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How My Machine Came to Be (Part 1 of many)
December 15th, 2010

Thank you everyone for the overwhelmingly positive response since I launched yesterday! I have received a ton of emails, so if I have not responded to you yet, don’t worry, I will get back to you!

I have been asked quite a bit of very detailed questions about my printer,  So I thought it would be best to write a series of posts, complete with pictures, documenting the construction of the machine.

So…It all began in late 2008/early 2009 when I really wanted to build a 3D printer. There were not as many choices in DIY 3D printer designs then as there are nowadays. I could not find a machine design that I really liked that was capable of printing with ABS plastic. So I set off to design my own and ended up designing something like this:

Grass Roots Engineering CAD Model

Now, this was not the first Solidworks CAD model I made of this printer, it is actually version 3.2 to be exact. I went through a number of design revisions in order to come to a modular, robust and reconfigurable design at the best value. But really what this whole machine is based off of, is the linear bearings. I bought 3 matching pairs of brand new 450mm long, THK linear recirculating ball bearings on eBay for a great deal I could not pass up. Once I had bought them, I decided that if I had these rather long linear rails, I might as well make a machine that takes advantage of their long length in order to achieve the largest build area possible. The build area of my machine is 403.00 x 403.00 x 322.70 mm [15.86 x 15.86 x 12.70 inches].

There are a number of features I designed into the machine for a future use which I have not yet thought of. If I was going to invest all this time, effort and money, I wanted a design that I could experiment with and be capable of using a variety of print heads. The best example of this is the 80/20 extrusion used to support the Z axis. This is so the height of the Z axis can be varied depending on the tool and task. For example, if a rotary cutting tool head is attached to cut wood, the Z axis would ideally need to be located as close to the cutting surface as possible to reduce the moment on the axis. Other features include a removable build base so different types build surfaces can be tested. There are also lots of mounting holes for future tool heads of any size as well as the ability of the Z Beam (the long, square aluminum tube that is on the top of the machine that holds the Z axis) to be secured at any position along its 80/20 support for print tools of all shapes and sizes.

Machined parts fresh from the shop

Once I had finalized the design, I created a set of engineering drawings so my parts could be sent out to a machine shop. Due to the size of some of my parts, such as the table (which is a 2 x 4 foot, 3/4 inch thick [61 x 122 x 1.9 cm] slab of aluminum, I was not able to machine them myself. Luckily I have a friend who owns a local machine shop with some very large CNC mills, so I hired his shop for the job. The result of this, is above, wrapped in bubble-wrap.

I think this a good place to stop for today. My aim is to update this blog almost every day/other day, so stay tuned for more to come!

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