Thursday, May 15, 2014

From Build to First 3D Print

Totally excited from completing the last step of my Printrbt 3D printer build,  I was eager to move to to actually printing something.

My experience so far was sending designs off for others to to print at places like Shapeways  or Sculpteo or finding someone else who has a printer for hire through xyzmake.  I have seen plenty of 3D printers at conferences and even had the privilege of being at Swanton Elementary School when the day they unpacked and tested their first 3D printer. My research lead me to understand that there was a lot of "adjusting" and "tweaking" necessary to end up with quality prints.  So I was a bit nervous about the next steps.

Step 67 ended rather humorously and then sent me to a the next  Getting Started Guide which suggested I download Repetier software and proceeded to offer screenshots of how to configure the software for your first print.  Replicating each setting in the 5 pages of screenshots gave me a tour of the software, but also made me very aware of how much more there was to learn.  A slight thrill came over me as the x, y, and z axis all moved when performing the initial test as directed in the guide.  The temperature graph showed that the extruder was heating up on command.   (smiling)

I fed through some black filament (included in the kit) and then pressed the SLICE button as directed.  With all the talk about "slicing"  that I've heard,  it seemed a little anti-climatic that it took literally 2 seconds.  The CONNECT button responded positively which mean I could talk to the printer.  I hit the SET Temperature and watched the temperature curve quickly reach 195 degrees.  Next step "RUN" to start your PRINT!

THIS DID NOT SEEM RIGHT! Seemed there had to be more than this.  What about the print head?  Where should it start?  Surely there must be some directions about calibration somewhere.  I reread the guide and found none.  A sense of anxiety came over me.  What was I thinking "trying such a project" in a 'bus' parked out in the middle of Texas.  It's not like I could drag it into the local "genius" bar and ask for help.  It was getting late and I didn't want to go to bed feeling anxious,  so I decided to "go for it"  and hit RUN as instructed.  Yeah-  filament started to squirt out! Boo - none of it stuck to the print bed and instead globbed up around the tip of the extruder.  What to do?  There were no instructions on what to do if that happened.. but looking around the software I found a "KILL JOB"  button!  Phew!  The printer stopped!  Exhausted by the long day of building filled with 'creative tension' of so much new learning, I decided that I could head to bed knowing that the day had been a success!  The printer worked!  And  filament was coming out!  And my hunch that their was a missing piece to these instructions was spot on!  Tomorrow I would tackle that step!

......  next day

The first step was getting the blog of filament off the print head. Thankfully it came off easy enough. I did lots of poking around the Internet looking for answers.  Armed with just enough knowledge to enter some key words into Google Search,  I skimmed resource after resource picking up new terminology each time.  RichRap's blog post on slicer offered lots of pointers, but felt a little over my head for this stage in the game.  But I saved them for a later time when I have more experience and am ready to tackle the granular advice offered by Rich.

Just as the "I'm not smart enough for this" anxiety started to rise I discovered JOSH!  
OMG!  Josh Marinacci not only had the same 3D printer and model that I had,  but he knew how to write great documentation that helped me regain confidence that I could do this and my brain stopped sending me "I'm not smart enough messages"  and started to send more rational messages like "I have an experience gap that makes it hard for me to do this" and Josh is about to help me bridge that gap!  And the fact that his blog started with tales of his recent adventures at SxSw made me trust him immediately.  For all I know, we might have been sitting in the same sessions at SxSw. The fact that he added pictures of at least 5 "less than perfect" prints before getting a successful print also helped manage my expectation and prepare me for the fact that I might still get a globby mess.

I followed his advice step by step, starting with adding blue painters tape to the print bed. When there were discrepancies in the Prntrbot documentation and his directions (i.e. 4800 for feedrate vs 500) I chose to follow his specs.  Moved the extruder so the X and Y axis  appeared to be front and left, and brought the z axis motor so that a sheet of paper slid through with a little friction.  Then we calibrated the extruder feed rate by marking off some filament and sending 10 mm at a time through the printer.  The extruder feed didn't even need adjusting,  but it was good to see that Josh offered all the "math" necessary to make the adjustment should we need them. (I'm keeping those formulas handy).

Took a deep breath, hit the software HOME button on x, y, and z  - crossed my fingers and HIT RUN!  First relief and soon glee came over me as layer after layer stuck to the bed and built up a 5mm calibration cube!  And best of all - it didn't look like a glob - it actually looked like a pretty decent print.  I was high as a kite for the rest of the day! I was able to happily tuck the printer away as it was time to move bus again and we had  3 days of driving head as we left from Texas to Oklahoma City and then to St. Louis.

Here is the short video peak at my first print.

More maker adventures to come! 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Assembling my own 3D printer on a picnic table in Austin

In search for the right 3D printer for my needs and for schools I might work with has been an eye opening journey.  At first all eyes pointed to the Makerbot Replicator 2, but as I have been meeting more 'makers' I'm finding lots of different possibilities including the Lulzbot,  the 3D Cube and new models from Printrbot.

Although the 'extreme' maker would MAKE their own 3D printer, program their own arduino board to operate motors and extruders and laser cut or 3D print the parts,  I wasn't quite ready for that journey.  However I felt confident enough to order a KIT and do my own assembly. Although I didn't feel the Printrbot Simple would be the right kit for a classroom environment, the company's reputation was sound enough for me to give the build of their low cost model a try.

