Arduino Fun: Pen Plotter (postponed)

Idea Generation

What is this project about?

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After some thinking, I've settled on building and programming a pen plotter. Basically a 2 axis setup that can move a pen around to create images.

What do you want to get out of this project?

I want to make a fun little robot to use around my house that uses Arduino motor controllers. I think learning how to use Arduinos is going to be fairly productive for me, and it will require me to learn a bit of programming too.

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Guiding Question

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I want to make a pen plotter using Arduino motor controllers.


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A pen plotter is very similar to a CNC machine, something I have been wanting to create for a while.

1/12 I have discovered that I have a spare 3d printer that uses a differential belt drive to move the x and y axis. This printer is probably never going to be functional again, so I think I'm going to strip it for parts and use it for my pen plotter.

1/14 I want the work surface for the pen plotter to be 8.5/11" to match a standard sheet of paper. To do that I am going to need to remake the structure of the old 3d printer to be a little bigger. I think I can do this with a functional 3d printer.

1/21 About differential belt drive, I find differentials fascinating. one continuous belt can do an alarming amount of work just by being moved in the right way. Here is a link to a reddit post that explains how a differential belt drive would be used in a linear extension type system:

The 3d printer that I plan to strip uses something similar in a different shape to move the x and y axis around with the same belt.

1/19 Something I do need to research is what motor controllers I need to be getting. The 3d printer I'm using already has some stepper motors, which I think I'm going to keep using; but the problem is that I'm not sure which arduino motor controller works with stepper motors.

This is the printer I'm stealing parts from. The red and dark blue circles are the two stepper motors, the light blue is where the print head is attached to the continuous belt, and the white circles are idlers that are off of the frame. The threaded rod in between the two stepper motors is the z axis that moves the build plate of the printer up and down, this is a function I won't be using for my pen plotter, since the x and y axis are going to be mounted at a set distance from the surface with the pen moving along the z axis with a simple vertical linkage.


To explain the differential on the printer, I can kind of describe how it moves. If the stepper motors move in opposite directions, the y axis moves up and down. If only one stepper motor rotates, the y axis moves up and down but at the same time the x axis moves side to side; basically making a diagonal line with the print head. If both stepper motors move in the same direction, the x axis moves side to side.

It is very complicated, but very very cool. 1/26: I've done some basic research about what Arduino motor controllers I need to get in order to be able to accurately control stepper motors. I was unable to identify the specific brand of stepper motor that my Pirate 3d printer uses, but I found out that steppers are super cheap, so I'm going to get the Arduino that is suited to control the NEMA 17 brand steppers, and if it doesn't work with my current motors then there's no loss, I can just order 2 NEMA's for 10$ each.

Here is the article I got my info from:

The other thing that I've determined is that I need to push the mechanical part of this project over into the next cycle. I unfortunately just have too much going on for me to have gotten through this entire project given the circumstances I was presented with at the beginning of the cycle.

I'm going to leave the deliverables table below in its current state, mostly because I don't know when I'll be able to accurately revise it.

2/2 I've decided to postpone the completion of this project. At the moment in my busy schedule, my engineering energy is already spent by the time I can get around to this project. This project definitely still interests me and I will be finishing it, just not in the next cycle.


What will it take for you to complete this project?

Use the table below to set your own timeline for deliverables, keep in mind when your final work product is due at the end of the cycle.

Work Product Deliverables

Start CAD
January 18, 2021
start printing
January 20, 2021
research motor controllers
January 21, 2021
Order Parts
January 22, 2021
assemble and make changes
January 25, 2021
Work Product due
January 29, 2021

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Work Product


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