Saturday, September 8, 2012

3D Printer - Part 1 - Setup

I was under the sink recently (and for a handyman like me, recently is last year), and I wished I had some sort of stand for the flashlight so I could see what I was doing. If you have ever wished for a small inexpensive part, then maybe you too should spend thousands of dollars on a 3D printer. Wait, that just sounds crazy.

3D printers are like 2D printers, except they print in plastic. They are like hot glue guns than deposit layer on top of layer of plastic until a 3D object is created. One of the plastics it can use is ABS, which is what Lego is made of.

I thought I'd blog about my experience, because 3D printers are not mainstream consumer-friendly devices yet. There is a learning curve. Or learning cliff.

I first bought a Solidoodle 3D printer. The wait time was going to be 8-10 months before they even built it. This is common in startup companies; it takes time for them to ramp up from a custom one-off shop to an efficient assembly line. But after a few days, I decided I didn't want to wait. Also, I was a little nervous they might go broke before they shipped mine. I was order number #3800, and they had just shipped printer #50 out the door.

So I bought the MakerBot Dual Extruder Replicator instead. It is several times more expensive than the Solidoodle, but it is an established company and product. It took 2 days to get to Canada from their shop in Brooklyn. Of course, it took over a week to get out of customs, where I had to pay GST before they'd release it. For some reason, I think I'll blame Canada Post. (Jerks.)

Unboxing and setting it up was relatively easy. The instructions are good, and their website helps you get printing right away. I got a dual extruder model, which can print two different colors of plastic, or print two parts at once. The printer comes with black and white, and I also bought red and blue. I should have bought some zombie green, because I'm going to make a whole bunch of those.

After finishing my first print, with a few hiccups, I wasn't really sure what to do. The Replicator can either print directly from your computer, or from an SD card inserted at the side. My plan was to keep the Replicator in our spare room and just bring the card in to print. The card is preloaded with shapes to print, but there is no list of what each part is. I tried a few until I got this one, a calibration cube. It is very light because the inside is mostly hollow. There is a honeycomb shape inside which keeps it structurally strong but light. 3D printers like this can't print anything parallel to the ground, because the plastic will droop (it comes out of the nozzle at 220 degree C).

I'm going to continue printing and figuring this out. More to come.