Monday, March 2, 2015

More Testing - 3D Printed Gears

I finally needed to print a functional gear. Driving my RC car in the snow was a bit too much for the main reduction gear (My 3D printed A-arms seemed to hold up fine this time). Snow got into the gear (due to a very poor design that left the gear exposed) and was turned to ice by compression from the pinion gear. The built up ice seemed to push the motor out of the correct meshing distance. The motor then proceeded to grind away most of the teeth.

The snow was deeper than this in most spots. I took this picture after the car had already stripped the teeth from the main reduction gear.

I put the car in the bathroom to wait for the snow to melt. The electronics avoided the water for the most part, so the only damage  done to the car was the stripped gear.

This is the slot in the bottom of the chassis that leaves the gear exposed. The replacement gear is already in the car at this point. I managed to get a face full of gear teeth after a second or two of run time. I didn't have the car on the ground, so the forces on the gear teeth shouldn't have been too high. The gear teeth seem to have shattered. I think this is due to warpage in the gear after it originally printed. The portion of the gear teeth touching the support material had significant warpage. I found this was a problem in my early gear tests, but I decided to try running the gear anyways. I increased the spacing between the pinion and the reduction gear to compensate for the wapage and prevent binding. I also post-cured the gear, which increases the strength and hardness. The post-cure also made the gear more brittle which would explain the shattered teeth.

It's hard to get a good image of the gear without removing it from the car which takes a while. I didn't want to take apart the car until I had a suitable replacement ready to test.

I tried printing with my black resin instead of the clear resin. I had hoped the black resin would have less warpage than the clear resin.

The gear in the bottom left is the original gear. The bottom right is my new replacement gear printed in the black resin. The top two gears are spares that I printed, but didn't release from the support material.

I used a machinists square to visualize the warpage on the gear teeth. The majority of the gear has gear teeth that are square to the faces of the gear, however a small portion (~20%) has slanted teeth like these. This makes it impossible to have a proper gear spacing without binding. I will keep trying different orientations and possibly different gear geometry to avoid this waparge, but for now I may have to order a replacement set of gears for my RC Car.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

New Project (Finished too) - Computer Charger Repair

The output wire from my laptop charger frayed and shorted about a year ago. The wire was built into the charger and broke right where it came out of the charger. I couldn't do without my laptop so I had to get a new charger. I kept the broken one so I could repair it and have a spare at some point. There wasn't enough wire left out of the charger to simply solder the cable back together, so I knew it would need a full case replacement. I also wanted to add a second connector so I could remove the output cable and a similar break in the future.

The charger appeared to be one solid piece of plastic. There were no seams or obvious places to try prying the charger apart. I managed to chip away the rubber that sealed the output cable to the charger. The small opening let me look inside and determine the wall thickness of the charger's case. I could also see the orientation of some of the internal components. I guessed the circuit board was inserted right-side-up into the charger during assembly which led me to guess which side was the lid.

I used a mill to cut away just the outer wall of the charger. I stepped down a small amount with each pass until the top lid broke free. It turned out to be held in with plastic snaps. I believe the lid was glued or friction welded to the rest of the case. It was a clean, but unrepairable design. I managed to avoid cutting any of the components.

The charger had pretty simple internal geometry. I reversed engineered the critical geometry in the case to hold the remaining components.

I bought a pretty nice looking connector without looking at the dimensions... The connector wasn't going to fit in the original case geometry, so I was forced to put it on the lid. I'll admit its a strange form for a charger, but it worked out. I originally planed to use the black resin on my 3D printer to make it look nice, but I got lazy and used the clear resin that was already in my printer.

Here is the main part of the case after it came out of the 3D printer. This is probably the largest part I've printed so far. Thankfully it didn't have a print failure like I had with a few other parts recently.

The lid also printed cleanly. As usual the extra material for the support felt like a waste, but there isn't much I can do to avoid adding it.

I wanted the charger to be symmetrical, so I put screws on the bottom. They don't hold anything together, but they do look nice.

The charger fit snugly into the case. The wall power plug even fit into the case!

