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17
Jul

3d Hot End Temperature Problem

Ever have one of those “problems” where you spend endless amounts of hours trying to solve it, doing everything thing you can, “By The Book”, only to be stumped at every turn?

Yeah, me neither.

Until 3 days ago.

In the Beginning

Last year we had a new fence put in, and over the winter and the heat this summer, the not so stellar post caps decided to split, curl and look more like pagoda roof lines than post caps.

IMG 1201

Which is not a big deal until you consider than the rain will end up on the post instead of being diverted by the cap.

I spent some time with Tinkercad designing a new post cap, hollow up inside, over hangs the edges of the post so there is no way the rain can land on the post.

IMG 1202

The Design

The design is pretty simple. I mean, it’s a post cap. How complex can it be…

IMG 1228

It prints upside down, top is about 86mm square, base is about 146mm square (when mounted on the post). The sides are 45 degrees so no support. But it is fairly big so it does take some time to print out.

The Ugly

When I started the first print, I was running the perimeters at 30mm/s, the infill (what little I used) was 50mm/s. After all nothing but a bunch of long straight runs.

And then I looked at the temp stability. Or more specifically the lack thereof. Crazy, 10C higher than set point, 12C lower, and oscillate like that for the entire print job. if it settled down it was only for two or three minutes. Then back to high and low sweeps.

I managed to get the print done, decided I’d use the other printer I have. Exact same symptoms. Large temp swings during the print.

Next I loaded up a different print as a test and printed it out. Temp was rock solid. Back to the fence cap. Wicked temp swings again. Do this enough and the result is male baldness.

The Solution Search

Off to the internet I go to see if anyone has the same problems. Only about 500,000 people do. Safety in numbers you know.

So I started reading about possible “solutions”…keyword, “Possible”…

Arduino AREF isn’t stable. Turns out if you have flaky 5V supply line this can happen. Mine is rock steady.

Shield thermistor leads. According to the theory, the PWM signal from the heater element can create “noise” on the thermistor leads. So I stuck my scope on it. My cables are all wrapped in a bundle so you’d think there’d be lots of “noise”. My conclusion after testing was the “noise” was caused by someone not knowing what the heck they’re talking about. In the one case it did fix, turned out it was a bad connection not noise. Moving on.

Heater damaged. As I happen to have spare parts for my printers, I replaced the heating element. No change.

Thermistor. Now we’re getting into the grey area. Damaged thermistor, loose wire, bad Dupont connector, RAMPS problem (should be using RAMBO or some other 32 bit control board), fan blowing on it, wrong setting(s) in firmware, not PID tuned, and broken leads. Except this does not explain why a different design prints with perfect temp and this stupid fence cap doesn’t. None the less, I tested three different thermistors. And got the same huge temp swings.

None the less I made a lot of adjustments to the firmware in the section that controls the PID, temp curve and heating variables. All to no better outcome.

Small design printed better. Fence cap, huge temps swings. No cure.

Then I thought, ah ha! Slic3r. Yeah, no. Made no difference. Sigh…

PLA! Yeah, something wrong with it. Change it! Yeah, did that, no change…ugh.

Nozzle! Yeah, no. Not that either.

Arduino! Swapped out an Arduino MEGA with a 16U2 for the el sleaze bucket ones with a CH340G. Nah. No change.

MUST BE THE RAMPS!!! Yeah, tried two different RAMPS boards. Same temp swings.

I pretty much gave up.

Two Heads, Better than None

I was ready to throw in the towel (along with the hot end and the rest of the printer) when the wife came in to see what I’d been mumbling to myself about.

I showed her the problem with the temp swings, told her about all the changes I’d made. She looked at the test prints, perfect, looked at the fence cap print, not so good.

Told me to start the fence cap print again and she watched the temps and called them out to me…

We let it run for about 3 layers and she said, “Cancel the print job”. I cancelled it, she said, “Okay, re-slice it and slow it down.”. I quickly said, “That won’t do anything, I can print far faster than I have it going anyway and the test prints were printing out fine at 50-60mm/s.

At this point I’d have peed on an electrical outlet if I’d thought it would help. So I set the speeds, infill, perimeter to 20mm/s. Or roughly half the speed of the last ice age.

Started the print, swing started the same and then…yeah. Stable. I was amazed.

So we did three quick tests. Speeds at 20, 25 and 30mm/s. You can see them in the graph below as test 1, 2, 3.

Fence Cap Temp

Time for a Guiness…

The Problem

When you look at a typical hot end, there’s a big chunk of aluminum with a heating element and thermistor in it. If and when you do some PID autotune, the head is stationary. All is right with the world.

When you print, the head moves, that big chunk of metal becomes a mobile heating element. Swing your arm, feel the wind rushing around your hand. Now pretend you’re the FLASH (oh go ahead you know you want to) and make your hand only vibrate. Very little air movement (if time starts to go backwards I suggest you stop…:-)

So the problem is simple. When the head is doing those LONG FAST lines, that heater block is dissipating heat like crazy, so much so the firmware can not maintain a control on it. Like tossing a stove top element around and trying to maintain a stable temp. Not. Going. To. Happen.

The Solution

The obvious solution is that if you’re going to print big stuff where the head is moving fast and long, plan on slowing it down. A lot. If you find big swings and you have a print job running, slow it down.

There are folks who say that a silicon boot on the heater block or wrapping the block in cotton/kapton will help, but I haven’t tried either of those to see if there is any merit there.

I suspect this is why a number of printers are enclosed in boxes so air in the box is warmer, thus easier heat control.

Insulating the head would be easier on a delta. Hence my thinking is it should be able to maintain a stable temp when the head is moving long distances fairly quickly.

Then again, if you read back through the initial problem “solving” list I had in the first place, you might just want to smile, and knowingly nod your head a little bit…

Later that same day…

Good thing I’m not a cat. My nine lives would have been used up years ago with my curiosity…

I decided to do a test by making a sock for the hot end. I used the cotton strips and some Kapton tape to make a boot..The print cooling fans were not used, the only fan on was for the heatsink tower.

IMG 1230

The hot end is wrapped all around except for the back where the wires for the heating element and thermistor are. Kapton tape is holding it all in place.

I loaded up the same fence post cap, set the speed for the perimeter to 30mm/s, infill to 50mm/s. And did three layers.

Insulated Hot End

if you look directly above the 7 min mark, you’ll see the temp drop and thats where the second layer starts. At the very right edge it looks as if the temp is coming under control. Except at that point I’d set the printer to 50% speed.

The cotton insulation does help, a bit. But certainly no where near what I imagined it might. The back of the heating element where the thermistor is no doubt very sensitive to air flowing past it. Thus if the whole end was wrapped up like a mummy, maybe it would be better. Or not.

For now, print at a slower speed, it works.

