A 3D printed cable chain is a cheaper alternative.
While building my Mostly Printed CNC, I decided to buy some cable chains. These structures are flexible enclosures to organize your cables and wiring. They are also known as cable carriers or drag chains. According to Wikipedia, these “are guides designed to surround and guide flexible cables and hydraulic or pneumatic hoses connected to moving automated machinery. They reduce wear and stress on cables and hoses, prevent entanglement, and improve operator safety.
Cable chains are readily available on Amazon at typical prices of $7 to $14 for a one meter length. But before I hit “purchase”, I wondered if there were alternatives to create these on my 3D printer. There were.
I found a number of designs on Thingiverse. The design I chose is called Drag Chain with mounts published last year by Tuxsoft. There are several appealing aspects to this design. First, it is parametric and customizable. This means I can choose various parameters – such as size and length – and Thingiverse will create the appropriate STL file to my specifications. Second, the publisher provides a short video demonstrating how well this 3D printed cable chain performs. Third, you can print a whole section with multiple links already connected – in fact, it prints best that way.
Printed Cable Chain Performance
As shown in the picture, I custom designed two models (STL files). One has five links, the other has ten links. These contain a channel of approximately 7 X 10 millimeters, more than enough for my stepper motor control cable. I decided to print without supports, but did attach a small brim around the bottom layer openings.
As you can see, each link in the printed cable chain is connected to the next one by two small plastic prongs that fit through a hole. The design is so well done that, when printed, these separated pieces fit together without touching. After you remove the brim, you have a flexible 3D printed cable chain. The design also includes parameterized end pieces (male and female, not shown). These also include through holes for attaching the carrier to your machine and work table.
Each section of ten links contains about 50 cents worth of plastic filament and takes about 90 minutes to print. I am printing slowly with PLA filament to get good accuracy. You can customize a section of links to whatever will fit on your print bed. They connect to each other easily.
Overall, my printed cable chain assemblies will probably cost about 80% less than if I had bought them. Plus, the satisfaction of making it up yourself.