Thursday, 13 March 2014

Universal 3D printing filament spool standard 2014

One spool to rule them all...

Coils and coils of lovely 3D printing filament, I'm usually surrounded by them, I struggle with them and often spend time and energy mounting, clamping, switching and feeding them into to various printers.

There has to be a better way. (lets please all find a better way)

* The problem *

Every single one is different, bare coils or reels, some are even different from the same manufacturer.

Just to point out here, this is only a tiny selection of 3D printing filament reels available, these are the ones I happen to still have around me. Even the long list on of filament suppliers is a fraction of what's actually available.

Loose coils of filament are both great (no wasted spool or extra cost to ship packaging) and also the work of the devil. You usually need to cut a random shorter length of coil off, just so you can use a section of material in a sensible way, or run the risk of getting into a tangled mess of coil and printer. You then risk not having enough material to finish the print, something that seems to happen more often than I would like.

Once when trying to use a 750gram loose coil of 1.75mm material (about 300+ meters) I had a tangle so bad the extruder pulled an entire shelf down onto a laptop below, smashing it, bending rods on the printer and also messing up a very nice print. I had mounted a home made spool holder to the shelf above the printer in an attempt to use loose coiled filament. My 20 euro coil of filament cost me over 400 in damages, I didn't do that ever again.

After a lot of messing about with making my own 3DPrinted spool holders, printing other peoples, making them by hand and using various mounting systems, I resorted to using a rack as shown above. It looks ugly, the filament gets dusty and problems like tangles still happen. But as I can't find a really good solution for various printers, this is the best I have.

The closest thing we have to a 'standard' reel is based around the use of 3mm plastic welding rod/coils for automotive repair industry, these very large coils have been used with 3D printing for many years. They have a lot of benefits, but also plenty of negative aspects. Mostly being heavy and big whilst also using more than 300g of ABS to make each one.

Recycle, Recycle- 

One of the reasons I would like to see a spool standard is that I would also like to see less waste from 3D printing, and a way to recycle items like spools and packaging.

A few manufacturers like Josef Průša have already looked at cardboard, producing filament already on lightweight recyclable spools.
In this case the center mounting hole is rather large. The inner coil diameter is big enough not to cause the filament to be too tightly wound.

Dense or corrugated cardboard what would be best?

One of the very first filament orders I ever made came on cardboard spools, since then it's all been plastic of one form or another.

Lets take a look at some filament supplied on reels -

And lots of loose coils of filament too -

Make / manufacturer
Outer size diameter
Inner coil diameter
Mount hole diameter
Makerbot 1.75mm (1Kg)
Makerbot seem to have a new bigger spool? Can anyone confirm details.
Colorfabb 1.75/3mm (750g)
Now using a clear ABS reel (same dimensions)
‘Industry Standard’ 2.2Kg (1)
ABS for Up! printer
Prototype Cardboard
(not in production)
Manufacturer unknown
Taulman3D Nylon
Mini Spools
Taulman3D Nylon
Old style packets
Various reel types used by eSunPLA
mini reel
new reel? (conductive ABS)
Unknown from eBay
2.5Kg spool
2Kg spool

5Kg card spool
1Kg card Spool
Metal/Card ~800g spool
as Loose Coils

Coil 3mm filament
(100M / ~800g
Coil 1.75mm filament (100m / ~260g)
Coil 1.75mm filament (750g)
Hang on, that’s the same
Correct - It is…
Polycarbonate / also using spools now.
Unknown from eBay?
Can’t remember
Via 3Dfilaprint
Via Orbitech
Via Orbitech
Via Orbitech

(1) - These large ‘Industry Standard’ 2.2Kg spools were first used in the plastic welding industry, it's the closest thing we have to a standard.

I looks like both 30mm and 50mm mounting holes appear in many different reels, that's something 'standard'

Lots of different spools in lots of sizes - the odd looking one (middle left) is an example (one of many) of a 'home-made' spool to help make loose filament less of a pain to use.

The Question ?

Would it be possible for manufacturers to have a set filament standard for spool size, shape and mounting? Can the 3D printing community help develop that standard?
Can we make it Eco-friendly and recyclable?
Does anyone want it?
Lets find out.

Making the 'perfect' spool has a number of challenges - 
  • The inner coil diameter needs to be appropriate for the type of material and size being wound.
* Bad Spool *
3D Printing filament is not like coils of wire, don't try to cram as much as possible onto a spool.

This is 3mm semi-translucent PLA, you can clearly see the bruising of the filament as it's very tightly wound around a 50mm diameter core. The last 1/3 of the spool contents are useless due to being deformed and much too tight to feed into an extruder resulting in really nasty things like lifting the entire Z axis away from the object being printed.

