Thing-O-Matic: Axis Calibration vs. ABS Shrinkage

In the process of adapting my HT GPS interface to a Wouxun KG-UV3D radio, I printed some trial-fit pieces that consistently came out a little short. A bit of division showed that the larger pieces tended to be small in the X & Y axes by about 0.5%. This makes no difference for most 3D printed objects, but in this case the pieces must match up precisely with the radio’s existing battery interface layout. Half a percent matters a lot across a 75 mm part.

The advice found with most calibration pieces seems to boil down to fudging the printer’s steps/mm setting to make the answer come out right. The default Thing-O-Matic calibration (in machines/thingomatic.xml, wherever that’s hidden in your installation) looks like this:

<axis id="x" length="106" maxfeedrate="6000" homingfeedrate="2500" stepspermm="47.069852" endstops="min"/>  <!-- Pulley dia: 10.82mm / 1/8 step = 1/(10.82 * pi / 1600) -->
<axis id="y" length="120" maxfeedrate="6000" homingfeedrate="2500" stepspermm="47.069852" endstops="min"/>  <!-- Pulley dia: 10.82mm / 1/8 step = 1/(10.82 * pi / 1600) -->

You will, of course, have twiddled the maxfeedrate, homingfeedrate, and maybe even the comments to make the answers work on your machine.

Nophead slapped me upside the head when I made the same mistake that produced the stock stepspermm values: the pulley moves the belt by a fixed number of teeth on each revolution, so you just multiply by the belt tooth pitch to find the distance per revolution. Divide that into the number of (micro)steps per revolution and you get the exact stepspermm value. The stock MBI pulleys have 17 teeth and the belt has a 2 mm tooth pitch, so:

47.05882 step/mm = 1600 step / (17 * 2 mm)

That differs from the stock value by not very much at all:

0.999766 = 47.05882 / 47.069852

Given that these steppers aren’t losing steps (don’t start with me, you know how I get), I’m quite confident that the X and Y stages move by exactly the commanded distance every time.

The printer uses a heated build plate and the first layer is 0.33 mm, give-or-take about 0.05 mm, and the objects come out with essentially straight vertical walls. However, the walls aren’t quite perfect, tending to be a bit larger where they contact the plate, and I finally asked the obvious question (abs plastic shrinkage), which produces, among many other hits, that useful table.

The money quote is that ABS shrinks just about exactly 0.5% as it cools. That’s modulo the starting temperature, the molding process, and so forth and so on, but it’s a pretty nice match.

Therefore, fudging the printer’s scale isn’t appropriate, because that affects everything you might do with it. Such as, for example, the initial homing sequence, which depends on fairly precise locations that must match up with reality and have no shrinkage problems whatsoever.

Skeinforge’s Scale plugin applies a factor to the object, so that’s (probably) a more appropriate location for this adjustment. The myriad SF settings get broken down by Craft (extrusion, milling, whatever) and material (ABS, PLA, whatever), so if you can keep all that straight, then you can apply the appropriate Scale for each process and material.

The Scale doc may seem a tad sparse, but the plugin does have separate settings for the XY plane and the Z height. The latter (probably) doesn’t need scaling, because the nozzle height sets the actual extrusion level; the top layer or two will stretch to make the vertical size come out right as the object cools while it’s a-building.

I’ll toss a 1.005 scale factor into the XY mix and see what horrors that unleashes by way of unintended consequences.

More on the radio interface & suchlike in a while…