5
Jul

Gibson Robot Guitar – Revisited

I was in the studio the other day, went to tune up the Gibson Robot and…meh. Nothing. Plugged in the charger, and couple hours later. Nothing.

Swell. Just swell.

Back in 2014 I’d fixed it with a couple of El Cheapo rechargeable batteries I sourced off eBay. Fast forward three years and those batteries were toasted.

Of course this is pretty much standard for NiMH so…no big surprise. And those 2000 to 3000ma rated batteries off eBay, keep in mind those are just NUMBERS. For example I charged up some Eneloop’s, got 1.48V full charged. Did the same with some A3300 batteries (and some unmarked ones) off eBay and the best I got as 1.37V. Maybe you’re thinking 1/10th of a volt isn’t much, but trust me, in this case with a robot, it’s huge (for other reasons).

As it happened someone emailed me within the last week about that original blog post and since I had some time I decided to dive back into the Tronical murky waters.

The Examination

Instead of grabbing another set of junk batteries I decided that I needed to adjust my thinking for “long term”. If the batteries were going to be replaced every three years I might as well make it easier to do.

Next I didn’t want to use cheap batteries. My choice was to go with the Sanyo or Panasonic Eneloop batteries. The problem here is that the batteries don’t have solder tabs on them so one has to solder right on the battery terminal.

I started by looking for a dual AA battery holder than would fit in the confined area of the Gibson. I found a couple of these in my parts bin.

Bholdaa

The one I had fit, the second one was wider than the Gibson cut out so no go with it. I soldered up the wires, plugged it in and was rewarded with a flashing sequence of blue LED’s around the MCK ring. I have NO idea what that indicated. But there’s no way the thing would respond or tune. Cool flashy LED’s though….

In trying to figure out why, I originally thought the electronics might have fried itself, I came across the specs for these holders. Specifically 1 AMP output MAX! Any more than that the contacts/wire can heat up. Even with the connection I did have there was a large voltage drop. Mostly they want FAR less than 1 amp to be happy.

Last time I tried to power the Gibson with a bench power supply, it failed miserably. Apparently my new bench supply is of higher quality and it powered up the robot just fine. My goal was to measure the current used at idle and when tuning.

At idle the robot used around 340ma (one third of an amp). That surprised me, I didn’t think it would be that demanding.

Kicking the robot into tune mode, wow. Anywhere from 800ma to 1.6 Amps. Depending on how many tuners were running.

No wonder the batteries were soldered in.

The Options

I could either replace the batteries with some new soldered ones or find a battery holder that would fit.

According to what I could find, Eneloop does make tabbed batteries but I could find no source in North America for them. And really, I wanted to avoid soldering in new batteries if I could.

Which lead me to decide on a battery holder.

Armed with some electrical data, I started looking for “spring less” battery holders. Springless holders typically have large metal tabs that rub against the ends of the battery. The current through these connections can be far higher than the typical brass button and spring units in the previous photo.

Try as I might, all the holders I found weren’t going to fit into the Gibson’s battery area.

So you think that would be the end of it right? Nah.

Unleash the Maker

Back in 2014 I didn’t have a 3D printer. I do now. Couple of them as a matter of fact. I used Tinkercad and started designing a box that would fit in the area. A tray is what I finally found worked best.

But first, I needed some UBER springy metal to make battery tabs with. Off I went to eBay, Banggood, etc and found a few things, but not what I thought I could use. So I started to look around the shop for springy tin and presto. It darned near jumped out at me…

Jacks

When I was building guitar stomp box pedals, I was using a lot of these jacks on the PCB for connections. Nice springy tin connections. Yep. I cut the plastic off two of them to get four terminals. Bent them so they’d hold a battery.

Then it was off to add in the design to hold these. So the first couple of designs didn’t work but eventually I got a design that was going to work, at least good enough to test with.

IMG 1195

I couldn’t solder the wires on the tabs when they were in the battery housing I’d made or the PLA would melt. I decided to put the wiring on the bottom of the holder. Didn’t really matter any way.

IMG 1196

I used two terminals with a 16 gauge jumper wire. Took some wrangling to get it in but I got it.

IMG 1197

From the battery side it looks like this:

IMG 1198

Oddly enough, there is a LOT of tension in those little spring clips. So once the batteries are inserted you can see the force of them pressing against the ends.

IMG 1199

I finally put the whole thing back in the Gibson and it works absolutely perfect. As good as or better than the original Tronical design. When I plugged in the charger, it sync’d right up with the guitar and quickly charged the batteries to full.

IMG 1200

Summary

Is this perfect? Will it stand up? I don’t know.

I do know the batteries are wedged in the holder pretty darn good BUT, if they do come loose, I’ll put a zip tie around them and the holder so there’s no way they can budge.

Looking at the clips, I can also see another way to do this. A couple of M3 screws, some terminals, no spring clips needed. But then again, this might not work as good as the spring terminals…

All I know is that when the batteries go again in three years, I’ll be putting in another set of Panasonic Eneloop’s and it’s going to take me about two minutes to do it.

27
Jun

M.G. Chemicals PETG

After renovating the backyard last year, I installed some solar lighting.

The lights came with a plastic spike that pushed into the ground but I didn’t use them.

One reason was because that would have either put them in the planters where the solar cells would be blocked by the fence so no charge, or on the lawn where they would have to be moved every time the lawn was mowed.

On June 24th we had a scorcher of a day and Carol pointed out that the lights seemed to be listing. Some to starboard, others to port…and at a fair angle too!

Initially I thought the 3D printed mounts I’d made last year had come loose and to some point that was true.

Ultimately what had happened was that the screw holding in the mount had reached the PLA’s glass transition point, with the stress of the heavy weight of the solar light (they have a glass lens; not plastic), it was enough to start the topple syndrome.

IMG 1172

The outside temp was 30C. When I took the mount off the post rail, the screw felt a lot hotter than that.

Of course there was no use reprinting more mounts in PLA if they were only going to last a year.

Then I remembered I had some M.G. Chemicals new improved PETG.

IMG 1174

The glass transition point is 25C higher than PLA! I redesigned the mounts to make them taller and a thicker base for the screw to sit in.

IMG 1173

I started printing and replacing the mounts. After they were all done, it was time to sit back and wait.

IMG 1177

I only needed to wait until the next day. The temp outside climbed to 31.2C, and the solar lights stood like sentries without a movement.

The new mounts worked out perfectly.

One thing I should note if you try something like this, I used a fan on one print. PETG seems to cool off quick enough anyway so really the fan is more or less to stop stringing. I found the best way to print these small mounts is slow and no fan. Excellent adhesion between layers and almost no stringing in these small items.

