Tackling the 3D Printer Madness

In 2010 I decided to build a 3D Printer. For days, I glued myself into all of my computers (at work, on my studio, on my massage chair, and at bed) blackholing as much information as I could into my neural mass. Back then I thought of building a Makerbot Cupcake as it made perfect sense. I had a laser engraver in which I could cut the parts, and practically every file was available through their different website spots. I wish I could say building the 3D printer was as simple as it sounded, but there were much more barriers back then.

First of all, porting the DXF files into my laser engraver SW was worst than painful. I had to literally clean every single node in order for my engraver to process it correctly. Some carpal tunnel after, I had done it! Then it was a matter of finding the right wood, which unfortunately I didn’t. If I recall, it was supposed to be a 5 mm wide plywood. I thought a close width would do, but after cutting every single pattern, it required a miracle like transforming 2 fish and three pieces of bread into food for a tumult. Needless to say, they didn’t match.

And then of course, open source often (and unfortunately) means chaos. Sure, it is free, but by no means free means organized. The files here and there didn’t match. There were revisions for the electronics, the hardware (i.e. screws, nuts, belts, pulleys, laser cut profiles), the firmware, the “you name it”! To match it all required an act of faith, and then being knocked by a comet worth of inspiration/luck. I tried contacting the creators a few times but it was clear these were busy guys working on yet another revision and had I been keeping track of every single little detail that had transpired in the past three years of 3D printer lore, I should have known where everything was supposed to fit back then.

Well, unfortunately for me I never managed to get a pay check by browsing the web, and in particular studying Hobby 3D printing evolution so at the end of a fairly steep learning curve I decided to move on. I had a few hundred dollars worth of McMaster goodies I could use on subsequent projects, so not all was lost. My Makerbot laser cut Cupcake box sat on my attic for a few months until I had to let the souvenir like wood piece hit the trash can. I should have hanged it from the ceiling as a memento of my 3D printer endeavor failure. I did keep the hot end which I painstakingly build on my lathe and store until a later time.

There were other reasons why I failed on my first attempt. First of, if DIY 3D printing is in its infant stage (we can say toddlerish), in 2010 it was something like a fetus. Yes, there was lots of information out there, but it was all spread and hard to put together. Then comes the media. Today you can easily find the filament in whichever color you can imagine. Back then? Good luck! All you could do was get on a wait list and hope for the best. I remember I had to test my hot end with nylon trimmer line. Another waste of time and effort! Nylon requires higher temperatures than ABS, and of course the current implementation around PTFE and the Teflon cover for the NiChrome wire was already pushing the ABS limits. I am amazed I didn’t set my lab space in flames, considering I went quite above the safe limits for the Teflon shield.

So fast forward two years and what do I find? The picture is way different today as it was back then. In retrospect, had I endured the lack of resorts and set my mind into a research environment (which back then I though had already passed) I could be one of the 3D printer manufacturers of the day. If you want to get into 3D printing you might as well buy one of the hundreds available models. There are tons of filament providers, the controller by nature is the Arduino mega with the Sprinter firmware, Replicator G is the CNC controller, etc. Whenever I look, I find pretty much the same implementation so to tackle this project today is considerably much simpler!

And so I have decided I will try this one more time. Keep posted in my progress and find out which 3D printer base I will be building. Learn about which motion control strategy I will follow and which extruder I will implement. I will try to explain as best as possible the different successes and failures I have gone through and hopefully you will be able to skip most of them into success building your own unit.

1 comment for “Tackling the 3D Printer Madness

  1. Gonçalo
    August 12, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Can’t wait to see the result! I’m currently building a desktop cnc router for pcb milling, but a 3D printer is definitly the next challenge.


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