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[3D Printers] - Now with Auto-Calibration!

Emissary42Emissary42 Registered User regular
3D Printing: a decades old technology with far-reaching implications about the future of manufacturing, but whose cost and complexity make it seem too far off for any practical consumer purpose; not unlike fusion energy.
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But the days of bulky, expensive, slow professional printers are quite possibly starting to come to an end. In 2005, the RepRap Project - short for replicating rapid prototyper - was started in the UK at the University of Bath. The goal of this project was to develop a 3D printer capable of replicating itself ad infinitum at the lowest possible cost, to put it in the hands of anyone who wanted one around the world. The version 1.0 model, the Darwin, could self-replicate a bit over half of its structural and mechanical components and was built in 2007.
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Since then there have been no fewer than four official RepRap variants that fit the goal of the project and a far greater number of non self-replicating consumer models, both open and closed source. The total number of 'child' RepRaps - RepRaps which were printed by other RepRaps, going back to the first Darwin unit - is at a minimum over 4,000 units, and tens of thousands of printers produced through other means are also in operation. The introduction of the Darwin set of an avalanche of development that is only increasing in pace, and in my opinion is not unlike the pre-Apple I era of PC development.

With that early history out of the way, we can now get into the details or more precisely, how good are these printers exactly? After all, one of the concerns is whether the parts coming out of these often rickety-looking machines are good enough to be worth getting one. The current record for this style of printer among the hobbyist models (unless it has been broken yet again) is held by a kit called the Ultimaker, with a Z-axis resolution of 0.02mm, 20 microns. For scale, the top picture in the spoiler below is of a print next to a finger. The white bar is one millimeter, and the finger is the object on the left. The spoiler also contains the images a few other objects printed at the same resolution.
fHctU.jpg
DHNEW.jpg
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^I can't quite tell from this image, but I believe this one is also a single-walled structure, where the minimum x/y thickness was used for the surface walls as well.
This resolution is actually around five to ten times that of the old professional models, and the ridges are nearly imperceptible by touch.

Now you might say: "This is great! Those prints look fantastic! But there's no way I can afford one of these newfangled additive manufacturing machines!" Incorrect, as that Ultimaker kit goes for somewhere around $1500 USD. Still too expensive? The cheapest model currently in production goes all the way down to the Solidoodle at $499 USD, with a stock print resolution of 0.3mm, just slightly worse than a $15,000 USD professional printer [and an even cheaper unit is in development by another small business which is estimated to fit in the $200-$300 range]. Most printers fall between that range and with some tweaking can be brought to higher resolutions; remember, they can produce their own upgrade parts. In fact, a different set of 3D printers using a UV-cured resin and a DLP projector can produce parts much finer than the ones listed above due to the difference in their production processes [see spoiler below].

The major downside currently is the limitations presented by the FDM [Fused Deposition Modeling] process shared by virtually all hobbyist/consumer 3D printers. Currently you can only print one or two plastics at a time (often one is used as a support material for parts which would droop under their own weight before being completed), and these are limited to a handful of plastics which can be successfully melted and extruded (like in a hot glue gun) out of the nozzle, or hot end. Using different materials can be problematic in a few cases due to different melting temperatures, limiting to a certain degree objects made of composite/blended materials for varying material properties throughout the object. Some more exotic materials decompose at the extrusion temperature in oxygen atmospheres, and have thus been only rarely experimented with.
Additionally, depending on the manufacturer the level of support and ease-of-use can range from apple-like to debugging linux while treading water in a shark-infested lagoon.

With that out of the way, here are some helpful resources:
RepRap.org - the RepRap wiki, with information on all current and past official RepRap Project models along with some information on a ton of other printers. Most software can either be located here or on a manufacturer's website.

Thingiverse - a repository of online models, including several 3D printers and a wide range of aftermarket upgrades. Users are free to download and upload as many files as they wish.
Here's the model that actually inspired me to make this thread.