This started to fail before the last 1/3 of the spool, due to pull-back and carriage lifting. Lower quality prints are also often observed during the second half of a 3mm spool this tightly wound.
  • Spool mounting diameter - Some physical resistance is good for spool mounting. Quite often a printed spool holder is used to mount the reels of filament, many different sizes force users to produce smaller diameter mounting rods in an attempt to be able to mount different types, often resulting in noise and rocking around as the spools unwind. Currently one size does not fit all.
Illustration of Inner diameter, Outer diameter and mounting.
  • Width of spool and overall outer dimension is also important, but more in deciding how much filament is required for each spool.
We have seen a trend is supplying less filament per coil over the last few years, We started at 2.3Kg reels used by the Automotive plastic welding industry, then slowly manufacturers moved to a 1Kg reel and many now supply 750g or 500g per single reel. 

Length of coil is also used by some manufacturers, often 100M of either 1.75mm or 3mm material is a 'standard' length supplied. Many manufacturers are now also offering 50M coils often targeted at retail outlets or as a way to try out new materials and colours.

That's all quite a challenge for a standard spool, but if we were flexible on the width and possibly had two outer dimensions it would be possible to make a standard more people could easily use and manufacturers could implement. Just as important is the ability to design them into new and existing 3D printers.
  • Print material - to some degree defines the minimum internal coil size. 1.75mm material can be wound in a tighter coil and materials like Taulman Nylon or Recreus FilaFlex are both so flexible they can be wound very tightly with minimal impact on the ability to print with them.

  • Nylon's, flexible and PET materials also have a tendency to try and unwind from their coils so a bigger inner coil diameter could also help them be less likely to loop and get tangled.
Cost - 

Another major factor will be cost of the spool and any packaging. reducing weight is good for shipping costs and making it from materials that can be easily recycled really needs to be a major goal.
Plastic spools used today cost under $1 and in reality customers are not likely to pay a great deal more for a standard spool? but how much and can a robust spool made from materials like strong cardboard be viable?

Ideas - spark more ideas - 

We now have dimensional information above on some of the types of spools and coils available, and to get the ball rolling here are some simple ideas for filament spools I have been thinking about.

We can see that many reels already have a 50mm mounting hole diameter, so this looks like a reasonable starting point, Both the Ultimaker and Makerbot Replicator use a 50mm spool mount.

The inner inner diameter, bigger is better, but you need to allow enough room for filament without also having a very large outer diameter. A size of around 120mm for the internal seems to work well for most types of plastics and filled materials in both 3mm and 1.75mm sizes.

A diameter of 220mm for the outer will allow for a typical quantity of filament depending on the width of the spool, 75mm shown here.

Cardboard spool concept, 1Kg spool or 3 x 250g based on the same specification of mounting hole and overall size.

The plastic dust cover/case is an item I would also like to see available (or 3D printed) - make it easy to mount on / in a 3D printer and refill with the recyclable cardboard filament spools.

How you can help - 

If you want to get involved (and please do), a discussion thread on the RepRap Forum is started here.

  • Start discussions wherever you want, and spread the word, lets make something happen.
  • Ask your filament supplier if they can support the standard, if they say no, ask them why and let people know the reasons.
  • If you manufacture a 3D printer, what do you require from a filament spool?
  • Sketch or design something, say what would work for you and your 3D printer, what's not working now and how you solve it (or not).

The 3D Printing Association is providing support for this project and also looking for feedback and ideas to help with this campaign, both from filament manufacturers and everyone in the community.

Filament manufacturers response - 

I have contacted a number of manufacturers to suggest the idea of a universal or standard filament spool - designed by feedback from the community, all the responses have been very positive, with many immediately supporting the idea and wanting to help make sure it's viable for them and their customers.

Individual manufacturers (both filament and 3D printer) can submit feedback and ideas directly and I hope more will also get involved and see if this can result in something good and useful for all.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, 28 February 2014

Temperature effects with PLA printing / RepRap News

I did a little experimenting with temperature and PLA printing last April (2013) when building the Rostock - and it looks like I totally forgot to post a blog article about it!

I found the pictures today, and you may find it interesting, so here is what I remember about the experiment and process -

Last year when I didn't manage to get hold of any Laywood for testing, I decided to see what effect temperature had on PLA when it's printed smoothly at a controlled rate. I randomly selected Blue and Brown PLA and also used Natural (clear) as a control as I was sure that would show more obvious external differences with a change in temperature.

