Makerbot Thing-O-Matic build notes

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This space is intended to document progress on our Makerbot build. It should contain any information that other builders or future users might need to know, as well as general build status.

GATHER TIMELAPSE FRAMES!! We'll put them together into a video at the end of the build.

  • while true; do sleep 10; wget; mv image.jpg `date +%Y%m%d%H%M%S`_makerbot.jpg; done

or, remotely:

  • while true; do sleep 60; wget; mv cam0.jpg `date +%Y%m%d%H%M%S`_makerbot.jpg; done;

(as of Mon Feb 28 00:30 this is now happening server-side on lamecam. Bit late, I know, but...)

2/26/2011 — Initial build session. All parts packages accounted for.

Tools to bring to the space for build sessions:

  • Utility knife and/or scissors
  • Needle-nose pliers

Broken rib, front
Broken rib, back

We broke one of the Automated Build Platform's wooden ribs (with bushings for the drive rods). Some of the corners are really delicate. We repaired it with epoxy inside, a dab of hot glue outside, and marked the joint with black arrows in case it causes problems down the road.

The ABP's conveyor belt was too wide, wider than it appears in photos of other people's platforms. We trimmed it down to about 0.5cm inside the foil heat spreader on either side. This may be too narrow, but we have spares.

The ABP's conveyor belt is also very tight (UPDATE: it's supposed to be that way). It's difficult to move by hand, and it's bowing the rollers on either end. The kit contains three loops of conveyor plastic and two strips of conveyor plastic that look like they're intended to be taped into loops. No explanation for the strips in the instructions, and no mention of roller tightness.


  • FINISHED - X-stage (Automated Build Platform)
  • FINISHED - Y-stage
  • FINISHED - Z-stage
  • FINISHED - Motherboard firmware update
  • FINISHED - Extruder firmware update

In Progress:

For next time:

  • Check X-stage belt's tooth count; it's really loose, and it may be the wrong one -- It appears that the X-stage motor just needs to be adjusted by pulling the left top cap off the Y-stage assembly and sliding the motor to take up the slack.
  • If a construction phase is incomplete, link to the instructions page and enter the title of the next step to be performed

3/2/2011 — Second build session. Massive progress.

Collexion folk working through the electronics, extruder, and body assembly

With the X, Y, and Z stages complete, we took to assembling the body, mounting the rest of the electronics, and continuing work on the extruder.

It didn't seem that there was a good way to mount the extruder control board. If mounted as directed, it would be just about impossible to reach the USB port for firmware updates, and wires would need to be run to the screw terminals before the board was mounted to the bottom of the box because of clearance issues with the main motherboard. We turned it around to make the RJ-45, USB, and screw terminals face the outsides of the machine, but the included RJ-45 cable's strain relief boot is too long to fit inside the box when it's plugged into the extruder board. We're going to try making a custom cable as a remedy; cable, ends, and crimpers are living at the space.

There were two problems attaching the Y motor to the acrylic middle piece. The first was that in tightening the mounting bolts, we split the acrylic in at least three of the four mounting slots. The splits are small, but may lengthen under operating conditions. Here's hoping that doesn't happen, since we still haven't figured out how to get replacement wooden/acrylic parts for the machine.

The second problem was that the motor needed to be mounted all the way at the back of its slots to keep tension on the Y-axis toothed belt. Unfortunately, one of the mounting slots shares real estate with a T-joint slot in the acrylic, and the motor mounting bolt interferes with the nut for a T-joint mounting bolt. We may be able to just carefully cram everything in, but it won't be easy.

The box is shaping up! Extruder, too!

The body assembly instructions never really say at what point you're supposed to screw the body together. We're just going to do it. The body setup also calls for five M4x50mm bolts, but our kit only contained three. We've only needed one so far, so our fingers are crossed.

We didn't have any high-temperature solder on hand for the heater resistors, so we used regular solder. One of our builders said he'd read that regular solder may give up the ghost after around 100 hours of use. We should revisit those solder joints when we've procured some of the high-temp stuff. It should be available from plumbing supply stores or maybe even Harbor Freight.

There's a step in the extruder instructions that says to "solder the red/black wire to the motor wires". That didn't make much sense; it sounds like the instructions want you to connect the heater to the wires from one of the motors in the machine, but it doesn't say which one! On further reading, it sounds like "motor wires" refers to the physical properties of the wire and not the system to which it's connected. The directions could be clearer (a sentiment echoed several times during this build session).

Lots of progress. We might have this thing licked at our next build session!


  • FINISHED - Mounting electronics

In Progress:

  • Extruder assembly
  • Body assembly

For next time:

  • Adjust the X-stage drive belt; pull off the Y-stage's left top cap, loosen motor mount bolts, slide the motor back until all the slack is out of the belt, and retighten.
  • Build an RJ-45-terminated cable for the extruder control board
  • Finish extruder assembly (Next step? Maybe Insulate wires?)
  • Test extruder per instructions
  • Finish body assembly
    • Screw the body panels together for real
    • Finish securing the XY stage rods as detailed in: Adding XY stage
    • Then resume the build at: Adding Z stage
  • If a construction phase is incomplete, link to the instructions page and enter the title of the next step to be performed

3/9/2011 — Build Session The Thirde.

  • Replaced the RJ45 cable with a more bendy one.
  • Stepstruder assembly finished. Since we'd used lead-free tin solder on the heating resistors, we decided that was good enough, vs finding some silver solder later.
  • Stepstruder electronics assembly in progress. Initial resistance tests pass. Calibrating the Z-axis stepper controller board in progress. Nothing's wired to the extruder controller board yet.
  • The ATX power supply was bad. We gutted one of the Pentium 4's and that power supply worked.
  • Body assembly progressing slowly -- the acrylic cracks are pretty bad, but hopefully workable.