More LEDs Means Faster Print Times For 3D Printer, But There’s A Catch

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[Jan Mrázek] is no stranger at all to home-grown improvements with his Elegoo Mars SLA 3D printer, and there is a lot going on in his experimental multi-LED upgrade which even involved casting his own lens array. In the end it did speed up his prints by a factor of three to four, though he cooked an LCD to failure in the process. Still, it was a fun project done during a COVID-19 lockdown; as usual there is a lot to learn from [Jan]’s experiences but the mod is not something he necessarily recommends people do for themselves.

[Jan] started by wondering whether better print quality and performance could be obtained by improving the printer’s UV light source. The stock printer uses a single large UV LED nestled into a reflector, but [Jan] decided to try making a more precise source of UV, aiming to make the UV rays as parallel as possible.

Custom LED array molded in clear epoxy.

To do this, he took a two-pronged approach. One was to replace the single large UV LED with a 4×7 array of emitters plus heat sink and fans. The other was to make a matching array of custom lenses to get the UV rays as parallel as possible.

Casting one’s own lens array out of clear epoxy was a lot of work and had mixed results, but again, it was a lockdown project and the usual “is-this-really-worth-it” rules were relaxed. In short, casting a single custom lens out of clear epoxy worked shockingly well, but when [Jan] scaled it up to casting a whole 4×7 array of them, results were mixed. Mold deformation and artifacts caused by the areas between individual lenses robbed the end result of much of its promise.

More success was had with the array of UV emitters, which enabled faster curing thanks to higher power, but the heat needs to be managed. The stock emitter of the printer is about 30 W, and [Jan] was running his new array at 240 W. This meant a blazing fast one second exposure time per layer, but the heat generated by the new lighting was higher than anticipated. After only ten hours the LCD failed, probably at least in part due to the heat. [Jan] halved the power of the array down to 120 W and added an extra fan, which appears to have done the trick. Exposure time is two to three seconds per layer, and it’s up to 150 hours of printing without problems.

Again, it’s not a process [Jan] necessarily recommends to others (and he definitely recommends buying lenses if at all possible instead of casting them) but as usual there is a lot to learn from his frank sharing of results, both good and bad. We’ve seen 3D-printed lenses as well as adding WiFi connectivity to one of these hobbyist printers, and it’s great to see the spirit of hacking alive and well when it comes to these devices.

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