Feb 3, 2011

The Giant Printer

The Giant Printer was originally made in Komponent/LAB, a venue for electronic music and activity (http://komponent.dk/about.php) that Dzl was part of for 10 years. It was made for the Public Service Festival in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2006. (http://gallery.komponent.dk/albums/PUBLICSERVICE2004/DSCN2476.jpg). At the time, Komponent needed to print some large canvasses, 5 x 2.5 meters and had a limited budget. They needed a cheap printer with cheap ink. When they started to build the printer, their first idea was to build a giant X Y plotter (horizontal and vertical moving bar) but since there was very little time available they wanted to make the printer as simple as possible with as few mechanical parts as possible. They started to experiment and while measuring the length of the belts for the printer, realized they could raise and lower the print head by pulling on the belts. The hardware was simple, but the software proved to be a bit more difficult, they needed to solve the equation for the varying length of each belt as it moved.

After they made it, they were notified that it was similar to the Hektor printer which had been developed during the same time period. (http://www.hektor.ch/) They thought it was great that a common design solution was discovered by both parties, validating their own design choices.

Cue 2010 and 2011. We dug out the printer from storage to make the logo on the side of the illutron barge and then re-imagined it in 2011 for Venture Cup Software Final. Some of the updates included:
- Motors mounted on tripods so it's a portable system
- Machined wooden frame for motor and belt mounts on CNC
- Fresh wires
- Minor software updates

The software takes HPGL plotter file and allows you to scale the image so it fits on the printed area. The software also allows you to pause while printing, in case, for example, you need to refill the paint container. Finally, it also gives you the opportunity to start from where you left in case of fail, such was the case at Venture Cup where our compressor knocked off the USB port each time it started up. Luckily, the software remembered it's last point and was able to continue from there.

The original idea for the printer was a land art printer which could paint buildings, dams, or bridges, painting areas up to 100m x 50m large and the print head would be large enough to accommodate two people and barrels of paint (to fill up the paint container whenever it emptied). Perhaps we'll still pursue that - anyone have buildings that need funky designs?

The next upgrade is to update software so it is less 'wobbly' using acceleration and deceleration rather than abrupt stop and go which is currently employed.

Check out the video of the printer here:http://www.youtube.com/user/GeekPhysical#p/u/3/6C-wn3oKQr0 and the photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29889578@N05/sets/72157625827981787/

The equation describing the lengths of the belts as a function of print head position. A and B are where the belts are anchored and P is the printer head. R0 and R1 indicate length of belts and can be determined by equations given. The length of the belt can be translated into how many steps a stepper motor has to turn by multiplying by a factor of Z.


ross said...

I'd love to know more about the software side of your giant printer. Did you do the bulk of your processing on a pc, or on a microcontroller?
Do you have any plans to release the source?
This looks really cool. Thank you for posting it!

Chinook Library said...

This is/was an amazing project. I would like to build one but I do not have the technical nor programming skills to do so. Are there plans available and copies of the software?

GeekPhysical said...

Wow we totally didn't see these comments, so sorry for the late reply! They got lost in a flurry of posts.

We did the processing on a PC - the PC took a vector image which was output to the format needed by the printer (HPGL) and then basically just used Arduino boards to communicate with the motors, note though, however much we adore Arduino, we didn't use "Arduino" we just used the components on the board since they are all conveniently located in one spot. :)

We would love to put the plans and copies of the software online for all to see but this project is unfortunately too complicated for us to support. It's two-fold. We agree and support open-source work, but we cannot work for free, so what to do? The software has developed over literally 10 years and the printer has been re-designed 3 times to be what it is today so it's a bit hard for us to say 'here it is!'. Instead we'd love to collaborate with people, working with them on fun projects and seeing what else is possible and how the concept and functionality can be evolved.

Gracy said...

Great article. Keep writing and shower your readers with such useful information. Keep it Up!!!

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John said...

This was quite a find. I was looking online for some cheap ink for my printer, but here I am coming across the giant printer and wasting some time reading an interesting blog instead.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the explanation. I did spot a mistake though:
You wrote R=pi*Q²*O.
this is wrong, pi*Q² is the area of that circle representing the gear.
it should be

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