Arcus-3D-C1 - Cable 3D printer

3D printable, Open Source Hardware, tripod kinematics, cable driven 3D printer

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This project aims to be a very low cost portable 3D printer with a scalable build diameter and reasonable accuracy.

The design as rendered (OpenSCAD source) can scale from about 200mm to 600mm build diameter with the same parts just by using different length connecting rods. The build height is approximately equal to the build diameter.

The printer can also be 'flat packed' for transport by removing the vertical rods as just the system tension holds them firmly in place.

Hardware and software are working as designed now.
The current focus is on dialing in the tripod kinematics and homing settings, and then generating a methodology for others to use to do the same.


I wanted to make a simple, low cost 3D printer using the available parts I had leftover from other projects, so the C1 was born.  Designed it in my head, and then modeled the parts in OpenSCAD.  

All I didn't have on-hand was the rods (driveway markers and a garden stake) which cost me a total of $12.

 I started independently on this path, but then a forum post pointed me to the Flying Skydelta.   Awww...  It's a lot like that, with cheaper hardware.

System overview

An octahedral equal length frame made from low cost fiberglass driveway markers support 3D printed corners.  The vertical components of the frame are held firmly in place by the line tension of the system, allowing them to be removed.  This facilitates flat packing of the printer for transport.

Each of the top corners house three pulleys sharing a shaft, through which cables are routed from the base mounted spool rod and steppers.  The relatively large distance from the pulleys to the spooling shaft results in a single layer of tightly wound cable.  This minimizes the error from the cable spooling up to less than 0.012mm allowing it to be ignored.

The outer two cables are wrapped in the same direction and serve to position the print head using tripod kinematics, while the center cable is wound in the opposite direction and is routed to apply tension to a central push-rod.  So as the outer cables wind up, the central cable unwinds to maintain tension.  The top of the push-rod is free to move, so as the end effector is moved right, the top of the push-rod will pivot and move left maintaining constant down-force throughout the build area.  The opposing forces on the spooling shaft also cancel each other out, resulting in the stepper motors only needing to support the weight of the end effector and not provide any actual tension on the lines.

The required cable length is not a constant however.  As the end effector is moved up, the required cable length of this system becomes shorter.  A compression spring mounted on the push-rod serves to make up this difference and maintain tension in all the lines.

Virtual pulleys

Tripod kinematics without any compensation assumes the end connections are points in space. They are not.  Pulleys can introduce significant error into the calculations: An 11mm diameter pulley can introduce up to 5mm of error into the resulting positioning.  This happens because as the angle to the pulley increases, the cable will wrap onto the pulley which will change the effective cable length and generate a horizontal and vertical offset. 


If you use two pulleys with the cables wrapping in the same direction, this error effectively cancels out.  As you wrap up onto one pulley, you unwrap from the other pulley.

Rather than adding the cost and complexity of adding actual pulleys to the end effector, I have instead modeled the curve required to duplicate the effect of having pulleys into the top surface of the end effector, aka virtual pulleys.

There was one more issue with the kinematics as designed in that the upper pulleys do not rotate to face the end effector.  This has the effect of foreshortening the cable length when the end effector moves off axis.  This can be also be compensated for physically by altering the shape of the virtual pulley.

As the cable moving off axis from the upper pulley is causing a shortening of the effective cable length, an equal and opposite effect can be modeled into the shape of the virtual pulleys.  Essentially this compensation will result in some variation on elongating or warping the virtual pulley parallel to the axis of the actual pulley.  

I lack the expertise to properly model this system to determine the ideal virtual pulley shape, so I guessed.  It's a good guess though and gets me started.

End effector with virtual pulleys

So that means the existing tripod kinematics math can now be used as is with no...

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  • 3 × 2 pack 4ft fiberglass driveway markers $9
  • 1 × 4ft steel garden stake $2.80
  • 2 × logic level power mosfets $2
  • 1 × perf board and various caps/resistors $2
  • 1 × 12inx12in granite floor tile $8

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  • Getting started with Machinekit

    Alexander Rössler12/13/2017 at 06:18 0 comments

    Getting Machinekit up and running with Debian Stretch on the BeagleBone Black was a little hard, so I did a write up about how to create a Machinekit image with Debian Stretch for the BeagleBone Black on my blog. Check it out if you want to get started quickly.