First test was just a simple change from printing at 192 Degrees C (lower section) then changing to 198 Degrees C (upper section)

I thought it might be neat to try a gradient effect, this is simply a change in extrusion temperature by + or - one degree C every ~3 layers over about 20 layers. 

I tried the same gradual gradient with Brown, that shows up a gradual change from matt to glossy as the temperature increases. (camera can't really show it well)

This actually didn't work as I had imagined. it's better than the photo shows, the camera is not able to pick up the gradient very well and you also get a strange optical effect as you move around the object, quite interesting.

You basically get a more obvious effect with a sharp change in extrusion temperature, here above the matt bands are 190 Degrees C and the glossy are 200. 

The speed is also important for a good change, I found running at 80mm/sec or faster was about optimal for this PLA and a J-head MK5 Extruder nozzle.

A mixture of gradual temperature change over a number of layers and sharp changes produce some really nice finishes.

To help select the bands I did make a small script to post process the G-code, but sadly this seems to have gone missing from my files.

If I do any more with this process I may produce a more friendly program to allow shades and stripes to be drawn on the Gcode, unless anyone else wants to produce something to do that.

Printing in PLA - Just a temperature change - nothing else. (the model is custom MakeALot Bud Vase btw)

Purple colours also seem to work exceptionally well for this effect.

I also destroyed one of these vases at the time to see if the temperature made any obvious differences to bonding strength. I could not find any difference while splitting and ripping the different temperature printed areas.

Let me know if you try anything like this, or with other materials (it obviously works well with Laywood), I'm sure other translucent PLA's and even PET (Taulman t-glase or Coloutfabb_XT) would also show this effect too.

Next time I do this I'll also try out a single walled 'spiral vase' print with temperature changes, I imagine that should look very neat.

RepRap News - 

If you are in the US or can travel 14-16th March, do check out the 2nd Midwest RepRap Festival - Goshen Indiana - more info Here - Loads of fantastic people will be there for a dev packed weekend. Sadly I can't make the festival, life gets in the way of 3D Printing some times :(

Feel the Force young developer - Force Sense Resistors - 

Johann has done some great experiments using three force sense resistors to measure pressure applied to the build platform on a mini Kossel - RepRap Wiki page here and Johann's Blog info here. 

It would be neat if only one could be installed on the hot-end itself, but that's going to take a bit more work. These sensors are very simple to measure using a spare Analogue input, more info here.

Now all we need to do is print our own force sensors rather than buy them, conductive filament at the ready :)

Cheltenham Geeks - 

I'm doing another 3D printing night at Deep Space Works in Cheltenham Monday 24th March 7:00PM - if you want to come (it's all free) sign up on Meetup here - I look forward to seeing you and if you can bring a 3D printer, 3D scanner, projects etc. let Tom Howlett know via the comments on Meetup.

And anything you want me to talk about or demo, leave me a comment here.


Thursday, 13 February 2014

2013 review of developments, 3D Printing book release and more challenges.


I missed doing my annual roundup of 3D Printing adventures before Christmas, so here it is, with some plans and updates for 2014.

Firstly thanks for reading this blog and to all the wonderful people who contacted me in 2013, I believe this year is going to be the best yet for 3D Printing, stay tuned and do get in contact if you have something to share or a project collaboration idea.

To catch up on other things I have done over the years, here are past annual reviews, 2012/11, 2011/10

My 2013 year of 3D printing development started with a pledge to be my year of ‘yes’, wherever possible I planned to say ‘yes’ and get as involved as I could manage (with time available).

This led to trying out many new things including speaking at various shows, festivals, events and even on the BBC website and World Service about 3D printing.

I'm working on new designs, prototypes and ideas. Collaborating with different people and always looking out for other 3D printing projects and experiments too, do keep in contact and let me know what you are up to too.

3D Printing for Dummies -

One of the real highlights of 2013 was the experience of writing a book. It’s always been on my lifetime achievement list, and it feels really good to now be a published Author, I really hope to do more as the experience really was exhilarating from start to finish, something I will never forget.

It was a real privilege to be part of this book, and I was very lucky that my co-author Kalani Kirk Hausman had already put in so much work to get the project off-the-ground with the world famous publishers Wiley – so when the chance to contribute to this project came about it was a very easy ‘yes!’. We had a short timescale for the 300+ Page multi-chapter book, and it had to cover a wide range of 3D printing aspects.  The book covers some of the 30 year history of an already well established additive manufacturing industry, and looks at the current and future uses for this technology.

Many people and fantastic developments have helped to make this book a reality, I want to thank everyone involved in the project and all who kindly allowed images to be used for the book.

