This is the story of my first 3D printing project and how it helped to drastically reduce the overall weight of my 3-axis motion control time-lapse dolly system for easier transport on multi-day backcountry, backpacking trips. Not only did my first 3D printing project shave serious weight (in comparison to aluminum) for hiking, it also fueled additional creativity that drastically increased overall system efficiency and incorporated new features for a better user experience. A majority of everything I designed and modified was originally inspired by the creative products from Dynamic Perception (the Stage One Dolly) and eMotimo (the TB3). Below, you'll find a quick outline of the design modifications and enhancement hacks along with a detailed story of the entire process.

If you're not familiar with time-lapse and motion control camera movements, you might want to check out some of my existing, free to view, online short films such as EYE OF THE BEHOLDER and MOUNTAINS IN MOTION to see what it's all about.

Overview (the moco system features):

72" Carbon Fiber and 3D printed Nylon modular 3-axis motion control system with dolly / pan / tilt capabilities. Ultra lightweight and rigid thanks to the 3D printed design made from Polyamide-12 (nylon). About 50% lighter than it's aluminum big brother, the Dynamic Perception Stage One. My custom "hacked" Stage One design eliminated the frustrating threaded rail inserts with a simple clamp design. I also always struggled to accurately level the Dynamic Perception Stage One dolly on both ends (which results in wonky dolly movement) due to it's lack of built-in levels, so I designed torpedo levels to the end caps and cart-- visible from both sides for easier set-ups in unique angled and vertical positions. I'm getting much better results thanks to the levels.

20:1 worm drive (NEMA 17 stepper motor) for the dolly movement offers constant holding power, removing the need to keep the power-hungry stepper motor on to hold position in angled and vertical moves. This feature reduces power consumption and enhances battery run-time by over 10x!

Modular pan / tilt system with snap-in front panel and 50:1 worm drive. Uses a compact NEMA 17 stepper motor. TINY footprint, ultra-light, almost no backlash. Industry standard, Arca-swiss quick release clamp. Can be paired with the eMotimo tilt bracket. I added a knobbed bolt to the tilt bracket for easy on/off mounting during set-up and breakdown.

Custom designed, laser cut acrylic snap-fit eMotimo TB3 "stand-alone" controller hack offers unique configuration options and helps reduce the high center of gravity that is inherent in the standard eMotimo TB3 (causing potential issues in windy shooting conditions). Custom LiFEPO4 battery system offers superior results in cold weather and high power draw (i.e. real-time video moves) situations over the more commonly used Li-Ion chemistry.

Custom 1" Carbon Fiber tubular sections create the dolly track for easy transport and superior strength / weight reduction in the overall system. Features custom designed 3D printed "connection" inserts with brass thermoplastic insert threads and glass-filled nylon bolts to securely join the segments without any rotational play between sections. Shock-coord design makes initial set-up a breeze and functions the same way a tent pole works.

Lightweight hardware: Some small, supporting hardware was custom designed and 3D printed to cut weight (i.e. bearing rollers). A few metal components are used where necessary (drive shafts, pulley, ball-bearings), but all other bolts are made from glass-filled, high-strength nylon for major weight reduction. 6 nylon 1/4-20 1" bolts weight the same as 1 aluminum equivalent. I also cut weight with a slightly shorter (5mm vs. 9mm) drive belt than what is standard from Dynamic Perception.

Test Footage from this rig can be viewed 3D printed Moco Test Shots on Nimia (UpThink Lab).

Step 1: The Early Beginnings

In June 2013, I was hard at work (in my free time) shaving weight from my aircraft grade aluminum time-lapse motion control dolly system - the Dynamic Perception Stage One and the eMotimo TB3 - to make backcountry time-lapse cinematography more convenient by shedding weight and trimming any fat. I had an up-coming trip planned to the High Sierra with my wife, Karen, and I didn't want my heavy camera gear to hold us back. The existing rig was designed and built by Dynamic Perception and eMotimo, both small companies bringing high quality equipment to the DIY user at affordable prices and with open-source coding philosophies. Both companies produce rock solid gear that has contributed to revolutionizing the time-lapse industry in recent years. While I was extremely satisfied with my existing equipment that was relatively lightweight, I started to dream of an even lighter system.

