Tuesday, December 26, 2023

At last, a 3D printed watch

I've recently completed the 3D printed watch with tourbillon, designed by Christoph Laimer and published on Thingiverse in 2016. Here it is in operation:

You might notice that it does not remotely keep time: a minute on the watch is only about 43 seconds in real time. I'll say more about that later. A few more pictures:

In brief, the watch works like this. There is a mainspring in the base, which drives the minute train. The minute train is linked to the tourbillon, which locks and unlocks it and so provides the timing. The minute train drives the bronze (greenish) ring gear. Another gear takes the movement from this ring gear into the hour train, which ends up driving the gold ring gear.

I got my first 3D printer in mid-2015, and when this design came out in January 2016 I decided to give it a go. It completely failed to run, and I set it aside. This is not a surprising outcome. The printer was not very accurate, and I had no idea how to debug clocks and watches or even really much understanding of how they work. Time has passed, and now I have a Prusa MK4. It much more precise than my first printer, and also a lot faster. A consequence of the speed is that I am willing to print at much finer layer heights than before. On my first printer, I was probably using 0.3mm for large parts and 0.2mm for smaller ones. With the MK4, I nearly always use 0.15mm without worrying about how long the prints will take.

On the debugging side, I now have a better understanding of how clocks and watches work, and this helps in building up the mechanism in stages and do partial tests. The tourbillon itself is a self contained unit and I first tested it in isolation. Then I checked that the minutes train worked smoothly, separate from the tourbillon, then the minutes and hours trains together, and finally the whole mechanism.

Most of the parts are from the original design. The tourbillon spring is the medium strength one from A flight of hairsprings. I used the Massey pin in the balance wheel mechanism. It makes the  balance wheel less prone to jam against the fork. The bridge on the top is modified from the logo-less version from the torque modification of the design. I decided not to use the hands from the original design as they don't attach very well, and instead printed the black notch you can see above directly into the ring gears.

Now to why the timing is off. When I first put the tourbillon together, I found that it would seize. The reason for this is that the balance wheel was swinging a long way on each tick. While it was at the ends of its movement, the fork could flop around. When the balance wheel swung back, the fork might not be in the right place for the balance pin to engage with it and everything locked up. Using a stiffer spring limits how far the balance wheel swings and so avoids this problem. However, it means the timing is no longer right. For a real timepiece, this would be an issue. But in my case, I intended it more as an objet d'art: something to look at. It isn't really a practical clock, as you can't tune the timing or even set the hands. If it ticks at the wrong rate, that's OK.

I modified a few of the parts. Many interior holes were too small. For the ratchet and ratchet bushing (check the thingiverse page if you want to know which parts these are), I slightly opened them up by editing the STLs in blender. For all of the gears in the minutes and hours trains, I could have drilled out the holes. Instead, what I decided to do was to modify them as follows. All of these gears run on 2mm arbors, so I made the axis hole slightly larger than this for the 2mm or so at each face of the gear (in Blender, again). The rest of the axis hole I made 2.4mm diameter. This means that when I drilled out the holes, I only needed to cut through the 2mm part at each end, so there is not much chance of the drill going askew. The rest of the interior of the axis hole does not touch the arbor, thus reducing friction. Steve Peterson uses this in his clocks, and I've mentioned it in a previous post.

The teeth on most of the gears are tiny, only about 1.5mm from tip to base. You need accurate printing followed by a close visual examination for any blobs or wisps of filament for them to work smoothly.

The filaments are Flashforge burnt titanium PLA for the body, gold and bronze silk PLA for the gears and moving parts, and PETG for the main spring. The burnt titanium filament looks very nice, but is not so good to work with. You get a lot of stringing and blobs, and the printed surfaces are slightly rough. The ring gears have a large contact area, so you really need something smooth and with low friction. Silk PLA is ideal for this.

The design also calls for a rather bizarre range of small screw sizes. I think many of these could be replaced with more standard sizes (or at least to use one or two sizes throughout) with minor design changes. I didn't try this, though it's noteworthy that the design included the original CAD model in Fusion 360 format, making such modifications easier.

How long will it run? From a full winding, I can get 20-25 minutes. I expect this will decrease over time as the mainspring weakens. Here is a 10x timelapse starting with a fully wound spring and letting it go until it stopped. With a nudge it will run for another minute or two.

