Introduction: The Mammoth 3D Printer Upgrade

My dad and I started this project as a summer homeschooling project. I had been fascinated by 3D printers for years, so when covid came up we decided to take the opportunity to start our own. I mostly wanted the printer for making designs to cast for my jewelry, but we decided to go for a big 3D printer so that it would be applicable to a wider range of projects. Ironically, I have yet to make a single jewelry model but I have made multiple large projects that wouldn’t work on what I originally was planning on. After some research we settled on How to make a big 3D printer.

For the most part we stuck with the pattern, however, there were a few aspects that seemed lacking. We mostly needed to improvise in areas where the pattern missed a few details, but there are a few functional differences. I didn’t keep a very good supply list or progress log on this build so this is more of a highlighting of the noteworthy changes rather than a play by play of the whole build. I think there should be enough clarity in the original build for most of the steps though, so this shouldn’t be a huge problem. Hope you have fun and good luck!

Step 1: Streamlined Corners

The first problem we ran into with the source project was the corners. The original project used plexiglass corners that the author cut out and screwed together. Personally, I’m not so good at cutting, and I really preferred the look of snap together plastic corners, so we saved time and effort by buying eight connecters from This Link. We bought six 2-way connectors and two 3-way connecters. I believe the corner part itself was 32mm across in any direction, so we removed 64mm from all but the uprights. The uprights we left alone. Then we cut out a 32mm section from the X direction tubing where the uprights connected.

After we hammered the tubes together we discovered that the 2 way connecters formed a little less than a 90 degree angle. This didn’t seem to cause any problems, but it is something to keep in mind.

Step 2: Customized Hotend Element Mounting

In the source project we see the author attaching the hot end element with a clamp, but we didn’t see how to make the clamp and the hot end mounting clamps on amazon were allot more expensive than we were willing to spend. Because of this we decided to create our own clamp. I used a spare section of the aluminum tubing and cut out a 90 degree angle slice using two walls, then cut the other two walls apart. We used these pieces and cut out two opposing half round slots to hold the hot end and drilled holes to secure it. Probably the hardest part was getting the two halves of the bracket to fit together. There was a lot of filing to do to get the hot end to fit into the slots, and more filing to get the two halves thin enough to fit together. It’s not the classiest part of the build, but it’s functional and saved us a lot of money.

Step 3: Reinforced Brackets on the Z Drive

The original brackets for the Z drive were made from some bent steel or aluminum. Papa and I were a little worried that the Z drive wouldn’t be sturdy enough, so Papa decided to weld some steel brackets together. This was my first experience with welding and I wasn’t too excited about it, but nothing caught on fire and the brackets work pretty well. We painted the brackets black afterwards, so you can’t see the big blobs of welding at first glance.

Papa did most of the work for preparing the brackets for welding and actually making the screw holes, so I can’t provide much insight on that one. However, I can tell you that it is a good idea to be very careful with your markings for the screw holes. We had to re-drill the holes for the attachment to the Y axis and the brass nut several times, and steel takes a long time to drill. Other than that the only big issue I would bring up with using this method is the fact that it is very hard to screw the pieces together. With the angle part on the outside and the Z screw in the way, it took me forever to get all the nuts and bolts secured.

Step 4: Angle Iron Extenders for Attaching Slider Rods

Once we had put the frame together, Papa and I discovered that the tubing wasn’t wide enough to hold the clamps for the 8mm rods. In addition, we discovered that the bend of the snap together corners made the bottom of the frame narrower than the top. To solve these problems, we ended up using 1/2 in aluminum angle iron and cut 45 degree angle slices from the outside flap to make the result more visually appealing. I believe we needed to drill the holes in the bottom extenders 1/8 in further out that the holes in the top, but that might depend on the corners used so I would suggest taking your own measurements. If I remember correctly, we used the formula “(top width - bottom width) / 2= difference of measurements” with the difference of measurements being the 1/8 in further out on the extenders on the bottom.

