Money Pit: 3D Printing Part 2 – First Round of Enhancements

This is one topic in a series of what I’m calling “money pit” projects. To be fair, it’ll be money and time pit topics, and nothing that you’d really have to get a second mortgage on your house to do… but things always get a bit out of hand.

This project is the 3D Printing project. Expect it to be an ongoing series, and I’m hoping to have some friends join the effort and offer their feedback as well.

See the previous part (The Back Story, The Rationale, and The Assembly) for the lead-in to this project. From here we’ll get into the enhancements and early printing.

Our first round of enhancements include:

  • Power protection
  • Metal extruder and printed filament guide
  • PEI print bed
  • Upgraded Bowden tubing

I mentioned OctoPi / OctoPrint in the first installment, so I’ll leave the details out this time other than to say you really should set one of these up. Let me know in the comments if you’d like more details in a future post. 

The first round of enhancements

Power protection

A friend warned me that the Ender is sensitive to power loss and fluctuation, and since I had a spare APC BackUPS XS 1500 (BX1500G) UPS on hand that needed a better home than the living room, it moved to the garage and now protects my printer and Pi (below). I did have to buy a new battery, as the old one had given up the ghost after 4 years, but Amazon Prime is good for that kind of thing.

With the printer and a Pi 3B operating (actively printing), I’m seeing a draw of about 50 watts, so you don’t need a huge UPS. You may want one that’s manageable via USB connection, but if you’re mostly interested in power protection rather than running during a power outage, something inexpensive like the AmazonBasics 400VA (255W) battery backup should work just fine for about $45.

The current version of my UPS is the BX1500M at $165. The 1000VA version (BX1000M)is only $135 as of this writing. Both are overkill, but if you have other things at your print station to protect, or if you want an hour of runtime, they might be worthwhile.

For a smaller model from a brand name, consider the APC BackUPS 425VA at $44.88 or the APC BackUPS 600VAat $62.50. These are upright style devices with outlets on the top; I use a couple of them in the house where I don’t want to crawl behind the UPS to plug things in.

And given the low wattage, if you already have a nearby computer or home theatre system on a UPS, you can probably just run the OctoPi and the printer itself off the same UPS. 

Metal extruder and printed filament guide

The filament mounts on a hanger above the printer and feeds downward into the extruder. You may want to get the filament guided better into the extruder, and there are two ends of this path to consider. 

I’m using a filament guide by Filboyt that mounts onto the top corner of the printer frame. This directs the filament at a better and more consistent angle, and there are 100+ remixes of the guide to meet other needs. 

The “First 24 Updates” video featured a guide by D3D_Designs that goes lower on the printer, with a pulley bearing to feed the filament in more directly to the extruder. I am planning to try this one out as well. 

These would go well with the Creality 3D aluminum extruder upgrade which I’ve installed to replace the stock plastic one. It provides a sturdier entry point for your filament (wears down less than plastic) as well as extending the handle to make it easier to open for filament changes. I may talk about this in a later episode of this series, but if you’re curious, check out Bryan Vines’s video about the extruder upgrade. 

PEI print bed

Another case of naming confusion came up with this upgrade. There’s a heated bed on the printer that is connected to 24V power and, well, heats up to improve adhesion of your print while it’s being printed. However, most of the listings (including the PEI bed I bought and installed) can be confused in title with the heated element (which you can identify by the wires and the heat warning, as in this listing). 

In this case, I bought the PEI coated print bed, which gives you a surface to print onto that’s closer to glass than the flexible fabric of the included bed. It is usually easier to remove prints without using the scraper/spatula with this sort of bed, and since it’s magnetic it goes on easily without clips, unlike the glass beds that are also popular. 

You may need to adjust the Z-offset if you get a thicker bed than the stock one. You can raise it freely or you can print a shim to give a fixed spacing that you then program into the printer. There’s an All3DP article on Z-offset adjustment that’s worth a read. 

Upgraded Bowden tubing

You’ve probably heard of PTFE, or polytetrafluoroethylene, under it’s more common name, Teflon. (Random trivia: Roy Plunkett, the scientist who discovered/invented Teflon in 1938, was a student at the college I attended in Indiana. But I digress.) 

The reason I bring this up in the 3D printing world is based on the tube that the filament follows from the extruder gears to the hotend to the print bed. This is called Bowden tubing, as the Bowden extruder model is the one that comes with this and many printers by default (with the motor at the far end from the hotend). The alternative is direct drive extrusion, which has the motor on the “print head” so to speak, and many people upgrade to that model. I haven’t yet. 

Since the filament is pushed from the side rail rather than pulled from the print head, you want as little friction slowing the filament down on its journey. Otherwise, you may get clogged tubing, printing without filament (pantomime printing, as I’ve called it), or other problems. The stock tubing that comes with the printer isn’t very high quality, although it will work for a while. 

The upgrade I saw most often recommended for the tubing itself was from a company called Capricorn. I went with a one meter length with a cutter for about $13. You can find 2 meter lengths, as well as tubing combo packs with extra fittings included, since the fittings can wear down or get clogged. You should be able to replace it twice with a one meter length, and replacement packs are a few days away with Amazon in case you’re not near a maker store. 

You can read or watch some guides to the tubing replacement; it’s pretty easy and should only take about 5 minutes. 

What’s Next In This Money Pit?

We’ve covered getting started and making the best initial upgrades for your Ender 3 Pro. In the next installment we’ll look at OctoPrint, which puts a web front-end and manageable storage module in front of your 3D printer. Manage files, monitor progress of your print, and even watch on a webcam as your print takes shape – all with a basic Raspberry Pi and PiCam or other compatible camera. 

I will also be posting an overview that hits the highlights of all three posts. For the impatient reader, or for someone who just wants to order all the good stuff at once (rather than over 5-10 Amazon orders over the course of a month like someone might have done), this will aggregate all the important high level topics, and you can always come back to the longer pieces for more detail. 

If there’s something you’d like to see covered in this series, let me know in the comments and I’ll see what I can do. 

2 thoughts on “Money Pit: 3D Printing Part 2 – First Round of Enhancements

  1. Pingback: Money Pit: 3D Printing Part 1 – The Back Story, The Rationale, and The Assembly | rsts11 – Robert Novak on system administration

  2. Pingback: Money Pit: A quick sidebar on my 3D printing (mis-)adventure | rsts11 – Robert Novak on system administration

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