And also a look at the mechanism in slow motion:

This is a remarkable design by M. Laimer (aka TheGoofy). It was one of the first 3D printed timepiece designs and it outclasses many more recent designs in the care and thought that went into it as well as the attention to its visual appearance. I would definitely rate it higher than, for example, the Tourbillon Mechanica, which just looks messy to me, or the many published tourbillon design which just don't run well. Very nice.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Tips and Tricks For Printing Small Gears

It is sometimes difficult to print small gears. Typical problems are teeth pulling up or distorting or simply the whole thing coming loose and sticking to the nozzle. I don't believe there is any universal solution to this, so here are a few tactical things you can do. Obviously start by making sure that your printer is well calibrated, the print surface and nozzle are clean, and that the bed is levelled. I usually clean the nozzle by heating it to just under the print temperature then removing any stuck on filament by lightly brushing it with a brass wire brush. It helps to put a mirror on the print bed so you can see what you are doing. I have a concave shaving mirror that also magnifies. My Prusa MK3S is set up for levelling using a slight modification together with an associated process known as "bed levelling without wave springs" (it's a misleading name reflecting the history of how the author of the process got there), and if you put in the time with this you can get a very accurately levelled bed.

The problem with small gears is that you can get small segments in the teeth which result in a lot of nozzle moves and retractions. Due to the viscosity of the filament, the move may pull the feature it has just printed off the print surface or plow through a small feature which is isolated from other features and so doesn't have much attachment area. Generally once you are past the first layer, things will go OK. You might get some stringing or blobs, but you can fix these up when the print is complete.

A first thing you can do is examine the features in the slicer preview and adjust settings to try to avoid such features. For example if you see something like the small triangles and dots in this example, you may be in for a problem:

There are several parameter changes which may help. It's not possible to say that any of them will definitely improve the slicing. The best thing is try them, look at the result and see if it appears better:
  • increase or decrease the number of perimeters. Stick to a minimum of 2. More perimeters give you greater strength and rigidity. If the gear doesn't take much load (for example, the gear train from minutes to hours) then 2 will be strong enough.
  • reduce or turn off elephant's foot compensation. It makes the first layer smaller, so making it more prone to these small features. If your printer is well-calibrated, you may not need it anyway.
  • switch between the Arachne and classic slicing algorithms. Sometimes one just does better than the other.
If you have access to the model you might also be able to tweak it, but that's a bigger task and doesn't always help.

Another setting that can be useful is external perimeters first. This won't change the slicing, but guarantees that you have a single solid outline for the remaining tracks to stick to.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Last notes on the clock design

It's been a while since I wrote anything more about my prototype clock. I haven't been working on it much.

There are a couple of changes since the last version. I reorganized the orientation of the gears to space them out a bit, so that there is less chance of them rubbing. I also replaced the previous ratchet with a gravity one. The original ratchet used very thing springy pawls which had a tendency to break off. I replaced this with an arrangement similar to the one used in Favre's clock 24, in which the pawls simply drop into place as the weight drum turns.

I finally got a working seconds hand. In earlier designs, there is a gear that turns once per minute, and this can either be mounted on a non-moving arbor, or attached to an arbor which then also turns the seconds hand. In most cases, as soon as I configured it the second way, the clock stopped working reliably. I believe now that the reason is friction between the seconds arbor and the minute "tube", which surrounds it. For a number of the gears, there is a long tube, either to bring out the motion to the front of the clock (for the minutes and hours hands), or to provide a bit of stability and stop the gear tilting. Like several of the gears seen here:

Doing it this way means there is a lot of contact area between the tube and whatever arbor or runs on. I changed this so that in such cases, the tube opens up inside, so that only the very ends have an inner diameter close to that or the arbor. This made a huge difference in the amount of friction, and the seconds hand now runs reliably.

The biggest remaining flaw is the short run time, as I discussed in a previous post. To increase it, I would need to change the diameter of the weight drum or the ratio of the gearing between the ratchet and the minutes gear. But I think I am done with this prototype and won't carry it through to a more fleshed out design. I've learned a lot from it.

One last thing which interests me is replacing the weight with a remontoire like the one used in the swingtime clock. To try this, I removed the weight drum an ratchet and just attached a small amount of weight to the gear between the seconds and minutes. You really don't need much weight for it to work:

Two binder clips are enough. If you are lucky, it will work with one.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Last experiments with prototype #4

For a last round of experiments on prototype 4, I looked at the effect of the weight and drum size. I had been fixing the seconds wheel to its arbor with a set screw. I think this still resulted in extra friction, either from constraining the meshing with the other gears, or (more likely) because of friction between the seconds arbor and the minute tube. For the next experiments, I removed the set screw. The second arbor (and hand) no longer turn, of course, but the friction is significantly less.

