Debugging the MakerBot Replicator 2X

makerbot

Spent an interesting afternoon with Roland working with his brand new MakerBot Replicator 2X 3D printer. The printer arrived while I was in the States at the World Maker Faire, and Roland had been able to make a lot of progress - more than I expected.

He had unpacked, setup, and adjusted the printer, and was cranking out lots of sample parts including some that he downloaded from Thingiverse. Today's session was primarily Q&A - talking about his toolchain, processes, and design trade-offs.

It turns out that the MakerBot documentation is fairly light on some details - so he didn't realize the necessity of cleaning the build platform regularly, typically with acetone and alcohol. The documentation is also written from the perspective of a U.S. user and makes lots of assumptions that aren't valid for overseas users - like the ready availability of 3M blue tape at local hardware stores.

The biggest issue we ran into was that the left extruder wasn't working properly. After a little inspection we noticed that the knurled shaft was incorrectly aligned and wasn't grabbing the filament, as you can see in this photo:

makerbot replicator

Disassembling the extruder, we were able to realign the shaft so that it worked properly, at least for the first print:

makerbot replicator

makerbot replicator

After we buttoned everything up again, Roland was able to print using both of the heads for the first time.

3d printer

makerbot

makerbot

Unfortunately the left extruder started acting up with the next print and will require more debugging/trouble-shooting. It's almost as if there is a missing spacer or spring.

Read More

World Maker Faire 2013: B9 Creator 3D Printer Stands Out

b9 creator 3D printer

In addition to the FormLabs Form 1 printer I posted about previously, the B9 Creator 3D printer from B9Creations also produces high resolution prints that look amazingly good.

NewImage

According to the booth staff, the printer has proven quite popular with independent jewellery designers and other creators that need to produce small parts with an excellent surface finish. They find it to be a great replacement technology for the wax models used for jewellery casting, especially when there's a need to faithfully reproduce small detail.

NewImage

The printer z-axis slices can be as small as 6.35 microns in height, while the overall print volume is 102.4mm x 76.8mm x 200 mm (obviously the printer designers thought in inches since those dimensions work out to 4" x 3" x 8".

Read More

World Maker Faire 2013: What Can’t You Print?

3d printed jet engine

The way that 3D printing technology is ramping up so quickly, instead of asking "What can you print?" we should be asking "What can't you print?". There's no better example than the jet engine turbine shown at the World Maker Faire last week by Kraftwurx.

Kraftwurx is essentially an online fulfilment company that enables designers to upload their creations, setup a storefront, and take orders, while Kraftwurx does all the 'behind the scenes' grunt work by processing the orders, printing and shipping the items, processing the credit card payments, and delivering a check to the designer. It's not a new or unique business model, and has been successfully applied to other markets, like photography and t-shirts, in the past. Kraftwurx's spin is to apply the business model to 3D printing coupled with a lot of applications and design know-how.

The jet engine turbine they had on display at Maker Faire was a good example. It's still in the prototype phase, and is intended for use in a model aircraft rather than anything life sized. Still, it was quite impressive to see first hand.

Read More

World Maker Faire 2013: Humanoid Robot

One of Michael Overstreet's humanoid robots playing soccer at World Maker Faire 2013 in New York City. Michael puts in a tremendous amount of time and effort each year attending Maker Faires in NYC, Detroit, San Mateo, and Kansas City, along with RoboGames, because he gets real inspiration from introducing kids and adults to robotics.

13092X World Maker Faire 82

Read More

World Maker Faire 2013: Sugru

"If Superglue and PlayDough had a baby" is the tag line for Sugru, a surprisingly useful self curing rubber concoction that turns out to be extremely useful.

Want to quickly fabricate a simple stand? Need to patch some rough edges or a break? Don't like the sharp corners on your smartphone or tablet? Sugru is the answer, and it's a whole lot of fun to boot.

13092X World Maker Faire-10

Read More

World Maker Faire 2013: FormLabs Form 1 3D Printer

The FormLabs Form 1 high resolution desktop printer has some limitations/drawbacks for the type of work that I typically do, but it is so incredibly awesome that I want one anyway.

The part resolution, surface finish, and ability to produce parts that would be difficult if not impossible with other additive 3D printers, is really striking. Take a close look at the print developing in the Form 1 photo above. How difficult would it be for you to produce the same print with a Makerbot Replicator 2?

In addition to the print quality and performance, I love the aesthetic design of the printer itself. If Johnny Ive designed 3D printers instead of iPhones, this is the type of printer he would create.

At the same time, there are some downsides/limitations. The Form 1 won't be available until January 2014 at the earliest, and not in all US states or countries overseas. Japan is one of the countries that's obviously missing from the list at this point, though I did hear from the FormLabs staff at Maker Faire that plans for Japan sales and support are in the works.

