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Review of the Ultimaker Original Heated Bed Upgrade Kit

Regular readers of this blog know that we started our 3D printing adventure with an Ultimaker Original 3D printer a couple of years back. Although it may have come of age today, the Ultimaker Original is still a great 3D printer, its endless hackability and its very solid printing results speak for themselves. The fact that Ultimaker B.V. still markets it today (for around 995 EUR) shows that machine can still compete with more recent 3D printers.

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The Ultimaker Original did however miss one major feature: a heated printbed. Without a heated printbed it was difficult to impossible to properly print with ABS or any other filament that needed higher temperatures to adhere to the build plate.

The First Solution - A DIY Heated Bed

Frustrated by not being able to print the full range of filaments available, I decided to equip the Ultimaker with a DIY heated bed. At the time, no commercial solutions were available.

I played around with a few solutions and finally settled on a Prusa MK1 PCB, which, after applying thermal paste, I Kapton-taped onto the backside of a CNC-machined aluminum bed. At that time, I wanted to keep the original Z-stage fixation system. But I also wanted to be able to switch base-plates after finishing a print without having to remove the electronics, so I opted for a carbon-fibre baseplate on top of the aluminum plate.

After CNC-machining a couple of carbon-fibre baseplates fitting onto the Ultimaker Original bed fixation system, I could remove the printed part together with the baseplate, put on a new CF-baseplate and continue printing, all while the printed part was cooling down next to the printer. I admit that the whole setup worked very well except that I never modded it in a way to be able to see the temperature setting on the UltiController (the Ultimakers LCD screen and SD card reader kit). I also wanted to write up on this mod, but never got around doing so. Should there be any interest in this DIY solution, feel free to drop me a mail.

The Second Solution - The Heated Bed Upgrade Kit

Ultimaker was aware of this major flaw of its flagship 3D printer (they even integrated the DIY HPB options into the UM Original firmware and gave advice on how to mod the electronics). So they decided to launch a heated bed upgrade kit on the market about a year ago. I wanted to try printing onto glass for quite some time, so I ordered one of the kits quite early, but, as usual, never found the time for installing it, until a few weeks ago. 

Heated printbed HPB - Ultimaker

The heated bed upgrade kit. Photo © Ultimaker

I am not going to bore you with reviewing every step of the HPB installation process, but will simply make comments or recommendations where necessary. For the installation itself, I recommend that you download the excellent assembly manual published by Ultimaker. It is very well written, with clear and concise steps and instructions as well as illustrated with great photographs. By the way, when I am referring to numbered steps in this article, I am referring to the specific steps described in the Ultimaker manual.

Before starting, I just wanted to point out the differences between the Ultimaker Original, the Original with the HPB and the Ultimaker Original+, which was launched at the same time than the HPB kit. The Ultimaker Original is the basic version of Ultimaker's very successul 3D printer, it comes in kit or assembled, but does not feature a heated bed. The Ultimaker Original+ is an upgraded version of the Original, featuring a HPB, but also the metal fan shroud and all new electronics. So this review is of specific interest to people having an Ultimaker Original and who are not yet convinced whether to invest the 245 EUR for the HPB upgrade.  

Fitting the Heated Bed Upgrade Kit

The heated printbed upgrade kit is delivered in a high-quality, sturdy carton box, with all the necessary accessories neatly packed. There is no user manual, but Ultimaker includes a quick reference card with the URL to the manual.

Ultimaker HPB kit

The boxed heated bed upgrade kit. Photo © Ultimaker

As advised by the manual, it is a good idea to check whether you have all the necessary tools, especially considering that you going to drill into the frame of your Ultimaker 3D printer. I was quite impressed that Ultimaker does provide you with the necessary drill bits, including the special 14 mm wood drill.

Just have a good battery-powered handdrill (it's easier then the cabled handdrills, which get in the way while working), a pair of scissors or a scalpel/X-Acto knife as well as some (blue) tape ready.

In the first 6 steps, you are going to disassemble the Z-stage, the M8 threaded Z-guide-rod and its stepper motor. These will be replaced by completely new materials, including a newer and faster stepper motor and a Z-rod.

Ultimaker intelligently provides you with two paper templates, which will get fixed with tape onto the frame of your printer. These paper templates are drilling templates, helping you to measure exactly where to drill the necessary holes into the frame of your Ultimaker Original.