You can take a look at the Dummies guide to 3D printing book on Amazon now, it’s available in either print or eBook, and various translations are planned. If you do get a chance to read it, Kirk and I would love to know what you thought.

Another interesting aspect was a flurry of 3D printing writing activity from many different people who contacted me during 2013; asking for image permissions in their own books, some are also now released and some ongoing with releases this year. I’m sure much more will be written on the subject, it’s such an amazing technology that will some day impact and benefit the lives of everyone. I'm sure plenty more will be out soon.

On that note, I also finished reading MAKERS by Cory Doctorow ( @doctorow ) again over Christmas, it's now available for free or donation download in many formats here. A fantastic story (it's fiction, not history, but will be :) for anyone living and breathing the 3Dprinting and the fabulous Maker movement. I highly recommend reading it.

I have not added as much as I wanted to some of this was due to the already heavy level of traffic on it, it’s about to blow another bandwidth limit so at some point this year I will fix that, update and add more tutorials and content. In the mean time I also plan to get shorter but more frequent blog posts up on here, some while I do developments rather than a massive post at the end.

Tiny Printing - 

Printing small was a lot of fun, it taught me a lot about 3D Printing and how best to control plastic extrusion, when to use heat and when to cool, more information here.

RepRap Magazine - 

The RepRap Magazing was launched, this is again another great project by people in the community to document and give a wider voice for all things RepRap. - We would like to do and release more issues in 2014.

3D Printing in NYLON - 

My Nylon printing and colouring experiments attracted a lot of attention, this was a lot of fun and very much still something I continue to experiment with. I plan to do a follow-up article later this year about Nylon, mixed materials and further colour experiments.

3DR –

I have always planned to release a RepRap 3D printer, and after a frantic 5 week development during the earlier part of 2013, I had the first 3DR ready for testing.

For me 3DR has been amazing to watch as it goes out into the world as my take on a 3D printed Delta, watching it then evolve into something much more is great.

Releasing 3DR as an open-source project occupied a lot more time than I had expected last year, but it also led to some really great conversations with people and lots of other great things. You initially think that releasing everything and seeing what people do with it would allow more time to work on other things. That was not the case, it's as much work as if you released it for sale or started a company.

I'm planning to release at least another three machines this year, keep an eye out ;)

For me the starting point into the delta geometry was the Rostock, this was a great printer to build and allowed a lot of experimentation, especially with tall prints that had not been possible before.

Open Hand (and an open heart)- 

The Open Hand project by Joel Gibbard was a fantastic project to see come into life, and with healthy backing the project is well underway.

Joel also won the Venturefest award for best newcomer. Congratulations again, and best wishes from me for the ongoing project.

IndiGoGo perks shipped out and hand-designs well under way.

Shows and Events - 

The London Makerfaire, London 3D printshow and TCT Shows were another great highlight of 2013, we have more great things planned for shows this year, TCT is moving to a 3 Day event and will be bigger and better than ever.

Associations - 

We are starting to see many different 3D printing associations and 'standards' being setup, so I was delighted when the 3D printing association asked me to be a member of the board of advisers, we are aiming to promote, guide and advise as many people as possible with 3D printing and all forms of additive manufacturing.

News and dedicated 3D printing websites boomed in 2013 and will continue to grow and mature with both content and advice. It's almost hard to ignore 3D printing now and it's also very apparent, that many people are starting to be aware this technology is becoming useful for small businesses, and at a justifiable cost level.

My go-to news sites for 3D printing news are the 3DPrintingIndustry who I also try to write interesting articles for as time allows, most recently I posted one on filament recycling (tech for trade).

And another is - an entire website with news and everything you can imagine to do with 3D printing, it's amazing what and how fast they pick up 3DP news and PR.

Sharing - 

We have also seen sharing sites grow and evolve. There are far too many to mention now, but one I have used and will continue with is the Excellent Youmagine (by the Ultimaker team).

And GitHub, where all sort of cool things happen, all the time :)

Kickstarter and IndieGoGo  both had a huge number of 3D printing and associated projects up for funding.

3D Printing Future - 

As usual time and other work got in the way of all the other things I wanted to experiment with and do, my list of projects and ideas grows bigger every month, but I still managed to design and do a lot of things over Christmas, I'll get up blog posts and images as soon as I can on these and future planned work, if any of you want to collaborate on any projects or innovation, do get in contact.

Lots more to share soon. It's going to be a very interesting year indeed.

Nils posted some great predictions by a few in the 3D printing community, lets see how many happen or disappear.

And for inspiration it's world #InventorsDay - go invent something... anything.