Chasing Titans – Upgrading the UMO+ to direct drive

After nearly five years of fun-tastic printing and extremely reliable service, I could feel that the time had come to upgrade the extruder of my trusty Ultimaker Original Plus. The extruder on this machine was always the one part that I was not 100% convinced about – after first assembling the kit in 2013, I had some trouble in getting the large nut holding the main gear to stay in place, with the result that once or twice the whole thing fell apart during a long print. I also always detested its location at the back of the machine, the clattering, tortured, noisy retractions, and the fact that I would frequently struggle to insert filament because it got caught on the rim of the bowden tube connector. However, after initial teething problems, I had made my peace with it – the nut stayed on, I got better at guessing the proper angle for inserting filament, and the printer was reliably producing very good quality prints, despite my sometimes punishing retraction settings.

However, this autumn I began to notice a different type of problem to emerge. I had experimented extensively with relatively abrasive metal filaments this summer, and as a result the delrin wheel pushing the filament into the extruder had become worn in places. While ordinary PLA and ABS were still extruding relatively reliably, printing flexible filament became nearly impossible. A bowden setup is not the best for this type of filament anyway, and so I began thinking about upgrading the extruder assembly to a direct drive setup. I had heard good things about the E3D Titan Aero as an upgrade for Ultimaker printers (the UMO+ has the same electronics board as the UM2), but I was not quite ready to change the hotend and fan assembly as well. Besides, my current hotend is still performing brilliantly, and as it is the UMO design is fully compatible with the exchangeable nozzles sold by E3D, should I wish to change the diameter I am extruding with at any point. If I am ever going to make that switch, it will be to a 3 or 5 colour mixing Diamond Hotend – but at this point my thinking is that I should really build a new printer to experiment with that setup.

Instead, I looked at just mounting the E3D Titan extruder directly on top of the printhead. There are a few interesting designs for doing this on Thingiverse, but none are for the UMO+ and its slightly chunkier printhead. I ended up remixing Nakwada’s UM2 design, by adding a chunkier baseplate with slots for the original wooden parts of the hotend and a hole for the cables to pass through. You can find the stl file of my modified design here, which I ended up printing in fluorescent blue ABS. Two problems I encountered were the printed part being slightly warped, and some of the holes being a bit snug, but neither mattered for the final assembly. I reassembled the extruder and hotend around it, taking care to insert the two long screws underneath the motor and extruder before screwing everything in place. The trickiest step was probably gauging the right length for and connecting the piece of bowden tube – I ended up also ‘funneling’ the bit going into the extruder a little, to facilitate filament insertion. When ordering the Titan make sure you order the mirrored version, as this will not interfere with your endstops on the UMO+, and you will only lose a minimal amount of build volume.  I also took the decision to order the matching pancake stepper motor at the same time to keep the weight of the assembly down. This needed to be re-wired with a JST ph4 terminal in order to fit into the UM main board. After scrutinising the schematic of the motor for ages, I eventually figured out that the colours of the cables matched the original extruder motor’s and paired them in the AABB (blue/red – black/green) configuration required, which so far has worked perfectly. I cannot overemphasize how useful it is to learn all about electrical crimping – see my tutorial on this to get started with it.

With everything back together I checked the E-steps setting on my machine. They were already at the recommended value, although I am not totally sure why. My former stepper motor had a stepping ratio of 1.8 (but was also geared) whereas the little pancake runs at 0.9. At 837 steps/mm, I am getting great results, so I’m not complaining, but I think I need to look into this a bit more to really understand. Thomas Sanladerer has made a great tutorial about this that might enlighten me a bit. Another setting that had to be adjusted can be found in Cura. Because of the much reduced filament path, retraction settings of between 0.5 and 2mm are the recommendation, versus my 3.3mm setting before the switch. I am getting very clean prints at around the 1mm mark, and will hopefully be able to reduce this even more as I become more familiar with the extruder – fewer retractions mean a cooler motor! I also modified my end gcode to not reverse the filament as much after finishing a print – 1mm should be enough to alleviate the pressure. Reversing it by the default 5mm got me into serious trouble as the still-molten filament was pulled right to the top of the bowden adaptor and solidified in a tapered lump, causing a blockage that meant I had to disassemble the whole extruder!