Personally, I do prefer using the X-Acto knife and a metal ruler in order to properly cut the templates, as the results are cleaner. Please do not rush this step, as it is crucial to have a proper template for an exact hole placement. If you prefer cutting with an X-Acto knife, please be careful to put the template onto a correct surface like a cutting mat

Also, don't hesitate to apply enough tape, as some of the paper will get torn away under the drill's movements. Applying sufficient tape will ensure that the template stays in place (steps 7-14).

When you are ready to drill with the big wooden drill, I would advise you to first drill a small hole with the 3,7mm drill provided in the kit. This will make the exact placement of the chunky 14mm wood-drill a lot easier. Also, be careful to remove all the cables situated under the place where you are drilling - it would be a pity to drill through essential electronics.

Once finished, it is also advised to deburr or file away any remaining splinters or rough edges.

Filing and deburring drilled hole

The heated bed upgrade kit comes with new electronics as well as a new power supply. This was necessary as the old power supply was too weak to handle both the electronics of the printer and the power needs of the quite power-hungry heated printbed. 

There is not a lot to be said about mounting and installing the electronics (steps 15-23), except that in true Ultimaker fashion, the installation is very sober and quite easy, even for people which are not very versed in such installations. Don't forget to integrate the new cables in the velcro cable-ties, in order to keep the cable mayhem to a strict minimum.

When you are doing your cabling, I advise you to actually tape both ends of the wires together. This will make it far easier to get the wires through the original cloth cable guides of your Ultimaker.

The next big step is assembling the new Z-stage (steps 24-39). It must be noted here that Ultimaker made use of only the best materials, as the PCB, the massive aluminium baseplate, the bearings and also the three-point levelling system all give you an immediate feel of high-quality.

The only item which made me quite unhappy are the glass retainer clips they use in order to snap the borosilicate glass plate into place. While they are perfect for holding the glass plate, they are quite difficult to reach and open, in case you want to remove the glass plate. I actually hurt my fingers already more than once and am now using my pliers in order to "open" the retainer clips.

Also, after some use, I noticed that the glass plate is firmly held in the X axis, but can slide if you push it from the Y side. A solution holding both axis would have been preferred. But this is a detail, you'll be fine if you are aware of the problem and simply pay attention to not touching the glass plate from the sides during a print.

Steps 40 to 45a take you through the assembly of the wooden Z-stage cap. I struggled a bit during installation and advise you to get help from a second person during this assembly. While one person keeps the bend pieces in place, you will have free hands to fiddle with the screws.

You have now finished assembling the individual pieces of the HPD kit, which are now ready to be installed into the 3D printer. Steps 46 to 66 will take you through this final assembly. Once again, I advise to seek the help of a second person. Ultimaker recommends taping the Z-cap onto the top of the frame, but it fell off a few times during my installation. A second pair of hands is therefore welcome at this stage (step 49).

Installing the Z-stage

Hacking the Z-switch Adjuster

During this installation, you will also have to unscrew the Z-stop of your Ultimaker. I did profit from this occasion and had printed myself all the parts for installing MoonCactus' (i.e. Jérémie François) excellent YAZA, a great Z-switch adjuster for the Ultimaker. If, like me, you are using your printer a lot and if you are changing your nozzles regularly, this is an easy solution to get the bed adjusted quickly.

I admit that the new three-point bed adjusting system hugely simplifies the task, but I nevertheless opted for both solutions, as both have their utility. I use the YAZA Z-stage adjuster for bigger movements (like switching from the big Ultimaker nozzle to the far flatter E3D nozzles) and the bed adjustment screws for fine-tuning in order to obtain a perfectly level printbed.

We are nearly done now! Steps 67 to 71 helps you with upgrading the firmware. This important step results, among others, in the heated printbed temperatures being read and shown on the UltiController's LCD screen. Apart of being able to now fully control the heated printbed temperature, the firmware also implements some smart and quick access features, like the easy Z-stage movement (which before was located in some far away sub-menus) and which is now located in the root of your commands.

The final steps consist in fixing the Z-switch and levelling the bed - you have now officially upgraded your Ultimaker Original with a heated printbed!

Fixing the Extrusion Head Housing

As I had to disassemble the printer anyway, I also changed the wooden pieces around the hot-end. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, but the linear bearings on the extrusion head did not slide well over the rods and thereby created a lot of friction. The wood did not take this lightly and the holes holding the bearings became so loose, that the bearings actually moved (see photos below). So I also installed those replacement parts.