Autodesk 123D - Free 3D modeling software

Trimble SketchUp - Formerly Google SketchUp, more free 3D modeling software

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Posts

  • acidlacedpenguinacidlacedpenguin Registered User regular
    edited July 2012
    If they can self-replicate, why won't anyone simply make one for me for just mat.cost?

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  • Emissary42Emissary42 Registered User regular
    edited July 2012
    If they can self-replicate, why won't anyone simply make one for me for just mat.cost?

    That was the idea for most of the RepRap models, but it's trickier than it seems. Once you find someone with a RepRap who can do the print for you, you still have to purchase all the non-printed hardware yourself, which can be a bit inconvenient (hence the popularity of the kit printers). There's also the concern of quality control, which can vary depending on how the 'parent' RepRap was made and operated.

    Still, getting a printed printer can work out pretty well as long as you're careful about it. It also tends to work better in machines that have a very small overall part count, like a Wallace RepRap or the commercial Printrbot.
    One of the funny things that occurs based on the whole idea of self-replicating 3D printers is a ton of small businesses have sprung up that started with a single RepRap that reproduced 19 times for a total of 20 printers. These form a "Printer Farm" which can very quickly produce even MORE printers, generally for online sale.

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  • Emissary42Emissary42 Registered User regular
    I've given it some thought, and since I'm in the process of assembling a 3D printer at the moment and have open access to several others I'm going to entertain the possibility of printing and sending out a single set of Printrbot parts. That leaves all the non-printed parts up to the recipient, but it handles one of the biggest hurdles toward actually getting a printer up and running. Thoughts?

  • electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
    Man, I would really love a 3D extruder printer of some type. I think a self-eject function like the MakerBot has is probably a requirement though, since being able to set it and have it toss the parts out when done would be hellauseful.

  • Emissary42Emissary42 Registered User regular
    After trying to use one, the auto-eject tray on the Thing-O-Matic isn't nearly as good as it seems. Don't get me wrong, it's a great concept, especially when doing huge batch prints on a limited build surface. The added complexity to both the structure and the underlying programming just never came together all that well, which is probably why MakerBot ditched it in the Replicator. It's way cheaper to just make a printer with a larger build volume.

    Further notes on the possibility of mailing out a set of parts:
    Since it's going to be at least a week or two until my printer is up and running (it's not any specific model, it's a custom job I came up with that's running off of a printrbot mainboard and compatible electronics), and then a bit more time to get it calibrated to my satisfaction the soonest it would go out would be sometime in late August/early September [preferably within the continental US].

  • electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
    So I've realized I've been an idiot about this whole thing. I have a mini-CNC table which currently doesn't have a spindle (since a spindle needs mounts, mounts need to be sturdy and accurate, and the new spindle I got is LOLpowerful and I haven't had time lately to setup and diagose it).

    But duh that's like, 85% of all the electronics, drive and positioning I need to run a damn 3D printer, and an extruder has vastly reduced mechanical demands compared to a spindle...and could be used to print (1) new spindle mounts and (2) a whole other RepRap.

  • Emissary42Emissary42 Registered User regular
    edited July 2012
    @electricitylikesme this might be a good fit, depending on your setup: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:5233

    edit: though I would probably use a newer extruder model than the MakerBot MK5, maybe an MK7 variant like this would do: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:15718

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  • GihgehlsGihgehls Registered User regular
    Hey a thread where I can speak with authority! I love my Thing-o-matic, had it for about a year and a half now. I now have my eyes on the MendelMax.

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  • Emissary42Emissary42 Registered User regular
    Gihgehls wrote: »
    Hey a thread where I can speak with authority! I love my Thing-o-matic, had it for about a year and a half now. I now have my eyes on the MendelMax.

    Are you planning on the standard 8"x8" platform, or will you be re-scaling the printer and cannibalizing the Thing-o-matic?

