A Close Look at the Prusa i3 MK3

The Prusa i3 MK3 is, for lack of a better word, inescapable. Nearly every hacker or tech event that I’ve attended in 2018 has had dozens of them humming away, and you won’t get long looking up 3D printing on YouTube or discussion forums without somebody singing its praises. Demand for Prusa’s latest i3 printer is so high that there’s a literal waiting list to get one.

At the time of this writing, over a year after the printer was officially put up for sale, there’s still nearly a month lead time on the assembled version. Even longer if you want to wait on the upgraded powder coated bed, which has unfortunately turned out to be a considerable production bottleneck. But the team has finally caught up enough that the kit version of the printer (minus the powder coated bed) is currently in stock and shipping next day.

I thought this was a good a time as any to pull the trigger on the kit and see for myself what all the excitement is about. Now that I’ve had the Prusa i3 MK3 up and running for a couple of weeks, I can say with confidence that it’s not just hype. It isn’t a revolution in desktop 3D printing, but it’s absolutely an evolution, and almost certainly represents the shape of things to come for the next few years.

That said, it isn’t perfect. There’s still a few elements of the design that left me scratching my head a bit, and some parts of the assembly weren’t quite as smooth as the rest. I’ve put together some of those observations below. This isn’t meant to be a review of the Prusa i3 MK3 printer, there’s more than enough of those already, but hopefully these assorted notes may be of use to anyone thinking of jumping on the Prusa bandwagon now that production has started really ramping up.

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Prusa Introduces A Resin Printer at Maker Faire NY

For one reason or another, the World Maker Faire in New York has become the preeminent place to launch 3D printers. MakerBot did it with the Thing-O-Matic way back when, and over the years we’ve seen some interesting new advances come out of Queens during one special weekend in September.

Today Prusa Research announced their latest creation. It’s the resin printer you’ve all been waiting for. The Prusa SL1 is aiming to become the Prusa Mk 3 of the resin printer world: it’s a solid printer, it’s relatively cheap (kit price starts at $1299/€1299), and it produces prints that are at least as good as resin printers that cost three times as much.

The tech inside the SL1 is about what you’d expect if you’ve been following resin printers for a while. The resin is activated by a bank of LEDs shining through a photomask, in this case a 5.5 inch, 1440p display. Everything is printed on a removable bed that can be transferred over to a separate ‘curing chamber’ after the print is done. It’s more or less what you would expect, but there are some fascinating refinements to the design that make this a resin printer worthy of carrying the Prusa name.

Common problems with a masked SLA printer that uses LEDs and an LCD are the interface between the LCD and the resin, and the temperature of the display itself. Resin is not kind to LCD displays, and to remedy this problem, Prusa has included an FEP film on the bottom of the removable tank. This is a user-replaceable part (technically a consumable, at least to the same extent as a PEI build plate on a filament printer), and Prusa will be selling those as spare parts on their store. The LCD is also cooled; one of the major drawbacks of shining several watts of UV through an LCD is the lifetime of the display. Cooling the display helps, and should greatly increase the lifetime of the printer. All of this is wrapped up in an exceptionally heavy metal case with the lovely hinged UV-opaque orange plastic lid.

Of course, saying you’ve built a resin printer is one thing, but how do the prints look? Exceptional. The Prusa booth at Maker Faire was loaded up with sample prints from the machine, and they’re of the same high quality you would expect from the Form 3D printers that have been the go-to in the resin printer world. The Prusa SLA also works with big-O Open resins, meaning you’re not tied to a single resin vendor.

This is just the announcement of the Prusa resin printer, but they are taking preorders. The price for the kit — no word on how complex of a kit it is — is $1300, while the assembled printer is $1600, with the first units shipping in January.

Prusa Unveils their own Line of PLA Filament

There’s little debate that the Original Prusa i3 MK3 by Prusa Research is just about the best desktop 3D printer you can buy, at least in its price bracket. It consistently rates among the highest machines in terms of print quality and consistency, and offers cutting edge features thanks to its open source iterative development. Unless you’re trying to come in under a specific budget, you really can’t go wrong with a Prusa machine.

But while the machine itself can be counted on to deliver consistent results, the same can’t always be said for the filament you feed into it. In a recent blog post, [Josef Prusa] explains that his team was surprised to see just how poor the physical consistency was on even premium brands of 3D printer filament. As a company that prides itself with keeping as much of the 3D printing experience under their control as possible, they felt they had an obligation to do better for their customers. That’s why they’ve started making their own filament which they can hold to the same standards as the rest of their printer.

Their new filament, which is aptly called “Prusament”, is held to higher physical standards of not only diameter but ovality. Many manufacturers simply perform spot checks on the filament’s diameter, but this can miss bulges or changes in its cross-sectional shape. On your average 3D printer this might cause some slightly uneven extrusion and a dip in print quality, but likely not a failure. But the Prusa i3 MK3, specifically with the Multi Material upgrade installed, isn’t most printers. During testing even these slight variations were enough to cause jams.

