stuck on with a double sided sticky film and covered with single sided sticky film. This can be peeled off to just leave the back material so both sides of that can be used.

Here is a bit I destroyed developing rafts: -

It will bend a little but then it snaps, as you can see, when I pulled a raft off that was stuck too well.

I normally use this flowchart to identify plastic but it fails with this material because I think it is a polymer with a fibrous filler, possibly paper.
  • It melts with a low temp soldering iron so is not a thermoset.
  • It floats very well but it is not PE or PP, so that is probably due to a filler.
  • It does not burn well and is self extinguishing.
  • It gives black smoke and if anything has a yellow flame.
  • It does not drip.
  • The smoke has some odour but I don't recognise it. I don't know what phenol smells like though.
So perhaps it is PPO and a fiber. If anybody knows where I can buy it from I will be very grateful. It is quite reusable but I expect it will need replacing sometime and other people want to use it.

Monday 19 May 2008

Stepping up production

As HydraRaptor seems to be working so well with ABS I decided to put my high temperature extruder design on hold and go for making a set of Darwin parts in ABS. This is how far I got before my extruder wore out again: -

The flexible drive cable disintegrated and most of the JB-Weld has fallen off.

Using Enrique's Skeinforge slicer I can make very sparse objects that are still strong when made in ABS. I set the infill to 25% but I am not sure exactly how Skeinforge interprets it. The infill lines are not parallel so they get further apart the longer they are. Large voids are very sparse indeed and smaller voids look like 25% fill.

The outer wall is always two filaments thick, one is the perimeter and the other is the ends of all the infill zigzags that meet each other. With 0.5mm filament and a layer height of 0.4mm the filament threads are 0.6mm wide so the side walls are 1.2mm thick. I set the number of solid layers to 3 so the top and bottom are also 1.2mm thick. Skeinforge is clever enough to make layers with some areas 100% fill (where they are less than three layers from the top or bottom or internal surface) and other areas sparse. Very clever stuff, which really speeds up the build process but still gives remarkably rigid and strong objects.

I made four of Darwin's eight corner blocks (taking about 2.5 hours each) but I was unhappy with the amount of warping I got when not using a raft. I decided to develop peelable rafts and reusable bed material, like commercial machines have, before making any more parts. That took a lot of experiments to get right but I now have a workable system for ABS.

The bed material is the advertising board I used for ABS before, but this time I am using the back. Unfortunately I don't know what it is. It is very buoyant in water and self extinguishing if I burn it. ABS bonds to it very well. If I extrude the object directly onto it then it is impossible to remove. If I put down a sparse raft first at a low temperature I can remove the raft with a penknife. It blisters the surface but that does not seem to matter because the raft presents a smooth surface to the object. It just gets a bit harder to remove the raft each time as the surface gets more blistered.

The board is not strong enough to resist the warping on its own so I stuck it to the back of some floor laminate with Evostick contact glue. Even that could not hold the edges down, hence the metal strip.

The first raft layer I put down is a 1mm filament zigzag with a 50% spacing, extruded at 4mm/s @ 200°C with a nozzle height of 0.7mm. Because the layer is so thick and extruded quite flat, it absorbs any surface irregularities and makes the initial head height less critical. Spacing it 50% allows it to spread sideways, if the head is too low, and also allows it to be removed. 100% fill is impossible to remove and the head height becomes critical. If it is a little too low, the filament is wider but there is nowhere for it to go, so it builds up on the nozzle and blobs.

The first layer is far too course to build upon so I put two layers of fine zigzag the other way on top. These are 0.5mm filament extruded at 16mm/s with a layer height of 0.4mm and spaced just wide enough to not bond with itself laterally. That makes it easier to remove from the base of the object. The temperature is raised to 230°C to give a strong weld to the layers below.

Two layers are needed because the first layer has a rippled surface as it spans the wide gaps in the layer below. I put them down on top of each other rather than alternating the direction of the zigzag. That makes them weaker laterally therefore easier to remove from the object with a penknife.

The raft uses horizontal and vertical zigzags so there is no correspondence with the object infill which is at 45°. Again that makes it easier to separate without risk of pulling a thread out of the bottom of the object.

To ensure the raft does not bond too well to the object it is cooled for a minute with the fan. The first layer of the object is then extruded at 8mm/s @ 215°C and subsequent layers at 16mm/s @ 230°C. The temperatures are critical, so depending on thermistor site and calibration, they will vary a bit from machine to machine.

This is what the bottom of the raft looks like: -

And this is the top: -

It does slow the build and waste plastic but it reduces warping and makes the bed reusable over and over again. I expect it won't last forever but you can certainly use it many times.