I do think that Ultimaker could do with an improvement here. The offical advice is that the UM Original does not need any sort of lubrication on the guiding rods, as the bearings are self-lubricating. This is OK in principle, but in my opinion, they forgot to factor in ambient dust and other particles over a longer timeframe. This fine "dirt" gets stuck on the rods (see photo below, where you can clearly see very fine particles on the rod) and prohibits the linear bearing from working properly. I do oil them regularly now and have not had any problems since. Another good tip is to cover your 3D printer with a dust cover, if you are not using it over a longer time.

Dirt on 3D printer guiding rod

Conclusion

After working for a few weeks with the new heated printbed, I must admit that it works like a charm. The two most unnerving problems with my Ultimaker Original have been eliminated: (i) my own DIY heated printbed was not the most exact solution and (ii) the printbed leveling is far easier than before.

Contrary to my DIY solution, the new HPB kit permits to set the temperature of the bed with a lot of precision, I do have a temperature readout on the UltiController and, thanks to the new electronics and power supply, it heats up quite quickly. I can finally get rid of the second power supply and all the unnerving cabling I had lying/hanging around the printer for my DIY heatbed.

And thanks to the three-point bed levelling system that comes with the new heatbed, I loose a lot less time in order to efficiently level my printbed. The new system also allows for quick adjustments if you notice some irregularities during the first layer phase.

Ultimaker Original with HPB

The Ultimaker Original with the heated print bed upgrade installed. Photo © Ultimaker

The glass printbed also works very well. Not all the materials stick onto the Borosilicate glass immediately, such that I apply a simple layer of hairspray in order to obtain a perfect first layer adhesion. Granted, you will have to take the glass bed off, from time to time, in order to clean it under warm running water. But the glass and hairspray method works so incredibly well that I now have more problems removing the parts off the platform than keeping them on. After all these weeks spent testing and writing articles, I still have to have the first part coming off the platform or exhibiting first layer problems.

If you are like me and have been waiting to install the kit or if you are still wondering whether to invest those 249 EUR for the kit, my advice is to do it and to do it now. I actually regret not having it installed earlier. Your Ultimaker Original, after installation of the HPB kit, can finally achieve its full potential with many, many more printing hours of fun to come.

Have you modded your Ultimaker Original too? Do you want to share any thoughts or insights? Feel free to leave a comment below!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
QV - April 17, 2016

I’m quite interested in your carbon print bed. From what I’ve read, the carbon is nice and flat like glass, but as it is thin, it will heat up much faster than glass on top of the original bed.

What thickness did you go with your sheet? I plan to replace the aluminium bed of my CTC printer with a carbon sheet, but I’m worried about warping with thinner sheets of carbon.

Also, did you have any issues with conductivity? I’m not sure what the heated bed plate looks like on the Ultimaker, but would the carbon plate affect any of the electrical contacts? How would you insulate it?

Reply
    Mich - May 7, 2016

    Hi Pavlo,
    Yes, carbon is nice and flat and very thermo-conductive, so I decided to play around with it a bit. Contrary to your plans, I never intended to completely replace the aluminium bed. I CNC’ed the carbon plate to my Ultimaker Original printbed size and simply set it on top of the aluminium bed (for quick replacement).
    As you may know, I had to build a DIY heatbed, as those were non-existent for the Ultimaker Original at that time. I wanted a quick-heating bed, so heat transmission from the PCB to the aluminium plate was an important factor for me. I decided to use thermo grease (like the one used on PC processors for cooling) to ensure a maximal heat transfer between the PCB and the alumium plate. Therefore, I had to definately fix the PCB to the aluminium plate (did that with Kapton tape). The drawback of that setup was that I could not or hardly remove the whole heated printbed if necessary (I was sometime switching to my old Acrylic printbed). So I decided that I needed one more layer that I could easily switch if necessary and came up with the carbon fibre printbed idea. For example, with it I could take my finished print and let it cool down (while still fixed to the carbon sheet), but I was able to continue printing, as I simply used a second carbon sheet for my next print.
    I would be very careful with completely removing the aliminium bed, as the carbon is, to my knowledge, electrically conductive. I would also use a far thicker sheet than mine (I used a 1,5mm thick one). Also, pay attention to get a “real” carbon-fibre sheet, not those recycled one’s, they won’t fit your purpose. The real one’s normally cost quite more than the others.
    Hope that helps.

    Reply

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