Make your stock Ender 3 printer silent!

Make your stock Ender 3 printer silent, for only a couple of bucks!

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With the help of some Trinamic motor controllers, passive components, and soldering skills you can make your entry-level 3D printer a more convenient and higher grade device.

My motivations behind the upgrade

If you are about to start 3D printing and searching the internet for a printer the Ender 3 will come up immediately. This type of machine is a well-designed and popular, yet cheaply accessible machine. You can get one for under 100USD used, and you can achieve really great results if your printing parameters are dialed in properly. However, this low price has some disadvantages. This article will address Ender 3's noise issue. It won't improve the printing parameters of the machine, but it will make your printer a lot quieter and overall more fun to use.

There are multiple approaches to improving your machine. Some will say you should change the hotend immediately, others go with a direct filament feeding upgrade. It really depends on you which is the most annoying limitation and you should eliminate that problem with an upgrade. For example, if you want to improve your printing speed (so the flow rate), upgrade your hotend, if you want to print with flexible material you should use a direct feed mechanism. In my case the available place for the printer is a limitation (I don't want to hear the printer's noise all day), thus the noise issue became my #1.

Another important parameter is the price of the required upgrade. I often see people who spend more money only for the hotend upgrade alone than the price of the entire machine. I wouldn't find this approach necessarily reasonable: if you install a professional part to a hobby machine, very likely you can not use your new part at its full potential due to the machine's other limiting factors. So you got the urge to improve the machine in other areas too. This will cause a never-ending loop. Ultimately, the whole upgrade process could cost more than a brand-new middle-category printer, and the expected quality improvement may never come.

Lets talk about the noise upgrade. If you look for a solution for a more silent printer, the ultimate answer from the 3D printing community is, you should switch your main PCB. One of the most popular alternatives is "SKR E3 Mini", which has some additional advantages besides the silent operation. I looked up this kind of board and realized that its price would take apx. half of my machine and I don't really need the extra features. So before ordeing this board, I made further research and I found the TMC2208 device, which is intentionally designed to be able to change the older generation motor controllers like A4899. Whis is used by my default Ender 3 board  (V 1.1.4). Since the printer uses the X and Y axises the most, initially I addressed to silence only these. The TMC2208 chips are around 2.5 USD so my upgrade costs a little more than 5 bucks (you need some additional capacitors as well) but it makes a world of difference. At this point, I should emphasize that for this upgrade you need proper soldering equipment, advanced soldering skills, and basic knowledge of electronics. If you are not confident of your skills or the process itself, you should buy an alternative PCB board in order to avoid damaging your machine. 

Where do the noises come from?

The noises of the machine come from the fans, mechanics, and motors. The fans are easily replaceable and you can find a lot of alternative parts online.  You only need to be sure about the correct size and voltage. 

The noises from, the mechanics have the least effect on the overall noise. However, if you experience extremely high noise related to machine movements you should check it ASAP because usually, this is an indication of a major mechanical problem. Besides this, you should always do your basic maintenance on your machine (check and set the proper belt tension, lubrication of Z leadscrew etc.) this will keep your noises low and ensures the proper print quality. I don't really recommend upgrading the mechanics in order to make the machine more silent, because the stock solutions are really silent. And the...

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  • 1 × Hot air station
  • 1 × Soldering iron (tweezers, solder, flux)
  • 2 × TMC2208 Semiconductors and Integrated Circuits / Misc. Semiconductors and Integrated Circuits
  • 2 × 0603 22nF 50V ceramic capacitor
  • 2 × 0603 2.2uF 16V ceramic capacitor

  • 1
    Remove the heatsinks

    First, you have to remove the heatsinks of the motor controllers. For this, you should warm up the heatsinks with a hot air station. You should avoid overheating the board, rise the temperature gradually until you feel the glue soften. Before soldering out the old motor controller IC you should clean the chips and the heatsink in order to free them from the glue residue. For this, use the hot air station and some isopropyl alcohol. If you want to speed up the cleaning process you may use a scraper made of plastic or wood. But you should never use metal tools for this purpose because you can easily cause permanent damage to your board. During this step always make sure not to heat up other areas of the board, because the connectors, potentiometers, and electrolytic capacitors are sensitive to high temperatures.

  • 2
    Prepare the chips to remove (optional but useful)

    After you removed the heatsinks and the surfaces are clear, the old motor controllers can be removed. Nowadays manufacturers use lead-free solder in their factories. This makes the repair and modification jobs harder. The lead-free solder has a higher melting temperature (217°C) and is generally harder to handle compared to leaded solder. In order to make our situation better, it is recommended to touch up the accessible solder joints with a fine-tip soldering iron and a little leaded solder. This way we can use lower temperatures during disassembly, which radically lowers the chance of damaging other components on the PCB. 

    In this case, you can access the chip's pins from its side. In order to touch up the chip's thermal pad, I flipped the board and melted some solder on its thermal sinking plane. The solder can travel up to the chip through vias in the thermal plane thanks to capillary action.

  • 3
    Remove the chips

    For this step, you should use your hot air station. If you did the previous trick, you should set your station to apx. 200°C, otherwise you should rise the temperature by 20°C. During heating, it is recommended to move your nozzle around,  don't fix the hot air stream at a single spot to avoid burning your PCB. When the solder joints are melted you can lift the IC with tweezers. You can help the process by adding flux to the PCB. This helps to spread the heat evenly around the chip, but please do not breathe in the vapors. 

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