Some trials, some tribulations, but we got our first prints out today.
We unboxed the 3D printers yesterday. Along with the handy tools MakerGear provides to help get started, they also include a See’s Candies lollipop with each printer. John got vanilla. I got butterscotch (lucky me!)
MakerGear sells their printers in kits for $300 less than their (nearly) fully assembled counterparts. It would have been fun to build the the printers ourselves, but we want our students to use them for our New Horizons electives that happen right after spring break. The extra expense was worth it to save time, and to print almost right out of the box.
The only assembly on our part was to bolt the spool holder to the printer frame. Like several other parts on the printer, the spool holder was printed by other MakerGear M2s at their factory. Printing to make a printer. Cool, huh?!
Next we checked to make sure the printing bed (the glass surface) was level, and that’s when the challenges began. In order to get a good print, the bed has to be level so that the plastic will stick to it. Also, the nozzle needs to start about 0.1mm above the bed surface (aka the z-stop), roughly the thickness of two sheets of paper. It’s tricky to adjust the z-stop since the bolt and nut used to set it are somewhat difficult to access.
It took us a while to figure out the bed leveling process and set the z-stop. MakerGear has posted a few videos to help get their users going, but we were excited to get a print started. We fell into tinker mode, and weren’t very methodical about what we were doing. And there’s a bit of a learning curve getting familiar with the slicer software, Simplify3D.
We tried to print a bracelet that MakerGear includes on the SD card that comes with the printer. It’s simple and prints quickly, so it’s a good test piece to make sure everything’s working properly. The prints failed all three times we tried. The plastic wasn’t sticking to the bed consistently. We wrapped up for the day when it came time for our Middle School play.
This morning I took my time leveling the bed and setting the z-stop. I also wiped a bit of water on the bed and then applied some Elmer’s glue stick to help the plastic adhere to the bed (a trick I learned from the MakerGear Google Group). This time I heated the bed to 60 degrees Celsius, something we didn’t do in yesterday’s trials.
The print started out well. It printed the first layer flawlessly. However, after the first layer, the plastic stopped extruding. The nozzle was clogged. I couldn’t even back the filament out (extract) from the extruder. I bet it has to do with not extracting the filament when we were done for the day yesterday. I’m working with MakerGear’s support team to get it resolved, so I’m confident we’ll be able to solve the problem.
Fortunately, we have another printer with which to work. John did a great job setting the z-stop and making sure the bed was level. After a couple false starts the bracelet began to print. We held our breath for the first few layers until we were confident the print was working well. Then we relaxed and watched the printer do it’s thing.
Watching the printer is mesmerizing. Not only are the sounds emanating from it almost musical, it takes active effort to divert your attention away from object appearing before our eyes. If we didn’t have so much to do, we could probably watch it go all day.
After 5-10 minutes, the print finished.
Encouraged, we went straight our next print: John’s head. Some time ago, John created a 3D model of his head using Autodesk’s 123D Catch. He had printed it on another printer using heat-sensitive plastic, so we were excited to see if we could match or even better John’s original bust. About eighty-five minutes later, the print finished in all it’s purply flawlessness.
The infill–the lattice of material printed inside the object to keep it from deforming–was quite dense. We probably could have shortened the print time significantly by using the slicer software to reduce the amount of infill.
Growing more confident, we moved on to download and print a set of nautilus gears from Thingiverse. Nautilus shells are great for math because they are a good example of a logarithmic spiral. Other examples of logarithmic spirals in nature include the arms of spiral galaxies and the bands of clouds in a hurricane.
Learning our lesson on too much infill, we reduced it to five percent for the gears. This print took about fifty minutes.
You can see from the spiral arms that the five percent infill was probably a bit too little. Each arm should be one solid line, not two thin lines. Still, the gears work well.
Hopefully we’ll come back in the morning to another successful print!