How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My 3D Printer

So, you’re thinking about finally buying a 3D printer? All the cool kids have one. Plus, how hard can it be anyways? Well, before you pull the trigger, it might be best to read this cautionary tale of one user’s experience in getting started with his first 3D printer.

[Scott Hanselman] is a programmer and teacher who started out with zero knowledge of 3D printing. In his informative (and somewhat humorous) blog post, you can follow along with [Scott] hour-by-hour as he unravels the some of the common mysteries that almost everyone will encounter with their first 3D printer.

His adventure begins with the frustration of z-axis calibration, an important part of any 3D printer. Some of the newer printers are automating this step (as well as bed-leveling) with sensors and clever software, but even then it might need small tweaks to lay down the all-important first layer. By hour five with his new printer, this slight annoyance turns into disgruntlement, as he finds that although there is tons of documentation on-line, a lot of it can be outdated or simply unhelpful.

In the end, [Scott] got his printer up and running, and learned a lot along the way.  We bet you can too – with a little effort that is. As the quality of printers on the market keeps going up, and the price continuing to fall for an entry-level printer, now might be the perfect time for you to get started. But you might want to read [Scott’s] journey to help manage your out-of-the-box expectations.

Turning a 3D Printer into an Injection Molding Machine

Injection molding machines are able to form very detailed plastic parts, simply by squirting plastic into a mold. 3D printers squirt plastic. Why no one thought of using a 3D printer extruder to push plastic into a mold until now is something we’ll never know.

[bfk] has been working on a way to produce very small, very detailed parts for a while now, and realized the extruder of a 3D printer serves most of the functions of an injection molding machine. It takes plastic, melts it, and forces it through an orifice. Whether that plastic goes to a build platform or into a mold is beside the point; but with a simple silicone mold, anyone can replicate extremely small parts with a tool every hackerspace already has.

The tools required are RTV rubber, which is the most popular mold material around. Aside from that, it’s just silicone lubricant, dowels and LEGO to make sprues, and of course something to make a mold from. Once the mold is made, it’s a simple matter of holding the mold up to the nozzle of a printer and extruding a bit of plastic.

The resulting ‘print’ is as detailed as the best prints that will ever come off a resin printer. It’s great for making parts for very small models like [bfk]’s current project, but this technique could be expanded to anything that needs a lot of small plastic parts with tight tolerances.

Video of the process below.

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Closed Loop Control For 3D Printers

One of the bigger problems with any CNC machine or 3D printer is the issue of missed steps when moving the toolhead. If a stepper motor misses a step, the entire layer of the print – and every layer thereafter – will be off by just a tiny bit. Miss a few more steps, and that print will eventually make its way into the garbage. [Misan] has the solution to this: closed loop control of DC motors for a 3D printer.

Most printer firmwares use an open loop control system for moving their motors around. Step a few times in one direction, and you know where the nozzle of a 3D printer will be. Missed steps confound the problem, and there’s no way for the firmware to know if the nozzle is where it should be at any one time.

[Misan]’s solution to this was a DC motor coupled to an optical encoder. Both the motor and the encoder are connected to an Arduino Pro Mini which receives step and direction commands from the printer controller. The controller takes care of telling the motor where to go, the Arduino takes care of making sure it gets there.

The entire build is heavily derived from ServoStrap, but [Misan] has a very cool demo of his hardware: during a print, he can force the X and Y axes to either side, and the Arduino in each motor will move the print head back to where it needs to be. You can check that out below.

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Choctopus Chocolate Printer x8

Valentine’s Day is about a month away, long enough for everyone to butcher upgrade their 3D printers to squirt out chocolate. Food printing was a hot item at this year’s CES, but it is hardly new. Before many of you were born [Hans] left his job at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to produce chocolate out of his garage in South Africa. This one prints 8 at a time!

HAD - Choctopus1Many years before he was extruding lawnmowers from raw pellets, [Hans] built the 8-tentacled Choctopus. He gets away with using only one chocolate pump – from some experience, by far the most challenging component – by simply splitting the ooze pipe with three tiers of T intersections. The whole design is actually patented and revolutionary for 19 years ago but to our readers probably unremarkable.

HAD - Choctopus4There is a business lesson here too. Once upon a time the Choctopus was a  3D printer but economic constraints have led to him downgrading to 2D. Any 3D requirements are served from an alternate RepRap. The purpose of an 8-armed printer is to mass produce, but for the price, most clients were only interested in a one-off. The products that pay the bills are the much more affordable 2d extrusions in bulk.

Any of our readers looking to impress their date make lots of money next month, consider this the kick in your pants to get started.

