Three-Axis 3D Printed Tourbillon Clock – Now Ticking Away at PADT

3D printed Tourbillon 3-axis clock mechanism, assembled at PADT Inc., Tempe AZ

A year ago we highlighted the beginnings of an unusual project undertaken by PADT’s Senior 3D Printing Service Technician, Justin Baxter, in the post Three Dimensions of Time, featuring an enlarged, 3D version of a Tourbillon watch mechanism. That post showed the first (test version) of three subassemblies that would come together after literally hundreds of hours of printing and assembly work to comprise a working three-axis clock.

Original test part for the single-axis Mini-Tourbillon clock, printed in 2021. (Image courtesy PADT Inc.)

For a bit of background, an excellent write-up on this concept is on MyMiniFactory, which is also where you’ll find the complete description of the 3D-printable Tourbillon clock from a designer called Mechanistic. Check out this mesmerizing video of his clock in action. Mechanistic has previously done other awesome designs but this one is truly astounding in the level of detail required for both printing and assembly.

Now, check out the PADT version, complete and equally (if not more) awesome.

Video showing the 3-axis, 3D printed PADT Tourbillon clock in action. The full system was completed in 2022 and is based on multiple 3D printing technologies and materials. (Image courtesy PADT Inc.)

Justin recently set up the clock in the PADT Tempe, Arizona Demo Room so visitors can enjoy examining the more than one hundred 3D printed components, ranging from the wind-up key to the colorful standoffs to the custom-designed pendulum weights. The latter elements replace the original mainspring, increasing the clock’s runtime between rewinds. (We told you Justin knows a thing or two about the fine art of horology!)

Close-up of the three- axis mechanism of the Tourbillon clock, showing the EOS metal “Axis 1 Upper Cage” and various colored or clear Stratasys J55 PolyJet stand-off components, along with FDM springs, gears and brackets. This central section rides around the secondary axis mechanism on the circular geared track, which then rotates around the third axis (half-arch yoke). (Image courtesy PADT Inc.)

The Tourbillon clock part production took advantage of almost every 3D printer PADT operates, spanning four of the seven ASTM standard AM technologies:

The project took advantage of several dozen material types, colors and secondary processes, which show up in the colorful stand-offs, metal pointers and clear brackets – some opaque, some translucent and others either as-printed or heat-treated.

Black/blue/white Hour indicator printed as a single part on a Stratasys J55 PolyJet 3D Printer. An Ultraclear Polyjet bracket holds a heat-treated 316SS pointer that was printed on an EOS M290 metal printer for the Hour hand. (Image courtesy PADT Inc.)
Black/blue/white Minute indicator printed as a single part on a Stratasys J55 PolyJet 3D Printer. An Ultraclear Polyjet bracket holds an as-printed 316SS pointer printed on an EOS M290 metal printer for the Minute hand. In the background is the Nylon 12CF wind-up key. (Image courtesy PADT Inc.)
Diagram showing the three structures that comprise the three axes of the Tourbillon clock. All other components provide power to the clock and move the hour- and minute-hands to the correct display numbers. (Image from Mechanista’s Tourbillon Mechanica Tri-Axial Printing & Assembly Guide)

The largest diameter gear and the two driving gears that ride on it were printed in Diran, a Stratasys FDM material similar to Delrin. The larger gears in the base are ULTEM 1010, the smaller ones ABS and ASA, the third-axis arm and second-axis “bridge” are Nylon 12CF, and the wind-up key was also printed in Nylon 12CF. The top section to Axis 1, with three radiating arms, was printed in aluminum on the EOS M290 laser powder-bed system.

Complex gear structure of at the base of the 3-axis Tourbillon clock, which powers the clock and drives the hour and minute indicators. 3D printed parts in this section made use of ULTEM 1010, Antero (PEKK), ABS and ASA (printed on Stratasys FDM systems) and glass-filled Nylon (printed on a DTM (now 3D Systems) SLS system). Cords are used to suspend pendulum weights. (Image courtesy PADT Inc.)

Stratasys Quality Simplifies Clock Assembly

The instructions for printing and assembling all the clock components fill a 125-page document, and even include a section called Ultra Critical Print Parts. Here, the author cautions, “In order to avoid re-printing the same part over and over again to obtain the best fit, I’ve created fitting jigs which (are) essentially a clone of all bearing assembly features with varying dimensions. Print all fitting jigs using the identical printer, filament, nozzle size and print settings that you intend to use for the actual part. Insert bearings into the respective slots and identify the best fit slot number.”

Optional test-print – not needed for any Stratasys 3D printed part. (Image from Mechanista’s Tourbillon Mechanica Tri-Axial Printing & Assembly Guide)

I asked Justin if he did this and how it all worked out. His reply: “I did not print any of the test-fit fixtures, I printed only the “zero” parts and they all fit perfectly. The Stratasys machines are accurate enough that it wasn’t a concern; even when assembling different materials printed on different machines, the tolerances were spot on and needed no adjustment.”

This fits-right-first-time accuracy (detailed in the public Stratasys report, “FDM System Repeatability and Reliability Report – White Paper”), allowed Justin to leapfrog many pages of instructions and save hours of unnecessary trial-and-error printing. He says truly the most time-consuming part of the project was measuring and cutting tiny steel rod-stock sections to create the custom pins.

PADT Inc. is a globally recognized provider of Numerical Simulation, Product Development and 3D Printing/3D Scanning products and services. For more information on Stratasys and EOS printers and materials, contact us at info@padtinc.com.

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