LaserCut Mendel Assembly For Complete Beginners

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Overview

Until this sentence is removed, I have not finished my build and this guide will not describe the whole process.

These instructions describe the assembly of a TechZone Mendel kit, which is one of many options to build a RepRap.

I'm almost entirely new to building things. I got a laser cut Mendel kit from TechZone because that seems to be my speed--I can basically manage to put something together from prefab parts, but I don't have access to a shop or a large collection of tools or the skills to use either. I think that's the situation of at least a few people taking on this project, and the best contribution I can make to this wiki is to describe the experience, and the things I learn about process, from the perspective of an absolute beginner. Much of this will probably be obvious to anyone with more experience. Some of it will probably be wrong or misleading--point it out if you see it. I think helping newbies is important, but I also suspect that it can be frustrating for experienced builders to answer the same simple questions over and over. I hope that with this guide I can provide a resource for some of the more basic issues newbies will face that more experienced builders take for granted. I also have an ulterior motive; I hope that I can document things carefully as 'repayment' for people taking the time to answer my questions, to save them the trouble of answering those questions again.

Using This Guide

This guide is structured around tasks in sequence rather than around the design of a reprap, and refers to the complete Mendel kit from TechZone as purchased in May 2011. This guide, and my assembly, began May 7, 2011. If you have found it in an unfinished state, it's probably because my build is still incomplete. I would be delighted to see others adding things to and commenting on anything I've written here; it would be especially helpful to me if, when you do so, you leave a note on the discussion page or in the text letting me know what changed or got added and why.

Other Resources

These are the things I found myself navigating to over and over as I put the kit together (Still in process etc.):

  1. LaserCut Mendel Assembly seems to be the most complete guide, but it's at least a little out of date relative to the current kits; it shows an extruder made of laser cut and glued wood.
  2. The LaserCut Mendel Assembly Blog has more pictures and is sometimes useful in terms of mechanical structure, but seems to describe a hybrid Mendel/Makerbot and the electronic connections look much more complicated than most other builds I've seen.
  3. The TechZone Tip Assembly page.
  4. Gary Hodgson's visual guide to the Wade's Geared Extruder[1]. (WARNING: It is different from the extruder in the kit in important ways, so you can't build from those instructions, but it does provide a good overview of how the extruder works.)

Acquisition

Laser Cut Mendel Kit

This is basically just to say that I've found TechZone's service to be very helpful and responsive. I actually purchased through Ebay because I prefer to use Paypal rather than the Google checkout system TechZone uses (Google already knows the content of my emails and much of my browsing activity via Google Analytics; I see no reason to also tell them about my financial transactions). When I needed to purchase ABS filament, however, Kimberly Andrus at TechZone sent a Paypal invoice for it (thanks!). If I was going to purchase the kit again, I'd probably request an invoice from her because it's more difficult to tell exactly who the seller is when purchasing from Ebay. The seller on Ebay I purchased from was hnd3; that seller IS affiliated with TechZone (as of May 7, 2011).

Tools

I've got an idea of making a sort of 'standard tool kit' such that I'll be able to gather the tools I used for this task and lend them out together (or even go with them to help with assembly). That way people who want a printer won't also have to bear the costs of acquiring tools they won't use again. In that spirit I've divided the list of tools below into 'buy-once tools'--things that experience little or negligible wear per use, and which it would make sense to lend--and 'use-once tools and materials'--things that experience complete or considerable wear per use, and which it wouldn't make sense to lend.

Until I remove this sentence, the following list is still a work in progress and probably misses some things:

Buy-once tools

  1. Multimeter
  2. Meter Stick (so far I've only had to measure small things)
  3. Soldering iron
  4. Tabletop vise and spring clamps (I got a tabletop vise because I knew there would be times I would need a stable way to hold things while using both my hands to manipulate them. I was immediately glad I did. It also has a flat surface that I think is meant to be used as an anvil. This is good for things like using a razor blade to strip the insulation off a wire.)
  5. Hex keys (2.5mm and 3mm)
  6. Phillips-head screwdrivers (#1 and #2)
  7. Adjustable wrench (haven't used yet -May 8)
  8. Set of jeweler's files (I'm not sure they're necessary, but they were useful for reaming the Reprapped parts that came with the kit. Without them I think I would've needed something else to do abrasion, like sandpaper or a Dremel tool)
  9. Pliers
  10. Drill (9.6 V)