26
Jun

3D Printer Noise – Not a Fan

One of the things that 3D printer reviews tend to gloss over is just how loud the popular Cartesian or Delta 3D printers can be. It doesn’t matter if the printer is a typical open frame type or closed up in a box, quiet is not a word that comes to my mind.

Given that the speed of the printer will affect the steppers, thereby transmitting said vibration through the printer frame itself, there’s not a whole lot you can do about some of it. Granted there are stepper dampers that are said to “lessen” the vibration transmission, or isolation feet so the printer doesn’t use the table/bench it’s sitting on as a “speaker”…

I tried the stepper dampers, ah, yeah. Didn’t seem to do as much as I’d thought. The budget dollar store rubber feet had a far greater impact though.

Fan Noise

However, what about when the printer is simply sitting idle? On a delta printer there is a fan on the hot end that needs to run continuously. Replacing that fan with a ball bearing low db fan is a good move. The original one that came with my printer sounded like a cement mixer.

Typical specs for the “cement” mixer would be as shown:

Noisy Fan

Considering the specs were from a ball bearing fan, it’s a noisy little brute. Basically, look for a 6,000 RPM, 0.15A max, and dB-A of 21 (lower is better). If you order these from eBay or some other equally sketchy source be aware that any specifications you see are going to be questionable. At best.

I picked up some Coolertec case fans OW4010DFS-2P hydro bearing, 15dB-A. You don’t more than 5 or 6 CFM. NASA wind tunnel fans not needed. The Coolertec fans? Wonderfully quiet, darned hard to get.

IMG 1175

Power Supply Fan

The second culprit, major source of annoying white noise is the power supply fan. On a typical 360 watt (12V 30A) switching supply I found that the fans on most of the ones I’ve worked on or bought, run all the time. Loud!

IMG 1151

I’d removed all the grating from one supply, replaced the fan with a quieter one and it’s still noisy.

By some sheer freak of nature I ordered a power supply from Amazon and when I installed it, the fan wasn’t running. I thought it was fried from the get go. I checked the voltage and it was fine. Once running for a while during a print job the fan would come on, run for a minute or two, shut off again.

I started to investigate why this happened.

The majority of these 12V 30A supplies “specify” a thermal controlled fan, so as the power supply heats up from current draw, the fan will cut in and cool it off. Oddly enough even though thermal control is stated, my experience is that the fans run all the time.

So….why? That’s the question.

Thermal Control

I took apart a power supply where the fan cycled and one where it didn’t. Started to look at what the differences were.

IMG 1153

It was surprising to find that the majority of the ones I have, from 4 different sources/companies, all use the same PCB. Or a minor variation thereof.

I tracked the difference down to a jumper of the “fan runs all the time”…see that jumper RT2? Yeah, there is supposed to be a thermal relay component there. But hey, that cost .97 so…jumper. Or as I found with a lot of offshore stuff, cost, not quality.

IMG 1154

The part that’s missing is a simple thermal relay, N.O. (normally open). It closes at 45C and opens at 33C.

KSD9700

To get the PCB out of the case is a little tricky. Remove the two screws that hold the heatsink bar on the MOSFET’s at the end and edge of the case.

IMG 1155

I found on my power supplies the screws were two different lengths. Thus, whatever comes out of the spare parts bins when they were assembled. There is an aluminum plate with some heat sink material on it, that needs to come off the side MOSFETs (where the thermal jumper wire is). You need the wiggle room to get the PCB out.

Next are the PCB screws. There should be five in total. One in each corner, one in the middle. Mine was built on a Friday at 3 minutes before quitting time, I only got four screws.

IMG 1156

To get the PCB out, slide it slightly forward (so the back edge of the PCB will clear the rear inset aluminum; about 1/8″). Notice on the side where there are no MOSFETS the PCB is notched so I just lifted that side up, but left the opposite edge with the MOSFETs where it was. Sort of rocked it back towards me. It’s a tight fit so don’t get heavy handed with it. It goes back in the same way.

Power Spply PCB

Once out, it’s easy to work on.

Thermal Relay

If you’re thinking the relay would attach to the case or the MOSFETS, ah, nope. It doesn’t. It actually goes inside the toroid coil on the PCB. And you glue it in there.

Start by bending the leads on the relay.

IMG 1159

Now you need some “glue”… but you want thermally conductive glue.

I found some on Banggood and eBay called “silicon thermal plaster”. It’s not inexpensive either and I decided that since I didn’t know what it was, couldn’t find any specs on it, and lastly didn’t feel like waiting for months to get it, I’d source somewhere else.

Which lead me to M.G. Chemicals. Who, oddly enough, seem to have a wonderful assortment of off beat items that fit exactly what I need.

One of which happens to be called, “Thermally Conductive Adhesive”.

IMG 1161

M.G. sells two kinds of this epoxy (it is a two part adhesive). One is called paste the other is flowable. I thought I would need the paste, but that was not available. I got the flowable instead.

I was hoping it was not as runny as five minute epoxy and I wasn’t disappointed! It’s about as “flowable” as silicon. I.e. you goop it, it stays gooped where you goop it. How’s that for technical terms…

As with the “silicon plaster”, 25ml isn’t inexpensive either. As in $31 CDN.

BUT, if you’re doing a couple of your own power supplies, a couple of friends as well, it cuts that cost down.

Seriously, and I do stress this point, when you buy something from a reputable company who supplies MSDS sheets, you know using it won’t cause a third eye to grow on your thorax three weeks later.

I got two mixing tubes with the adhesive and let me tell you, not only do they mix the epoxy PERFECTLY, you’re going to get a bonus hand work out shoving the mix through the tube…:-) The tubes are obviously a one time use but if you were doing a small restricted access and several of them, arrgghh matey, they be worth their weight in gold.

Otherwise, just put in a piece of paper and mix it like you do five minute epoxy.

Put the thermal glue on the edge of the toroid coil and don’t over use it. You don’t want to plug the air off from getting through the coil. Mine actually looks thicker than it really is. Maybe because I used a popsicle stick to put it in. I suggest a Q-Tip…

IMG 1162

The epoxy said it had a 45 minute working time and a 24 cure time. I left mine for about 6 hours to setup, then proceeded with the wiring. When I checked the joint 24 hours later, it was just like epoxy, hard as a rock.

Relay Wiring

Cut the jumper on the PCB and remove the two short wires.

IMG 1163

I used a solder sucker to clean out the holes…

IMG 1164

The relay is not polarized so there is no plus or minus to watch for. Simply solder in the two leads from the relay.

IMG 1165

Reassemble the PCB in the case, put the aluminum edge plates back in, PCB screws, case screws, etc.

IMG 1166

Make sure the relay wires are not chaffing on the heat sink clamp (yes, it’s a typical Mickey Mouse way the offshore guys do it) and button the case back up.

Rather than pop mine into a 3D printer I grabbed a bunch of LED strings and tested it.

