Aluminium Printer Chassis 2

3D Printer: Upgrades 1/3

The current trend towards cheap and accessible home CNC machines is fantastic. I wouldn’t have a 3D printer if it wasn’t for the slow and steady reduction in component prices due to the high demand of an expanding hobbyist market. Also, China has made manufacturing a tenth the price it used to be.

While this has lead to the component parts, and ultimately the overall machine costs, becoming more affordable to the home-maker there are some short comings to this: 99% of hobbyists do not demand or need industrial level quality. If you want to print a bobble head of yourself to show your friends then usually you can live with middling quality, poor tolerancing and materials that only stay in shape at room temperature, and so 99% of the machines you can buy are built to that standard.

Now my 3D Printer was cheap and a somewhat early-days experimental product; the company that made it has already gone under (link). I wanted a “quick-way-in” to 3D Printing, hoping to make the odd part here and there for my numerous car projects, however I have quickly come to realize that it’s now a fundamental tool in my workshop, it just needs more capability. I need it to print accurately and repeatedly in higher temperature plastics. To ensure my machine could do this it needed two key upgrades.

1. Heated Bed

A Rare ABS Print Success

ABS can be printed in a warm room in your house, however you will soon become a lonely single man due to the smelly fumes.

My little fisher delta was very much limited to printing PLA (Polylactic Acid) due to not having a heated bed. PLA has a melting point of 150-160 degC and a glass transition point of 60-65 degC, so it’s easily extruded at 100 degC when it’s malleable and workable. If you’re printing at 25 degC room temperature then there is approximately 35 degC delta between its set temperature and the glass transition temperature, and that’s fine.

However I’m printing in a cold garage which is usually at 10 degC or less giving a Temperature Delta (TD from now onwards) of ~50 degC, this is still fine but you start to get into shrinkage issues on big prints due to the thermal stresses across the part.

I really wanted to print in ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), or as I like to call it, “The Good Stuff”. ABS has a glass transition temperature of ~105 degC (much more like it!) and has no true melting point as it becomes amorphous (Wikipedia is awesome). It’s very tough, impact resistant, acid resistant and heat resistant, which makes it far more suitable for automotive applications.

However the glass transition temperature of ABS causes print problems as you have to extrude it at higher temperatures (I use 130 degC). This mean’s the TD across the part is far higher than if your printing with PLA and warping and cracking becomes a real problem. What you need to do is ensure the print is kept warm while printing to reduce the TD and it’s common to achieve this by using a heated bed.

2. Aluminium Chassis

Broken Printer Chassis

Acrylic really is a terrible structural material

Now simply heating the standard acrylic print bed was not an option as it was liable to flex all over the place and therefore I wanted to at-least use an Aluminium or Glass print bed. Aluminium has a thermal conductivity of 205 W/m.K which means it will heat up slowly and maintain a fairly uniform temperature distribution (Acrylic has a thermal conductivity of 0.2 W/m.K).

On the Fisher Delta the geometry of the print bed is important, as it has a three point self leveling system and these three points need to be accurately positioned. Because of this I opted to get the bed laser cut at a local company, along with the rest of the machine. The acrylic parts were all starting to bend and warp and it made me question how accurate it was anymore; I had only been using it for three months.

Aluminium Printer Chassis

Much improved frame with increased accuracy

So once I got my parts from the laser cutters I pulled my machine apart and rebuilt it to be far more durable and long lasting beast. She also looks pretty nifty in Matt Aluminium.

 

In Part 2 I’ll cover the wiring of the printed bed and the modifications I had to make to fit it into the Fisher Delta frame.