26 December 2013

3D Printing

So, if you don't know what 3D Printing is go to PART 1.

I want to start this post with a mention of Make, as their Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing was instrumental in our selection of a 3D printer. Buying and reading this 10$ guide is well worth it before you spend 1000$ for your printer, so we did. And who da man, Ultimaker da man! Not my opinion since I'm not entitled to having one, the Ultimaker Original is the only printer I have used so I can't make a comparison. But the people at Make have done the work and formed an opinion, and I feel like their opinion on the Ultimaker is fairly accurate. If you haven't given them the 10$ yet you can look at this chart.

I can't tell you to buy this printer, I can only say that we bought it. As we are peasants in the Kingdom of Europea , the delivery took only 4 days at a cost of 20 EUR. The Ultimaker original can come as a pre-assembled ready to use product or as a DIY kit. We opted for the cheaper DIY box'o-parts for two reasons. First, it is substantially cheaper. Second, by the time you get the thing working you have learned a whole lot about the device and 3D printers in general. The assembly took the better part of 2 work days (16 hrs). And we had to do some troubleshooting afterwards. But all In all we had no major issues.

Before we ordered it I called the good people at Ultimaker on the phone, like some neanderthal who doesn't understand what email is. And they had no problem consulting me in English, explaining that the package has printing filament and print bed adhesive tape. They also suggested that we buy the UltiController Kit that allows you to monitor the device, control the motors directly ( great help when troubleshooting ) and standalone printing from an SD card ( totally more awesome than printing from a computer ). They suggested that we skip on the dual extrusion pack, since it is still experimental and not really for noobs like us. In the package you will find everything needed to start printing. The assembly guide is on the wiki.

Take your time and make sure you understand the instructions before you start screwing things together and/or up! The build process is strait forward, there are some things that may or may not be easier if done in a different sequence but it's not really rocket science, so don't be deterred from going the DIY route.

So I said troubleshooting. Here is the problem we had, it is drift in the position where the printer is extruding. There are several suggestions about this problem on the wiki like loose belts and/or belt wheels. In our case the problem was with the steeper motors controllers cooling. The fan wasn't properly assembled so It didn't spin. It only needed to be pushed down in place and it started spinning properly, make sure the electronics are cooled and check the fan on the printer as you would check the fan on a CPU or GPU. Cooling is essential for the motor controllers.

Voila, successful print. We had another issue with the extrusion head leaking plastic above the aluminum melting part, but that was easy to fix by just reassembling the 3 metal parts screwing them tight top to bottom. All in all this laser cut wood box turns out to be a stable, precise, fast and reliable production platform.

We are very happy with the printer and I would suggest it to anyone looking to get in on the printing. Another awesome thing about this printer is the fact that the brain of the device is an Arduino board. The core of 3D printing is an Arduino controller board and an open sourced firmware for it called Marlin. If you are an electronics/mechanics enthusiast you can skip buying a printer and just build one of your own design. Part of the reason why we chose the DIY route was to assess if the development and fabrication of our own 3D printer brand could be a viable businesses. And it is, the RepRap project is the inspiration that gave us the Ultimaker and a whole array of cheap but awesome 3D printing devices. Pretty much anybody can get some motors together in a frame, hook them up to an arduino and start printing or selling printers. Fortunately competition guaranties decent quality devices from the "major brands".