One of the most frequent questions among 3D printer owners is how can we quiet down our machines? While some embrace the beeps and boops, even using custom g-code to play their favorite theme songs, most of us would prefer not to hear it from across the house. There are plenty of ways to reduce the noise, but stepper motor dampers are the most effective and affordable option available.
The biggest concern however is what, if any effects will these have on the print quality? Since dampers use a rubber pad to absorb vibrations, it could theoretically introduce lag to the motion system.
Without before and after examples to compare, or an explanation of the process, most users rely on scraps of feedback from others. In effort to consolidate these details into a more comprehensive guide, we will look at the most important topics you should be aware of when using stepper motor dampers.
Purchased Parts ListStepper Motor Dampers - $13.99
Stepper motor dampers are essentially just shock absorbers, designed to reduce mechanical vibrations and resonance. They are made of two metal plates and separated by a rubber spacer, which allows the motors to flex while absorbing any feedback.
This is an effective way to eliminate motor noise, but could also increase print defects and cause the motors to overheat. Before we dive into the installation, we will first look at differences in sound and print quality, then explain how to cool the motors with aluminum heatsinks as well.
Sound Levels & Print Results
Part 1: X-Axis Stepper Motor Dampers Installation
Part 2: Y-Axis Stepper Motor Dampers Installation
Part 3: Extruder Stepper Motor Dampers Installation
Part 4: Aluminum Heatsinks
Sound Levels & Print Results
Since our goal is to quiet the 3D Printer, it’s important to have an idea of what effect the stepper motor dampers will have. In the video, we look at the Ender-3 printing without dampers, then X and Y dampers installed and finally the Extruder damper added as well.
The decibel level doesn’t change much at each stage, from 54 dB with no dampers to 52 dB with all three in use, but it still makes a substantial impact on the overall noise levels. Once we no longer hear the motor vibrations, it becomes apparent just how loud the stock fans are.
The benefits are obvious, but that brings us to the most important question… do these affect the print quality? The general consensus is no, dampers on the X and Y axis don’t cause any residual artifacts on prints.
As we mentioned before however, dampening the extruder is not advised. This can in fact affect the results and potentially cause under extrusion, ringing and in my case, excessive stringing. If complete sound reduction is your objective, a damper on the extruder may be a no-brainer, but I would start with the X and Y motors first and go from there.
Here are several prints taken at the same stages as the video, before the dampers were installed, dampers on the X and Y motors and a damper on the Extruder motor as well.
X-Axis Stepper Motor Dampers
Since the extruder moves nonstop during prints, the X-axis motor is one of the largest contributors to 3D printer noise. The vibrations pass into the frame and amplify the sounds, which creates the loud mechanical squeals.
To get started, we first need to loosen the (2) tensioner bolts on the right side of the frame, just enough to give the belt some slack. On the left side of the frame, peel back the QR sticker on the cover plate to access the (4) bolts underneath it. These pass through a metal mounting bracket and lock the stepper motor in place.
Hold the motor from behind with your hand to keep it from falling, then unscrew and remove all (4) bolts from the cover plate. Doing this will expose the belt pulley, held in place with (2) small set screws on the side. You don’t need to take off the pulley at this stage, but we will adjust the alignment when reassembling it, so I opted to go ahead and remove it.
With the motor sitting face up, place one of the stepper motor dampers around the spindle as shown. Make sure the damper’s screw holes without threads are used to secure it, we will need the threaded holes in the next step. Since the motor will now be supported by only 2 screws, tighten these down and check that it is locked firmly in place.
If you removed the belt pulley in the previous steps, go ahead and put this back on the motor spindle. Keep the set screws loose and run the belt back over the pulley, then align it with the tensioner before tightening them down. Keep in mind, the motor spindle has a flat side and one of the set screws should be tightened against it.
To finish up the X-axis, position the cover plate against the bracket and thread (2) of the original screws into the assembly. These should pass through the cover plate, mounting bracket and the threaded holes on the damper. There are only two holes that the screws can thread into, but for aesthetic purposes, I just placed M3 nuts on the other 2 to reuse all of the screws.
Y-Axis Stepper Motor Dampers
We will repeat the same process for the Y-axis, where the steps are nearly identical. Start by unscrewing the (3) bolts on the Y belt tensioner which is located on the front of the Ender-3. The only difference compared to the X-axis is this tensioner has 3 screws, where we need to loosen all of them to give the belt slack.
Rotate the machine to access the rear stepper motor, where you will find an assembly identical to the X-axis. As mentioned before, you can leave the pulley on the motor if desired, but I took mine off for the sake of clarity in the photos.
Since the Y-axis motor has no cover plate, we can just go ahead and unscrew the (4) bolts holding it in place. Set the motor down with the spindle facing upwards, place one of the dampers around the spindle, and screw it into place using the holes without threads as we did before.
With the damper in place, go ahead and reinstall the motor on the Y-axis bracket. Keep the pulley’s set screws loose and run the belt back over it, then align it with the tensioner at the front of the machine.
Extruder Stepper Motor Dampers
While it’s not recommended to use stepper motor dampers on the Extruder, many owners do so for further noise reduction. It does help to silence the retraction movements, but may also have a negative impact on the overall print results. Since the steps are somewhat different from the X and Y axis, we will take a look at the process for anyone interested in doing so.
To get started, we first need to remove the extruder lever, held in place with a single screw as pictured below. If needed, you can compress the spring while loosening the screw to reduce the tension. Take off the lever and spring and sit them aside, then remove the remaining 3 screws in each corner, where these hold the stepper motor in place.
Once the motor is detached, set it down with the spindle facing upwards and and install the damper as pictured. As we’ve done in the previous stages, make sure to use the non-threaded holes for the motor screws. The threaded holes will be used to mount the motor to the extruder plate.
Hold the motor in place under the extruder plate and insert one screw, then tighten it down to lock the motor in position. Since we need one of the damper’s threaded holes for the lever screw (back right), I would suggest rotating the motor or damper as needed.
With the motor installed, loosen the set screws on the brass feeder gear and slide it near the top of the spindle. This doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be raised enough to feed the filament without slips. In my case, the top of the gear was flush with the motor spindle, which should be the case for anyone with an Ender-3.
Go ahead and place the extruder lever in position and tighten it down with the original screw. This should thread into the rear damper hole, but make sure that the lever is still able to move. You may need to back it out 1-2 turns if so, where it must be able to compress the spring.
Finally, insert the tensioner spring in between the extruder plate and lever, where there is a notch on each side that fits inside of the coils. I compressed the spring with adjustable pliers, although you can loosen the lever and fit it by hand as well.
While the stepper motor dampers do reduce vibration, they also reduce the heat transfer as well. As a result, the motors can get extremely hot when printing and this will inevitably shorten their lifespan. To improve the heat dissipation and keep the motors cool, we can install 40mm aluminum heatsinks with thermal tape.
Since I used 10mm thermal tape, I had to cut several strips for each heatsink. Leave these strips a bit longer than the surface area and lay them as close as possible to ensure full coverage. Once finished, you can just flip the heatsink over and cut the excess length off with scissors. As these are double sided, just peel back the corners of the protective sheet to expose the adhesive.
Once you are ready to install the heatsink, go ahead and peel off the rest of the protective sheet. Align two of the edges with the corner of the motor and then press the heatsink into place, holding it firmly for about 30 seconds or until it bonds to the surface.
For the X-axis motor, it worked fine placing it on the bottom of the motor but as shown in the picture below, doing so on the Y-Axis actually hampered the bed movement. The leveling wheels are too large and will heat the heatsink, where it needs to be stuck on one of the sides that is out of the way.