As a devoted reader of my blog, you will know that I’m engaged in a continuing quest to improve the precision of my 3D printer. The most recent improvement was to replace all the pivots in my original design, which were simply composed of screws passing through holes in plastic, with proper miniature ball bearings. This has had a huge benefit – there is now very little play in the movement of the print head. Printed shapes are much more precise than they were.
The next issue to tackle is one I’ve been aware of for a while, but have not had the means to fix. First, a recap: the whole print mechanism is driven by three stepper motors. Each stepper motor has a pulley mounted on its output shaft, which drives a belt made of stretch-free fishing line. Each belt goes the length of a vertical column, passes around an idler pulley at the top, and is attached to a carriage, so as the motor turns, the carriage moves up and down the column (a picture may not be worth a thousand words in this case, but if I had had one to hand it would certainly have saved me fifty or so). The amount by which the carriage moves depends on the number of steps the output shaft of the motor rotates and the diameter of the output pulley. Knowledge of these two things allows the printer firmware to be calibrated for each motor with the number of steps required per millimetre of carriage movement. Because this figure is set in firmware, it doesn’t matter what each pulley diameter actually is – I can simply measure it and do the calculation. However…
The problem I found on measuring the pulleys (kindly printed for me by Rob) is that they are not perfectly circular – the diameter varies by about half a millimetre around the circumference. Add to that the fact that when a pulley is mounted on the motor shaft there is a little added eccentricity, and you end up with a drive pulley whose radius varies by about 5% as it rotates. Over long movements, this is not a problem – the eccentricity averages out – but for small movements this results in unevenness. It’s particularly obvious on the first print layer, which is often thin. It manifests itself as patches of thin or thick deposition, and it just won’t do!
The cure is obvious: I need pulleys which, when mounted on the motor shaft, are round. The standard method of making round things is with a lathe. I would dearly love to have a proper modelmaker’s lathe, but they are expensive. I can’t really justify spending £400 to make three plastic pulleys. I tried printing some more pulleys myself, but the accuracy of my prints was no better than Rob’s (not surprising, given that the pulleys weren’t round).
I need a lathe. I have a 3D printer. You are ahead of me. I had a search online to see if anyone had published designs for a 3D printed lathe, and the only one I could find was this one, by a guy calling himself Sublime. It’s a great piece of work, but it doesn’t look precise enough for my purpose, and I don’t need the three-jaw chuck. For the time being, I only need to turn pulleys. So I stole some ideas from Sublime, and designed my own lathe. Here’s a video of it in operation:
I’m happy to say that it works. It’s far from perfect, but the pulleys I have turned with it now have a variation in radius of 0.1mm or less, which makes for much better prints. Now it’s on to the next improvement: automatic calibration of the print surface. Watch this space.