Once we got them screwed in and fastened down they worked well and I have not seen any problems with that section of the build. The extenders were some of the easiest pieces of the build to make accurately, the hardest part being measuring the frame. Once I had the measurements for how far out the holes needed to be it was a simple matter to mark that on the center line of the angle iron.

Step 5: Alternate Placing for Extruder

Overall this step was relatively simple, however, the reading Papa and I did would suggest that this is an important step. In the original build the extruder motor is mounted on the top of the frame with the tube running down to the hot end on the X carriage. We actually got so far as to making the screw holes on the top of the frame before Papa discovered some articles on the importance of attaching the extruder motor close to the hot end. As you can see from the photos, the extruder motor is currently mounted on the carriage with a large loop of tube spiraling to the hot end.

The actual moving of the extruder was pretty simple, however, the extruder is currently competing with the bed plate for needing the most trouble shooting. We have gone through numerous steps to get the extruder working properly, but at the moment it seems to be doing fine. Some of the most notable trouble shooting steps we have gone through are:

- replacing the original tubing section for a larger one with a more gentle curve, make sure you press the tubing all the way down in the hot end before cutting off the loop you want. The hot end takes up a surprising amount of tubing, so if you measure off a large loop without the hot end in mind you will end up with a much smaller loop

- Maxing out the power on the motor, we quickly discovered that the motor simply wasn’t at a high enough setting to push the plastic through the hot end, we solved this by going back to the Ramps 1.6 board(see next step) and using the adjustment screw on the nema 17 chip to adjust the voltage. We accidentally burned out the controller chip the first time we tried (oops) so we had to get a new chip, however, the procedure itself isn’t that difficult. You use a screw driver to turn the screw and a volt meter against the screw and ground peg. You then turn the screw until it reaches the max voltage. We found that our chip will read 1.2 volts when the power is on full, however, if you are using a different motor there are conversion charts online to find the actual volts to shown volts.

- Tighten the screws on the gear. The feeder gear is attached to the driver rod with small screws. However small those screws are they are important make sure you tighten the screws as far as they will go and make sure that one of the screws is on the flat side of the driver rod for the maximum torc. If the gear slips, the plastic won’t be pushed in to the hot end.

Step 6: Ramps 1.6 Board

One of the less obvious changes we made was to switch the Ramps 1.4 board from the original project for a Ramps 1.6 board. Functionally, the Ramps 1.6 board is more efficient than the Ramps 1.4. However, I’m not an expert on electronics, so I got confused trying to translate the old wiring chart into a new board. Unless you are very good at reading electronics charts and boards, I would suggest just getting a new chart and updating any changes in the Marlin software. I did a lot of the initial wiring, however once the 3D printer was running Papa did most of the changes on the board so I can’t give you much there.

Step 7: Reversed Y Stop

I believe that this step was mentioned somewhere in the original build, however, I can’t find it so I will reiterate here. We ran into some troubles during printing with the extruder not knowing where the plate was. Eventually we discovered that the Y stop was giving the computer the wrong information. In the Marlin software we changed the Y stop from something like “Y define start” to “Y define end”. Once we got the software uploaded again, we went back and moved the Y stop wires to the correct pins for that setting and then uploaded again. At this point the Y stop works fine and we can print anywhere on the plate without the extruder misreading where it’s going, so I would say it worked. There is probably some way for me to find out what the setting really was, but it seemed pretty self explanatory when I was looking at it. If you just look up “Y stop” it should come up.

Step 8: Streamlined Cables

Once we finished wiring, we used black cable covers and clips to streamline the cables and make the finished product more presentable. The most important part of this step to highlight is probably the joint we made to hold the wires away from the build plate. It took a while to figure out how to keep the wires of the build plate and keep the X carriage mobile. We used a piece of wire and made a simple hinge that we zip tied to the wires and hid in the tubing. We also had to zip tie the tubing shut on the hinge. After that we put a clip at an angle on one of the side plates on the carriage so that the hinge would stay facing upwards. We then used more tubing and zip ties to make enough slack from there to the entrance to the electronics enclosure to allow a full range of motion on the Z drive.

