FormLabs Form 1+ Z-Axis Assembly

I think I can find new useful homes for several components of a broken FormLabs Form 1+ laser resin 3D printer. After carefully removing its laser optical core, I proceed to attempt salvaging its Z-axis actuator.

The Z-axis motion in this printer is driven by a stepper motor turning an Acme thread leadscrew. This concept is pretty commonly found in FDM 3D printers as well, but closer inspection unveiled a higher quality design. The first hint was the limit switch at the top. Cheap FDM printers use a microswitch, this printer uses an optical interrupter. Eliminating the flexible spring in a microswitch makes this limit switch more precise in marking its location. The print platform is mounted on a ball bearing carriage traveling on a guide rail, again more precise than the typical FDM printer usage of sleeves traveling on rods.

And finally, I noticed a detail significant in its absence: there is no shaft coupler between motor and leadscrew. A leadscrew as motor output shaft eliminates all problems introduced by couplers. No set screws to back out, no errors in concentricity between the two shafts, etc. Markings on the motor says LDO-42STH34-L291E. We can find LDO Motor’s page for their LDO-42STH line of 42mm hybrid stepper motors, but this particular model number is not listed. Searching for similar items revealed several other LDO motors with a leadscrew output shaft, all at significantly higher cost than generic NEMA17 stepper motors + leadscrew + coupler. Looks like this particular FormLabs motor variant is an engineering tradeoff of higher parts cost for higher precision.

However, all this precision means I have to make a decision on salvaging these parts. The linear rail, optical interrupter limit switch, and stepper motor are all mounted to the printer chassis. The chassis is constructed from several sheets of stamped sheet metal, folded and riveted together for rigidity. Good for optical stability, bad for me. If I remove each component separately, their relative precision alignment would be lost. If I want to remove the Z-axis as an intact sub assembly from the printer chassis, I have to perform the irreversible act of drilling out some rivets. After some thought I decided on the latter option.

Drilling out rivet heads would generate a lot of metal shavings. So before I got started with that destructive act, I wanted to remove the main mirror and get it away from scratch-inducing shavings.

The back side of the mirror has been glued to a metal plate with two embedded threaded rods. Removing two nuts freed the mirror assembly.

With the mirror stored safely away, it’s time to make some chips.

Roughly half an hour later, I’ve freed the Z-axis subassembly from all other pieces of stamped and riveted sheet metal.

I thought about grabbing my angle grinder to cut off the bottom, as it is not strictly related to the Z-axis assembly. But this is where the laser optical subassembly was mounted, and it’s also where the mirror was mounted. There’s a chance these pieces of sheet metal may yet be useful. Besides, it’s only minimally more than keeping the Z-axis itself. Even with this bottom portion, this subassembly is a lot less bulky than keeping the rest of the printer chassis together. And small enough for me to lay out everything on my workbench.

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