  • GihgehlsGihgehls Registered User regular
    I'll probably go for the full hardware kit and be using whatever is in there, I believe it is 215x235mm. I'll definitely be using glass as the platform, I love the way it works on my thingomatic. I'm only saying this for newbies, but basically any printer that is made of wood and plastic is going to flex quite a bit depending on humidity and heat. Keeping the nozzle the exact distance from the platform is critical for high quality prints. When your printer flexes and changes shape, then you need to re-level your platform. Using a piece of glass takes longer to heat up than aluminum, but it doesn't change shape and I haven't had to re-level my platform since switching to glass. Another advantage is that you can have multiple pieces of glass that you can swap in and out, so you don't have to wait for your bed to: a. cool down so you can remove the object, then b. reheat so you can print again. You can remove the glass sheet with your print and put it aside, then swap on a fresh one and print again while the first print cools.

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  • Emissary42Emissary42 Registered User regular
    Yeah, the whole 'laser cut wood' thing with a lot of the kits isn't a good idea at all for a machine that needs to stay within pretty tight tolerances. Unless one of those printers is kept in a walk-in humidor, they almost need re-calibration pretty much every single time you use them. The one I'm working on right now is 100% laser cut acrylic with t-slotted aluminum forming a [not quite] cube frame everything is mounted to for exactly this purpose.

    I'm curious, have you done a cold-bed print on glass with PLA before? I'm starting off with no heated platform - I'd buy one, but none have a 12"x12" area so that will have to wait - I've had good results with blue painter's tape before, but I've never used a glass surface.

  • GihgehlsGihgehls Registered User regular
    I have some PLA samples around here somewhere, but I haven't messed with them. Surprisingly, is perfectly possible to print ABS onto cold glass, as long as you lay down a thin layer of ABS-glue* first. Your print will adhere like there's no tomorrow, so much so that it can be challenging to remove it.

    *to make ABS glue, take an old nail polish bottle and clean it out with acetone. Then, fill it about halfway with acetone and throw bits of bad prints or excess plastic in there until you have a thin slurry. You can use this stuff to weld multi-part prints together, seal holes, etc.

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  • Emissary42Emissary42 Registered User regular
    I'll have to give that a try once I get my hands on some ABS. I've gotten good results with carefully chosen raft settings, but I've been out of luck when a print called for going without a raft.

    In other news, a much-discussed landmark has occurred (and been documented) with respect to 3D printers: the first functional print of a rifle lower receiver.

  • acidlacedpenguinacidlacedpenguin Registered User regular
    so depending on the material you're using for printing, you could get a pretty good hard plastic out of it then? If I could use a 3d printer to fabricate RC car parts then I think I could be convinced to invest in one. . .

    GT: Acidboogie PSNid: AcidLacedPenguiN
  • Emissary42Emissary42 Registered User regular
    so depending on the material you're using for printing, you could get a pretty good hard plastic out of it then? If I could use a 3d printer to fabricate RC car parts then I think I could be convinced to invest in one. . .

    I would say that depends on the scale and type of car you're running, and what you were planning to fabricate. The upper end of strength for a good print is - if I'm not mistaken - somewhere around 80% of that of an injection molded part. ABS, the material legos are made from, is currently the strongest and easiest material to print with though experimentation with polycarbonate is moving at a fast enough pace that I'd be surprised if it's not being routinely used as a material in six months. A solid print (no honeycombed sections on the interior) made from ABS is very good, but with polycarbonate it's almost silly how strong it is.

  • GihgehlsGihgehls Registered User regular
    PLA is more rigid, but it is also more brittle. ABS is more flexible and is very strong. I have a bottle opener made on my Makerbot, it uses a penny as the hard bit that grabs the bottlecap. I've been using it for about a year and the penny is about to die, but the plastic is in fine shape.

    For RC stuff, you could get away with fabricating plates and whatnot, but hinges are likely to be too small and wouldn't work as well without some finishing. The cool thing about making your own stuff is that it doesn't need to be as durable as something you would buy, because you can always make another one!

