Hands On With Variable Layer Height

3D printers are an exercise in compromise. Generally, you don’t want a lot of mass on your tool head, as that can lead to ringing and other mechanical artifacts on your print. However, direct drive extruders are better for many filaments, and the decision on what printer to build ultimately comes down to a choice between speed, build area, and the ability to print in exotic filaments.

Even in slicing a 3D model, a 3D printing enthusiast must balance the quality of a print versus how long the print will take to squirt out of a nozzle. Now, just about any printer can produce fantastic models at a very high layer height, but no one wants to wait several days for the print to finish.

This balance between print time and print quality has, for the last few years, been completely ignored. One of the best solutions to this we’ve seen is variable layer height slicing. Basically, if you’re printing something without much detail, you don’t need small layers in your 3D print. Think of it as printing the neck of a bust at 0.3mm layer height, and the face at 0.1mm.

Yes, there were a few papers from a decade ago laying the conceptual foundations of variable layer height slicing. 3D printers weren’t exactly common back then, though. Recently, Autodesk’s Integrated Additive Manufacturing Team released Varislice for automatic generation of variable layer heights on a 3D printed object. So far, though, there’s no good automated solution for variable layer height slicing, and the tools for manual configuration of variable layer height slicing are terrible.

For the past few months, Prusa Research has been working on their own edition of Slic3r that includes an easy to use interface for variable layer height slicing. This version of Slic3r was just released, and now it’s time for the hands-on. Does variable layer height slicing work?

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Where There’s Smoke, There’s a Knockoff 3D Printer

These days, it’s possible to buy clones of popular 3D printers from China for satisfyingly low prices. As always, you get what you pay for, and while usable, often they require some modification to reach their full potential. [g3ggo] recently laid down €270 for a clone of the Prusa i3 by Geeetech, knowing it would require some modifications for safety and performance.

First on the bill was a wobbly Z-axis, which was dealt with by printing some new parts designed to fix this issue which have already been developed by the community. Forums are your friend here – often an enterprising user will have already developed fixes for the most common issues, and if they haven’t, you can always step up to be the hero yourself. There was a darker problem lurking inside, though.

[g3ggo] began to wonder why the MOSFETs for the hot end were running so hot. It turned out to be an issue of gate drive – the FETs were only being driven with 5V, which for the given part, wasn’t enough to reach its lowest R_DS(on) and thus was causing the overheating issue. It gets worse, though – the heatsinks on the MOSFETs were bolted on directly without insulation, and sitting fractions of a millimeter above traces on the PCB. Unfortunately, with a small scratch to the soldermask, this caused a short circuit, destroying the hot end and MOSFETs and narrowly avoiding a fire. This is why you never leave 3D printers unattended.

The fix? Replacing the MOSFETs with a part that could deal with a 5V gate drive was the first step, followed by using insulating pads & glue to stop the heatsinks contacting the PCB. Now with the cooler running MOSFETs, there’s less chance of fire, and the mainboard’s cooling fan isn’t even required anymore. Overall, for a small investment in time and parts, [g3ggo] now has a useful 3D printer and learned something along the way. Solid effort!

Hackaday Links: December 4, 2016

The Chaos Communication Congress is growing! Actually, it’s not, but there may be an ‘overflow venue’ for everyone who didn’t get a ticket. There’s a slack up for people who didn’t get a ticket to 33C3 but would still like to rent a venue, set up some tables, stream some videos, and generally have a good time.

Need to test a lot of batteries? Have one of those magnetic parts tray/dish things sitting around? This is freakin’ brilliant. Put your batteries vertically in a metal dish, clip one lead of a meter to the dish and probe each battery with the other lead of your meter.

Pravda reports the USS Zumwalt and HMS Duncan – the most technologically advanced ships in the US and Royal Navies – have turned into, ‘useless tin cans due to China’, with ‘Microchips made in China putting the vessels out of action’. Again, Pravda reports this, so don’t worry. In other news, someone found a few USB drives in a parking lot in Norfolk, Virginia.

Here’s how discourse goes on the Internet. Someone does something. Everyone says it’s stupid. We wait a few days or weeks. Someone posts something on Medium telling everyone it’s actually okay. Public opinion is muddled until the actual issue being discussed is rendered technologically irrelevant. For the newest MacBook Pro, we’re currently at stage 3 and ‘it’s kind of great for hackers’. Now if only we knew how to make USB-C ports work with microcontrollers…

If you have a Prusa i3, here’s a free gift: a Spitfire. The files to print a remote control, 973mm Spitfire Mk XVI are now free for Prusa i3 and i3 Mk 2 owners. Why? Because it’s cool, duh, and [Stephan Dokupil] and [Patrik Svida], the guys behind the Spitfire and other 3D printed RC planes, are also in Czech. Now all we need are Czech roundel stickers.

Hackaday Links: November 27, 2016

[Prusa]’s business is doing great. This year, he released the Prusa i3 Mk. 2, a four color upgrade to the printer, and sales are through the roof. There’s just one problem: Paypal just locked his funds. Prusa is turning away from Paypal and given Paypal’s history, this will eventually be worked out. Be warned, though: don’t use Paypal for your hardware business. We’ve seen this same story played out too many times before.