How does the weight affect the running of the clock? I tried different weights, and in each case measured the swing of the pendulum against a ruler. Some minor trigonometry turns this into the swing in degrees, each side of the center. Here's a graph of how things change, showing the angle against the weight in grammes. The values are approximate:

Two things are noticeable here. First, in this low friction configuration, you can reduce the weight to a really low value. It would still just about run with only 160g, though at this level any slight upset (such as a strong draft of air) could stop it. Second, it's really apparent that a small relative increase in the weight matters a lot more for small weights than for larger ones: the relationship is not linear.

I measured the the weight to drop at about 17.6 cm/hour. The drum is 50mm in diameter, so you expect this to be more like 15.7 cm/hour. I haven't adjust the pendulum length, and I estimate the clock is running about 10% fast, so from it's point of view, it is 17.6cm per 66 minutes, which is 16.0 cm/hr, closer to what it should be. At this rate, the clock would run for 10 hours on a 1.6m (5 foot) drop.

Next, I swapped out the weight drum for one with half the diameter. Now we would expect 7.85 cm/hr. The measured value was 9.4 cm/hr, or after correcting for the clock running fast 8.5 cm/hr. It's a bigger discrepancy than before; I'm not sure why. This would give a run time of a little under 19 hours. The minimum weight in this case was around 400g. Even with my larger 1100g weight, the running was a little flaky, and this proved to be that minute wheel was sliding backwards on it arbor and sometimes interfering with the escape wheel. As I've iterated on the design, I've been using slacker tolerances on the spacers, and I think I've taken it too far.

Finally I did a crude version of doubling by looping the weight cord through the top of the weight and clipping the end of it to the frame. It runs, though a little weakly at 1100g, giving 4.8 cm/hr. After the 10% correction, this would run for 37 hours on a 1.6m drop, which is starting to look good.

The smallest weight I tried was around 700g, and it ran better with this than I expected.

I wanted to try using a reduction gear from the weight to the minute wheel, but the frame design doesn't allow enough space for anything other than 1:1.

What next?

This is as far as I intend to take prototype 4. I have a number of ideas for the next version:

  1. Change to cycloidal gears. There is some argument that they have lower friction (ref 1, ref 2), though I think I have seen this disputed. In any case, redesign the gears so that there is more clearance.
  2. Change the geometry by flipping G1 to put the escape part at the front and the pinion (gear) at the back. Then G2 can be flipped as well. This may help reduce the change of G3 running into the G2 hub.
  3. Make a fixed position for the pendulum. It still needs to be movable, to set the beat, but the experiments I did on its horizontal position show that it doesn't matter.
  4. Stronger clicks in the ratchet. One broke off.
  5. Redesign the escape wheel teeth. This goes with the previous one. They need to be designed to that the slice better. Currently both of them have odd profiles due to the slicer switching the number of perimeters at the narrow points.
  6. Make the two intermediate wheels, G3 and G5, smaller, by changing the gear ratios around. The point of this is so that the pillars between the front and back of the clock can be moved to make more space for different ratios in the winding gear. Alternatively make pillars which are curved to allow extra space.
  7. Consider changing the period of the pendulum, and the number of teeth on the escapement gear and the seconds wheel so that they are not commensurate (i.e. don't have prime factors in common). This reduces the risk of a specific pair of gear teeth being a problem.
  8. Change the seconds, minutes and hours arrangement that end up at the hands. In prototype 4, the seconds arbor is a 3mm rod, the minutes uses a brass 4mm tube, and the hours uses a printed tube as part of the gear. I'm considering an arrangement where there is a 3mm arbor (or smaller) rigidly fixed into the frame, and each of the seconds, minutes and hours gears has a printed tube, nested on the arbor. It will take more space but might overcome the extra friction I think I saw when the seconds wheel was rigidly fixed to the arbor. Other options might work here.
  9. Make the spacers have stricter tolerances. You want some endshake on each gear, but they have become too slack as I've made the tolerances gradually looser.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Clock prototype #4 again: a problem really solved