A few issues with the Titan I have run into so far were mostly related to the dreaded clicking/missing steps scenario discussed by many other users in the E3D forum. I am not quite ready to do the rather drastic modification suggested by one user, and for the moment reassembling the extruder really carefully to make sure the gears mesh absolutely perfectly and tightly seems to have done the trick. I am on my 3rd print currently without any problems, but am slightly worried about some of the ‘budget’ filament I own, as it is often 3mm rather than 2,85mm, and even the top notch Faberdashery filament I love to use (and is very precisely specced) seems like a tight fit. After printing the current batch of Christmas decorations, I am yearning to finally try some flexible filament and hopefully see amazingly clean results.

So what are my final thoughts on the Titan modification? It is too early for me to say whether I will love it or loathe it. My old extruder was definitely ready to be replaced, but I need to do some more testing before delivering a definitive verdict. I want to try as many different types of filament and really put the new boy through his paces.I think dealing with clogs could be a bit of a nightmare, but then I haven’t really had many of those over the years – maybe 2-3 per  year. It is clear that some of my processes will have to be modified, such as cleaning out filament from the hotend, and changing filament during a print. I will also have to revisit my spool holder – it might make more sense to have a mounted reel holder now to reduce stress on the filament.

Modifying the printer wasn’t as gruesome as I imagined, and so far everything is working well. I was more than a little surprised to see that the teflon connector in the hotend still looked like new – I had my spare one to hand, ready to replace it. I have been very careful in using my printer over the years, particularly taking care to not run it too hot, and it has clearly paid of.

I hope you enjoyed this account of my experiences  and would love to hear your thought on things you are planning to modify!

Gallery now online!

Welcome to my brand new Gallery section, added to bring this blog up to date. So far there are two galleries – one containing images of my jewellery collections, the other to showcase my photography projects. Right now it is still under development, so watch this space as I add more content. Enjoy!

Rise like the Phoenix…

It has been exactly one year since my last post on this Blog, and a lot has happened in the meantime. The good news first:  I handed in my PhD at the University of Dundee earlier this month. Writing up my research over the last year has been a great experience, but now I feel I have come to the end of a long marathon.

The bad news: there are many posts I half-started and never actually published on the blog, relating to events and things I have seen over the last year. I will be pushing them out one by one now that I have a bit more time, and hope that some of you are still interested to read about not-so-current events and ongoings in the world of Interactive Craft.

To jump-start this blog a little bit after my self-enforced hiatus, I have finally succumbed and joined twitter. This will hopefully be an easier way to keep the blog right up to the minute when I don’t have the time to write longer posts, and give you a chance to engage more directly. So if you want to comment, just use my twitter handle @FutureJewels to send me a message!

I have also given the theme a bit of an overhaul, and added image galleries of my work here, updated on a more or less constant basis. Feel free to visit my Jewellery portfolio website as well, but it is here I intend to publish my latest creations. I have also decided to finally show some of my Macro Photography, which has provided the visual inspiration for much of my work. I hope you enjoy the facelift and continue to read my rambling posts.


Last night I was fortunate to be able to go to the Hinterland event at the derelict St.Peter’s seminary in Cardross. As some of you know, my love and fascination with Brutalist architecture goes back a long time, and my years of living at the Barbican centre in London will forever be enshrined in my memory as perfect architectural bliss. The site of the abandoned St.Peter’s seminary has been on my architectural radar for a while, but I had always hesitated to make the trip there for fear of unexpectedly bumping into some of the vandals that have been steadily dismantling the site. I am not talking about some of the absolutely stunning graffiti that has happened there over the years, but rather the smashing of the fairly sizeable altar stone (how???) and other such random acts of destruction. So when the Hinterland event was announced as part of the opening event of the Festival of Architecture 2016, my tickets to go were booked immediately.