Here's the lid before squishing the remaining wires into the charger.

The charger has been revived! The design is pretty strange, but it's functional which is what counts. The upward angle output plug is actually nice because it reduces wire stress when reaching from the floor to a table. It also makes the USB charging port easier to access. I should have been less lazy and printed the charger case in black, but at least the insides are visible like one of the old clear gameboys.

Friday, January 16, 2015

RC Car Replacement Parts

This time the rear A-arms on the RC car broke. I may no longer have access to a milling machine, but now I have a 3D printer. I modified the CAD for the front A-arms and had a set of rear A-arms printing in a few hours. These parts took a mere 5 hours to print. They could have taken less time, but I decided to try printing with the high layer resolution setting (0.025mm per layer). I also tried printing the parts directly on the table. Technically this is frowned upon with this printer, but the parts came out mostly fine. It saved a ton of support material, so I can live with any defects caused by printing directly on the table.

The car looks pretty slick with all these custom parts!

I also added the shock spring mounts. These prevent any binding between the shock and the replacement A-arms.

Unfortunately... I went too hard with the car shortly after making the new parts...

My replacement shock spring mounts took up more space than the originals. This prevented the shock from reaching its end stopper. The end stopper is an internal piece of rubber that prevents the piston from bottoming out and smashing into hard plastic. The car hit a hard landing after a jump and slammed hard plastic into hard plastic. The 3D printer parts can be post cured (which I did). The post curing greatly hardens the plastic, but also makes it more brittle. I won't do that with a future set of A-arms.

I'm starting to learn the material limitations from the 3D printer. The resin cures to be a somewhat brittle plastic. I have been post curing all of my parts (exposing them to additional UV) to make them harder. The parts that come out of the machine can be somewhat flexible and have a soft surface. The gears I've made need to be hardened or they will wear out quickly. This application of the plastic is better soft and slightly weaker. The added flexibility lowers the forces on the parts and prevents shock loading. I'll also look into making certain portions of the A-arm thicker. Holes - especially tapped holes become stress concentrators. These create points where a crack can propagate and make the part considerably weaker.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Test - 3D Printed Gears

One of my goals for the 3D Printer was fast and cheap production of gears. Buying plastic gears can be expensive and they often require modifications. This can waste a ton of time. In addition, they might not be the exact number of teeth required for a project. I decided to test the 3D printer and determine what settings and orientations were best for high quality parts.

I started off by printing some 64 pitch gears. I was curious to see if the printer was capable of making these parts. The results were pleasantly surprising! All of these close up shots were taken with my phone. I hacked together a macro lens using a thumb sized magnifier. I taped the lens over my camera and got a 10x zoom! The only down side is there is a fair amount of distortion over the images. However, it reveals details that the camera or my own eyes couldn't see alone.

This is one of my first test prints of a 64 pitch gear. There is some surface roughness that can be seen on the gear, but all of the teeth seem to have a reasonable profile. This gear was printed in the coarsest layer height (0.1mm per layer). The layers don't seem to create "steps" in the teeth.The surface roughness is still pretty good even though the layers are visible

This is a picture that just looked cool. I have no idea what happened with the focus of the camera but it added some neat effects. This gear was printed on the highest layer resolution (0.025mm per layer). Here the layers can't be seen. It just looks slightly opaque.

Here is a side by side comparison between the course and fine layer resolutions (0.1mm and 0.025mm per layer respectively). Both gears seem to have reasonable tooth profiles. It is hard to tell whether there is warpage in the teeth as the lens created considerable distortion in the picture. The lens also created a very shallow depth of field so only portions of the gear are in focus at once.

I also worked on larger gears. The majority of these gears are 32 pitch - 40 tooth gears. I wanted to see how different orientations of the gears in the printer would cause different amounts of warpage on  the overall shape. I also wanted to see how various levels of post curing reduced wear on the gears. I also printed a set of 20 pitch - 25 tooth gears. All of the gears meshed fine, however some warpage in the gears led to noticeable wobble on the shafts. I found increasing the resolution and adding more supports during the printing helped to mostly eliminate these issues. I'll have some projects coming soon that will be built off of these gears. There is also a cluster gear in this photo that contains a timing belt pulley in addition to a 32 pitch gear. This part couldn't be made through traditional machining techniques, so I'm very excited to see what unique structures I can design and build with the 3D printer.

