This Week in the Shop: Get Started #3DPrinting at Home!

A quick post today!  I recently purchased a knock-off Makerbot Replicator clone.  Today, I will share a few of my more successful prints and my thoughts on 3D printers in the home makerspace.

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In the last few years, 3D printing has take the world by storm.  The cheapest (and most common) type of 3D printer is a fused deposition modeling printer.  FSM 3D printers combine CNC (computer numerical control) with extruded plastic (think hot glue from a glue gun) to build, layer upon layer, an object in 3D.  FSM 3D printers can print in a variety of plastics, including polylactic acid (PLA), Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and plastic infused with metals or wood.  These materials come in long spools in two thicknesses, either 1.75mm or 3.00mm in diameter.  1.75mm seems to be the most common type.  Spools cost about $30 each.  Some manufacturers offer cheap spools, but their filament causes jams in my experience.  Go for mid-priced, quality-conscious filament.

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But which of the many machines should you get for a home makerspace?  Like any tool, do your research to find the right mix of features, quality and price.  3DHubs.com offers a relatively up to date database and reviews.  In my experience, most educational makerspaces use Makerbot, Lulzbot, Ultimakers and Printrbot.  These brands stand up to long hours, abuse and imperfect conditions.

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Small printers, such as the Printrbot Play, lower the price of entry while allowing for a great experience.  Expect to pay between $500 and $1500 for a quality, low-build volume 3D printer.  Larger-size printers often run between $1500 to $2500+.  Make Magazine has a great breakdown of different printers here.

Personally, I recommend becoming familiar with 3D printing on someone else’s machine first, then exploring your options.   Local makerspaces (such as Nova Labs or MILL Studio here in Northern VA) often have available machines to explore, test and create with.  After gaining some expertise (and mentors!), then it’s time to jump into ownership.

3D printers have become cheaper and cheaper by the day, and as part of the Home #Makerspace series, I bought a cheap Makerbot Replicator knock-off from CTC Printers.  (Do not buy from their site, buy from Ebay)  As an experienced 3D printer enthusiast, I found the knock-off shipped fast and easy to set-up.  I currently use Makerbot Desktop as my printing software, but Simplify3D should work too.  Autodesk 123D apps, which I reviewed this summer, create a free and powerful tool chain from idea to CAD to print.

Some maintenance issues for this machine:

    1. Tighten and check all screws & nuts combinations periodically.  This particular printer has laser cut wood frame, which means everything shifts with humidity changes and vibration.  Periodic tightening saves a lot of time and trouble.  The Replicator build can be found on Thingiverse, so if a frame member craps out on you (cracked, delamination, worn, etc) I would suggest laser-cutting the replacement part in acrylic.
    2. Grease the Z-axis drive rod with white lithium grease.
    3. Use 3-In-One machine oil to lubricate filament whenever you load the machine with new filament.
    4. Gain comfort utilizing forums and local makerspaces to help run down issues.  3DSimplify has a great troubleshooting guide for common printing issues.
    5. When/if you switch filament brands, you have to switch spool holders.  I designed this hanging holder, which you are welcome to modify as needed.
    6. The feed mechanism leaves a lot to be desired.  Most of my feed issues have their roots in the lack of guide wire and feed device.  Improved feed devices can be found on ebay,  while I made my own guide tube based on materials from the hardware store.
    7. The default settings need some tweaking.  I print at 210 deg C, heat the bed to about 90 deg C and often print with a raft. I also need to increase the thickness of my top layers to 2mm or 3mm for a nice print.

In the classroom,  I’ve used 3D printers to build rocket car designs, art pieces, shop helpers and more.  At home, I have printed pieces of art, mathematical models, designed replacement parts for furniture, parts for robots, etc.  The possibilities are endless, only limited by our imagination and the size of the printer.

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