IMG 1167

Kind of seasonal I must say, bright was the other thought…but sure enough, 10 minutes later I tested the heat of the edge MOSFETs, 45.6C, the fan came on, dropped the temp down to 33.2C and shut off. It works perfectly.

3
Jun

3D Printing Slicers

Having been down the somewhat unpaved road of 3D printer slicers over the past couple of years, I’m always on the look out for something that improves a 3D print without having to resort to sacrificing a spool of filament in an open fire pit on a full moon. At the stroke of midnight.

Let me preface this by stating I’m a delta printer guy. I’ve used cartesian’s but my go to printers are both Kossel styles. Built by me. So I know them well.

Slicing Software

There are those who seem to be able to make anything work, either right off because the software “works” like they do, or they stick with it long enough to learn all the nuances of it and master it.

I gave CURA a fair shake, kind of got it working, but while it felt pretty with it’s GUI, mining down to the settings I wanted to adjust with got annoying. I got the feeling it wasn’t designed for delta style printers in spite of the fact that many are using it on delta printers.

Venturing even further down the path, I bought Simplifry3D. Advertised as the be all and end all for slicing. Plug and play. Easy to use. Excellent documentation. Yeah, my experience dictates that would be four strikes against them. Make it five if you want to include the absolutely pathetic tech support.

Still, honestly, you have to try these things because what works fabulous for you may not work for others. Or vice versa.

After the roads I travelled down, it was nice to get back to Slic3r, even if there’s some pot holes in the road that need fixing. Or as someone said, “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t”. Thus I kept going back to Slic3r.

Slic3r

Slic3r hasn’t changed from the 1.2.9 version since June 2015. In software lifespans, two years is an eon. Mind you it is open source so you take what comes.

Slic3r is working on a 1.3.0 version and I suspect in time it will appear since they are pouring a lot of hours into it.

PRUSA Slic3r

Last year PRUSA forked Slic3r with the intention of making it work better with their own brand of printers. This got my attention since the work that PRUSA stated they’d be doing would be fixing up the various parts of Slic3r before adding in all their own bells and whistles to better suit their own printers.

With every release PRUSA has done, I’ve downloaded and run to see how it works with my Kossels. I’d be the first to admit this is not exactly what I would ever advise anyone to do. Me, I’m curious. Just a darn good thing I’m not a cat.

Some of the releases were, ah, how to put it, scary. The print head moving like a spasmodic hummingbird, or moving at the speed of the next ice age. Oh yeah, some issues for sure.

However, over time, each release got a little bit better. I’d check the forums to see what others would experiencing and see that would relate to anything I’d be doing and in most cases, nope. Delta printers are different.

Since the first week in April I’ve been using PRUSA’s 1.34.1 version exclusively. The quality that I am getting out it exceeds what I can get out of the 1.2.9 version of Slic3r. Admittedly some of the settings in the PRUSA version are different than the settings I used in Slic3r.

First off, the download link for the PRUSA 1.34.1 version.

Next the simple settings changes are in 3 areas, assuming you’re using the Expert settings in Slic3r like I am…

Preferences

Preferences

The USB serial connection is if you want to print from Slic3r via USB. I haven’t tried it, no idea if it works or not. I use Octoprint so everything is wireless here.

Layers

The only settings I needed to change here is in the “Quality” section. Specifically the “Avoid Crossing Perimeters”. Thin wall works sometimes, not others, much the same as vertical wall thickness. Normally I leave them unchecked and I’ll check the Plater–>Layers view to see how things look, maybe toggle them on or off and recheck.

A very nice edition is the SEAM position. If you want the seam hidden at the back of the print, just select REAR for the seam and it’s done. Works very nicely.

PS 1 Layers

Infill

For the infill, again, the only change I made was where it says, “Only retract when crossing perimeters”. I have it checked.

The rest are merely the stock settings I used all the time in the 1.2.9 version of Slic3r.

PS 2 Infill

Summary

One thing I would suggest if you want to travel this road, save your PRUSA settings with a unique name so you know they are specifically for PRUSA version not the 1.2.9 version of Slic3r.

I started to name mine like PRUSA_50403…shorthand for 50 infill speed, 40 perimeter speed, .3 layer height. Works well.

PRUSA has since released two more revisions but the current one is working so well, I haven’t felt the urge to try either of them out. Like they say, you can’t fix it if it’s not broken. Then again, maybe I’m just not trying hard enough…

27
May

Word Clock – revisited

Back in 2014 I built a word clock that consisted of a strip of 111 Neopixels (WS2812B), controlled by an Arduino.

I got all fancy with it, wrote a custom application for the Mac for all the settings and changed the time base more than just a few times. Everything from picking up the GPS RF transmission here, to a direct GPS module, and even a RTC (DS3231).

It has been running fairly well until the last few weeks when the “Twelve” word started to exhibit some odd colours and wouldn’t completely shut off. Of course then I noticed other things like the printed paper mask I was using for the words had started to fade a bit, allowing the square boxes to shine through. Lastly the colours didn’t look all that vibrant any more.

I tried a couple of bandaid fixes for it and Carol suggested I needed to redesign it.

Redesign – Rip apart

I think I spent the better part of a week going through all the permutations of controls when it finally dawned on me that I needed to come up with a new face design. I took the foam board, paper and ripped it all apart so the only part remaining was the backplane with the Neopixels on it.

IMG 1080

The next thing was to write a quick Arduino test routine to make sure the LED’s are all working. Oddly enough, even though the Twelve word was failing for the last couple of pixels, my test routine proved there was nothing wrong with those pixels…mmmm Odd…

New Cell Design

Guess who has a couple of 3D printers? I kind of balked at first because it’s not just a design small enough to print in one afternoon. It had to be done in pieces, the pieces put together somehow, and so on. Oddly enough as I used Tinkercad to design what I wanted, it started to go together easier.

Each of the words, like the original would be a box on their own. I thought about how to put the cells together to make the grid and realized the easiest way was to use some of those M3 screws I have.

IMG 1081

I did a row at a time, screwed end to end, then fit them between the side frame rails. More screws and I just kept printing and assembling.

For the “lens”, I printed two layers of white PLA. I tried thinner and thicker layers but two seemed to work the best. I also tested some transparent PLA but you could see the Neopixels behind the lens so that wasn’t going to do. The white diffused the LED’s perfectly.

IMG 1082

Eventually I got the whole display done and then had to work on the electronic control.

Clock Electronics

To control the Neopixels all that is required is an Arduino. But then I was back to a RTC, GPS or RF signal catcher and I really wanted something, ah, different.

I remembered I installed my own NTP time server on my OS X Mac Mini so…why not use it. I didn’t want to use an Ardunio with Wifi or ethernet, so I decided on an ESPduino D1. The ESPduino is nothing more than an Esp8266 with a CH340G uart connection. I have a couple of them in my parts bin thus if I blow one up, I have a spare.