Friday, January 9, 2015

New Project - Cheap Hexapod

I've always wanted to build a Hexapod. They look pretty cool with all of the legs moving in sync. They can also be used as a desktop toy, unlike my RC car, which is basically an outside only toy. The biggest problem with hexapods is they are really expensive. A proper hexapod requires three degrees of freedom for each leg. This ensures that the leg doesn't need to slide on the ground. The three degrees of freedom per leg and six legs require a hexapod to have at least 18 servos. The servo cost adds up fast and had previously discouraged me from building a hexapod. Recently I came across micro sized servos (HXT900 9g servos). These servos cost about three dollars each. Even with 18 servos that still isn't too expensive compared to typical on brand servos that cost about 20 dollars each.

I wanted to build the hexapod around my new 3D printer. The first thing I decided to do was integrate the servo splines into the legs themselves. After a number of test prints I was able to confirm it is possible to create micro size servo splines with my 3D printer (Form1+). I also wanted to keep the design minimalistic and avoid over complicated joints and leg segments.

I bought three servos before I committed to building the hexapod. I printed and assembled one leg to ensure the servos would be strong enough to drive the leg. I also wanted to test the tolerances on the servo splines with multiple servos. This image shows the leg prototype, The only change I made to the leg design was an increase in the depth of my logo.

This was the first "production" run for my 3D printer. I had to make six copies of each leg part as well as the body section. Aside from one print failure (on the main body servo mount plate) everything printed perfectly. I literally couldn't make these parts through machining given the orientations of the splines and the shapes of the parts.

This is the body piece ( the one that printed correctly) as it came off of the printer. There was an update to the printer software that dramatically reduced the material wasted in the support structure for the parts.

Here is the part before support material removal. The supports are removed with wire cutters and then the remaining bumps on the part surface are removed with a file.

The final part looks pretty clean. All of the dimensions seem to be within tolerance for the hexapod. There is some warpage in the part that occurred after the post curing, but it shouldn't prevent the part from being usable.

Each servo requires two 2-56 screws to be threaded into the frame. My hand got pretty tired trying to screw all of the servos into the mounting plate. Each servo fit nicely into the plate.

I decided to try fitting all of the pivots into the lower central support plate. It was fun getting to see the hexapod come together.

This was the first time the hexapod was fully assembled. I knew the wiring would be an issue, but I didn't realize how messy the hexapod would look without proper wire management.

Here is my programming testing setup. I was at my house for the winter break and no longer had access to my 3D printer. I had CNC access but I didn't particularly want to get covered in chips as I usually do when machining. I used a raspberry pi model a+ as the controller. This raspberry pi is the smallest one currently available. I wanted to run the hexpod with linux and python because it makes the programming easier. The hexpod currently connects to a computer over wifi which was really easy to do and should be a convenient way to control the hexapod. The two blue boards are PWM driver boards from adafruit. Each board can drive up to 16 servos ( I needed to drive 18 so I had to get the second board). The boards are controlled with an I2C interface. This means I need a minimal number of pins from the raspberry pi to control all of the servos. It helps to keep the wiring from being a mess.


Here is an early motion test. I programmed the legs to look like they were walking. I still needed to calibrate each servo and complete the actual leg motion program. This shows the hexapod moving its legs near the peak servo speed.

This was the first PCB I milled on a proper milling machine. I've always had access to a dedicated PCB mill, so coming up with my own milling procedure was fun. I drew the circuit board in SolidWorks so it would be easy to generate the G-Code for the CNC. A proper circuit CAD program like eagle probably would have been a better choice.