The base of the object is also pretty neat and tidy: -

Here are the stats for the objects I have processed so far: -

Seconds Filament @ 16 mm/s Moves @ 32 mm/s Build time Plastic volume Quantity required Total build time Total plastic
Corner bracket @ 25% 8866 122009 mm 34926 mm 02:27:46 24.0 cc 8 19:42:08 191.7 cc
Opto bracket @ 50% 1200 15902 mm 4661 mm 00:20:00 3.1 cc 3 01:00:00 9.4 cc
Diagonal tie bracket @ 25% 2178 31236 mm 3716 mm 00:34:28 6.1 cc 20 11:29:28 122.7 cc

I will update this table as I progress to make the Darwin parts.

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Swiss cheese

HydraRaptor made a Darwin corner bracket in 50% filled ABS this evening: -

It took 2 hours 35 minutes. It feels pretty sturdy but there is some delamination through the thin section of the corner facing the camera. A bit of a weak spot in the design I think. Also the base is a bit warped as I didn't use a raft. I don't know if these matter as I haven't worked out what all the holes are for yet. I need to make seven more for a Darwin. I will probably do a 100% version for comparison.

Monday 5 May 2008

Cat's cradle

I hit another milestone today: HydraRaptor made the first part that I designed myself, using the ArtOfIllusion application. It is the first time I have done any 3D modeling and it is much harder than I thought it would be.

Adrian Bowyer has written a set of hints and tips here and I needed to use every single one of them. I don't know how anybody can use ArtOfIllusion without his guide.

The reason it is difficult is that you have to build up complex 3D shapes by composing primitive shapes like blocks and cylinders with boolean operations like union, intersection and subtract. That is fine but you are not allowed to do boolean ops between objects that have coincident or tangential faces. If you do, then you create non manifold objects which cannot be converted to STL files. However, you generally do want join things with a common faces. Here is the object I designed :-

It is a cradle to support the heatsink of my high temperature extruder design. If you take one of the upright legs as an example you see it's a cylinder that meets a rectangular lug with a common face at the bottom and tangential joints at the sides. It also meets the cone on the top with a common face. All of these are not allowed: I had to make the cylinder slightly too long and slightly bigger in diameter before unioning it with the cone and the block. That left it protruding slightly at the bottom, which is solved by subtracting a large flat rectangle from the base.

Another problem is that if you have long strings of boolean operations the application becomes very slow doing anything. That is solved by converting the results of boolean operations into triangle meshes. It solves the speed issue but then for some reason boolean operations on the resulting triangle mesh only offer intersection and subtraction. To restore the possibility of union you have to optimise the triangle mesh in the solid editor. Not hard, but not intuitive and very time consuming.

I tried to make the object in HDPE with my lash up stainless steel extruder but it was not reliable enough. This was the first attempt which stopped short due the filament slipping in the pump: -

I also realised at this point that two of the columns were too close to the heatsink. Other attempts resulted in either the filament slipping, or the GM3 clutch breaking free. I had stuck it with super glue, but that does not hold very well, so in the end I welded it with my soldering iron.

It takes an enormous amount of force to extrude with the stainless steel barrel and I am beginning to think the idea may be fatally flawed. I think that because there is a slow temperature gradient down the barrel you have a point where the filament is only just molten so it is very viscous, so is hard to push past that point. With the PTFE barrel the temperature will fall away quicker and the walls are also much more slippery.

I will try again with a much shorter barrel, but to get the object made, I put my old extruder back together and made it in ABS: -

As you can see lots of stringing due to extruder overrun, but easily cleaned up with a penknife and drill. It is much easier to remove strings from ABS and HDPE objects than it is from PCL.

I think the dark lines on the posts are grease from the extruder bearings.

All in all I think it worked very well: this is my first ABS object, other than test blocks, and it is also the largest and most complex object I have made so far. It is a bit warped underneath because I didn't use a raft and it is 100% filled. As it happens the underside does not matter at all for this part. It took just over 2 hours so I went for a walk and left it to it.

I designed the shape for HDPE, the objectives are for it to hold the heatsink rigidly and not restrict the airflow too much. Had I designed it for ABS I would have made it a bit less chunky.

Here it is with the heatsink installed: -

Next I need to make a new extruder support bracket / clamp to mate with this part to continue my attempt to make the high temperature extruder.

Saturday 3 May 2008

Experimental extruder

I want to see how much of the Darwin design I can make out of HDPE as that is the plastic I have the most of and is the easiest to get hold of. It should also be the cheapest but I think I got a very bad deal with mine.

