3D Printing – building and first days

My thought after one week with my printer is: If you are a geek and you do not have a 3d printer yet, then go and buy one now. It’s fun, there’s a lot to learn and most of all – the results are really gratifying. I’ve even printed *something useful* with it already (I’ll write about it in one of the next posts)!

Building a 3d printer

Two weeks ago I bought a 3d printer kit from a UK-based producer (http://disegna3d.com/) for £320 + £30 for optional LCD controller. The printer is RepRap based with some propitiatory improvements. All of the used software (firmware, slicing and printing tools) are open source. The controller is based on Arduino Mega with RAMPS shield (specialized motor controller). This means there’s plenty of documentation on the internet and the spare parts and upgrades are wildly available.

The printer comes in a big box full of stuff:

 

It took me roughly 20 hours to build the printer, set it up and then fix the small issues I’ve introduced. Now it looks like this:

 

The build process is fairly simple – the assembly manual is detailed enough. To make the machine I had to cut plastic, solder, apply vinyl, screw tens of screws and mount electronics. It wasn’t very easy, but since I completed this successfully it wasn’t that hard either.

Basics of the 3d printer

My 3D printer is a fused filament fabrication printer (a.k.a. fused deposition modelling). In simple words – it deposits a pieces of plasitc on top on other pieces to make an object – layer by layer.

The printer uses four step motors – one for each of X, Y, Z axis and one for extruder – for pushing a plastic wire to the heated nozzle.

Here’s a short video of first print job:


Close-ups on the nozzle:

 

Print Quality

The print quality is surprisingly good. Much better than expected actually – I compare printouts with Printrbot, which costs twice as much and the result is very similar. My printer does not fill bottom layer as much as the printrbot, but the vertical walls are much smoother.

The printer is most happy to print 3d objects based geometric shapes – rectangles, triangles or circles. The nozzle size 0.4mm makes it easier to print a bit larger objects – flats of 2-10 cm look brilliant. The irregular shapes are usually fine, but a lot depends on the model itself. I’m printing with a layer height of 0.25mm and it the model contains more information than that then the slicing software struggles a bit.

 

Few more or less successful samples are here:

 

Really smooth circle!

 

 

The top layer of this knife holder is smooth enough to be used in my kitchen.

 

…but the 2mm letters are illegible:

This 10cm fully jointed skeleton could be better. It looks better in real size (the pictures are bigger than the real thing).

 

 

Conclusion

I highly recommend the kit from disegna3d.com. The email support is great – the guy is really knowledgeable, passionate and willing to help.

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