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  • ghost_master2000ghost_master2000 Registered User regular
    I thought this was pretty cool. http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/3d-printer-could-build-house-20-hours-224156687.html

    While I know a lot of people will complain about that putting people out of work, I'm still all for it from a pure technological advancement standpoint.

  • Emissary42Emissary42 Registered User regular
    edited February 2013
    I thought this was pretty cool. http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/3d-printer-could-build-house-20-hours-224156687.html

    While I know a lot of people will complain about that putting people out of work, I'm still all for it from a pure technological advancement standpoint.

    It will take a while to get the point where a house-scale printer will be a commonplace tool used for home construction, but I can definitely see large printers being used to make custom-shaped cinderblocks as soon as someone finds a way to properly market it. I think something that's not quite a printer, but is pretty close has been used on a few skyscraper projects though.

    Side note, just saw this model on Thingiverse:
    mF8Pc.jpg
    It's a good example of both how good kit printers have become (if you're willing to put in the time and calibrate them), and the results you can get with a bit of work on a model post-printing. To see how the individual parts of the troll look without any paint or additional work - and also to get a sense of scale for the thing, it's pretty large -, hit the thingiverse link.

    edit: edited for updated link

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  • LuvTheMonkeyLuvTheMonkey High Sierra Serenade Registered User regular


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  • GihgehlsGihgehls Registered User regular
    Whelp. I went to turn on my printer and the mainboard and the extruder controller have stopped talking to each other. Apparently this can happen from static buildup or from a shorted thermocouple. It can be fixed by replacing two TINY $0.10 chips on both boards, or by replacing both ~$90 boards.

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  • GihgehlsGihgehls Registered User regular
    and Makerbot is replacing them for me gratis. Awesome.

    Also I just ordered a MendelMax...

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  • electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
    So for no reason I've decided it's time to buy a MendelMax.

  • GihgehlsGihgehls Registered User regular
    edited August 2012
    Be sure to obsessively follow the MendelMax Google group while you wait! Lots of good info in there.

    Gihgehls on
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  • MrDelishMrDelish Registered User regular
    I don't have any specific intention of doing this yet but if I were to want to have something printed by someone with one of these, what format would it need to be in? I've dabbled a little bit in Blender, to give you an idea of where I am.

  • Emissary42Emissary42 Registered User regular
    MrDelish wrote: »
    I don't have any specific intention of doing this yet but if I were to want to have something printed by someone with one of these, what format would it need to be in? I've dabbled a little bit in Blender, to give you an idea of where I am.

    All 3D printer slicing programs accept .stl files, which I believe Blender can export with an add-on.

  • GihgehlsGihgehls Registered User regular
    edited September 2012
    I know Slic3r supports .obj and .VRML as well.

    Edit: it supports STL, OBJ, and AMF.

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  • HandgimpHandgimp R+L=J Family PhotoRegistered User regular
    So if I made a 3d printer, no reason I couldn't build scale Battletech models right?

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  • Mr_RoseMr_Rose 83 Blue Ridge Protects the Holy Registered User regular
    Well once you have the printer you need the model file and that may be harder to get. Especially since BattleTech/MechWarrior is a copyright nightmare even before you add in the issues with reproducing someone else's IP.
    But if you have sufficient skill with modelling programs there's nothing that would make bipedal mecha impossible to 3D print, no.

    ...because dragons are AWESOME! That's why.
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  • HandgimpHandgimp R+L=J Family PhotoRegistered User regular
    Sweet. I see this in my future.

    PwH4Ipj.jpg
  • GihgehlsGihgehls Registered User regular
  • FoomyFoomy Registered User regular
    edited September 2012
    Gihgehls wrote: »

    steel chasis is nice, that would cut down on having to adjust so much due to temperature or humidity changes warping wood.
    Now they just need to include an auto-adjusting build platform, maybe some sort of laser range finder to make sure it's perfect.

    But these things are improving so fast, the difference in a makerbot from a few years ago to the replicator 2 is outstanding. I'm sure the next one will be crazy.