Use-once tools and materials

  1. Tape (scotch for holding wires in the tip assembly)
  2. Silicone Grease (haven't used yet -May 8)
  3. Ziploc bags
  4. Solder
  5. Razor blades
  6. Sandpaper

Organization

The TechZone kit came with several sealed plastic packages of hardware parts. At the beginning of my build, I transferred the contents of each clear plastic sealed bag (NOT including the electronics, which are in pinkish translucent bags and which I don't want to handle until I'm ready to assemble them) to its own ziploc bag. Others have used store-bought parts bins--I wasn't sure which would have compartments of the correct size. The ziploc bags also allow me to store larger parts (such as the laser cut pieces too small to be placed loose in the shipping box and the motors) and to nest subsets of the hardware bags within other bags. If I want to label the bags I can, though I haven't felt the need to do so yet.

The parts arrived in the best configuration for shipping, which (mostly but not always) means that they are not grouped by their position in the assembly of the final machine. My first step for any assembly task is to gather ALL the parts and tools I need for that task, and ONLY those parts and tools, onto my workspace. I have two rules for this:

  1. The workspace must not have anything on it before I start gathering parts for the current task.
  2. If I have placed a part on the workspace that turns out to be unnecessary, I must put it back in the bag it came from immediately.

This strategy allows me to focus on one task at a time and ensures that I won't be distracted or confused by anything unrelated to that task. It also forces me to define each task narrowly and specifically enough that if there's something I don't understand, or if there's a tool I need that I don't have, I'll realize that before I start.

Assembly Tasks In Order

My goal is to document each assembly task with at least two pictures: one picture of the 'initial condition' showing all parts and tools required for the task with the parts in the most disassembled state, and another picture of the 'final condition' showing the assembled parts after the task has been completed. I think I will end up including intermediate pictures for most tasks.

Extruder Tip Assembly

The consensus seems to be that this is the first task to complete, at least partly because it involves glue that takes 24 hours to set. It is already documented well in the TechZone Tip Assembly article, but I'm going to include some notes here because making my own notes helps me understand what's going on. Update: While completing this step I noticed a few things that seemed like they'll become important down the road, either in other assembly steps or during operation. I've tried to note those things in this guide so that when those things come up, or when I have to replace the tip on the working machine, I see what decisions I made in this process and why I made them.

The extruder tip, or "hot end" is the part that melts the plastic. It does so using joule heating[2], the process of running an electric current through a conductor to release heat (This process is really interesting to me; it forced me to remember the chemistry class explanation that temperature is really a measurement of the movement of the atoms that make up a material. When a lot of electrons start moving through a conductive material like nichrome wire, they bump into other particles, accelerating them and raising the material's temperature). The nichrome wire is the loose coil of thinner wire in the picture below (the thicker wire is a thermocouple[3], discussed later).

02peekAndBlock.JPG

All the parts of the tip assembly. Note the white cylindrical piece, which isn't yet on the hot end assembly page. It measures 16mm in diameter; the same diameter as some of the PEEK/PTFE thermal barriers I've seen in other models. It's an adapter so that this tip will fit into the Wade's Geared Extruder.

It looks like the bolt that runs parallel to the brass tip is just a way to attach different tools once the reprap is assembled. It seems like it was added to the design recently; previous tutorials I've seen haven't mentioned it. One issue with the current setup (unless I'm very confused) is that the oak block is now too long to fit into the extruder carriage as it was designed to. I cut about a quarter inch off the back so it would fit. You should do that now if you have to do it, before it gets awkward.

12oakBlockCut.JPG

The adapter fits in the the Wade's Geared Extruder as shown in the following pictures:

Insulator.JPG


Insulator2.JPG

It fits around the outside of the teflon insert in the oak block, and has countersinks for the screws that in the previous design attached the hot end to the extruder body:


CylinderWithOakBlock.JPG


CylinderOnOakBlock.JPG

Then the adapter fits into the hole on the bottom of the extruder:


ExtruderBodyWithCylinder.JPG


CylinderInExtruderBody.JPG


The following four pictures show what I think is the correct orientation of the Wade's adapter to the oak block. I'll need to drill sideways through the adapter to attach it to the extruder, and I want to make sure the screws attaching it to the oak block don't get in the way.