I found a few sketches that showed how to do NTP, and then I came across a sketch that did it with an 8 digit seven segment display. I have the same display and wired it up for testing just to make sure it worked. It worked quite nicely with my ESPduino D1.

I used the sketch as a starting point for my word clock because my logic and control is significantly different. About an hour later I had a working clock.

IMG 1085

Clock Box

The original box was still in good condition and I used it again. Even managed to reuse the matte from the original in 2014.

IMG 1086

I was going to use a dc-dc buck converter to drop 12V down to 5V but decided to make it even more simple and just use an iPhone charger to supply the 5V everything was going to run off.

Plugged it all in, connected to the access point, set it to use my wireless network and it sprang to life…

IMG 1092

The Tweaks

The original clock had bluetooth for adjustments, colours, brightness, light levels for auto dim and so on. Honestly in the three years it’s been running, I never adjusted any of that. Instead I kept the new build simple with one of the original tweaks left in. The auto brightness.

There’s an LDR mounted in the top of the frame. When the light level in the room drops below a specific level, the clock brightness drops to it’s night time setting. That’s it. Simple.

I printed a ESPDuino D1 mounting plate I found on Thingiverse, stuck it to the back of the foam board, plugged in a USB cable from the iPhone charger and away it went.

IMG 1093

Six connections to the ESPduino and it’s wired.

For the Twelve issue, when I went back through the original sketch I wrote, I missed the number of Neopixels in the strip. By one. My math is better now…

4
May

Ole Mega Ain’t What She Used To Be

The Arduino Mega2560 has been around a long time, at least in the world of micro controllers. Since 2009 so it’s not the new kid on the block by any means. In that time we’ve moved through to R3, revision 3, and it has been a robust hard working reliable platform.

Right up to the point that someone with the IQ of a stump decided to dump the ATMEGA 16U2 and incorporate the cheaper CH340G USB to serial mangler. In most cases, this piece of digital cruft will work. But there is no comparison if you lift the hood or try kicking the tires.

ATMEGA 16U2 VS CH340G

It’s decidedly easy to spot the CH340G, at this point. Course if the same low life decides to change the packaging it’s going to be a little tougher. In the photo, and probably what you’ll see more of than anything else is the one on the left with the CH340. It’s a 16 pin DIP package.

ATMEGA CH

I feel the CH340 has but one goal in life. It pollutes Arduino boards, and it converts from USB to Serial and back.

On the other end of the spectrum, the ATMEGA16U2 is a microcontroller that firmware can be programmed into. Thus you can change the firmware and your computer will think it’s connected to a mouse, joystick, or keyboard. This is impossible to do with a CH340G.

An Arduino MEGA with a ATMEGA16U2 is plug and play for the most part. Most computers will recognize it in a few seconds after you plug it in.

The CH340G on the other hand, requires a driver to be downloaded and installed. Because of its brain dead nature, no computer is equipped to communicate with it unless that driver is there.

From what I can see, there is little price difference between the two but the ATMEGA16U2 is far superior. It might take a little more time to program the 16U2 to be a UART, so perhaps they are more intent on saving time than a users sanity.

The Sheep In The Closet

If you’re thinking, big deal, doesn’t matter to me, it might, depending on what you want to do with the MEGA.

For example, let’s say you want to do some blinky lights, Neopixels, TFT/LCD display, or some sensors. No big deal, it’ll work just fine because the 2560 chip is doing all the work. The 340G is just the way you program the 2560.

On the other hand, let’s shove a RAMPS board on it, upload some MARLIN firmware to it and then connect to it and run our 3D printer. At a high baud rate. Where a LOT of printers like to live. Specifically 250,000 baud. Don’t be surprised if you see messages from PrintRun like this:

Connecting...
Attempted to write invalid text to console, which could be due to an invalid baudrate
Attempted to write invalid text to console, which could be due to an invalid baudrate
Attempted to write invalid text to console, which could be due to an invalid baudrate

Say WHAT? You might not see that with Repetier Host, because it tends to filter out stuff it doesn’t understand so you don’t get junk in the monitor. But you can still see some “resends” because it didn’t understand the last thing it received.

The issue truly is the baud rate. According to the “data sheet” for the CH340H:

CH340 supports common baud rates: 50, 75, 100, 110, 134.5, 150, 300, 600, 900, 1200, 1800, 2400, 3600, 4800, 9600, 14400, 19200, 28800, 33600, 38400, 56000, 57600, 76800, 115200, 128000, 153600, 230400, 460800, 921600, 1500000, 2000000 baud.

Notice there is no “250,000” baud rate in that list? The closest is 230,400.

So many have tried to just code in the 230,400 and use it. And found themselves with errors that just don’t make sense…dropping to 115K baud doesn’t help much either. Marlin’s default with RAMPS is 250K.

I have tried different baud rates and met with poor results so I leave it at 250,000 and it works best on a ATMEGA16U2.

The reason for the 250K was the ATMEGA16U I suspect. The divider of the UART of the AVR (ATMEGA16U2) used in the Arduino can create 250000 without an error, while 230400 has a 3.5% error in clock. Even if 250000 is itself a non-standard baud rate, it just works.

CH340’s Arrggh.

Solution?

The biggest problem is places like Amazon and eBay. Type in Arduino MEGA2560 R3 and you’ll find correct images of an R3 board but a wrong description, images showing a CH340G but all the ad text describing the ATMEGA 16U2, and any combination thereof.

Asking the seller if it’s really a ATMEGA 16U2, I’ve found out (the hard way) is pointless. The mass majority have no clue as to the technical specifications of what they sell. Some will tell you what you want to hear and send you the wrong thing any way.

I don’t think it’s a case of bait and switch, it’s more just a case of blissful ignorance.

So you’re left with getting someone to take responsibility for what they sell. Or trying to find someone who actually knows what they sell. Either way, it’s a path that shouldn’t have be ventured down. Sadly, it’s turning out to be a path all to common.

7
Apr

Octoprint WIFI Hotspot

Having extensively used both Astroprint and Octoprint, I’ve been using Octoprint for the last few months for the extra features it has. Like telling you how much space is left on the SD card, being able to send directly from Slic3r to the printer and so on.

Astroprint could do the same things since it’s really nothing more than a pull of Octoprint with a beautiful GUI and limited controls. However it’s also targeted at a completely different audience so…who knows.

Until today, one of the things that annoyed me about both of them is their inability to create a WiFi hotspot should their normal WiFi network be absent.

I tend to bring my printer to demo’s and the only way to connect it is via USB. Which works, kinda, but Repetier Host and Pronterface are somewhat dodgy on the Mac so there’s starts and stops in communication. Whereas connections with both Octoprint and Astroprint never miss a beat.

