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.