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  • Emissary42Emissary42 Registered User regular
    edited September 2012
    I like how the new Replicator 2 is built, but I'm pretty sure they've just blown their foot off with respect to the hobbyist community. I think it was going to come to this sooner or later, especially after they got $10M in funding, but I expected them to continue to put a bigger emphasis on their open source models (ie Replicator 1). Of particular note are some changes in the TOS for Thingiverse, which may or may not conflict with creative commons licenses.

    EDIT: See blog post from Bre Pettis on the confusion regarding MakerBot & Open Source, as well as the Thingiverse TOS

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  • electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
    So what this can do is pretty damn incredible: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/formlabs/form-1-an-affordable-professional-3d-printer

    Although the build area doesn't look very large.

  • Mr_RoseMr_Rose 83 Blue Ridge Protects the Holy Registered User regular
    So… looks like 3D printing tabletop minis should be both possible and cost-effective with one of those, huh?

    ...because dragons are AWESOME! That's why.
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  • electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
    Mr_Rose wrote: »
    So… looks like 3D printing tabletop minis should be both possible and cost-effective with one of those, huh?

    Looks like it. Exciting times indeed!

  • Emissary42Emissary42 Registered User regular
    Mr_Rose wrote: »
    So… looks like 3D printing tabletop minis should be both possible and cost-effective with one of those, huh?

    Looks like it. Exciting times indeed!

    Yes, the FORM 1 is what we would call Serious Business(TM). A few friends of mine interviewed with and visited Formlabs, and they definitely did a thorough job designing this thing. I'm pretty sure it's the first true stereolithography printer at this price point.

  • GihgehlsGihgehls Registered User regular
    My newest breakthrough is using hairspray on my heated build platform instead of Kapton tape. My prints stuck really well to Kapton, so well that sometimes I would break them (or the tape) getting them off. Now my prints stick really well during print, but as the plate cools down, the parts literally pop off. I print on glass, and as the part cools, it makes this awesome sound sorta like in movies when a piece of ice the heroes are on is about to break. Seriously, this was one of the biggest problems I had with printing. The hairspray trick will be legendary soon.

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  • Emissary42Emissary42 Registered User regular
    A friend of mine recently got an UP! printer (won it in an Instructables contest), and he's had good luck so far with printing on perfboard. He also mentioned that the breakaway support-building technique the UP! uses is extremely clean compared to most other printers in its price range that he has encountered.

    In other news, I recently watched an interesting discussion on Tested with Bre Pettis of MakerBot Industries on the Replicator 2, the direction of the 3D printing industry, and Open Source Hardware:

  • GihgehlsGihgehls Registered User regular
    edited October 2012
    I think it is important to distinguish the role of the hardware vs. the software involved in 3d printing. Pretty much all the 3d printers have the same mechanics. Their structure varies but they all have a movable x/y/z axis, a hot nozzle, and a means to pull plastic into that nozzle. Some hardware is more rigid than others, but any machine made in the last few years is using the same (Nema 17) stepper motors, and either custom or Pololu stepper drivers doing some microstepping. My two year old wooden thingomatic can reliably position the nozzle within 20 microns on the x/y and 50 microns on the Z. Getting good looking prints at insane layer heights out of this hardware is a matter of the software making excellent gcode for the printer to run, as well as having extremely good filament made to tight tolerances. So, when you say the UP! has a good support building technique, you are talking about their proprietary software generating good paths for the support. I don't know how their support structures vary from the popular open source slicers (Skeinforge, Slic3r) but being open, those packages will get there if they haven't already. I personally avoid printing with support wherever possible.

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  • MrDelishMrDelish Registered User regular
    So what this can do is pretty damn incredible: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/formlabs/form-1-an-affordable-professional-3d-printer

    Although the build area doesn't look very large.

    Is anyone here planning on buying one of these? I have ideas for things I'd like printed and would certainly pay for them but I don't have the money for an actual printer yet.

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