The only real problems we discovered with the hinge was the fact that it was constantly rubbing on the wires and created friction that has broken several wires. We fixed this with a layer of electrical tape for protection, but that was a recent fix, so I don’t know how well that will hold up. Other than that my only complaint is that the clips are very hard to bend into place and hold there. This step was worked at about the same time as the next step, so there is some ambiguity in how you want to coordinate each step. Personally I would suggest having the wires roughly strung out where you wanted them and fed into the enclosure before you start laying out tubing, but you could also lay out the tubing first and measure your wires based on that.

Step 9: Electronics Enclosure

We wires up the Ramps 1.6 board to test the function, but the original project didn’t mention how the author mounted the electronics. Our solution was a plexiglass box on the side of the 3D printer. We cut out pieces of plexiglass and bent them to make the back and sides, and then screwed on the front doors. In the process we cut out a hole in the back for a fan to cool the electronics. We had some problems with the plexiglass cracking when we attached it to the frame, but super glue and sandpaper made a mostly invisible repair. The corner near the fan was cracked, as well as a small piece by the plug-in hole for the board and a small chip from one of the hinges to hold on the door. My best suggestion for preventing this would be to at least start the holes you want before you bend the plexiglass.

We bent the plexiglass using a heat gun and clamps (see pictures) and then screwed it together on the frame. We ran into some difficulty while bending the plexiglass because even when hot, it still tends to retain its shape, so it was definitely a two person job. We worked it out by one person heating it until it was pliable and having the other person there with gloves and a piece of wood to press the flap down. It took a combination of both pressing down and continued heat to really bend it. I would not suggest trying this alone, but maybe there are some experts on the subject who know better than I do. If you know a better way to do this please let us know! The other piece we folded was a long flat piece to attach the power source to the bottom of the frame. We made the holes in the top and bottom before screwing it in, and screwed on the plexiglass to the frame before we screwed in the power source. Make sure to leave space on the bottom beneath the power source when making the holes! Even if you screw the plexiglass down before the power source you will need space to fit the bolt heads.

Step 10: Heated Bed With Leveling Screws

After the 3D printer was working, we were having a lot of problems with the quality. Most of the problems were actually solved by getting a heated bedplate with leveling screws. We used a Creatility bed and glass plate and found some leveling screws on amazon. Before we got that, we were heating it up with a heat gun, adding glue, and leveling the Z axis screws. It’s safe to say that it didn’t work very well. We got the heated bed to deal with the pieces not sticking, and the glass bed because they were sticking too well. (I printed a pi pencil holder that stuck to the plate so well that we had to break it off with a mallet.) The leveling screws were to help with leveling, however, they caused more vibrations because they were in the holes very loosely, and the springs on the top didn’t help. We ended up taking out the springs when we got the glass plate, and I would say there has been a slight improvement in quality.

The plate itself wobbles a bit on the leveling screws (as mentioned above), and the glass plate has a bow in the middle, but overall the quality has improved. I would definitely suggest taking the trouble to get a heated bed, and probably the leveling screws as well.

Step 11: The Most Awesome Fan Ever!!

I already mentioned it above, but this fan deserves its own step. Don’t you just love how the blue LEDs make a swirly pattern on the blades when it spins? This is probably my favorite part of the build aesthetically, and pretty close to number one overall. We installed it in the electronics enclosure and hooked it up directly to the power source. This fan was just lying around in Papa’s junk pile, left over from some other project. I think it found the perfect home. It really brings the whole thing to another level.

Step 12: You’re Done! Sort Of…

Well, that’s as far as we’ve gotten so far, but does a project like this ever really end? At the moment I would like to perfect the quality of the prints, dampen the vibrations, and fix the bedplate so it doesn’t have a bow. I would also like to print a filament holder for my printer, affectionately dubbed “mammoth”, to replace the really ugly one that’s on there right now. I would like to mess with metallic filament and try for greater accuracy in articulated prints. I’m sure there will be many more updates to come, but that is in the future. Have fun building!

Nene Granato

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