As I said, today that changed…

I found this complete step by step description of how to do it:

Painless Wi-Fi for OctoPrint

In short, you create a list of ALL the known WiFi spots that your printer might encounter in a special file. When Octoprint starts up it tries all of those links and if none of them are found, it then creates it’s own WiFi hotspot.

You do need to download a more recent stable image of Octoprint that is configured to use the special list of Wifi hotspots, but that’s not hard to do.

You connect to the printers hotspot, and talk to the printer with an IP address of 10.0.0.5 in your browser. It works perfect. The best thing is that it’s a password protected WiFi hotspot so just anyone can’t connect to your printer during demo’s and create havoc with it.

Kenneth gave credit to the original creator of method here. This information was available last May, but in all my Google searches I never found it.

I’ve since downloaded both pages and saved them as PDF’s.

Just a little nugget of info…certainly the individuals have my sincerest thanks!

9
Mar

3D Printer Webcam

After doing some testing with webcams I’ve come to the conclusion that you need one wide-angle of a brute to get the job done without having to end up setting the webcam up 30+cm or more away from your print bed.

Awkward to say the least.

What I wanted was to put the camera on one of my delta’s towers and have it catch the whole print bed. Impossible.

I duplicated the setup on my bench so this is what it can see… The webcam, standard el cheapo USB version on the left edge, printed 50mm LED light housing sitting on a 220mm bed.

IMG 0966

Through the web cam, this is what I can see…

Webcam Normal

Ah yeah, that’s useful. More like a macro cam. I had to keep in mind that these are meant to sit on the top of your monitor or laptop and grab your happy smiling face for those online chats. Nothing more.

I couldn’t find a wide angle webcam but I did notice that a lot of eBay sellers had some “wide angle” lens attachments you could use on your cellphone to photograph wide angle scenes. Cheap enough, wasn’t worried about the quality, so I ordered one.

IMG 0969

The description:

fisheye:
Angle: 175°- 180°
Magnification: 0.33X
Lens Construction : 3 Element 3 Group
Max Diameter: 25mm
Length: 15mm
 
Wide Angle :
Angle: 130°
Magnification: 0.67X
Lens Construction : 2 Element 2 Group
Max Diameter: 20mm
Length: 11mm
 
Macro :
Magnification : 10X
Min Object distance : 10-15mm
Lens Construction : 1 Element 1 Group
Max Diameter: 20mm
Length: 15mm

The “wide angle” one is fairly useless but…the fisheye one hits the mark!

I merely held the one marked “Fisheye” in front of the webcam lens and got this:

Webcam Wideangle

Probably some edge distortion, but at least it covers a fair portion of the print bed compared to the standard webcam.

I plan on printing up a simple mount to fix it to the front the webcam.

While I’m at it, I should advise that if you get a web cam, make sure you get one that allows you to adjust the focal ring. I have a couple that are fixed focus and a pain to adjust, whereas most of the budget ones I have allow easy focus adjustment.

6
Mar

Kossel Rebuild Time!

At 2,380 hours, it was time for a major Kossel rebuild. The accuracy was suffering a bit more, not that it was ever 100% accurate in the first place.

Plus I’d used the other printer to design a whack of new parts that I needed to test out anyway…

Kossel Disassembly…

As Johnny Five says, “No Disassemble”…which, looking back now might have been good advice…course the other old saw goes, “If it’s not broken, you’re not trying hard enough”.

It took just over four hours to reduce Bullwinkle to frame parts and a cardboard box of screws, nuts, electronics, and add ons. I could see it was going to take a LOT longer to get it back together.

I was astounded at how loose the parts had gotten in two years. Some were merely finger tight. Like the stepper motor screws. Others like the frame screws felt like I used Lactate when I put it together.

IMG 2433

Missing is the box full of new printed parts. The majority of which I custom designed/modified at some point but never got around to testing. Nothing like an unproven design is there…

Bullwinkle Rebuild

I started with the top frame. My own design. There is a top so the 2020 open beam can’t slide all the way through, a mount for the limit switch and a guide to ensure the linear rail would be entered on the 2020 beam.

IMG 2434

The reason for the tall height (60mm) instead of the usual 20mm, is simple. To make the frame more rigid. If you look at the typical delta printers there are large double mounts on the base, but the top of the frame has a rather skimpy structure that is able to twist without a lot of effort.

The mounts I printed fit the 2020 beam like a glove. As in no play whatsoever. Plus as I said there is a top to them so the 2020 beam butts up against it.

IMG 2339

The top side of the mount:

IMG 2340

Next the bottom frame, pretty much standard for a delta except the bottom of the frame is again closed off so the 2020 beam can’t slide through.

IMG 2436

With the closed off areas top and bottom frame, the belts on the steppers actually pull the top and bottom frames together. If any of the frame screws work loose the belt tension will still hold it together. I see this as a good thing. Just untested at this point.

Once the frame was put together, I added the linear rails. Normally you wouldn’t build it this way because it’s harder to put the rails on. Easier to put the rails on the 2020 beam, then put the beam in the frame parts. But since I had designed linear guide alignments into the top frame, well, frame piece had to go on first.

For the bottom end stop, I redesigned a part to ensure alignment all the way down the 2020 beam.

IMG 2429

Next up I soldered in the wires for the top end switches.

IMG 2441

Finally as the day was ending I put the power supply hangers on the top frame, mounted the power supply and ran the 12Vdc wires (16 gauge for the heated bed, 18 gauge for the hot end) down the left beam, and 16 gauge wires for the power wires down the right beam. I enclosed all the wires in some nylon sheathing to keep them from chaffing and keep them neat.

IMG 2442

I found some Mendal “clips” on Thingiverse and printed up a dozen of them. They work great…

Adding in the Arduino and RAMPS 1.4 board I use my own custom sled design to hold those and it works nicely.

Kossel Assembly – Day 2

Since I was rebuilding, I also rebuilt the hot end and extruder. This, of course was going to come back to bite me in the butt, but I didn’t know it at the time.

For the wiring from the hot end down to the RAMPS, I had a thermistor, heating element, 12V fan wire, and variable fan cooling wires. I put them all in a sheath like the 12V and 110Vac wiring. To keep it all neat.

And it was time to test out a new fan setup. On the left you can see the original fan setup I used. Axial 4020 fans, same as the cooling one that runs all the time. And they do work but axial like to be mounted vertically or horizontal, not on a slant. Plus axials don’t like back pressure.

Hence the middle design of the 4020S blower fans. These work absolutely super! BUT, for the variable speed controller I use (a 12V PWM controller from eBay), I had a few fans that didn’t want to spin up unless the full 12Vdc was going to them.