01tipAssemblyParts.JPG


03peekAndBlock.JPG

This is a rough sketch I made to make sure I understood the relationship between the tip (far right), the extruder (middle), and the x-axis carriage (left). The circles with letters in them denote the places where bolts attach one piece to another (You can see that I'm still learning to name things appropriately; the circles with 'x' and 'y' on the extruder and x-axis carriage should have used different letters to avoid confusion with something related to the axes--they're just the holes used to attach the extruder to the carriage.) Notice that what I've labeled as the 'C' and 'D' bolts go sideways through the adaper; thus, the 'A' and 'B' screws attaching the adapter to the oak block must be aligned out of the way.

04roughSketch.JPG


05peekAndBlockDrilled.JPG

Next picture is adding the tip.

06blockAndTip.JPG

Shaping the thermocouple

10thermocoupleAndBlock.JPG

The first step on the TZ assembly page is to use a multimeter to test the thermocouple wire. A thermocouple is a pair of wires of different metals joined to each other at one end. For a reason I don't quite understand, the fact that the metals are different means that the wires generate electrical current when they're heated. By measuring that current you can calculate the temperature where the wires are connected.

The idea is that there should be very little resistance to the flow of electricity across the thermocouple. I misunderstood what was going on the first time I read the directions; the 'ends' of the thermocouple wire that you're supposed to test are NOT what you'd think of as the 'ends' if you're just looking at it. As noted above, the wires in a thermocouple are *connected at one end*. That means that one end of the wire looks like a metal knot. Don't mess with that end. The other end of the thermocouple should have two wires poking out; a red one and a yellow one. Touch one of the probes of your multimeter to each end with the multimeter set to measure resistance (this is the side of the dial with an omega, which is the symbol for Ohms, which are units of resistance. There are several settings to measure different orders of magnitude of Ohms; you'll probably see notes for 200, 2000, 20k, 200k etc. Because you want to know whether the resistance is above 6 Ohms, use the 200 setting; the lower the number, the more sensitive the setting). Hopefully your multimeter shows less than 6. Mine was around 3. 200 Ohm multimeter setting:

11multimeterSetting.JPG

testing the thermocouple:

12testingThermocouple.JPG

Stripping insulation off nichrome wire:

14nichromeEndStripped.JPG

"lead" wires taken off motors:

15leadsFromMotor.JPG

Stripping the insulation from the lead:

16leadStripped.JPG

The TZ assembly page shows the process of wrapping the nichrome wire around the tip and attaching it to the leads afterward, and notes that some might find it easier to attach the nichrome to the leads first, then wrap it around the tip. That looked like an easier way to do it, so below I've shown the leads and nichrome as I attached them. I did try to solder the connection using the technique shown on the TZ page, but I'm pretty bad at soldering things and I'm not sure I did any good. I tested the resistance of the assembled wire (testing the ends of the leads after they'd been attached to the nichrome) with a multimeter and came up with a resistance of around 7 Ohms. I hope that's within tolerances, but I guess I'll find out when I test it. I also realized after I'd finished that I'd neglected to use something abrasive to remove the ceramic insulation from the ends of the nichrome after stripping the other insulation. If I have problems down the road I'm probably going to start looking at that first.

17leadsCrimpsNichrome.JPG


18leadsCrimpsNichrome.JPG


19leadsConnected.JPG

As I was wrapping the nichrome wire (already attached to leads) around extruder tip, it occurred to me that the way it's wrapped might affect the distribution of heat while the tip is in operation. I found that the threads of the screw made the wrapping slightly irregular--the wraps tended to try to be perpendicular to the threads where they crossed. I also think I put a slightly higher density of wraps toward the base of the tip rather than toward the tip. If that turns out to be a poor decision I want to remember to do it differently next time. The following shows the wrapping:

21nichromeWrappedNoThermo.JPG

Wrapping with thermocouple:

22nichromeWrappedWithThermo.JPG

Did not have enough hands for picture of the next step, gluing around the nichrome. Finished:

23tipAssembled.JPG

Next was getting the electronics for the tip assembled; this basically consisted of stripping the insulation off the cat5 cable, arranging the internal wires to correctly attach them to the circuit boards, and attaching the heater leads and thermocouple to the cat5 connector. Picture below shows the parts to be used. Note: I stripped the outer shielding off the cat5 cable before taking this picture.