To extrude HDPE quickly, without losing accuracy, requires a fan blowing on the work piece while extruding at around 240°C. The PTFE insulator in the extruder starts to lose its strength under these conditions and it also extends about 0.5mm due to thermal expansion. The JB-Weld heater insulation also degrades rapidly. To address these problems I am working on a design using stainless steel as the insulator, which I first blogged here. Here is a second lash up I made to progress the idea :-

At the bottom is a brass nozzle made by the man himself, Adrian Bowyer, and is described here. It has already been superseded with the anti-ooze design shown here.

Above that is a brass barrel that came from BitsFromBytes, with my experimental Cerastil heater on it. I attached a thermistor to the barrel with JB-Weld.

The brass barrel is screwed into the end of a 1/4" stainless steel tube. The other end has been tapped with a 1/4" UNF thread and screwed into a small north bridge heatsink from a PC motherboard (40 x 40 x 15mm). I drilled through the centre and tapped it. To lock it in place and give a good thermal connection I made a square nut from a piece of 10mm aluminium bar. I spread heatsink compound on the threads.

The top of the stainless steel tube is screwed into an old PTFE barrel to join it to the pump. The barrel had swollen so that it wouldn't hold an M6 thread anymore, but fortuitously it seems to have swollen just enough to match 1/4" UNF.

This is by no means the final design, it is far too long and flimsy, it's just to test the concept using existing parts.

I also wanted to try insulating the barrel and nozzle with PTFE. I made an end cap that fits over the nozzle by plunging an 8mm end mill into a 12mm PTFE rod :-

The idea of this is to keep the fan wind off the nozzle and also give it a non-stick surface so that when filament curls upwards and will not stick to it. I also insulated the stainless steel tube with a piece of 12mm PTFE rod with a 7mm hole drilled through it. Here is the completed assembly :-

The gap in the PTFE where the heater and thermistor are and where the wires emerge is covered with fiber class wool. I hate the stuff, I only have to think about it for it to make me itch all over. It is a much better insulator than PTFE though, but I wanted something smooth and slender to not disrupt the airflow from the fan too much.

The wires are sleeved with PTFE insulation and then plugged into a floppy drive connector. So everything at the hot end is good for about 300°C.

How well does it work? Well it took me a long time to be able to get it to extrude HDPE semi reliably. Thermally it works well. With the fan off and the barrel at 250°C the heatsink only gets to about 45°C, easily cool enough to mate with HDPE, ABS and probably PLA and PCL as well. With the fan blowing it cools down to room temperature. The heater power goes from about 60% to 80% so the insulation works well enough. A better idea might be to lag the pipe with a thin layer of fiberglass wool and then wrap it with PTFE baking parchment to give it a smooth outer surface. Or maybe an outer metal pipe with fiberglass in between.

Mechanically it is not that great. It seems to a need lot of force to extrude. I had to open up the hole in the nozzle from Adrian's 0.4mm to my standard 0.5mm. I also had to up the temperature to 250°C. I think this is mainly due to where I am measuring it and how I calibrated the thermistor. Previously I measured the nozzle temperature and calibrated it with a thermocouple inserted into a hole in the nozzle. With this version the thermistor is in a notch on the surface of the heater barrel and I calibrated it with a thermocouple inside the empty barrel. Looking at the value of beta that I got I think that it is considerably hotter inside the barrel than the thermistor is outside. I am not sure how this is. With the heater on the outside of the barrel I can't see how the inside could be hotter. Perhaps the thermal connection of the thermistor to the barrel, via JB-Weld is not as good as it it could be. When sited in the acorn nut nozzle it was half buried in a hole.

Even with the nozzle removed it is quite hard to extrude 3mm filament by hand. Part of this has to do with how long the total barrel is and the fact that it has three joints. The inside of the stainless steel barrel is not as slippery as the PTFE. It might also be the case that the molten section extends further up the barrel causing more viscous friction. I plan to shorten the whole thing considerably: I will combine the clamp with the right angle bracket and take the tube right up to the base of the pump. I will support the heatsink with a cradle structure resembling an upside down table. More importantly, I will shorten the heater barrel by combining it with the nozzle and screwing the tube into it. Making it from aluminium, which is two and a half times a better conductor than brass and easier to machine, should make it easier to get a consistent temperature measurement.

As there is a continuous temperature gradient down the stainless steel, the point at which the plastic melts will be about halfway up so I think the heated nozzle can be quite short indeed. The limiting factor is how long it takes the heat to get to the centre of the filament with the very poor thermal conductivity and high specific heat capacity of the plastic.

Here is an HDPE version of the opto bracket with my best PCL version behind :-

I have no idea why it is so grey. It is not as neat as the PCL one but most of the errors are due to blobs forming when the extruder moves between extruding. These cause the nozzle to be displaced sideways when it gets close because it is so flimsy. Shortening it and supporting it properly will improve matters for sure. I also need to incorporate Adrian's anti-ooze valve somehow.