  • Visions of luer lock tip changers

    Daren Schwenke11/30/2017 at 18:08 0 comments

    Thanks for 100 likes!

    But... the next few weeks around here are going to be nuts and we still have some holiday related hacking to accomplish.  This project is going to have to wait.

    Alexander and I did have some interesting conversations about how the C1 might perform as a Pick and Place machine though..  

    • The entire assembled end effector, minus the 3D printing related cruft, weighs in at just 28 grams
    • XY resolution is 0.02 to 0.07mm for the build plate area
    • >3000mm/sec2 acceleration
    • >300mm/sec top speed 

    That would be a pretty kick butt PNP machine.

    We still have yet to see how some of that plays out in the real world of course, but plans for automatic luer lock tip changers and lightweight 9g hobby servo part rotators are already dancing in my head.  

    Happy Holidays.

  • Heated bed work

    Daren Schwenke11/27/2017 at 02:20 0 comments

    Rather than excessively dilute this project with how I made the bed, I made it it's own project.  Minus the instructions editor not cooperating, it's done.

  • End effector v4.2 assembled

    Daren Schwenke11/26/2017 at 02:39 0 comments

    Finished assembling the end effector.  

    Showing my changes to the fan duct including a small stainless steel heat shield, and moving the hot-end up inside the end effector.

    I'm still marveling at how well annealing and dyeing the nylon worked.

    I think this will last at least as long as the tensioned lines will.

    Iteration has cost me the last of my spectra line, so I picked up some cheap fluorocarbon line on Amazon I'm going to try out.  

    This stuff is billed as 110lb (49kg) test.  I'm hoping that means it is more resistant to stretching, but we'll see. The braid on it is more pronounced, but that shouldn't matter as I'm not using any eyelets in this design.

  • End effector v4.2, annealed and dyed nylon

    Daren Schwenke11/25/2017 at 06:46 0 comments

      Broke v4.1 when it fell off my desk and I rolled over it with my office chair, so I took the chance to fix a few things.

      The push-rod hinge is wider now, and the fan mount is thicker and larger diameter.

      I also thought I would give annealing the nylon a try.  I wanted to make sure the parts were perfectly dry anyway for the next step and annealing will make them tougher.

      Annealing the parts

      I have a rather unusual convection toaster oven which is just about perfect for this. It heats only from the top, but has a fan to keep the air moving inside. So putting my parts at the bottom meant they were heated with just air and not radiantly.

      Simplified steps for annealing nylon:

      1. Bring the oven up to temperature without the parts in it.  Electric ovens only!
      2. Put the parts in and bake for 2 hours at 135C (275F).  Avoid directly heating the parts
      3. Turn the oven off and leave the parts in the oven until cold.

      The annealing works to relieve the internal stress which has built up as you were printing the parts, and allows the polymer chains to relax forming larger crystalline structures when they cool.  Basically it gives you harder and tougher plastic with less weak spots.  According to the site I linked above, this also results in some minor dimensional changes with the parts shrinking 2-5% in XY and growing about 2% in Z.  I didn't measure this.

      Annealing yellowed the parts a little, but that won't matter in 5 minutes and the nylon is seriously hard and tough now.

      For the other end effectors I opened up the single layer thick bottom cable holes with just a pin.  This time I had to drill them out as I just could not get the pin through. Impressive.

      Dyeing the Parts

      Next I wanted to try dyeing the parts.  I theorized that since nylon quickly absorbs moisture from the air, starting with dry parts first would make them absorb the dye more readily. 

      I picked up some Rit dye for synthetics.  Regular dye also works fine for nylon, but this stuff will do polyester, acrylics and a couple more plastics too.  I imagined since it was designed for plastic it would work better on the nylon.  I was not wrong...

      Simplified steps for dyeing nylon:

      1. Fill a small stainless steel sauce pan with enough water to cover the parts.
      2. Add a teaspoon of vinegar.
      3. Add some dye.  I used 5 tablespoons.  This was way... way.. too much.
      4. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to just under boiling.
      5. Add the parts and stir gently for a couple minutes.
      6. Remove them and rinse in cold water until they stop bleeding.

