Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Peel-able support?

One of the few advantages commercial FFF machines have over Reprap at the moment is that breakaway support works much better. In particular the UP printer from PP3DP is reputed to have easily removable support using only the same material it builds with, i.e. ABS.

Today I was redesigning the Mendel90 ribbon clamps to have nut traps to make assembly easier and came up with this design: -

I thought I could print it using the bridging ability to span the slot in the base but it failed abysmally. I think it is because it is so close to the heated bed the bridge sags a lot more that it would normally do.

I tried the support option in Skeinforge but I have never got it to work well. It puts a sparse zigzag under the bridge and the flow rate can be reduced to make it weak. The problem is then that when it is removed the top layer of the support bonds more strongly to the part above than that it does to the support below, so it gets left behind. Worse still the bottom layer of the object is more strongly attached to the top of the support than it is to the layer above, so it is very hard to remove just the support.

I think the reason for this is that when the support is sparse the layer above drapes down in between the gaps. That reduces its contact to the layer above and increases its contact to the layer below. This sketch illustrates my theory: -

When I watch videos of the UP printer it looks like the top of the support is solid and flat. This reminds me of the way I used to do rafts. I made the top layer of the raft almost solid and raised the bottom layer of the object a little to make it peel-able. Indeed support is just the same as a raft, it is just that it is elevated.

To test the theory I hacked my host software to load a separate file for the support so that it could be sliced as a normal object and so have a solid top. It also has a solid base of course, which is another advantage over Skeinforge's sparse support as that can easily become detached from the bed.

When extruding I did the support for each layer before the object's layer and did it a bit lower. I also missed off the outline to give a gap of one filament width at the ends. I worked out the diameter that the object's infill would be if it was not squashed into an oval. I offset the support downwards by the difference between that diameter and the normal layer height. That means that when extruding the underside of the object that is being supported the filament is not being squashed, so has minimum contact with the support. It doesn't droop though and the next object layer is squashed against it making the bond above stronger.

The bottom layer of the support is thinner than the rest because of the downwards offset, so I had to reduce the flow rate accordingly. 

It wasn't peel-able by hand but I could separate it cleanly with a penknife, something I have not been able to do before.

The bottom layer of the bridge has round filaments that do not touch (as they are not as wide as they should be) but that is always the case with bridges. The difference is they do not droop and are well bonded to the layer above.

They are of course a little lower than they should be. A better scheme might be to have the support at normal height and raise the head as it passes over it. That would give even better bonding to the layer above which would tend to fill in the gaps. It would need rapid Z movements though.

I would be interested to see what the bottom of a supported surface of an object from an UP printer looks like.

To test the idea further I tried making a sphere. I made the support in OpenScad by subtracting it from a cylinder. To get some lateral clearance I did a Minkowski sum of the sphere with a thin disk.
$fa = 10;

R = 20;
clearance = 0.5;
h = R - R * cos(60);

module sp()
    translate([0, 0, R])
    difference() {
        translate([0, 0, h / 2])
            cylinder(r = (R * sin(60) + 2), h = h, center = true);
        minkowski() {
           cylinder(r = clearance, h = 0.01, center = true);
color("red") sp(); 

The support was pretty difficult to remove because it ended up quite dense as Skeinforge makes solid layers when there are shallow sloping sides. Also the sparse infill ends join up to make a complete outline. It is more a proof of concept rather than a practical way to make support.

This is the underside of the sphere where it met the support. It looks quite good but above it there is some distortion to the spherical shape that I cannot explain.

So I think having a solid top surface on top of sparse support is the way to go and a dense bottom layer to anchor it to the bed. In between it can be very sparse but it would then need several solid layers to become flat.

It still takes some effort to remove, so I don't know if it is as good as the UP support yet. The difference may be the plastic.