To cut back on weight for the backcountry wilderness, I decided to take a hacksaw to my perfectly good equipment and begin to hastily chop them up. When I maxed out the ability to hacksaw away anymore weight, I shifted to cheese-plating parts on a drill press in my basement. At this point in time, I'm fairly positive my friends and fellow time-lapse colleagues thought I was crazy to hack apart gear that costs several thousand dollars simply to shave a few ounces. On the flipside, anyone who hikes long distances with their camera equipment and motion control system surely knew why it was worth my efforts and could relate. I eventually got the existing system as light as possible-- about 1lb lighter than stock weight. It was at this point, I hit a dead end without any additional options to truly shave enough weight to make a BIG difference on my backcountry shoot excursions. At the time, all of that aluminum shredding was enough to make a difference during the trip to California to shoot the short film, EYE OF THE BEHOLDER. As months passed, I found myself contemplating the system design for a better solution. I decided to hire a local machinist in Atlanta to mill the Dynamic Perception Stage One for further weight reduction. We chiseled away at the end caps, added mini bubble levels, and added a stamped aluminum insert to remove the C-stand mount that didn't fit my needs (this allowed us to re-tap a 1/4 20 thread dead center). After a few weeks of on and off again work (the machinist was helping me on the side) we only shaved 8oz. Not worth the effort or cost, so I was back to the drawing board. I needed a new solution that eliminated aluminum altogether and didn't rely on high end equipment that was inaccessible without high cost. Could 3D printing be the answer?

