Thing-O-Matic / MK5 Extruder: Resistor Autopsy

Cooked thermal compound
Cooked thermal compound

Having built cartridge heater mounting blocks, I autopsied the two aluminum-case power resistors I’d been using on the MK5 Thermal Core. They weren’t dead yet, but I have some spares in case the cartridge heaters don’t work out as expected.

First observation: the blue-tinted thermal compound I’d put under the resistors turned white! It has a 200 °C maximum rating, so it’s been cooked well beyond any reasonable limit. On the other paw, it was still soft and didn’t have any air bubbles; the resistors were pretty firmly glued in place.

Based on those thermal measurements, I had replaced the original parallel-connected 5 Ω resistors with series-connected 2 Ω resistors, thus reducing the power dissipation in each resistor from 28.8 W to 18 W. While that’s still far beyond the specification, every little bit of reduction helps.

In round numbers, the resistors ran at 50-75% duty cycle to maintain Thermal Core temperatures in the 200-230 °C range. I guesstimate I had 10-15 power-on hours on the resistors, but that may be a lowball estimate: time passes quickly when you’re having fun.

Anyhow, I slipped a brass tube around one resistor terminal, braced the other end on the drill press vise, and pressed the cores out.

Resistor elements
Resistor elements

The top core literally fell out without any urging, which means that it had shrunk and separated from the housing. That means the resistor was well on its way to failing: a loose core gets hotter and deteriorates faster.

The bottom core was still firmly attached and disintegrated as I forced it out, which means it was in good condition. Paradoxically, the crumbled resistor core in the picture came from the resistor in the best shape.

Given that I ran these resistors at 63% of the original power level, the fact that one was well on its way to heat death after only (at most) a few tens of hours suggests that you shouldn’t expect much life from the stock MK5 resistors. If you haven’t already done so, electrically isolate the thermocouple bead from the Thermal Core to protect the Extruder Controller.

I’m unwilling to sacrifice a new resistor to see if that discoloration is normal, but I suspect it’s not. The ends should be the coolest part of the resistor, which means the middle is discolored, but that picture suggests the opposite, so I really don’t know.

I’d hoped the ID of the resistor bodies would match the OD of the cartridge heaters. That didn’t work out: 0.275 vs 0.250. They’re also a bit too short. If the match was closer, I could see slipping a shim in there, but having two air gaps around the heater just doesn’t make any sense at all.