Thursday, 31 January 2019

The ToolChanger - Part 1 - E3D Reference design of a multi-tool 3D Printer

The E3D #ToolChanger

Hello everyone, and welcome to a new year and an exciting step forward in the world of 3D Printing and in this case  > ‘desktop manufacturing’ <

I’m delighted to be diving in to building and using (hopefully not ‘destruction-testing’) the E3D ToolChanger.

Quick Jump Index 
I'll update this list as I post more blogs and video's about the ToolChanger adventures.
  • Part 1 - First ToolChanger Post - Introduction and un-boxing.
  • Next post - Motion System Assembly - coming soon.

I'm slightly late in starting the ToolChanger build (Second wave of the 'early 30'), but plan to catch up with the other beta testers all around the world as soon as possible.

I’ll link to some of the other ToolChanger adventures at the end of this blog post, do take a look as it really gives a glimpse of what’s to come with a new ‘eco-system’ like this.

Firstly I would like to thank everyone at E3D for inviting me into the exclusive 'Beta 30' trials and Duet 3D who have invested both time and custom design of the electronics platform that's running the ToolChanger (Duet 2 wifi/ethernet + Duex 5 expansion). And also expanding on the RepRap Firmware for the Duet to control the ToolChanger platform.

If you don’t already know, the team at E3D have been working on a multi-tool 3D printer for quite some time. Greg Holloway, the designer of the E3D BigBox machine has brought life to a mechanical, electrical and tool-chain reference design platform they call the ‘ToolChanger’ – There is a really important statement here – it’s a reference design – NOT a finished 3D printer / machine or intended to be a 'final' system. Let me tell you why I think that’s a really good thing...

The FDM (FFF) 3D printing eco-system is on the cusp of a fundamental step-change. The basic too-chain from model creation – export – slicing – and printing with well controlled material, is now finally mature enough that even for basic low-cost machines, it works for most people.

Regular improvements in understanding melt-flow of plastics, electronics, firmware and sensors have made multi-axis systems operate fast with improved reliability and repeat-ability.

But we already have multi-nozzle / multi-colour 3D Printers? -

A number of options exist if you want multiple colours or materials in a single print – the Prusa MMU switcher, The Palette splicer, BCN3D IDEX or multiple print heads.

The difference with a ToolChanger is that the entire tool can be swapped during a print – for two or many different tool-heads or nozzles / colours / materials, even devices that cut, measure, buff or insert objects into your 3D prints.

Why Now? –

Plastic extrusion tools (extruder+nozzles) have now become optimised for a wide range of materials and temperatures – with a good level of reliability. The next step is to add in more of them, and also other tools that can do more than squirt out melted plastic. A ToolChanger starts to look more like a desktop manufacturing system, rather than ‘just another’ 3D printer.

I'll talk more about why it's the right time to be switching to ToolChangers in this series of blog posts as the machine gets built up and then tested.

As with everything - read the documentation...

Preparation before the ToolChanger kit delivery - 

You may decide to pre-order a ToolChanger after the Beta30 trials have completed - if you do, you will most probably still need to print out a set of 3D printed parts for the system - (they may change, but here is what the Beta30 set needed).

You don't need all that many parts as most of the precision machining is all done by E3D and supplied as CNC aluminium parts or pre-assembled motion system modules.

The parts required are all very nicely designed - to print easily and also fit to the ToolChanger perfectly.

This machine does use mains, both for the SMPS and the Heated Bed, so it's nice to see even the mains inlet covers can be 3D printed to hide away the high voltage connections.

Step 1 - Unboxing -

Plenty of boxes, but all well packed and labelled.

Many of the ToolChanger parts are common E3D components or modular assemblies.

Like the Titan extruder and the V6 Hot-ends. - You just need to have four of them :)

The main Motion system is already assembled by E3D - this is all mounted on a very solid and flat aluminium plate.

The Z axis is also pre-assembled - you just need to bolt it to the top and bottom aluminium plates.

All quality machined parts - and E3D are also using genuine HIWIN rails for X, Y and Z motion.

Bottom plate - this is not a light reference machine, but it is solid, stiff and should print really, really fast if required.

The heated bed is directly powered by ~230v AC @ 800w - this thing is going to heat up fast and also expand as it heats.

The E3D heatbed has the silicone cured directly into the partially-anodised aluminium surface of the build surface - it makes a solid bond, not just stuck, but fused to the metal.

I spent a good few hours just getting all the parts out, and looking at the amazing machining, and design, thought and detail that has gone into this project.

The E3D ToolChanger has been over two years in the making - and it shows in every single component.

E3D really are pushing things forward for everyone here. I hope you support them - and yes they want people to design more ToolChanger systems. They also want companies and their partners/customers to consider using their tools and tool-plates in their own machines - after all that't the point here - to define an eco-system of tools and electronics / firmware support - without a drive forwards, we will be stuck with what we already have.

That's all for the introduction, join me next time and I'll start to assemble the ToolChanger motion system.

And don't forget to check out some of the other Beta30 ToolChanger builds - some are already built and printing out multi-tool 3D Prints.

These links below are borrowed from the Recent E3D ToolChanger blog post - if you are building up an E3D ToolChanger and want to be listed on my Blog, just let me know and I'll add you into the adventure.

Joe - @nemesis.robotics
Nikolai -
Ezra - @EandEDesign
Keith - @_Tinkerz
Tyler - @TstarkEngineer
Tony - @kraegar
Rich - @RichRap3D
Romain Grangier Blog - 

Thanks for reading, see you all next time.