Recently I came across some 4010 blower fans. I redesigned the housing for them and they work better when you want to get out near the edges of the print bed. Plus they weigh 40% less than the other two fan set ups. Win win. Sort of. These fans blow more air than the 4020 blower fans do and don’t like to go as slow. Always trade offs.

IMG 2416

Ultimately, now, I can say that there isn’t a huge advantage over the standard blower fan (4020) other than the weight or size. That doesn’t appear to affect anything as far as I can tell.

The next area I had redesigned was the bed mounts. Every delta I have seen has these tabbed mounts of some sort, with a clip/clamp on the top to hold the glass and heated build plate down. I’ve seen a lot of them made out of PLA. The glass transition point of PLA is lower than what you need to heat the bed up to if you’re printing ABS. Things can get a little squishy. I’d think.

I could have printed some out of ABS, but that stuff gives me such a headache I try to avoid it where I can. Unless it’s summer time and I can vent the shop. So I did the next best thing. I used some silicon (high temp RTV) on the heater.

Silicon Adhesive

Then I put a layer of cork on the bottom.

Cork Mount

Trimmed the outside with a box knife. Mounted the bed right on top of the 2020 beam with the mounts next to it. My logic was that the normal glass mounts could be tilted because of the beam so what difference would it make if the bed sat right on the beam? As it turns out, it works just fine.

Finally the whole thing was back together, levelled, and I was test printing…

IMG 2443

Fail – Opps

This is the part where I say that it’s working absolutely perfect and a 100% successful rebuild.

Except I’d be lying through my teeth if I did.

First thing I did was print a quick bookmark, which incidentally I’ve printed about 100 times because I know what to look for and it doesn’t take long to print…

IMG 2447

See a problem? Yeah. This has got extrusion written all over it. So..

  1. Too far above the bed for first layer? Nope.
  2. Hot end too cold? Nope.
  3. Extruder not putting enough PLA through? Nope ***
  4. Extruder Tension too low/High? Nope ***

Notice the “***”… yeah those are hint giveaways. I used the old extruder and I only replaced the spring in it. The drive gear on my extruder, an MK8 was actually worn to the point that the filament was slipping on it. So 2,380 hours and by sheer chance I rebuilt it at the same time it decided to quick working.

I grabbed one of my spares from my parts bin and within a few minutes, the old gear was gone and new one in it’s place.

MK8 Gear

And all was right? Not. Even. Close.

I had the extruder “clicks”. These appear when you’re trying to shove filament through the bowden tube faster than the little 0.4mm nozzle can let it get out. The extruder skips and clicks. So yeah it printed better but ugly too…

Take a look at the “fingers” on the bookmark and around the eyes at the blobs. Obviously something still amiss.

IMG 2449

But what? At this point, I’d like to say, it was the “A” thing. Except, it wasn’t. It was still a BUNCH of things…things I’d never encountered or even thought of before.

I don’t what made me do it, but I took the bowden tube out of the hot end, sent an M302 code to the printer, and told it to extrude 100mm of filament. I fully expected 100mm of filament. I got 104.7mm on average. Say what?

As it happens, these MK8 gear things are not all made the same. Mine was extruding more than the original worn out one. Some rapid math calc and I had a new step value to put in Marlin for the extruder.

And all was fixed? Nah. Like I said, multiple issues. Now I was squashing the filament so hard with the new spring it was binding. Ah HA! A quick and easy fix.

I loaded up some freshly opened filament, printed again. Finally getting much better…however…if you look at the bottom you’ll see a line of fill that shouldn’t really be there. It’s in the solid fill so I’m over extruding so the solid fill ended up on top of the solid file (Slic3r tends to fill all over so it can and does backfill on itself).

IMG 2445

Didn’t make any sense to me, so I grabbed the old extruder gear, popped it in the extruder, asked for 100mm and measured what I got. 98.4mm average.

In a lot of slicer programs they tell you to set the extrusion multiplier to .9 for PLA filament. Purely by accident when I built this one two years ago I’d plugged in the right steps to give me about .94 and it had worked. Right up to the point where it wore out.

My choices were either to correct this in the firmware, or do it in the slic3r I use. I did it in slic3r and all came out like this:

IMG 2446

Summary

I swear I spent more time troubleshooting this rebuild than I did just rebuilding it. I learned a whack in the process, grew some more grey hairs and stressed out trying to figure it out.

In the end, I got the printer working like it should, it’s more accurate than it was and it’s really nice to have it in one piece again.

But the old adage is true, when you spill something out of the bucket you’re going to need a bigger bucket to get it all back in.

10
Feb

Soldering Gear

Soldering

A word that can strike mind numbing fear into first timers. I kind of remember learning how to do it, from a ham radio operator no less. Frustration for me, laughter for him. When I was 10 years old.

Now admittedly most parents wouldn’t dream of letting their 10 year old grab hold of a hot soldering iron because, well, they’re kids. And you never know what could happen.

Fortunately I was born in an era that believed if you grabbed something hot and burned yourself, you instantly gained the experience to never do that again. My parents bought me a wood burning kit for Xmas when I was 10, and with it came the responsibility that I wasn’t going to “burn the house down”. To their delight, I’m sure, it was never an issue.

Soldering came to me because I was a model train nut in my pre-teens. Running wires and switches for tracks, sidings, lights and so on with nothing more than electrical tape was, really, more of a hazard than my wood burning set.

This blog won’t teach you how to solder. Neither will too many of the online videos or “instruction” pages I’ve seen. You want to learn to solder, find someone who can do it well, beg or bribe them to teach you. One on one. Makerspaces are a fabulous resource for this.

The dead giveaway for someone who lacks soldering skills? They use the gun or iron as a “paint brush” to “flow” the solder around the connection. You don’t wipe a solder joint with an iron to flow the solder. Unless you’re sculpting.

Guns, Irons, Stations, Torches

When you’ve got soldering under control, and don’t expect instant miracles, you may want to actually buy some soldering gear of your own.

If you’re under the impression that you can buy a 25W soldering iron and you’re good to go, my best advice would be save your money. Go see a movie. Why? Because the pleasant experience of the movie will last a heck of a lot longer than a 25W soldering iron experience will.

So let’s start with the cheapest thing that will melt solder..and the thing to avoid buying if you can…

Wellar

First, Weller makes some truly great products. A pencil styled soldering iron isn’t one of them. Think of these more as a fabulous wood burning tool and you won’t go wrong. True, they will solder, in some cases, but as you get better with soldering, you’ll toss this thing. Main drawback? No temperature control adjustment.

Next up we have soldering guns. Like this one:

Weller 8200n

Runs 100 to 140 watts, easy tip to replace. You can use it for almost any gauge of wires from 14 to 26. You won’t use it to solder any components on a printed circuit board. The tip is too large. If you’re building a 3D printer, the one place you need this gun?