      And this is why I said 5 tablespoons was way too much.  It worked ridiculously well.

      My purple parts are basically black after a total of 5 minutes in the dye.

      Man o man, those are some pretty parts.

      It's not just the surface either.  The dye penetrated a good half a mm in 5 min.  I think next time I'll use a lot less dye, and leave them in a lot longer to see if it will penetrate more.

      I could barely contain my enthusiasm.

  • Brittle nylon?

    Daren Schwenke11/23/2017 at 04:55 0 comments

    Most things with v4.1 of the end effector are working out well. 

    The thickness of the inside surface was tweaked so a binder clip spring holds the hotend firmly in place by slotting into the groove below the groove mount.

    So now the heatsink sits flush on the bottom.

    Added the three screws you see for leveling.

    But printing the push rod joint, which was working well before, now is bumpy and brittle.

    Lost the settings I had used before, so experimenting.  

    My nylon filament has the perfect moisture level (12% on a humidistat) and is printed right from its own dedicated airtight container so that's not it.  

    Printed it at 250 to 265C, bed starting at 80C, .4mm nozzle, .1mm to .2mm layer height, 15mm/sec to 80mm/sec.

    If you have any advice to lend here, feel free to drop it in the comments.

    EDIT: I think I may need to go hotter.  Printing fast seems to work better for the layer adhesion which I think is the result of having more latent heat in the part.

    Drying my filament again just in case, and I'll give that a try.

    EDIT: Raised the temp to 280C and with dry filament all my issues went away.  Contrary to popular opinion though, cooling was needed to go fast.  It took 30% fan at 72mm/sec with 10 second layer threshold.

  • End Effector v4.1 - Finally, a decent print

    Daren Schwenke11/22/2017 at 02:36 0 comments

    After 3 more false starts I got tired of wasting filament and looked at my model more closely.

    • Corrected a few dimensions so they are multiples of my nozzle size.
    • Offset the small bottom holes so they start at the second layer.
    • Changed to 50% infill for a couple of the base layers.
    • Slowed down to 45mm/sec.  I normally run it at 60-80 for structural parts. 

    Printed perfectly first try.

    Pardon my dirty print-head.  It works for a living.

    Other changes:

    Changed the part cooling blower mount from going through a channel in the end effector to simply mounting by one of the screw holes.  This will be more universal, siting lower so the cables won't impact it for a wider possible printing arc.  I'm not using the entire printable area here so not an issue for me, but someone might.

    Redesigned the cooling duct so it now snaps on the blower supported by a strand of TPU filament so it can break-away without breaking.

    Added screws holes so the leveling can be done by twisting a screw, maybe.  If not, it gives me a way to hold it in a position without gluing it down at least.


    Also discovered my new 'Ball Bearing' blower has a sleeve bearing.   

    It basically doesn't match anything in the description other than the size and voltage. It looks like the company just Photoshop'd their logo on a Sheng Feng $2 blower and called it a day.  It's going back.  

    After my complaint they have since removed the 'dual ball bearing bit' from the description, but the rest including 50000 hour life and high temperature plastic remain.  I'm tempted to burn it and send it back to prove them wrong.

    This was the blower and vendor who did this for public ridicule purposes.  I hate companies that waste my time.

    EDIT: The updated Amazon description now includes the following "Fourthly, please do not dismantle the product privately".  LOL


    Updated the github source, and the other parts to support the changed dimensions are printing now.

  • Heated bed, or lack thereof.

    Daren Schwenke11/20/2017 at 17:54 0 comments

    A couple months back I split the heated bed on my other printer.  My fault.  Nema23 steppers, machined aluminum/steel rails, and 9mm belts ensured I could supply enough force to split it.

    Since my table saw is 1500 miles away currently, this makes creating a replacement difficult. That and the ceramic tiles I've found locally all suck.  'Polished' is apparently a relative thing as they have a nice wavy reflection, aka, not flat.  Guess I got lucky with my first couple tiles.

    So, I've been making do with a smaller granite floor tile as they are basically perfectly flat and in stock at Home Depot.  I pre-heat it in the toaster oven, drop it in, give it a spray with Aquanet, and print.

    That works pretty well for nylon, PLA, TPU, and small ABS parts.  Large ABS parts warp off the bed when the tile starts to cool down so it's basically a matter of how fast I can print.