Those millennials are always on their phones. How do you get rid of that distraction? Airplane mode? No, that’s stupid. Put those phones in a metal box. It’s the exact same thing as airplane mode – which is free – but this extra special metal box costs $45 and ships in March. Is this metal box different from any other metal box, like a cookie tin, perhaps? Probably not.

Nothing to see here, folks.

The holidays are here, and it’s time for Cards Against Humanity to do something stupid with other people’s money. This year, they’re throwing money into a hole. No, really. People are contributing money to dig a gigantic hole. There’s a livestream of the digging. Five dollars lets the dig continue for another few seconds. Join in on the holiday spirit: throw your money into a hole.

You don’t want to throw your money into a hole? Buy some stuff on Tindie! There’s robots, CNC controllers, servo drivers, MIDI arpeggiators, USB testers, power supplies, blinky glowy things, and retro gaming stuff. Go plug your Raspberry Pi into some of these gizmos.

The Mechaduino is a board that clips onto a ubiquitous NEMA stepper motor to turn it into a servo motor.  It won 5th place in the Hackaday Prize last month, and we can’t wait to see it integrated into a closed-loop 3D printer. [Chris] came up with an Ethernet-enabled servo-stepper conversion, and now it’s a project on Kickstarter. Of course, you can buy a Mechaduino right now, making the future of stepper motor-controlled desktop CNC very interesting.

Individually addressable RGB LEDs exist, and we’re waiting for Clark Griswold to electrify his house in red, green, and blue. Until then, [Michel built a holiday ornament loaded up with 16 WS2812b LEDs. The star features caps and diodes to make everything work as it should and requires only three wires per star.

Maker Faire Multicolor and Multi Material 3D Printing

The next frontier of desktop 3D printing is multi-material and multi-color prints. Right now, you can buy a dual toolhead for a Lulzbot, and dual toolheads from other companies exist, although they are a bit rare. In the next few years, we’re going to see a lot of printers able to print dissolvable supports and full-color 3D printers.

Printing in more than one color is almost here, but that doesn’t mean we’re on the cusp of a complete revolution. Multi-material printing is lagging a little bit behind; you’ll be able to print two colors of PLA next year, but printing an object in PLA and ABS is going to be a bit tricky. Printing something in PLA and nylon will be very hard. Color mixing, likewise, will be tricky. We can do it, the tools are getting there, but think of this year as a preview of what we’ll be doing in five years.

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Prusa Releases 4-Extruder Upgrade

Let’s talk multi-material printing on desktop 3D printers. There are a lot of problems when printing in more than one color. The easiest way to do this is simply to add another extruder and hotend to a printer, but this reduces the build volume, adds more mass to the part of the printer that doesn’t need any more mass, and making sure each nozzle is at the correct Z-height is difficult. The best solution for multi-material printing is some sort of mixing hotend that only squirts plastic from one nozzle, fed by a Bowden system.

[Prusa], the man, not the printer, has just released a multi-material upgrade for the Prusa i3 mk2. This upgrade allows the i3 mk2 to print in four colors using only one hotend, and does it in a way that allows anyone to turn their printer into a multi-material powerhouse.

The basic idea behind this multi-material upgrade is a four-way Y-shaped filament path. Each color of filament is loaded into a separate extruder, and when the material is changed the currently ‘active’ filament is retracted out of the heater block to just before where the filament paths cross. After the filament is swapped in the hotend, the remainder of the previous color of filament is squirted out onto a small (3x5cm) tower.

Because this is an upgrade to the i3 mk2, Prusa needed a way to add three additional stepper motors to the build without having to replace the printer’s electronics board. He’s doing this with an SSR-based multiplexer that allows one stepper motor output and a few GPIOs to control four motors.

If you have an i3 mk2, a four- material upgrade for your printer will be available for $249 USD in a few months. That means a full color, four-extruder i3 mk 2 costs less than $1000 USD, a price no other multi-material printer can touch.

You can check out [Prusa’s] video of the multi-material upgrade below. The printer and the man will be touring the US for Maker Faire and Open Hardware Summit, and you can bet we’re going to get some video of this multi-material printer in action.

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Build A 3D Printer Workhorse, Not an Amazing Disappointment Machine

3D printers have become incredibly cheap, you can get a fully workable unit for $200 – even without throwing your money down a crowdfunded abyss. Looking at the folks who still buy kits or even build their own 3D printer from scratch, investing far more than those $200 and so many hours of work into a machine you can buy for cheap, the question “Why the heck would you do that?” may justifiably arise.

The answer is simple: DIY 3D printers done right are rugged workhorses. They work every single time, they never break, and even if: they are an inexhaustible source of spare parts for themselves. They have exactly the quality and functionality you build them to have. No clutter and nothing’s missing. However, the term DIY 3D printer, in its current commonly accepted use, actually means: the first and the last 3D printer someone ever built, which often ends in the amazing disappointment machine.

This post is dedicated to unlocking the full potential in all of these builds, and to turning almost any combination of threaded rods and plywood into a workshop-grade piece of equipment.

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