After my optimism about prototype #4, I reassembled it to make some minor tweaks, and found it was back to stalling. Something I noticed was that the tick got louder and quieter, and this was happening on a 60 second cycle. So that made it pretty clear that something was causing friction in one of the gears with this period, either the escapement wheel or the seconds wheel, or there was a problem in the interaction between them. The clock didn't always stall then the tick got weak, but eventually due to some random factor there would be too little energy to keep the pendulum going. To try to work out the cause, I marked a reference position on both gears, and then moved the position of one relative to the other. I could see that when the clock stalled, the second gear was always in the same position, but the position of the escape wheel didn't matter. The second gear is held on the seconds arbor with a set screw, and the position of this suggested that it displaced the second gear slightly towards the escape wheel, corresponding to the lowest energy, highest friction position. Some clock designs prefer to make the gear tight on the arbor. I don't do this, as it makes it hard to adjust the gear position, and over time it may start to slip. However, with the tolerance issues on the gears I mentioned in the previous post, it was enough to make the gears too tight. I proved this by removing the set screw and seeing that the clock ran well, though of course the seconds hand then didn't turn. A more durable solution was to slightly drill out the escapement arbor to 1.7mm, in the same way I drilled out the other arbors. After this, we were back to reliability. For now :-)

For illustration, here is the fit as seen in Fusion 360 between the seconds wheel and the escapement wheel:

One large square is 5mm. And here is the seconds wheel and the intermediate wheel:

The clearance is only about 0.3mm in each case.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Clock prototype #4, including a problem solved

In prototype 4, I wanted to make more space for the weight drum without changing the overall dimensions of the clock. I worked out one way of doing this was to flip the direction of what I call G2, the gear immediately after the escape wheel, which drives the seconds hand. It changed from this (with the original, incorrect escape wheel):

to this:

By rotating it through 180 degrees and adjusting the vertical height of some of the other gears, it frees up lots of space on the main arbor. Now the weight drum has enough space for a counterweight, which can be used for winding, and there is also more clearance so that it doesn't rub against the hour wheel. Other rearrangements are possible, and I intend to look at these in a later version. The new weight drum, with sections for the weight cord and the counterweight cord can be seen here:

The counterweight cord had just come off in this picture. Apparently I am not very good at tying knots.

When I first put this together, it did not run well, and I could not get more than a few minutes from it. After a lot of experimentation, it looked like some of the gears didn't have enough clearance and were either seizing or adding friction. Notably, this occurred between the first itermediate gear (G3, between seconds pinion and minutes) and the second intermediate gear (G5, between minutes pinion and hour). I designed the gear without relaxing any tolerances other than allowing some backlash. I had some discussion with Steve Peterson about this and added gullet to G3 and truncated the teeth of the G4 pinion. Both helped a little but didn't fix the problem, and I was at the point of giving up on the design.

After a few days of mot thinking about clocks at all, I made up a depthing tool:

You can mount the gears on it and adjust their exact distance to see how it affects their running. I don't know that I can trust the exact distances I read from it, but I could see that in some cases, only a few tenths of a millimeter would change the gear pair from spinning loosely, to free but not as loose, to not being very free at all, based on an unscientific method of spinning them and seeing how long they took to stop.

This suggests that undersizing the gears might be a solution, and it also occurred to me to drill out the arbor holes slightly. After printing, I had drilled the holes in the frame out to 3.1mm diameter, and now I drilled them out to 3.2mm. More exactly, I used a 3.2mm drill. The holes might be a little larger as I drilled them by hand without being very precise about centering the drill. This seemed to make a huge difference, and I was able to get runs of 2 hours or more. I don't think that this makes the arbors run more smoothly in the holes in the frame. It's more likely that it is giving some wiggle room for the gears. There are still some issues, in particular I think G3 has some friction with the hub of G2. Here is a short video:

The face is loosely attached here. In the end it will have four fixings.

There are some things I still haven't done: the clutch for the minutes hand, and a smaller diameter weight drum. But after some frustration, I'm happy with this as prototype 4.


Sunday, August 07, 2022

Prusa extruder axle problems

I've been round the following issue several times now, and so I thought I would document it, even if only for my own future reference. If you find that a Prusa MK3 is manifesting problems like:

- blobs (like little nodules) on the surface of prints; see the right hand example below.

- under extrusion and poor layer adhesion, especially when there is a lot of retraction

- slight extruder clicking

- in extreme cases, extruder motor overheating

then the problem may be that the axle for the extruder idler has slipped. This has happened to me several times now. Open up the extruder cover and see if it turns freely. If it feels graunchy, see if you can push the axle in slightly. The movement may then get smoother. If you push it too far, you won't be able to close the door over the idler and can pull it back a bit. This has fixed the problem for me now at least three times, including one case where the axle was slightly bent and needed to be replaced.