    I increased the thickness of basically everything on the last version of the end effector, so now I can't print it fast enough in ABS.

    Tried it in nylon.

    The print head must have snagged on something (100% infill and a little over-extrusion for strength), so the tile moved during the print.  This resulted in the ledge/offset you can see on the base.  Good news is it feels stiff enough to work when printed in nylon now.

    Trying again.

    EDIT: and again... and again..

    I had to turn on Z Seam Alignment: Random as Cura kept putting the seam in the same spot on an inside corner which was resulting in significant over-extrusion in that one area.  So the material would build up there and eventually knock the print loose during a travel.

    One more try.

  • Extruder v3, nope. Extruder v4.

    Daren Schwenke11/19/2017 at 22:45 0 comments

    I've dropped moving the hotend inside the end effector for now.

    Raising the pushrod joint to the top of the heatsink didn't work.  No down-force on the inside edge when near the edge of the build area..  It has a new github branch if anyone wants to play around with it.

    I was able to reduce the offset by about 1/3rd by moving it up so the hotend flange is up inside the U joint instead of being surface mounted on the bottom.

    That was relatively easy.  Added my part cooling fan mount while I was at it.

    Printing the new parts.

  • Effector v3, needs some work

    Daren Schwenke11/19/2017 at 08:10 0 comments

    Finished it.  Made the joint to span the fan.  It was ridiculously long.

    If I move the pivot up to the top of the heatsink, it may work if it still stays flat at the edge of the build area.  I'll try it.

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Enjoy this project?



Steven wrote 10/21/2017 at 21:23 point

Keep up the great work! I'm checking back daily to see how its going and I cannot wait to see it move and then print!

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Daren Schwenke wrote 10/22/2017 at 01:44 point

Me too!  It's so close..

However, I'm out of time for Teen Groot so I have to switch gears for a day or two until I can wrap that up.

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Idris wrote 10/21/2017 at 13:20 point

Great project.
I'm looking at your pulleys and virtual inverted pulleys and thinking about wear on the thread how smoothly they run over the surface of the plastic.

I came across ceramic thread guides for sewing machines on aliexpress, I wondered whether they might make for a smoother surface for the thread to run over?

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Daren Schwenke wrote 10/21/2017 at 15:25 point

That's pretty neat.  I'd have to think about how that would affect the math due to the increased hole size unless you used a pair and put a set them after the top pulleys.  With the forces involved I imagined printing them out of nylon would have helped greatly too. Problem was when I did the entire end effector out of nylon, it wasn't stiff enough so they would have to be 'drop in' like your ceramic guides anyway.  Alternately the M2 ( could have actually printed them as a single part in a gradient blend, but I wanted to keep this project accessible. 

The existing lower virtual pulleys don't get any translation movement so I'm hoping the lubricity of the line is enough to prevent significant wear for a while.  

I'll run it until it fails and we'll see what happens.  :)

The line itself is cheap to replace and 110 yards was enough to replace them all 7x for the original $9 spent, but I imagine the top of the virtual pulleys themselves will wear as well and need replacing along with the lines.

It's gotta move on its own first.  :)

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Idris wrote 10/22/2017 at 11:15 point

I was thinking you could remove the pulleys entirely and have the same geometry both at the top and bottom of the thread, I think that would eliminate the wrapping/unwrapping length changes but also remove any issues with the thread leaving the pulley at an angle when the effector isn't centred.

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Walter Schreppers wrote 10/13/2017 at 15:50 point

How does moving up in z-layers work on this one? Move the entire printer up?

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Florian Festi wrote 10/13/2017 at 18:57 point

It works similar to a delta printer. Pulling in string on all three winches moves the end effector up.

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Hacker404 wrote 10/12/2017 at 20:33 point

Love it!

You should be able to make the effector end of the cable connection wrap around a pulley shaped contour to get a mathematical fixed point equivalent by the effects of the contour canceling out the effects of the pulley.

Also there was a very old product that is still available called "Dial cord" that would be a good replacement for the fishing line.

+10, I would like to see the code for the kinematics when it's done, if you are going to release it.