The PCB I milled was for the hexapod's power supply. This supply is capable of driving up to 20A at 5.5V. I wanted to drive the hexapod with a 7V battery, but the servos and raspberry pi wanted 5V. Each servo doesn't draw very much current, however the combination of all 18 which could all be running at full torque at one time would overwhelm most power supplies. I decided to go with the 20A supply to ensure there would never be a sever voltage drop that could shut down the raspberry pi.

Here is the final hexapod assembly. I ended up milling three plates from polycarbonate to create the electronics mount. The electronics are all held in with zip ties. I would have used screws, but I didn't want to make the standoffs required to mount the electronics with screws.

Unfortunately during testing I managed to break three servos. Shipping the hexapod back from break caused another four servos to die. All of the servos broke at the same internal gear. I haven't been able to finalize testing my leg motion code without a fully functioning set of legs . I chose not to use an existing set of code for the legs because I was excited to create my own algorithm from scratch. I need to rethink my servo choice and look into getting slightly more robust servos. Currently I am looking at using metal gear servos that are around five dollars each. I'm sure the hexapod will be up and running quickly once the new servos are integrated into the design.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Servo Spline Adapters

My transmission design for the Mini Combat Robot uses large servo gears. Unfortunately the output from these gears is a spline shaft. I had to come up with a way to easily adapt to the spline without making a sketchy connection with the servo horns that are meant for those servo gears. My first technique for making a servo spline can be done with a milling machine. It's a fairly straight forward and doesn't require special tools.

I put a "blank" shaft into a collet block. The collet block isn't required, however holding a round part vertically in a vise can be difficult to align. It also has a good chance of slipping which could break tools and ruin the part. The first thing I did was drill a set of starter holes. I used a small carbide ball end mill because it was the only tool that could make a mark smaller than the drill bit I wanted to use. Each hole corresponds to one of the teeth in the spline. I designed the holes so the outer edge would meet up with the tip of each spline tooth.

Once I made all of the starter dents, I proceeded to use the final size drill bit. Each hole was very close, but none of the holes intersected. If the holes intersect the drill bit will likely drift and break. The final step was to mill out the center. Milling out the center creates the inner part of the spline. It is important to design the geometry such that the leftover wall between the drilled holes fits between the spline teeth. I simply plunged and endmill down to the desired depth and let it swirl around to the correct diameter. This opened all of the holes drilled to the center.

This is the final shaft. The part fit snugly on the spline and didn't seem to damage the spline even under loading conditions. I used this part on the Mini Combat Robot until a design iteration forced me to a 3D printed design (I no longer had access to a mill). Any mill with CNC or even a digital readout can produce splined holes.

This is a 3D Printed replacement for the metal adapter. I needed a different pulley, but I couldn't use the metal spline shaft for the upgraded design. I decided to 3D print an adapter instead. I used the same geometry as the metal spline and simply printed a new adapter. It also slipped right on and worked first try.

Here is the 3D printed servo adapter as well as a splined shaft that copied the original servo spline. I doubt an FDM type 3D printer could produce the details required for this spline to work, so I'm glad I went with the SLA type 3D printer (Form1+). Making giant servo splines led me to test miniature servo splines.

The first part to my process to make a servo spline is getting a picture of the spline itself. I use this picture and one reference dimension (the outside diameter of the spline) to trace the spline profile. This seems to be pretty reliable and is able to get details that my calipers can't measure.

Here is a screen shot from the CAD I used for the servo spline. I get the spline dimensions by tracing the profile that comes from the drawing. It is surprisingly fast to CAD this way. The camera image reveals a lot of details that my measuring instruments won't capture.

Here is a servo spline made for a micro size servo (9g servo). The printer was able to handle the small details required to make the spline.

The gear fit perfectly onto the servo first try. I attempted to strip the spline, however I only managed to cut myself with the 3D printed gear teeth. I was unable to get the spline to skip on the servo.

For future projects using large servos I will attempt to make more metal shafts and splines. I find them more durable than the 3D printed parts. I also know the servo gears will strip before the metal spline slips. The 3D printed splines for smaller servos are too awesome. I'm still amazed the printer can handle details like that. The cool part is these splines can be put into any 3D printed part. It doesn't matter whether the part is round, square, or even a hexapod leg!