01setupElectronicsTools.JPG

Closeup of stripped cat5

02LANunwrapped.JPG

Closeup with three wires for 3-pin connector stripped

03strippedFor3Pin.JPG

3-pin attached. Didn't understand how to test this connection with multimeter. Note to self: consider this as a source of problems down the road.

04threePinAttached.JPG

Stripped and twisted together the wires for the power leads

05powerLinesStripped.JPG

Probably should've taken more intermediate/orientation pictures of this step. Shows the tip (heater leads, thermocouple) attached to the cat5 hookup. Note that the leads in this picture have some slack; I subsequently disconnected and shortened them to fix that.

06tipToLANHookup.JPG

Closeup of the connection to the cat5 hookup. Note that the the end of the thermocouple has two wires, which are each connected to a different grub-screw connector. As noted in the TZ tip assembly page, the software compensates for the way the thermocouple is installed; its polarity doesn't matter for the installation. Also note: the other TZ assembly guide used a more complicated way of attaching the thermocouple leads, first attaching them to a broader wire to get a better connection with the cat5 hookup. That's deeper magic than I'm going to attempt until something doesn't work.

07LANHookupClose.JPG

Finished (this is, however, before I shortened the heater leads; there's still too much slack in the leads in this image). I'm not sure why I plugged in the cat5 cable; I guess I just wanted to see how everything went together. This arrangement also makes it possible to again test the resistance of the heater leads through the twisted ends of the cat5 cable.

08allTogether.JPG

Extruder and X-Carriage Assembly

I've treated the extruder and x-carriage assembly as one process because the interfaces between those parts are complicated and I found that I had to attach them before finishing either, which makes me think of them as one unified component. (I suppose that really demonstrates that I'm approaching this as an assembler only, not a developer or designer). Most of these pictures show the oak block at its original size; I realized I had to cut it partway through.

If you haven't yet, now is an excellent time to check out Gary Hodgson's visual guide to the Wade's extruder.

Build Notes/"unexpected stuff and stuff I should've done to begin with"

I should've cut the oak block before any other step.

I had to cut short the bolt that attaches the rear of the extruder to the X-carriage because there were height constraints on both sides of the interface. It was easy enough to do that with a pair of tin snips at the point I needed it. I deformed the end threads too much, but I just filed off a few layers with a 'mill bastard' file and it worked fine.

In some places I went through with a file and cleared out some boltways. If you'd rather do that before you start attaching stuff, look in the assembly to see what has to go where; specifically, check:

  1. Boltways in the bumper (4)
  2. Boltways in chassis for bumper-attaching bolts (4)
  3. Recesses in chassis for heads of bumper-attaching bolts (4) (Note: the recesses are hexagonal. Your bolts are likely round. I couldn't fit nuts in the recesses, so I just used bolts and am hoping for the best. Some small misalignment between the holes in the chassis and the holes in the bumper is keeping that connection pretty solid even without nuts. I'm not sure what I'm going to do going forward.
  4. Recess for bearing in bumper (bearing should spin freely when mounted on post as shown below)
  5. Trackways for motor mounting screws (the screws should pass through freely and move along the track freely; it is worth testing all the tracks at the same time using the motor and four screws, because even if a screw can move along each of the tracks, the configuration of mount points on the motor may cause the assembly to bind.)
  6. Wade's gears (the larger just needs to be clear enough for the hobbed bolt to go through. The smaller one is a bit of an open question. It's doesn't have the internal nut as in the visual guide to the Wade's. I drilled it out a bit so it fits over the motor shaft. I think I'm going to drill through it later and add a grub screw or something to bind it to the shaft, but I don't have a working answer yet and I'm not sure if I'm missing something.)