Arriving at the site by shuttle bus, we were handed illuminated walking sticks to navigate through the dense woodlands along a footpath that featured a rather spooky sound installation on some sections and led to the small back door of the sacristy. The outer wall of the sacristy immediately reminded me very strongly of Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut, with its incredible thickness and tiny square windows set deep into the wall. The highly regarded chapel was completed in 1955, a mere eleven years before the seminary opened in 1966. Le Corbusier was reportedly a significant influence on architects Gillespie, Kidd & Coia, and this is evident in many of the features of this beautiful Scottish Brutalist masterpiece, such as the long columnar walkways, the open layout of the main spaces and the tiny dimensions of the novice’s individual cells.

Following a sloped, spiral walkway into the main hall of the seminary to the broken altar, the light installation staged by NVA created a surreal and fantastical colourful landscape on the graffitied walls and pillars of the seminary. In what used to be the central area of the knave, an oversized ceremonial pendulum was suspended over a shallow pool of water and occasionally set in motion by two priest-like protagonists, spewing forth thick white smoke. This was accompanied by eerie abstract choral singing and a ritual of welding steel inside a cage situated on the far side of the pool, creating an incredible interplay of shadow and bright white light on the ceiling, columnar wall and surface of the water. Progressing through the seminary, it became obvious what a tranquil and meditative space it used to be, and this struck me most when coming out of the recreation block into a secluded inner courtyard. The seminary is much more compact in scale than I expected and from ground level a warren of complementary geometries opened up like a darkly lit multistorey labyrinth. We spent about two hours at the site itself, and even though photography was not permitted inside the building, I managed to take a few of the outside as seen from the garden, although many more beautiful professional images have been released online since the event opened last week, and there is also some video footage  by others on Youtube.

Hinterland7 Hinterland5



Arts organisation NVA have recently taken on the site, with an exceptional vision to turn it into a venue where experimental art and community engagement events can take place – head over to their website to watch the beautifully shot promotional video that explains their plans better than I could, and maybe make a small donation? Further funding of £4.2 million has just been announced and it now looks like all the pieces are in place to go ahead with the building plans and hopefully re-open in 2017/18. I was particularly pleased to hear that they want to remake the large lantern skylight that was lost over the years, and which was a particularly stunning feature of the original building. For a glimpse of what the seminary was like when initially built and used by the Catholic church to train priests, have a look at this fascinating footage from the 1972 architectural documentary “Space and Light” by Murray Grigor. In 2009, Grigor also released the shot-by-shot re-make companion piece “Space and Light Revisited”, visually contrasting the current decaying state of the seminary with its pristine original condition. I am already very excited about seeing the restored building in the near future, hopefully to return and take some more competent photographs.

Making a PCB – the Jeweller’s way! (Part 1)

Sometimes, having trained as a jeweller is surprisingly useful when it comes to working with electronics. After finally having got my head round the way in which ICs are programmed and used on circuit boards with this handy programmer, I decided that the easiest way to incorporate small-scale electronic components in my jewellery was to make a customised PCB (Printed Circuit Board) – it was time to put the theory into action! Not only would creating custom PCBs save me a whole lot of cash (the components are a fraction of the price of a finished circuit board), but it would also allow me to fully control the shape and size of my PCBs.

The first step in this endeavour was creating the circuit design files. Now, there are a number of ways to do this, and which method you use depends largely on your skill base, the complexity of the circuit you want to design and what method you will be using to produce the final board. There are a lot of great freeware packages available online, the most popular probably being the EAGLE PCB software offered by cadsoft. However, I could not get the freeware version to install on my system, and so decided to look for alternatives in the meantime. Fritzing offers a PCB generator as part of its package, but I wanted to use a software that would let me customise tracks and components easily, while offering a library of ‘pre-fab’ parts to play with until I am more familiar with the pin spacing of components and minimum track widths, so after a false start with the very basic FreePCB, in the end I chose the DesignSpark PCB package (v.7.1). Equipped with a full library of parts, as well as a searchable online database of parts offered by UK electronics distributor RS components, this program was really easy to use and before long I had laid down my first PCB design. For the experts out there it is also possible to make PCB layouts in any vector-based graphics software (such as Adobe Illustrator), but of course you will have to be 100% certain of your design as there are no automatic checks or set design rules in a graphics application. DesignSpark has customisable rules and warns you if components are spaced too closely together or if there are missed connections. It is by no means perfect, and I ended up tweaking some of my PCB designs in Illustrator after finalising the layout in DesignSpark to account for crooked or awkward tracks, as well as adding my logos to the boards.