The package arrived the other day and I could not wait to dive in.  It was a great feeling to open the box of parts and find that a degree of comfort with the parts included.  I could  envision the machine that had laser cut the wooden pieces; I immediately recognized the arduino board, and was not afraid of the colored wires and end stops, motors, and wire tires.  The combined documentation (in the box and online supplement) was very thorough. I especially liked the way that the online documentation broke down the steps by steps with 3 visuals for each of the 67 steps.  Also helpful was the way each step linked to user comments as they completed the steps. (I always read those, figuring I could benefit from other's questions and feedback).   I used my Nexus 7 to document my own work.   Here are the first 2 days of the build.

My amazing partner/coach/friend/husband was great support and lent me his tools and  showed me all these little tricks (i.e. working with zip ties and hex nuts, cable management, etc) while demonstrating  extreme self-discipline by letting me fumble through some awkward moments with tools I've never used before.  (And yes, I did let him play with a few of the steps, but only after I experienced it myself first).  The build did require a trip to Home Depot to pick up a few tools we were lacking including a micro cutter, more exacto blades,  tinier Allen Wrench, and thread blue).   As the assembly started to take shape,  my motivation to make it to the end increased and we spent a LONG day at it on Saturday and finished the build!  Yeah!

I had to laugh at the last step when I read the following
Step 67
Simple build finished. Great job! You're not quite done though. There are a couple more steps on your journey to 3D printing glory. ...I know, it is sort of like beating a level in Mario Bros, when the bad guy runs off with the Princess again.
See the Getting Started Guide for info on software settings and other tips.

Because that was exactly what I felt as I discovered that I had NEW software to learn and didn't have a clue how to  calibrate the x, y, z, motors and extruder -- all steps which ARE NOT in the Getting Started Guide!    Ask me how I know!  --- (perhaps by the glob of filament stuck on the extruder, instead of stuck to the print bed, where it should be.... KILL Print Job... Stay tuned for more learning)

But boy am I EXCITED  that we have a working 3D printer in our bus - and I assembled it - with a little help from my friend,  coach,  partner, travel companion, husband -  Thanks, Craig.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Adding Physical Computing to Scratch with PicoBoard

Well I started with a plan to use the Makey Makey with Scratch and even had a plan to procure one. The folks at Sparkfun at SxSwEDU offered up there Makey Makey to me on the last day of the exhibit, so I didn't order one. I showed up at their exhibit on the last hour of the last day and almost walked away with one. But unfortunately got engaged in a great discussion with Jeff one of their reps that is very connected with the Vermont Maker movement and we started to make plans about future collaborations and I walked away forgetting to grab the makey makey. It wasn't sure that we were going to be stationary long enough for me to order one now, but alas, I remembered that I did have a PicoBoard with me and that this could possibly serve a similar function in that it also works with Scratch. Working with the constraints of using materials I had with me in the bus - I came up with the idea of making a "portable drumset" for people who "live in a bus" and reached for some picnic supplies to help solve this "problem" <<grin>>

I apologize ahead of time for quality of the video, I was focusing on making and realized AFTER the fact that I should have gotten out the tripod. (sorry)

I started by using the resistance sensors on the Picoboard to make a physical drumset play a virtual drumset created in Scratch. Once I got that working, I decided to add new features that would use each of the sensors found on the Pico board.
the slider sensor adjust the volume of the drums
the push button changes the Lighting (stage background color)
the light sensor was used to make colored laser lights appear when its dark
the sound sensor turns the stage to dark with an Thank You message when you applaud loudly (now that I think about it I should have applaud loudly result in an encore performance)

I need to give credit to the user cwb2001 on the Scratch community whose "sprites" I found that would serve my purpose. I learned that if you try to download the sprites from the online community, they did not work in my local version of Scratch, but if you click on the individual costumes, you can export the png locally (very useful tip for remixing for those of us who are NOT artist). I also want to acknowledge Mr. Michad from Nebo Elementary School who has some great lesson ideas for music, technology, and more for the idea of creating a drumset.

Friday, May 2, 2014

SxSw Energy with CNC

My First Cut is a story of Synergy and one more fun story I will be able to tell about Living and Learning Mobile. I can't wait to have some time to add it to my blog. When the CNC topic was introduced in our Physical Computing class, I had NO clue what CNC was and started to read about it and learning about gCode and all the converters and the multi steps from the design stage to the CAM stage. Seems like it was accessible with enough scaffolding but also offered many points of failure. (the first of which was having a Mac).

I kept looking for opportunity to complete this assignment and am happy to say that thanks to events like SxSwCreate (which was open to the public and did NOT require a SwSx badge), and maker groups who are active on Twitter, I was able to complete my first CNC project, and use the soon to be released EASEL app along with the Shapeoko 2 at the Inventables station. I believe that the affordability and accessibility of these two tools will mean that school Maker Labs will end up with both a 3D printer and a CNC mill. Easel took the complexity and extra steps out of the equation. It currently only does 2D, but is on the way to be able to work with 3D. I encourage you to sign up for the release which is happening over the next 2 months
Here's my Synergy story