But you won’t have to take their word for it. Every spool of Prusament will have a QR code that points to a page which tells you the exact production date, length, percent ovality, and standard diameter deviation of that particular roll. An interactive graph will even allow you to find the filament’s diameter for a specific position in the spool, as well as determine how much filament is remaining for a given spool weight. It should be very interesting to see what the community will do with this information, and we predict some very interesting OctoPrint plugins coming down the line.

Prusament is currently only available in PLA, but PETG and ASA variants are coming soon. You can order it now directly from Prusa Research in Prague for $24.99 per kilogram, but it will also be available on Amazon within the month for help keep the shipping costs down.

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Refurbishing an old P3Steel

In the aftermath of the London Unconference, after the usual beer drinking networking at the pub, I meet Javier Varela, one of our many readers that were present. It turns out my fellow Iberic friend is involved in some interesting hardware projects, one of them being the OVM20 Lite board. I was looking for an excuse to mess around with my old Prusa and this was the perfect one. The P3Steel 3D printer was just getting dusty on my basement and it printed just fine in the past. Until one day…

Based on Arduino Mega 2560 with the RAMPS 1.4, it was a pretty standard and cheap option to get some years ago (and still is). My additional modifications or upgrades from the standard options was a LCD screen and the DRV8825 stepper drivers.

What happened was that one fine day the prints started to skew. No matter how hard I tried, it skewed. I checked the driver’s potentiometer, I went back to the motor specifications, I swapped drivers around, and I even flashed another firmware. If the print was big enough, it will get messed up. Sometimes even small prints failed. When you are debugging something like this for hours, there comes a point in time that you start to suspect everything. Was it overheating the drivers? If so, why did this never happened before? Maybe the power supply is fluctuating and coming to the end of its life? Some messed up capacitor in the board? Was it RAMPS’ fault or Arduino? A motor starting to fail? A mechanical issue? I had a fine-tuned Marlin firmware that I manually tweaked and slightly changed, which I had no backup off after the flashing. In retrospect, I actually checked for a lot of things that couldn’t really be related to the problem back then but I also learned quite a lot.

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Josef Prusa: Multi Material Extruders for Amazing Color Prints

The Prusa i3 Mk 2 is the hotness in consumer-grade, quality 3D printing right now. And things just keep getting more interesting. We caught up with Josef Průša at Maker Faire Bay Area this weekend to see the multi-material extruder in its final form. It’s an upgrade to the Mk 2 which allows a single hot end to print in four different materials, be it different colors or different types of filament.

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Hackaday Links: April 2, 2017

Toorcamp registration is open. It’s June 20-24th on Orcas Island, Washington.

Hey, you. The guy still using Mentor Graphics. Yeah, you. Siemens has acquired Mentor Graphics.

CNC knitting machines are incredibly complicated but exceptionally cool. Until now, most CNC knitting machines are actually conversions of commercial machines. Beginning with [Travis Goodspeed] and  [Fabienne Serriere] hack of a knitting machine, [Becky Stern]’s efforts, and the Knitic project, these knitting machines are really just brain transplants of old Brother knitting machines. A few of the folks from the OpenKnit project have been working to change this, and now they’re ready for production. Kniterate is a project on Kickstarter that’s a modern knitting machine, and basically a 2D woolen printer. This is an expensive machine at about $4500, but if you’ve ever seen the inside of one of these knitting machines, you’ll know building one of these things from scratch is challenging.

There was a time when a Macintosh computer could play games. Yes, I know this sounds bizarre, but you could play SimCity 2000, Diablo, and LucasArts adventure games on a machine coming out of Cupertino. [Novaspirit] wanted to relive his childhood, so he set up a Mac OS 7 emulator on a Raspberry Pi. He’s using Minivmac, beginning with an install of OS 7.1, upgrading that to 7.5.3, then upgrading that to 7.5.5. It should be noted the utility of the upgrade to 7.5.5 is questionable — the only real changes from 7.5.3  to 7.5.5 are improved virtual memory support (just change some emulator settings to get around that) and networking support (which is difficult on an emulator). If you’re going to upgrade to 7.5.5, just upgrade to 8.1 instead.

It’s getting warmer in the northern hemisphere, and you know what that means: people building swamp coolers. And you know what that means: people arguing about the thermodynamics of swamp coolers. We love these builds, so if you have a swamp cooler send it on in to the tip line.

The Prusa edition of Slic3r is out. The improvements? It’s not a single core app anymore (!), so slicing is faster. It’s got that neat variable layer slicing. Check out all the features.

It takes at least a week to delete your Facebook account. In the meantime, you can lawyer up and hit the gym. Additionally, we’re not really sure Facebook actually deletes your profile when you disable your account. Robots to the rescue. [anerdev] built a robot to delete all his content from Facebook. It’s a pair of servos with touchpad-sensitive pens. Add an Arduino, and you have a Facebook deleting machine.

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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