Once I was happy with my designs, I tried to figure out which would be the best way to get them onto the copper covered particle board. After initially considering using the iModela at our MakeSpace, I decided that maybe the old ways are the best and ordered the chemicals required for photoetching. From my time as an undergraduate at ECA I still had some PNP blue resist lying around the studio, and even though some people swear by the slightly more accurate UV-exposure method for transferring your artwork to the resist, if you have a laser printer at home the PNP is easily the most hassle-free solution. After transferring your design to the dull side of the film with a laser printer or photocopier, the film is ironed onto the thoroughly cleaned and de-greased surface of your PCB board. When ironing on the resist, don’t put too much pressure on the iron, as it can spread the ink and make your tracks bleed into each other. There are some great tutorials online about this process, although I would recommend the use of a glassfibre brush (available from enamelling suppliers) for degreasing your board rather than acetone, as it is more reliable and there’s no need for chemicals.

Once you have transferred your artwork to the board, gently peel off the PNP film, and touch up any imperfections or gaps with a black indelible marker pen. In order to preserve the rest of your board, mask off any areas that are not to be etched with brown parcel tape. You should end up with something like this:

First PCB01

The shiny exposed copper areas are going to be etched away, leaving only the black track marks behind. Depending on which chemical you use, prepare as stated on the packaging and fill a small plastic tub with just enough solution to cover your particle board. Gently slide in your board, and agitate the solution roughly every two minutes either with a feather or by gently tipping the tub from side to side. Eventually, all the copper will have been eaten away by the acid, at which point the board needs to be removed quickly from the acid bath with plastic tweezers and rinsed thoroughly under running water. Don’t ever leave your board unattended in the acid, as the acid can undercut the tracks if left too long. Some people have also successfully used the sponge etching method, but I prefer the traditional way as you have a lot less direct contact with the chemicals. After the board has been thoroughly rinsed, you can remove the parcel tape and the resist with acetone.The end result will look similar to this:

First PCB03See how to finish the job in part II…

The Arts Foundation Jewellery Awards 2016

Happy New Year to all of you Smart Jewellers out there! With 2016 only a few days old, I suddenly realised how terribly I am lagging behind with my blogging and there are a few long posts about my research activities still in the works – hopefully to be found on here soon!

But first I wanted to share some excellent news I received last November – I have been shortlisted for the prestigious Arts Foundation Jewellery Award 2016. With the awards ceremony at the end of the month fast approaching, I thought this was the perfect time to remind everyone to cross their fingers on my behalf on the 28th of January! You can read all about the awards and the other nominees in the Jewellery category in this recent Press Release or on the Arts Foundation website, where you can also find all the other categories and past award holders- for all you material enthusiasts out there the Material Innovation Category will be particularly exciting!

Arts Foundation STDI am absolutely delighted to be on the shortlist with so many talented and forward thinking practitioners and I am looking forward already to meet all of them in person on the 28th.

Make Shift Do 2015 – Smart Materials Workshop bookings now live!

Exciting things have been going on in my studio, but for the moment I am too swamped with the academic year starting and resuming my teaching duties to blog about them here. However, over the next four weeks or so I am hosting two fabulous events perfect for adventurous makers, the first of which is a Smart Materials workshop. Organised again by my friend and fellow PhD candidate Jo Bletcher as part of the 2015 Make Shift Do conference at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee on the 23rd of October, this will be a slightly larger affair than last year and cover a more varied range of materials. There is a nominal participation fee to cover material costs, and a range of other workshops running in the afternoon, from 3D printing to creative electronics. The makings of an excellent day out for digital makers!

All workshops are bookable through this Eventbrite Listing – See you on the 23rd!