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.