Experiences of Writing

3D Printing Interval

I mentioned on Monday that we had gained a 3D printer, which has been of some interest to all and sundry since.
So let’s have a midweek interlude to talk about the awesome thing, and it’s annoyances.

What We Got

After doing some research into what was available, recommendations and the matter of our own price range, the husband and I settled on a Prusa Mark 3.
This is a European built line with very high reviews from users that we liked the look of.

  1. Parts of it are themselves 3D printed. If it’s plastic, they printed it. When I show the photos below, anything in orange is 3D printed plastic, and very sturdy. Only one piece was not quite sized correctly (a bit too tight) and withstood my efforts to widen the aperture to the correct size with 0 problems.
  2. It’s a modular system. This means that when new parts are developed, you can buy them and fit them to your extant printer, upgrading it as time goes on (similar to how home-built PC’s work. And yes, I scratch built my PC too.)
  3. It has a decent sized heatable built plate. While a hotbed isn’t critical to 3D printing, it can be very helpful depending on what materials you are using. Which brings me to:
  4. It can handle multiple different filaments. So far, I have been using it with only the standard PLA filament most 3D printing favors, but the machine can also handle ABS (recyclable and polishable), FLEX filaments, and filament mixes that allow for faux bronze or wood finishes.
  5. And last but not at ALL least… Prusa offers either a prebuilt machine, or for a significant price reduction you can buy a kit, and built it yourself. The kit comes with Haribo Gummi Bears as standard. With instructions in the book on when to eat them.

The Build

The printer sat on back order for a day or two before shipping, arriving with us on Monday, less than a week after the order. It turned up in an innocuous little box one might have expected a kitchen appliance to come in.

The insides were a bit more complicated, however.

3D 1

See! Haribo! And a loooot of boxes. The bigger of the two book is the construction guide, and I admit I wasn’t entirely prepared for what this build was going to require from me.
On the site, the quickest build time for this printer is listed at 4 hours, by someone familiar with the item.

It would take me double that.

3D 2

The main frame was easy enough. Machine engineered metal, very clear instructions and pictures of what goes where, and perfectly labeled bags to be opened at each stage.

3D 3

Even attaching the first motor was easy, thanks to how clear the instructions turned out to be. When it came time to make the frame to support the print surface, I even managed to correctly attach the bearings without losing any balls from inside any of them. So far, so good.

3D 4

The extruder carriage was a bit more complicated, if only because some of the 3D printed parts were a little temperamental about accepting some of the screws. Nothing a little trimming of the plastic couldn’t fix, and a firm hand on pressing some parts into place.

3D 5

Then it got complicated. Cables, cables everywhere!
At this point, though, I still knew what was going on and what went where. Soon enough, all these snakes of cable would be neatly hidden away inside a plastic sheath.
Problem solved… right?

3D 6

All those cables have to be plugged in. By this point, I had been working for some hours and probably should have stopped. But I’m stubborn and wanted it done, so I had dinner and pressed on.

Categorically, this was the worst step in the whole build for me. Cables need to be run along various paths, and a lot of them are quite delicate. I spent the entire time worrying I had crushed or pinched something in spite of my efforts to be careful.

This picture also shows one of two mistakes I made during the build (both fo which I caught before they were problems and corrected quickly).
The cable going into the box in this picture should be going in through the top slot, not the side one, and is good evidence I was getting tired and confused. The trouble was mostly remembering just what cable belonged to the PINDA sensor, which was for the extruder, which was left fan and which was front… and if you are wondering what some of those things are, so was I.

Good pictures once again saved the day, however, allowing me to catch my mistake. They also meant that my trouble with plugging everything into the box was simply a matter of logistics and finicky work in a small space, rather than plugging anything into the wrong ports, or back to front.

3D 7

Finished the build at just gone 10pm, which is bedtime in our house thanks to military morning routines. While I was pretty proud to have done it, I did spend the whole night worrying I’d broken a cable or misaligned things. No way to know until the morning, though, when I finally turned it on.

3D 8

So. Next day (yesterday), and ready to plug this bad boy in. Hard to believe that machine came in that small box, but hopefully I did everything right…

3D 9

…and it turns out I had! The printer booted just fine on the first try, and calibrated its basic functions with no problems. Relief all round.

3D 10

Since then, the effort has been in the fine tuning… which has proved very aggravating.
The good news is the printer prints just fine. You can see in the photo above some of the items we have printed so far.

However, I am still having trouble with first layer problems.
When printing 3D, the first layer is critical. If it doesn’t adhere to the build surface, you will end up with a spaghetti mess. If the plastic is overheated, it goes stringy, but if it is underheated, it doesn’t flow properly and can clog the delicate nozzle of the extruder. If the build plate is too hot or too cold it can cause problems with the corners of models, and this all assuming your build surface is rough enough for the plastic to want to stick to in the first place… but not so much so the models don’t want to come off.

Adjusting the microns of heigh in the Z-layer have taken a lot of my time in the last 48. While I can get the machine to print my things without issue, trying for that top quality print on the first layer is still eluding me, and tinkering with the most common issues usually makes things worse.
In time, I’m sure I’ll get to grips with what’s not quite right yet, but for now we are able to make the items we want, even if a bit of tidying is needed on the very bottom of a piece.

We are certainly happy overall, and I imagine this thing will be running a LOT over the next few weeks.
I love my replicator ^^

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