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Daren Schwenke wrote 10/12/2017 at 20:51 point

Great minds.. Just did that like 2 days ago:

Tripod kinematics without pulley compensation (which I don't need anymore) is already part of Machinekit and open source:

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Sancho_sk wrote 10/12/2017 at 19:03 point

This is amazing. Thanks to the construction, this might be scaled up to real-life building printer. With the "flat pack" ability it can be transported by a regular truck. WOW!

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Daren Schwenke wrote 10/12/2017 at 19:49 point

With an end effector of sufficient weight, just the six cables will do and you don't need the push-rod.  That is another one of my work in progress printers already.  :)  Yes, building printing.  Plan is once the ABS part of that one is working, modify it to do super-critical CO2 foam extrusion.  Spray/fill that with concrete, and you have a building.

All the hardware is on the print head for that one.  All the parts for that one including the controller are designed, fitted, printed and done, but I haven't had the time to post anything about it or do final assembly and testing yet:

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Florian Festi wrote 10/11/2017 at 19:25 point

I wonder if disassembly and assembly would be easier if you made hinges (or ball joints) at the end of every second of the vertical beams. You could then remove the other three and then just fold down to top triangle onto the bottom one without disconnecting them.

If you manage to have the other ones also with hinges at the ends but also one in the middle you could fold and unfold the printer in seconds.

Not sure if this compromises stiffness (and ease of construction) too much. But as stiffness is created by the geometrical form and not the stiffness of the corner pieces that might just work.

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Daren Schwenke wrote 10/11/2017 at 19:49 point

Every other joint pivoting down may work, and you could put a pin on the other joints to fold that one down too.  I imagine it would sacrifice a lot of rigidity to do it, but it is way more rigid than it needs to be right now.  Pivoting/twisting down would line up the rails nicely.  Those joints would be under a lot of stress though if you didn't keep the top parallel to the base while doing it.

I thought about folding before, but I was removing the top rails for it. This was of course incompatible with the later requirement of screwing down the steppers.

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Florian Festi wrote 10/11/2017 at 09:08 point

To avoid creating a mess when disassembling the printer you could add small sponges or silicone lips to press on the curled up string. That way it does not unwind or go on top of itself when you remove the string tension.

You could even have them snap on the winch for disassembly only.

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Daren Schwenke wrote 10/11/2017 at 13:18 point

That's a good idea too.  Running them up and down tends to realign the wraps if you are careful about limits, but not having to do that at all would certainly be better.  Sounds like a project for my spool of TPU.  I was happy I got to use it for the vibration isolators in this project already.

If I had software based current control on my steppers, I could lower the current to barely moving and just run them to retract the lines fully.  The upper line would also extend all the way, and then start wrapping in the same direction as the lower lines retracting it as well, mostly.  But that would mean using AMIS-30543 or other software controllable chips at $20 each.  Probably not the target market for this level of printer.

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brz.tomek wrote 10/11/2017 at 20:50 point

I am not sure I agree- it is not hard to get software controllable chips at $10/ea. The TMC2100 to start, but also just the fact you can run a filtered signal to the Vref of a SD5984 or DRV8825 also gets you software controllable current. The way many repraps do it is to use an SPI configurable digital potentiometer to set the Vref.  Is this helpful or did I misunderstand the situation?

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Daren Schwenke wrote 10/11/2017 at 21:01 point

I probably just didn't look hard enough.  I'm looking for the 2 amp range of output.  I never tried feeding vref into chips.  If you can gang them, then it just adds a cap and two resistors to get a nice stable output for all.  Something to think about.

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Florian Festi wrote 10/09/2017 at 09:55 point

Wrt homing:

You can press a bead on one of the strings at each winch e.g. a fishing weight. Then have a micro switch near the top idler with a hole in a lever the string runs through. The bead needs to be positioned that the switch is triggered as the very end of the movement. The distance between the idlers on top and the winch should be less than the maximum travel distance of the machine axis.

To do the actual homing I fear there is not way around jogging the machine axis manually to some extend. What ever you do automatically might move you out of the working volume if the machine starts at the wrong place. With the end stops you at least do not need to drive to a precise location to do the homing fully manually. You could have a parking position e.g. in the middle of the bed that you have to drive to and then run the homing program automatically from there. Being off at the parking position by a few milimeters is probably not problem.