The initial cost is higher than other printers, which I can rationalize given the higher performance and print quality. What's harder to justify, for my unique needs, is the higher projected running cost given that the printer resin has to be purchased from FormLabs and it isn't readily available locally. That implies that users will have to stock resin or risk running out just when they need to produce parts for projects or clients. For overseas users, like me, where it can take a week or more even for expedited FedEx delivery (not to mention costing an arm and a leg), this is a serious concern.

There are also some limitations that might be troublesome, depending on your particular use case. For example, one of the FormLabs booth staff explained that the Form 1 resin parts take several days to cure to the point that they are solid enough to be used in functional parts that might be subjected to stress. This wouldn't be a problem for artistic or concept designers, but would definitely pose significant problems for the type of parts I design and use regularly.

All things considered, the Form 1 is in a class by itself and definitely worth serious consideration if it's characteristics match your typical use case.

Read More

World Maker Faire 2013: Makerbot Digitizer – Part 2

Following on to my previous post on the new Makerbot Digitizer, the "gnome" character shown above is a perfect example of the type of parts where the digitizer will perform well, if not excel.

Just like Goldilocks experience with the three bears, the gnome is not too large and not too small - it's just right. It has no large cavities, no overhangs, is primarily smooth surfaces without drastic or abrupt surface changes, and it lacks the type of small details that would cause problems for the digitizer.

It's also a matte surface with no reflections that are difficult for the unit's lasers. Of course you can scan items with shiny surfaces, you just have to make them appear matte by applying some powder or other material to mask the reflection. This is a typical challenge with all digitizers of this type, not a design fault. It's just something you need to be aware of and plan for in order to get the best possible scans from your digitizer.

One other thing that was slightly annoying in the Makerbot Digitizer user manual and at their booth at Maker Faire was the over promotion of "Thingiverse". I'm a big supporter of Thingiverse, upload my designs to it often, and promote it to other 3D printer users when it's appropriate. It's a very useful resource and I'm very happy that the company supports it.

But with Makerbot, Thingiverse seems to have evolved into almost a religious mantra that pops up everytime one of the employees opens their mouth to speak. The same thing is true of the digitizer user manual. It keeps on telling you to upload your designs to Thingiverse, over and over again.

They do provide a check box in the software to set it up so that the designs you upload can be kept private. In my opinion, the setting to keep designs private should be the default, and you should always have the option not to upload. A lot of us work on design projects for customers, or have our own development projects that we do not want to share or even let the world know what we're working on until we're ready to disclose it. It seems all too easy with the Makerbot Digitizer setup and supporting software to overlook a checkbox and suddenly find that your project has been disclosed to the world, and possibly your competitors. Perhaps I'm overly concerned, especially since I'm basing my observations on what I was told by the Makerbot staff at the event and what I have interpreted from the user manual.

Read More

World Maker Faire 2013: Makerbot Digitizer

I was really looking forward to seeing the new Makerbot Digitizer in person at Maker Faire in New York. During the three days I spent at the venue, I was able to stop by the Makerbot booth quite a few times to watch it in operation and discuss the unit both with the Makerbot employees and potential users. Downloading the digitizer documentation from the company website made it possible to ask intelligent questions and to verify key points.

Overall, I left with a fairly positive impression of the digitizer. It works as advertised, is dead simple to use, and produces robust STL files that can be sliced and printed immediately. The unit looks very professional and would look right at home in a engineering lab or design office.

So, what were the downsides? Unfortunately there were a few that will probably keep me from placing an order, at least for the time being.

First is the price. At over USD$1,500, before shipping/handling, it would be hard to justify amortizing the cost over the number of times I could put it to good use for client projects. I'm sure that there are potential customers with a different business model that can use the Makerbot Digitizer, I'm just not in that position right now.

Second is the lack of detail resolution - for me this is a non-starter, and I think it will impact a lot of potential users as well. A good (or bad) example is the puppy model shown above that Makerbot used at the event to show off the digitizer. As you can see from the photo, the puppy has a lot of fine detail, including the hairs on its back. Unfortunately the digitizer can't resolve that level of detail. The STL mesh created by the Makerbot Digitizer application produces smooth surfaces instead.

Third, and this is good news/bad news, the digitizer scan envelope will handle parts that can fit into a cylinder 203 mm in diameter and 203 mm high. While that sounds great, the digitizer can not handle parts that are under 50 mm in diameter or under 50 mm tall. This rules out quite a few of the typical parts I work with regularly. My first thought was to place my parts on a small cylinder, digitize everything, then remove the cylinder by processing the resulting STL data. But the lack of digitizer resolution appears to make that approach impractical.

All things considered, the new Makerbot Digitizer will be attractive to creative artists, some designers, and perhaps consultants, as long as they don't require fine resolution and can afford the price tag.

Read More