Building my own tool changing 3D Printer using FreeCAD

About two years ago I started my little task of learning FreeCAD and creating my own 3D Printer.

This by no means is ment to be a project size you should follow or try. I just want to show what is possible when you keep working on a project, even when it takes a good amount of learning and failing. 3D printing is great. It is just cheap plastic and a fail is not the end of the world.

I already owned an Anet A8 and a TronXY X5, but as most of these printers they are small and even do not support the promised print bed size, as the nozzle cannot reach each corner. The Anet A8 is boxed in cabinet and used mainly for ABS printing, while the TronXY X5 (the one with linear bearings, not the crappy one with v-slot wheels) got my everyday work horse.

However those printers are hard to work on. The hardware is cramped. You don´t even can place a webcam on the frame of the TronXY to create proper time lapses, because you always end up with having a rod within the view. Also when you want - lets say - try a laser or a pen, you need to dismantle everything and even a simple extruder upgrade is a few hour work.

From the start I wanted to use a 3D printer as a tool. Not as something that just clones stuff someone else made. I wanted to be able to perform repairs and practical prints. I am very bad with cutting straight and measuring, so a 3D printer is perfect for me.

A printer is a tool not just a toy maker. The problem here is that you need to learn CAD. Without, there is not way you get your bikes fender fixed or create VR goggle for your Nintendo Switch, because someone else needs to have the same problem or idea and share the files.

Another issue I had was the build volume of my printers. I often need to perform trickery and fancy rotation just to get a 200mm sized object onto the build plate. Brim is eating additional space and the printer is far from able to use the entire 220x220 build plate. That is why my new printer got big.

This grew the wish of having a 3D printer where I am in control of everything. So I started learning FreeCAD and started designing first elements of the printer. With 400x400mm build plate I no longer have issues of placing something bigger onto the printer. Also I no longer need to split prints in advance.

Always interrupted by other small projects which also helped getting deeper into FreeCAD and only working in intervals due to other hobbies, where I left the printer for several months before sitting down and (re)design and print parts.

I just recently ended up with the result shown below. In total I probably wasted 4 Kilo of plastic and a few hundred hours of printing, but that is just about 50 Euro and some overnight prints. My printer changed color about four times and you can see some black parts even survived from the first black color attempt.

This printer is far from being perfect, but it feels nice that I can say this will be fixed once I have redone/adapted the CAD files. I am in control and not some company. The whole process was also involving massive trial and error. Many of the printed components got replaced 3 or more times. Many even never got mounted as after having the physical object in hand it was clear it won´t work that way. I often forgot a hole, got a measurement wrong or it simply did not work at all. Sometimes parts looked nice in CAD, but once I printed them, I noticed I cannot reach a screw with a screw driver or a wench. But it is just plastic and time, so you redo and learn from your mistakes. Next time when you look onto a finished design in FreeCAD you turn it around and imagine the screw and the way a allen key or a screw driver goes.

Maybe some day I will be able to do a complete assembly in FreeCAD. Thats something I did not try, yet.

There is noone else to blame but me, when something does not work as supposed, then I have all the tools needed to fix it in a matter of hours.
I did a first (and still only) test print several month ago resulting in the best test cube I ever printed on my machines. :smiley: No ringing on any side. The cube is great and pushed my mood of continue the build. I however had to redesign the z-axis as the z-lead screws needed more fixation and caused trouble the more the bed was lowered. This got fixed last week.

So this is the promised result:

[ATTACH=JSON]{“alt”:“GeitPrinter Overview”,“data-align”:“none”,“data-attachmentid”:“2219”,“data-size”:“full”,“title”:“GeitPrinter_Overview_1.jpg”}[/ATTACH]

More detailed pictures can be found on my thingiverse project page: GeitPrinter by geit_de - Thingiverse

And other designs containing all FreeCAD source files to “learn something together” :smiley: All my projects can be found here: Thingiverse - Digital Designs for Physical Objects

Let me know what you are thinking. Suggestions and ideas are welcome.

Happy Printing

Fantastic implementation! Your documentation on Thingyverse is very good also. But one question I have is what kind of filament did you use for the various parts? PLA, ABS, ???

I like the use of the DB connector for the tool head, but wonder if you will have one cable for each or a single cable that is connected at each tool change. Such details as this would be welcomed and fantastic.


Thanks. I used PLA for now, as I can print it more accurate and easy than ABS. At some point in the future I will reprint with PETG. Since I used 42% infill I guess it will hold for quite some time and even keeps relative temperature resistant. But since there is only the tool head exposed to massive heat this turned out to be no problem. The orange/yellow tool head got print in temperature color changing filament, so I can track the heat spread visually quite easy. Even the UFO shaped cooling fan, which is next to the nozzle did not show any deformation or extreme color change.

There is a DB-9 connector on each tool head. I dropped the idea of using some pogo-pin connectors to spare wires when tool changing. This may cause connectivity issues in the future and there is also the problem of cooling disconnected tool heads while printing. Tool changing would also take much more time as the tool head would require to heat up again every time, while with connected wires the slicer can decide to cool down a tool head once no longer required or can be cooled down for an hour until it gets needed again.

Quite an ambitious project.

Very awesome! Great job. The only reason I bought a 3D printer in the first place was so that I could print the parts I would need to build my own printer from scratch. I’m using an ender 5 pro as a training ground. Hopefully in the coming months I’ll begin tackling the big picture as you have done. At the end of the day, my goals are similar… more of a tool than a toy. Maybe one day it’ll even make a little money back. ?‍♂️

I bought a 3d printer out of pure fascination for the technology and it’s potential. I need to find more practical things to do. With the covid virus crap I can’t give away all the prints I do fast enough and I run out of space in my small apartment. I do enjoy printing sculptures I’m doing my fourth Nefrititi bust 24 hour job. That one’s not hard to give away.