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How I built a RapMan 3D printer from scratch

Albert Filice | July 9, 2013
3D printing technology is growing rapidly--it's crawling out of its niche marketplace and showing off how useful and cool it can be. Hell, you can even buy a 3D printer at Staples nowadays. To keep on the pulse, I felt it was time for aggressive expansion into this field: We needed our own printer to use in the TechHive labs. I wanted to learn exactly how a printer worked, so I built one myself instead of purchasing a pre-assembled model.

Grub screws hold the steel rods in place on the bottom bracket.

The top bracket has parts that allow the print carriage--the part that does the actual printing--to slide smoothly. I first had to affix steel rods to the bottom bracket that would support the top bracket, and make sure it was strong enough for me to pick up and move around. Once I had the top brackets in place, I assembled the Z-axis drive shaft, which moves the print bed downward very precisely, and lets the printer lay down layers less than a quarter of a millimeter thick.

Here I had just fit the top bracket onto the vertical rods supporting it.

All printers have a print bed--the flat surface that objects are printed on--and a print head carriage--the part that moves the extruder in a set pattern during a print. You can see both in the picture below, and putting these together wasn't hard at all. The belts attached to the motors on the top bracket pull the print head in four directions: The motor circled in green moves it in the direction of the green arrows, and the same goes for the magenta motor and arrows.

The circled motor moves the print head in the direction of the arrows with corresponding colors.

Once the print bed is in place, check to make sure it's leveled. But don't use a level--just manually move the print head around to various positions. Measure the distance from the nozzle tip to the print bed, tweaking the screws as you go. That way, you can double-check that the print bed is level in relation to the nozzle.

Three spring loaded screws allow you to accurately level the print bed.

Pain points and getting crafty
The hardest part of the RapMan was getting the extruder assembly just right. The extruder is crucial--it is the nozzle that squeezes out heated filament during a print. I messed this up early on: I had oriented the mount for the extruder assembly the wrong way, so I had to remove it and swap all the pieces around. This was a grueling process. The worst part was that I was so certain

Extruder assembly must be precise.

Don't be afraid to bust out your inner MacGyver. I somehow managed to over-tighten a bracket and it cracked. Oops. Luckily, I had some super glue and a pair of clamping pliers to squeeze the crack shut.


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