Ender Switchwire: Starts and stops


Some months ago I came to the realization that my old and reliable Ender 3 Pro..."made me sad". Since building the Voron Zero, the Ender feels like a much more frustrating, and limited machine. The firmware is still stock, the bed adhesion was always problematic, and even with the Microswiss upgrades I constantly felt like I had simply outgrown the machine.

Yet, I didn't want to get rid of it. True, if I had a friend who wanted to get into 3D printing, and the money to finance something like a Voron 2.4, I would have given the machine away. I don't like seeing old things be thrown away even while they're useful. The Ender 3 is still a great beginner machine, but...I'm not a beginner any longer. After sitting on this for a bit, I discovered many have converted their Ender 3s into a Voron Switchwire.

The Switchwire solves a *lot* of the problems I have with the Ender:

  • All the electronics are tucked away in the printer base, outside of the heated chamber.
  • Firmware runs Klipper for easier (to me) hacking and tweaking.
  • CoreXZ kinematics means no more tilted gantry problems.
  • Laser cut enclosures for the machine are available, allowing me to retire/repurpose the huge Creality enclosure.

I found design on Github I liked, checked out the CAD, and started printing parts.

I printed parts and slowly built up whatever electronics and fasteners I thought I would need. I collected each of them in my storage system, which is a series of shelves and plastic shoeboxes. Eventually, however, I ran out of parts and things to acquire (or so I told myself). This left only the act of getting started on the printer modification itself.

Originally, I was thinking of modifying it in place, while keeping it operational. It quickly became apparent that this wasn't going to work and I'd have to modify the entire printer in one go. Eventually, I worked up the courage to dismantle it in a frenzied half hour leaving the bare frame and a table full of parts. It felt as if I had just performed a Mortal Kombat finishing move on the poor thing.

Once extracted, it was obvious how filthy the thing was. It hadn't gotten a proper cleaning for a least a year of printing. In that time, I went through several boxes of gluesticks and bottles of isopropyl alcohol, leaving the frame a grimy mess. I cleaned it all off, so I could finally start attaching parts.

The original Voron Switchwire is a much longer machine than the Ender 3. The sides of the base of the frame of the Ender are just long enough to keep the printer from toppling over. The Switchwire is far longer, forming a continuous base so that the entire printer may be more easily enclosed. To make up for this difference, several "extensions" need to be printed to make up for the missing lengths of 2040 extrusions. These are some of the longest and most involved parts to print for the conversion.

On the front and back are the grills. These have hexagonal openings which allow air to flow from the front to the back of the machine, cooling the electronics. Combined with the deck plates, this separates the electronics from the print chamber, allowing the electronics to run at a cooler temperature.

Bolting on the grills and extensions was fairly straightforward. I reused the power port from the original printer and mounted it into the rear grill. I also modified the rear grill to include several keystone slots. I found this an essential improvement on the Voron Zero, which I used to mount an ethernet keystone.

Next came mounting all the electronics. Unlike the Voron Zero, the Switchwire has two power supplies, one dedicated to the single board computer which acts as a print controller. combined with the mainboard, there were four major pieces of electronics to mount in the base of the printer. Fortunately, this was all fairly easy with the proper hardware.

And proper hardware was starting to become a problem. One thing the github repository lacked was a Bill of Materials (BOM) for the project. I probably could have asked for one by the project maintainer, but I didn't want to be a bother. Instead, I stumbled until I hit a stopping point, at which I had to put down all the work and wait for new parts to arrive. It was frustrating, since I only had so much time to dedicate to the project during my weekend, and none at all in my evenings. Again, this was totally a frustration of my own making.

Another thing I really wanted to add to the printer was a Klipper Expander. This little board is used to drive filter fans, LEDs, and other accessories. Since I really loved that enhancement to the printer, I wanted it for the Switchwire too. None of the mounts I found, however, would work. I spent most of a a week in OpenSCAD and 9 different design revisions to finally arrive at one that would work.

During this part of the build I also discovered that the Y Axis extrusion needed to be modified. The original Ender had four bolts which secured it to the H frame used as the printer's feet. The Enderwire required this extrusion to be moved one pair of bolt holes forward, leaving two unpopulated. Not a huge issue at this part of the build, fortunately, but it was increasingly frustrating to discover these details I missed in the CAD.

The following weekend I wanted to finish the Y Axis as much as I could. I was immediately stymied by more lack of hardware. I did eventually find some among the discarded Ender 3 parts I could reuse, but the result was still intensely frustrating. I felt like I could move one step forward without getting one step back. I started to feel like avoiding the project so as not to get frustrated again.

I did manage to get the Y Axis together, resulting in what felt like a more complete printer. I debated adding the bed assembly back on the thing, but decided against it until I could mount the cable chains and other parts to support the Y Axis.

I was hoping to work on the XZ Axis the following day, but I woke up feeling ill and utterly fried from stress and anxiety. I spent most of the day resting instead.

The following week was very hard, waking up feeling ill again most mornings and still fried from anxiety. I would get through work, then collapse into a little lump for the rest of my evenings. It really wasn't until Friday I started feeling okay again.

I went to go work on the printer, and quickly found myself stuck again. This time, I discovered that the motors I had from the original Ender weren't suitable for use in the Enderwire. Nearly all of them had shafts which were far too short to be reused, and two of them had fused on pulleys which were out of alignment from the Switchwire designs. I read about this problem, but I foolishly believed it wasn't the case for me.

I threw up my hands and wanted to put anything -- anything! -- on the printer and feel some sort of sense of progress. I didn't get far; even though I had carefully bought all the hardware needed for the XZ axis, I discovered the original X Axis gantry extrusion couldn't be reused without modification. The original one was too long, and would foul on the new motion system's belts. I'm sure if there were instructions, it would instruct you to literally cut down that extrusion to suit. I couldn't bring myself to do that...but I did have some spare 2020 on hand from the TCHeRI project. Cutting that down and mounting most of the hardware took a couple of hours. The result was good, although I need to add more shim washers to the bearings before I add the belts.

I did mount the XZ gantry to the printer and installed it's curious counterweight system. Instead of a literal weight, the Switchwire uses a heavy duty retractable keyring. When attached to the gantry, it pulls it up, canceling out much of its weight. The effect is kinda magical:

Video file

There's still so much to do and so much further to go on this project. While the Enderwire is starting to look like a printer again, it still just a disconnected collection of parts bolted to a frame. I still have yet to get replacement motors, pulleys for those motors, and complete assembling the motion system.

It's been really hard to keep my focus on this project. It's the dead of summer, with climate change producing endless series of dangerous heat waves. Horrible people with money and power maintain a constant genocidal drumbeat no amount of medication or stress reduction regimens and fully tune out. Any small hiccup in this project means more than just a stop of work, it means a lack of distraction; and it all feels like it crashes down at once upon me when something doesn't go right.

This is no way to live. I just want to write my silly posts and build robot friends.