<p>Hi,</p><p>Where can i get those worm drives? I can't find these with a 5mm bore.</p>
<p>Hi!</p><p>Here you have a link:</p><p><a href="http://www.aliexpress.com/snapshot/6572219131.html?orderId=66542151723046" rel="nofollow">http://www.aliexpress.com/snapshot/6572219131.html...</a></p><p>Be sure to clarify that you want 5mm worm...</p><p>Regards</p><p> Eric</p>
<p>I use SDP-SI.com. Good luck.</p>
<p>I purchased the same worm gears you recommended from SDP-SI.com. The inner diameter of the worm is slightly smaller than the shaft of the Nema 17 motor. What is the best way to attatch it to the shaft?</p>
<p>It's a press on fit. Once you force it over the shaft, it will stay put. I used a workshop vice.</p>
Hi,<br><br>this is a really cool timelapse slider, great job. I have a question would you mind to tell me how you connect die shaft oft the pan module with the camera plate? At the pictures I See that you used some Kind oft Metall part, but I find nothing on my search in the Internet.<br><br>thank you very much and looking forward to your answer<br>regards<br>Chris
I used a 1/4 20 brass thermoplastic insert from McMaster-Carr.<br><br>http://www.mcmaster.com/#93365a160/=wkru1f<br><br>The actual drive shaft for the pan axis sits just above this insert. If they touch, you will get unwanted friction and movement will not be smooth. Creating the small spacing between the two is accomplished when inserting the drive shaft and tightening the set screw on the gear as well as the top plate mount.<br><br>Hopefully this helps.<br><br>Thanks,<br>Doug
Actually, I think you're referring to the set screw hub from Servocity.com.<br><br>Check it out here:<br>https://www.servocity.com/html/0_770__set_screw_hubs.html#.VR124PnF98E
<p>I see in the picture of the PAN module two ball bearings. Are the placed either side of the gear?</p>
<p>Yeah, thank you very much this is exactly what I'm looking for. Now I just have to look where I can get this in Germany. </p><p>I have only one last stupid question, I promise ;) How did you mount the set hub screw with the camera plate? Did I overlook the thread?</p><p>Regards, Chris</p>
I drilled matching holes in my QR plate and joined the two parts with small bolts.
<p>Thank you. That's an easy solution, I think I thought to complicated</p><p>Regards,</p><p>Chris</p>
<p>Hi Dough,</p><p>thanks for the quick response. But I don't understand what you mean. I looked at your link, but it doesn't look like the part that I mean. I mean the quadratic silver metal piece that is directly under the camera plate. </p><p>Maybe I just don't see it.</p><p>Regards Chris </p>
<p>Would you consider sharing the drawing / print files for the pan movment housing and gear?</p>
<p>This is awesome, excellent job!! I'm not sure if you described it, but how are the tubes connected to each other so that they don't sag and fall apart? </p><p>From what I understand, they are strung together with that cord and then there are inserts/couplings which you connect everything in place with the nylon screws? </p><p>So the cord runs all the way through all the tubes? And is it pulled taught? Just seems like with all those pieces, everything would buckle under the weight. Am I missing something? Thanks for your help!</p>
<p>Beautiful work. Great photography. Your setup looks top-notch professional.</p><p>I was looking at the carbon tubing prices, and all I can say is OMG. That is quite an investment! The prices for 1&quot; dia tubes are off the charts. I know you are going for light-weight and durable, but there has to be a more economical alternative for noobs that don't want to make that kind of initial investment. I was thinking PVC, but I don't know how well it would hold up and at what length would a comparable size one would deform under gravity load from the camera (worse case set up in the horizontal position).</p>
<p>This is a really professional looking setup. The only minor adjustment I would suggest would be to add some black heat shrink tube over the stepper motor wires to protect them and to match the color everything else. Great job!</p>
<p>That is excellent, I have found a simple way to take effective motion timelapse video using my GoPro and a flat rotating kitchen timer. But it would appear I now have a new project to tackle.</p>
<p>I am very impressed by your work. I was wandering what part of the documentation and the schematics you are willing to share. </p>
<p>Amazing work not only the setup also the video thanks for sharing...</p>
<p>I have released a new moco system design with source files. It was designed and printed utilizing the Ultimaker 2 that I received from the Gadget Hacking contest. Now you can build your own ultra-light system with high-strength PET.</p><p>View photos and source files / bill of materials here:</p><p>https://www.youmagine.com/designs/ultralight-pet-timelapse-motion-control-dolly</p>
<p>This is a brilliant design generated by your vast experience both with previous designs and actual hands on experience generating beautiful time lapse vids. Congratulations!! <br>Despite lacking your extensive experience I have been designing a camera slider myself for time lapse work. I am happy I had got as far as the carbon fiber tube rails on my own, I was planning to use linear ball bearing sliders but I am worried they might abrade the tubing in the long term; they do simplify the platform design though.<br>With respect to sealing the SLS Nylon against moisture: I have worked with nearly all sintered polymers as a polymer research chemist. Painting polymers never lasted in any of my work. <br>Eventually I came up with a trick to help with the durability of polymer coated molds (sintered powder coating). I impregnated the fresh porous coating with silicon grease (simply rub in and rub off all the excess with a paper towel). This one time treatment imperceptibly renders the sinter highly hydrophobic and much more durable. None of my molds lost any of their coatings in extremely heavy use over 20 years. </p>
<p>Thanks for the suggestion, Light_Lab. I'm really interested with this approach. I'll have to order a small test part and try my luck with the silicon grease. My biggest concern is how well it can be wiped down after impregnating the porous nylon print. I wouldn't want to have any type of silicon grease lingering around. Seems messy to potentially get remaining silicone grease on my hands and gear during use. What's your take on that potential issue? </p>
<p>Sorry to take so long to get back to you. Yes silicon grease can get everywhere if it is not used carefully and incredibly sparingly. The amount of grease required to condition sintered polymers is very small and totally absorbed. All the excess is rubbed off with paper towel to the point that it does not transfer to your hands etc. It is only a problem if you leave too much on the surface. Done right you will not even know it is there except when you see water beading on the surface.</p><p>I have for many years used tiny amounts of silicon grease on graunchy zoom, filter and lens threads without it getting out of control. The first part of the trick is to apply a single tiny dab with a match sharpened to a needle point and spread it out by screwing it in and out repeatedly. The second part of the trick is to resist the temptation to add more grease.</p><p>The type of grease I use is sold by laboratory supply outlets for lubricating ground glass joints. In thin layers it stays where it is put. </p>
<p>You definitely deserved to win the competition.<br>Congratulations.</p>
<p>NIce but no designs to share ?</p>
<p>Brilliant. Great application for 3D printing. Speaking of 3D printing, with the carbon tubes it would be possible to make a light-weight 3D printer (reprap). Now if the steppers could be made super-light...</p>
<p>Your videos are awesome and thanks for sharing you build knowledge as well. I think I will have to book a good hiking trip again this year.</p>
<p>Did you ever consider solar power or does that involve more weight?</p>
<p>Amazingly gorgeous video, Doug, great stuff (and you can embed Vimeo, btw). great looking rig, too.</p>

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm an Atlanta-based creative director and cinematographer with a passion for time-lapse and the great outdoors.
More by Doug Urquhart:3D Printed, Ultralight, 3-axis Modular Time-Lapse Motion Control System 
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