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Daren Schwenke wrote 10/09/2017 at 14:09 point

I like that idea.  

Homing will still have to start with the effector an approximately set distance above the bed in the center to avoid bottoming out during homing.

Then for each axis home to the opposite bottom corner, which will pull the push-rod line in to it's lower limit, and then return it to the central raised start position. 

Machinekit should do this out of the box by setting HOME_OFFSET to the homed to line position, HOME to the center raised position, and HOME_SEQUENCE to an incrementing number. That will work.

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Florian Festi wrote 10/09/2017 at 14:28 point

Well it depends on whether you have the end stop at maximum or minimum length of the cable. But you can still start at the bottom as the parking position if you want to give out cable. Just move up a bit from there as part of your homing sequence. We are going to need a custom homing code anyway as you need to change the length of the other two cable pairs. Otherwise you can't reach the outer boundaries of the build volume.

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Florian Festi wrote 10/09/2017 at 09:42 point

One way around the maths problem would be to just make sure the string always leaves at the same point by funnelling it through a hole only slightly bigger than the string diameter.

I built a styro foam cutter a while ago also using fishing lines. There we routed the string just through eye hooks without any problems. So there is no reason to be afraid of the friction. Especially if the bulk of the change of direction is still handled by the ball bearings.

This is not a beautiful solutions but might just work.

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RigTig wrote 10/09/2017 at 11:30 point

Nice idea, Florian. Certainly been used on some 2D printers (drawing machines on strings), where motors are at the bottom of the (nearly) vertical board and run up to the top before going to the gondolier.

One question to think about is whether the error caused by the offset around a winding core is significant enough to warrant a patch. I suspect that the difference between the 'perfect' calculation and the approximate one might be less than the extruder nozzle diameter for all locations but a few extremes.

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Daren Schwenke wrote 10/09/2017 at 13:53 point

Some quick math says the winding core will only introduce an error of up to 0.012mm at the extremes as designed.  However, the pulleys at the top can introduce an error of up to 6mm.  I'm ignoring the core, correcting for the pulleys.

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Daren Schwenke wrote 10/09/2017 at 14:07 point

I built a prototype using zip ties, eyelets, and wooden dowels to try to find an alternate cable routing which would minimize the difference in line length between the extension of the pushrod lines and the retraction of the lower lines.  The best solution I came up with was also the simplest with just extending the pushrod a little.  It also taught me that the eyelets tended to stutter and grab when I increased the tension in the lines.  

Granted I didn't have pulleys at all for my 'prototype', which would probably reduce this tendency a lot.

Higher tension becomes more important at the extremes as the angle of influence of an axis will be reduced.  So I'm looking for the mathematical solution first.

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RigTig wrote 10/05/2017 at 06:56 point

Definitely looking forward to see this design come to fruition. My own efforts have been very slow, having started several years ago (see Rigtig's Big 3D Printer here on HaD-

Another design, called HangPrinter, has the string motors on the effector: there's a link to it in comments of my HaD stuff. I found the source at I remember tobbelobb describing adjustments to calculations for string lengths depending on how full the reels are, so there might be a clue or two in there.

I haven't seen any broad-based driver for triangular printers (Cura, Repetier, etc) but as long as the GCODE interpreter handles the basics, any driver can be used. Just make sure that you are inside the triangle. 

If you'd like any hints from me, either PM or just comment here. 

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Daren Schwenke wrote 10/05/2017 at 07:18 point

Using Machinekit, tripod kinematics is part of the standard stuff. Have not built that part of the config yet, but it should work fine when I do.  Homing will be interesting and I have no idea there yet.

The first battle was getting Machinekit working at all on the BBGW (for my other WIP 3D printer, the E1).  It also has everything on the print head, but is pellet fed like a Lyman extruder turned on end.  I haven't really documented it here yet, and it's mostly done, but completely untested and may very well meltdown on first power up.  3D printing a Lyman comes with issues.

Problem was only the newer kernel supported the wifi chip and the flavor of Xenomai Machinekit used would not work there.  Finally got an rt-preempt build running on the newer kernel a few weeks back and Machinekit works now..  Virtually the same config will run this, and this is more likely to work the first time, so starting here.

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