Check out these videos of the Choctopus churning out delicious delicatessens.

Continue reading “Choctopus Chocolate Printer x8″

First Ever Parts Emailed to Space

The shocking thing is not that this happened. The shocking thing is how normal it seems. An astronaut inside a space station needed a ratcheting socket wrench. Someone else on Earth drew it up on a computer then e-mailed the astronaut. The astronaut clicked a button and then the tool was squirted out of a nozzle. Then he picked up and used the tool for the job he needed done. No big deal.

The story itself is almost uneventful – of course we can do these things now. Sure, it happens to be the first time in mankind’s history we have done this. Yes, it is revolutionary to be able to create tools on demand rather than wait months for one to be built planet-side and put onto the next resupply rocket. But, amateurs living in places without even widespread electricity or running water have already built these machines from actual garbage.

Every once in a while a story slaps us with how much the future is now.

These particular 3d prints were duplicated on the ground, and both sets preserved for future comparative analysis to see if microgravity has any effect on 3d prints. They have an eye on sending them to Mars, a journey where resupply is more than just a couple-month inconvenience.

See the first link above for more detail and photos of NASA’s 3d printer and the Microgravity Science Glovebox in the Columbus laboratory module.

Prints In Space (Said In “Pigs In Space” Voice)

3D Printing on Earth is soooo last year. Recently, NASA has sent a 3D Printer to the International Space Station in order to test printing capability in space. The agency’s ultimate goal is to have a means to make parts and tools for astronauts that are far away from earth.

So, why should NASA have all of the extra-terrestrial printing fun? Three 15 year-olds thought that same thing and decided to build their own space printer. It’s goal, however, is a bit different from the one on the ISS. This printer is made to print on other celestial bodies such as the moon or Mars, not in a space station. The students call their project the DELTA 3 and as its name implies, is a delta-style printer and that’s where all similarities with conventional printers end. This printer has tank tracks so that it can maneuver itself around the planet. There is no print bed. The printer prints directly to the surface of which it is resting on. The frame is open at the front of the printer so that it can back up leaving a free-standing print in its wake. It certainly beats the hot-glue versions seen before and we think this is the Automated Build Platform of the future, today!

The DELTA 3’s electronic controls are also quite different from the norm. There is a Lego EV3 controller that is responsible for navigating the printer around obstacles to find a suitable print area. Once a location has been picked out, the EV3 triggers the standard Arduino Mega/RAMPS combo to coordinate the printing.

The young creators brought their DELTA 3 to the World Robot Olympiad just last month. They came in 4th in their division.




E-Waste Printer Looks Nice, Prints Really, Really Small

Prices of 3D Printers have certainly been falling quite a bit over the last few years. Even so, it is still, at a minimum, a few hundred dollars to get going in the hobby. [mikelllc] thought it would be a fun challenge to see if he can build a functional 3D printer for under $100.

To stay under his budget, [mikelllc] took a reasonable route and decided to use as many recycled parts as he could. In every DVD and floppy drive, there is a stepper motor, lead screw and carriage that is used to move the read/write head of the drive. These assemblies will be used to drive the 3 axes of the printer. Two DVD drives and one floppy drive were dissembled to access the needed components.

e-waste small 3d printerLuckily [mikelllc] has access to a laser cutter. He made the frame from 5mm acrylic sheet stock. All of the pieces have slots and tabs to ease assembly and keep everything straight and square. The motors and frames from the DVD and floppy drives are mounted to the acrylic frame pieces in strategically pre-planned holes. The Y axis is responsible for moving the print bed back and forth. It is mounted on screws so that it can be adjusted to ensure a level bed.

A little DVD drive stepper motor just isn’t powerful enough to be used as an extruder motor so a standard NEMA17 motor was purchased for this task. The motor is part of a MK7/MK8 style direct drive extruder that is made from mostly 3D printed parts. The extruder is mounted on the frame and a bowden tube guides the filament to the hot end mounted to the printer’s moving carriage. Remotely mounting the extruder motor keeps it’s mass off of the axes, which in this case may be too heavy for the small, scavenged drive stepper motors.

The electronics are standard RepRap type and the same with for the hotend. The recycled motors work well with the RepRap electronics. After all that hard work, the printable area is a mere 37mm x 37mm x 18mm, but that’s not the point of this project! [mikelllc] met his goal of building a super cheap printer from recycled parts. He has also made the extruder and laser cut frame files available for download so anyone can follow in his footsteps. If you’re digging this e-waste 3D Printer but want a larger print volume, check out this printer.