I was looking for a way to decouple/break-out the x-carriage on an i3 style 3D Printer, more specifically the Anet A8 / All-Metal Upgrade, for easy parts replacement (mostly my heater cartridge since it’s the one I had to replace most of the time). I did some searching on Thingiverse and found this post which used a Dual RJ45 breakout board made by MDFly to achieve this and decided to give it a shot.

Bill of Materials

Quantity Part Price Links
1 RJ45 Breakout Board $4.63 Amazon
2 CAT 6 Straight-Through Cable / Patch Cable $9.99 Microcenter
10 Wago 221-412 LEVER-NUTS $7.85 Amazon
1 M3-M10 Drill & Tap Bit Set $11.99 Amazon
2 M4 x 20mm Bolts $3.86 Amazon

Links above may include affiliate links.

CAT 6 General Construction

Based on Mouser’s specifications, Cat 6 cables are comprised of 4 pairs of 26 AWG tinned copper, insulated by Polyethylene plastic with a peak voltage rating of 230V. CAT 6 has plenty of applications including robotics, CNC machines, railways, and Battlefield communication which made me very confident in using it on my 3D Printer.

In networking, POE (Power-Over-Ethernet) is used to supply up to 48 V to wireless access points and other networking devices where electrical outlets were not found. Because of its inherent properties, it would definitely be able to provide the 12V/24V needed to power the five (5) electronic parts on the X-Carriage:

  • Extruder Motor
  • NPN Inductive Sensor
  • Part Cooling Fan
  • Filament Cooling Fan
  • RGB LED Ring

Concerns/Considerations

This section outlines the concerns and considerations that were observed along the way. Be sure to review these and address them accordingly.

  • Take pictures. Be sure to note the colors for the extruder motor as the colors aren’t standard and can be arranged differently for each motor.
  • Beware of high current electronics. It is not recommended to run the heater cartridge through the CAT 6 cable because there is no guarantee it could provide the current needed for such a part. Use these WAGO Nuts instead.
  • You may lose some distance in your Z-Axis. Depending on the cable used, you could lose up to 40mm on my z-axis to accommodate the strain relief jacket of the CAT 6 Cable.
  • You may lose some distance in your Y-Axis. If you’re using the AM8 upgrade or even default frame of the Anet A8, you could see the x-carriage bump up against the vertical frame due to this addition.
  • Ghosting. By adding any new part on your x-carriage you’ll see some ghosting appearing on your prints. Just something to consider.
  • Make sure your printer works first. Do not attempt this upgrade unless you’re certain that you already have a working printer.

Install

  1. Print the breakout board mount of your choosing. Joochung does a great job of providing multiple options for where and how the board can be mounted. This example mounts it directly on the x-carriage. The linear bearings made for a perfect mounting point for me. But it can be mounted directly on the aluminum extrusion. There is even an option for multiple extruder configurations.
  2. Because the only screws I had long enough to go through the mount and linear bearings and breakout were M4, an M4 Drill & Tap combination was used to add threading to the linear bearing. The drill was set to the lowest speed and tapped the top left and right sides of the linear bearings. Hex nuts were also used to keep the bolt leveled to the mount so it may enter the tapped holes in the bearings. The bolts were then screwed in very slowly, screwing left and right, back and forth. You’ll notice that the mount holes do not line up with the holes on the opposite side of the bearings perfectly.
  3. Once the board was mounted, you could go ahead and snap the WAGO nuts in place.
  4. Wire up your individual electronic devices to the breakout board. There are eight (8) terminals on each side which were exactly enough for me. I plugged my fans, and extruder motor on the left side, and the inductive sensor, thermistor, and RGB lights on the right. It isn’t recommended to use ferrule connectors for this part, as it will further decrease your x-axis. You may also be unable to home your x-axis as the connectors may knock into the aluminum extrusion. If possible, plug your wires directly into the terminals. KISS.
  5. Plug your heater cartridge into the WAGO nuts. Based on the instructions found in the video below, you should strip your cable and expose 11mm of wire. When inserting, be sure to push your wire all the way to the back of the terminal. You should be able to see it through the clear housing. If available, use some heat-shrink to keep the red fabric from entering into the block. Then lock it into place. Your heater cartridge cable may not be long enough to make it all the way back to the controller board, so you may use another set of WAGO nuts to get it the remainder of the way there. It worked perfectly.
  6. Plug your RJ45 cable into the breakout board, taking note which side it’s plugged into.
  7. On the other end of your RJ45 cable, cut the terminal block off and expose the twisted pairs. We will use this end in the next part to wire up our Duport, JST, and Ferrule connectors.

The Tough Part

The toughest part of this upgrade was matching the terminal ports to the RJ45 pinout on the other end of the cable. The diagram to the left can be used to match the terminal numbers and color pairs. Be sure to write down the number and their corresponding colors as well as the electronics plugged into the terminal.

Most of the cables were straight forward. The one that gave me trouble was the extruder motor because the colors don’t seem to be the same for every NEMA 17 motor. Be sure to note the color and how it is oriented for your motor and plug.

Test each and every connector before moving to the next one.

Left (8 terminals)

  • First, take care of your fans as they were the easiest to match up (two wires). Two wires for my filament fan, and two for the part cooler.
  • Then your extruder motor, taking note of the 5v and GND wires and the two other wires that would control the direction of the motor. Take your time with this one. This took up four of the terminals on the breakout.

Right (8 terminals)

  • If you’re using an inductive sensor, plug the wires into the first three ports. And then test.
  • Then you could take care of the thermistor to see if it could read the temperature of the nozzle. This one should be easy because it didn’t require matching polarity. This took up the next two terminals on the board.
  • If you’re using RGB lights, plug the wires to the final three terminals and on my controller board. If you have a boot sequence like myself, you’ll be met with the reassuring Red, Green, Blue cycle.

WAGO (4 terminals)

Once I got the electronics working on both sides of the breakout board, I moved to the heater cartridge, another wire that had no polarity. I was able to heat the nozzle to 240° C and beyond.

Fin

That wasn’t so hard, was it? I encourage you all to leave a comment below if you found this useful. If you find that there are some missing or incorrect/misleading steps, be sure to help your fellow upgraders out in the comment section.