3DQF Spool History
3DQF Spool History
So, way back in 2017, we knew that we didn’t want to go down the plastic spool route and set off on the hunt for a cardboard-based spool. It’s much easier now to find good alternatives; however, back then, it was a custom-made option or a super restrictive choice of off-the-shelf options.
With the budget being tight, we opted for a non-custom solution that used stamp-cut hardboard and a pressed steel insert to hold them together. Initially, without a paper liner, however, we quickly realised we needed a white-lined inner section to help reduce dust as the filament unwound. The major problem with this style of spool was due to the Axel hole in the pressed metal insert. Unfortunately, this was only 25mm in diameter, and as such, it was a challenge to get anything small enough to pass through and act as an axle. We then found a version that had a 35mm hole, and we thought we had cracked it! Although it turns out an extra 10mm was still not big enough!
To compound this, we couldn’t have the hole made any larger, or if we wanted to, we would be facing a £30K cost for a new progressive stamping die. Needless to say, this was not an option for us, and in reality, at this stage, we all hated the look of the spool design and look, as such adding a larger hole wouldn’t resolve this problem. It was back to the drawing board, and we started playing with design ideas.
We had already experienced multiple issues with buying externally, as we started production our purchasing power was small and as such we always seemed to have issues with orders. We didn't buy enough from the manufacturer to really have any weight behind us and make them change how they dealt with our order. We knew that although this would be a challenge bringing the spool production in-house would give us significantly more control over the final product. The next challenge was to design a product that was not only better than what we had but we could also manufacture in-house.
Big Changes !
Finally, in 2019, we made the first move into spool production and buying an industrial laser cutter so we could bring the manufacturing of the spool in-house. Because of our history using fibreboard, our first spools were all made from this. We still had the same issue with dust and also a limited surface area for bonding them together. During the early part of 2020, just as Covid struck, we swapped over to corrugated cardboard. Although better in terms of surface area for gluing, it was not a strong enough paper weight, and they did feel a bit flimsy. It was at this stage that COVID lockdown kicked in, and we just had to make do!
Sourcing Better Raw Material
As we rolled into 2020 we found a new local card manufacturer that had a much stronger double corrugated board and we finally released our MK18 spool, it was the first time that we were truly happy with our spool and the look of them. The MK18 spool ran from 2020 to 2022, with it being superseded by the new low-profile and AMS-compatible Mk19 spool. During this time we streamlined production and optimized cut speed by reducing some cut features all in the efforts too save time and money. Making another product in-house was a challenge but its definitely worth the effort when you look at what we started off with!
In late 2022, we saw the Bambu Labs system taking off in popularity; this really did look to be a major shift in 3D printing. The speed is the main factor but also the AMS system also allows for colour printing with ease. The issue was the AMS system and extremely tight spool dimensions with an incredibly limited working range. We had to modify our spool so that they could fit and work with this new system. We achieved this once again by changing the cardboard for the same-weight paper but thinner. This allowed us to reduce the width down to 69mm (MK18 was 76mm) and also reduce the outer diameter to 194mm from 198mm. Although this doesn’t sound like much, we had to fit the same amount of filament in less space and still manufacture them in-house. It was something that we wanted to do, but the Bambu printer really sped up the process.
The Future of 3DQF Spools
So what’s next for the spool? Well, the next step is to robotize the loading and unloading of the card flanges! As of 2023, we are very close to having this project completed, although that could be a post all to itself, so I won't go into too much detail here about that, but it's definitely something we will talk about."