Assembly Steps

Drilled holes in the adapter to attach it to the extruder chassis:

01adapterDrilled.JPG

The parts that make up the extruder 'bumper' that presses the filament against the hobbed bolt. The next few are pretty self-explanatory: assemble bumper, put screws through chassis (I'm sort of standing behind my decision to enlarge the hexagonal recesses in the chassis to accept the heads of the bolts. The alternative was to put nylon nuts in there, which didn't fit and which would probably have deformed the flats surrounding them. However, the problem with this setup is that if I put nylocks on the outside I'll have to disassemble everything to get them off. I plan on using this to print long enough for it to print an Accessible Wade's Extruder, then using that.

02extruderBumperParts.JPG


03bumperAssembled.JPG


04extruderChassisBearings.JPG


05oneBearingIn.JPG


06twoBearingsIn.JPG


07extruderChassisBumperBolts.JPG

Bolts going into enlarged recesses:

08noteRoundScrewForcedHexSink.JPG

The binding force of the bolts is pretty solid; I'm not sure how that will play out:

09chassisBumperAssembledWithoutNuts.JPG

Hot end bolted onto the extruder chassis:

10hotEndBoltedOnExtruder.JPG

This is one thing that can happen if the block is too long:

11oakBlockTooLong.JPG

Cut:

12oakBlockCut.JPG

Reattached to extruder chassis:

13oakBlockReattached.JPG

Orientation of extruder assembly to be attached to x-carriage:

14extruderToCarriage.JPG

Underside view of extruder/carriage assembly. Note that the wooden rails for the bearings are going to run across the back of the box, so the bolt cannot extend too far into it. On the extruder side, the motor must be mounted over the bolt, so it cannot extend too far on that side either. I cut a 20mm bolt down a little to be within those limits. I put the head on the carriage side and the nut on the extruder side, but I'm not sure it matters. Note also in the second picture below that the cat5 connector is on the side opposite the extruder gears (the first picture below shows the incorrect way). I do not think wires and spinning toothed things should mix.

15boltedOnBotttomView.JPG


16boltedOnTopView.JPG

Same thing; oblique view:

17boltedOnOblique.JPG

After cutting oak block, space for wooden rail is clear:

18clearThroughCarriage.JPG

Motor an small cog to attach (I just enlarged the hole and pushed it on; I'm probably going to drill a hole in the cog and insert a grub screw to bind it against the shaft)

19motorWithCog.JPG

Bolts spaced out so that they won't bottom out in the motor mount points. In fact I only ended up using two of these, since the big gear on the Wade's can't clear them if they're spaced that way. I'm going to go back and cut two or all of them short so they clear.

20spacedBolts.JPG

All four bolts in their tracks. If you look at the following picture you'll see which bolts I omitted:

21spacedBoltsInTracks.JPG

The picture below shows the method for positioning the motor: place the hobbed bolt and big gear through the bearings and slide the motor to the position where the small gear engages the big gear best. If you just finger-tighten the motor position, it's firm enough to play with the gears a bit to see if the rotation is smooth.

22extruderGears.JPG

The pictures below shows the unapproved method of tightening the nylock on the hobbed bolt around the extruder; I started the nylock on the hobbed bolt, then put the nut in the vise and tightened down the bolt with an adjustable wrench (it looks like I got wires caught somewhere in the first picture, but I actually didn't).

23unapprovedMethod.JPG


24unapprovedMethodTop.JPG

These two show the washers I used on each side of the extruder against the hobbed bolt/nylock:

25extruderGearWashers.JPG


26extruderGearWashers.JPG


01boltOrderOnRails.JPG


02oneEightyDone.JPG


03threeSixtyRails.JPG


04threeSixtyRails.JPG


05allinUntightened.JPG

Y-Axis Assembly

01yBumperBoltOrder.JPG


02yBumperAssembled.JPG


03y360WithRail.JPG


04y360WithRailTop.JPG


05y360BoltOrder.JPG


06y360OverBar.JPG


07y180BoltOrder.JPG


08y180Assembled.JPG


09yFrogPlateBoltOrder.JPG


10yFrogPlatePartial.JPG


11yFrogPlatePartialOblique.JPG


12wrongWay.JPG

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13correctWay.JPG