The BB023 Spool Tracker

By on August 21st, 2019 in Hardware

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 The BB023 spool tracker [Source: Browns Brain]
The BB023 spool tracker [Source: Browns Brain]

I’m looking at a device that can apparently track your 3D printer filament usage by spool, the BB023 from Browns Brain.

Partly-used spools are the curse of 3D printer operators. Everyone has them, and usually lots of them. They accumulate because we’re lazy; we don’t want to spend time swapping spools during prints. Because of this we tend to mount a full or near-full spool on the 3D printer to avoid the laborious requirement of operator intervention when end-of-filament occurs.

Leftover 3D Printer Spools

Thus you end up with piles of partly used spools. Some people will simply toss them, while a very few will make the extra effort to use the material on smaller prints. Usually this is done by guessing. The scene usually involves keeping one eye on an image of the 3D model and its weight as predicted by the slicing software, and the other eye on the spool. Does that spool have that many grams on it? Yes. No. Maybe.

We’ve all been there.

Filament Tracking

But there are solutions, of a sort. Previously we’ve written about the Spül Tracker, a gizmo that attaches to your filament path and keeps track of the filament usage directly.

Now we’ve learned of another similar product, the BB023 from Browns Brain.

You might think tracking filament use would be straightforward: just watch the filament as it passes by. But it’s more complicated than that, as filament does strange things during a 3D print job. In particular, there are repeated retractions occurring on some complex 3D print jobs. These might confuse a friction wheel over time.

 The BB023’s filament sensor [Source: Browns Brain]
The BB023’s filament sensor [Source: Browns Brain]

Browns Brain has an ingenious solution for this effect: a pivoting mount. The BB023 device has a one-way filament path. If a retraction occurs, then the unit pivots backwards a small amount as pushed by the retraction movement. In this way it should be able to accurately track filament used during a print.

BB023 Spool Tracker Video

You can see how this works in this video:

Where does this information go? The idea is to maintain a database of filament usage for each individual spool. That allows you to confidently select a partly-used spool for a given 3D print job and be sure there’s just enough filament to succeed.

The BB023 has a tiny control panel that allows you to identify the spool being used, and then it keeps track of the usage. There’s two steps required: you must first measure the physical dimensions of the spool and input them into a supplied spreadsheet that calculates the full spool length.

BB023 Interface

This information is then used by the BB023 unit itself. One complication is that the interface to the BB023 seems a bit tricky. There’s only one input button, and so digit entry, say for the naming of spool, is done by waiting for the right number to scroll by and clicking. The BB023 is able to handle a tracking capacity of up to ten spools.

If this sounds a bit tedious, it probably is, but if you do want to track filament usage on spools, this is the way to do it. I’m a bit skeptical as to how many 3D printer operators would go through the trouble to achieve this level of tracking, but certainly some would. A device like the BB023 would be more widely accepted if it had an even simpler interface, but for that you’d have to make arrangements with materials providers and printer manufacturers.

BB023 Price

Meanwhile, you can purchase the BB023 at a cost of only CAD$39.99 (US$31) on the Browns Brain website. Note — don’t be alarmed by the rather old style of the site, it’s the product you’re looking for. And finally, don’t forget their slogan: “THERE’S NOTHING SMARTER THAN A BRAIN!”

Via Browns Brain

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!