IMG 1218

That’s right. When you soldering the wires on to the bed heater. The bed heater is a big chunk of aluminum with a copper pattern on it. The metal dissipates the heat so fast from a soldering iron, only a gun will work. Plus the gun has to match the area. That’s a 220mm plate with a 100/140 watt gun. If you have a large metal plate, like 300mm, you need a 220/260 watt gun.

These old Weller guns last, well, at this point…here’s a snap of me at 15 when I was fixing my guitar amp (yeah on the kitchen table)…that is the SAME gun in the heated bed photo above. It is 50 years old and it still works just fine and the only repair was I put a new plug on the end of the power cord.

Mel Soldering

Plus in a pinch when I didn’t have a replacement tip (they do wear out), I’ve grabbed a piece of house wiring, 14/2 (NMD7), stripped the insulation off it, bent it in the shape of the original tip and it works, just fine until I can get a replacement tip. Which they still make…

As to why I am fixing my amp, I couldn’t afford to take it to a tech so I learned enough electronics that I could do my own repairs.

On the list next are soldering stations. To me, even a lousy one of these is better than a pencil iron.

Stations vary in quality. A lot. Typically a Hakko (genuine) is the cream of the crop, everything else is a wannabe. However, if you don’t do a lot of soldering, you don’t need a top of line station either. Again, match what you want to do with the gear to do it.

What you want in a station is first, replacement tips, with a chisel tip of 1.2mm or 1.4mm being the standard tip for component use. There are scads of tips to pick from if you have special requirements. Order a few extra when you buy the station. If they stop making tips for your iron, the iron is a conversation piece.

Second, you want temperature control. And not some analog gauge that looks like the black/green/red one from an old battery tester either. A digital read out one that has a knob to control not push buttons.

Below is an example of a relatively inexpensive station that will do a decent enough job and not put you in the poor house. Notice the place that holds the iron? It has both a sponge and a wire shavings area to keep the tip of the iron nice and clean. Oh, and don’t forget to wet the sponge before you use it. It’ll last a lot longer…:-)

Station

Last on the list is a torch. And again it depends what you’re doing. Like plumbing. Torches are great! Working on a printed circuit? Not so great. Pay attention to what the pros use, get something along that line.

Solder

Of course, having the melting tool isn’t going to do anything unless we have something to melt. In this case, solder.

And all solder is created equally right? Nope. You need to match the solder to what you want to use it for. Unless it’s an emergency or some stop gap measure in which case, yeah, we’ll use whatever we can lay our hands on.

Lets start with the big stuff…as in plumbing…typically 60/40 or 50/50 (lead to tin mix). You’ll need some solder paste, clean joints and a spool of this stuff:

50 50

And a torch. This is big heavy stuff, takes a fair bit of heat to melt it.

Moving on, we get to electronic stuff. Printed circuit boards, wiring, finer detail stuff. And in a pinch, automotive as well.

Solder Type

Here things get a little complicated because there are two very different types of solder in use. One is the age old lead/tin and the other is lead free. There are pros and cons for both so pick a camp on your own choice. One thing to keep in mind is that if you’re repairing something that was made with lead free solder, you need to use the same.

Solder Diameter

Soldering diameter is also important. You want something with a .31 or .32mm diameter if you’re doing PCB work (or general smaller gauge wiring). Buying by the pound, Kester for example, is usually the best way to buy. But it’s not cheap and if you have to mail order it, keep in mind that it is a pound weight…

Quick Review

I recently got a tube of MG Chemicals solder, lead/tin, to try out. My normal brand is Kester 44 sn63/pb37 (tin/lead).

The first thing I asked myself is who in world decided to ship solder in a tube? So I thought about that for a minute and I think that they are saving on packaging. Normally solder comes on a plastic spool, inside a cardboard box. By shipping it in a tube, for a small quantity, they move away from that problem. Cost effective, don’t know about the plastic tube in landfill though…

Course the day I buy a small quantity of solder isn’t going to happen any time soon.. So the first thing I did:

IMG 2360

Yep, pull it out of the tube and coil it up. And I have to say it does make a nice sized coil. But it got me to thinking… MG sells solder wick, and I readily admit I have used wick about 3 times in fifty years), in a “spool”. I’d suggest the plastic tube would be better served with a simple spool like the wick. But I’m not a marketing guy so…just what I’d prefer.

IMG 2361

As I mentioned before, I’ve used Kester solder for a long, long, long, oh heck, since I started.

When using the MG, I found that it doesn’t flow as easily or nicely as the Kester does. And really, 63/37 solder is 63/37 solder. Thus the difference has to be in flux.

MG Chemicals says, “RA-like flux core” and “It generally exceeds J-STD-004 and J-STD-006 specifications

Kester says, “The high mobility and fast-spreading action of this flux results in more reliable production line soldering. 44 is classified as ROM1 per J-STD-004

Whatever all the heck that means. Me? I’m just an end user and I like the flux wetting action of the Kester by far.

While I really like the new MG Chemicals PLA, the solder? True is does do the job, but …meh.

23
Jan

Octoprint Webcam

One of the nice things about Octoprint is that it’s relatively easy to add a webcam so you can easily view your print progress from your local network, or from anywhere on the internet if you so choose.

What’s not so nice is trying to get a camera working sometimes.

I picked up a couple of Logitech C270 webcams when a local store put them on sale. Plugged them into the USB on the Rasp Pi 3 (the other went on a Rasp Pi 2), booted the PI and printer up. Working. No muss, no fuss.

And the first problem. I hadn’t thought about it but when sitting in front of a computer you’re about 30″ away from the monitor in most cases (arms length), so that’s the fixed focus point for the majority of webcams. On Thingiverse there are any number of focus ring hacks for the C270 cameras so you can actually adjust the focus as need be.

Therein exposing the second problem. Depth of field. Ever notice those telephoto shots in National Geographic are sharp on the subject but the background is typically out of focus?. Webcams suffer the same thing. If you focus on the center of your printer bed, when the head moves to the edges of the bed, they can go out of focus.

Once you get the focus adjusted to where you want it, the camera in a nice convenient position, I’ve found that the field of view is very narrow. In other words, you see about a 4″ square in the center of the bed. Outside of that is beyond the cameras view.

For a webcam to work nicely, it should be a wide angle lens, and adjustable focus.

First Webcam Test

I scoured fleaBay for some of the cheapest webcams I could find and ordered some. As in $3 webcam. No doubt the ultimate quality. Or not. For the price, if it didn’t work, who cares.

The first one I tried was described as: 8 Mega Pixels 50M 6 LED USB Webcam Camera. Whatever the heck all those numbers meant. Essentially 640 x 480 with a manual focus ring. USB 2.0.

When I plugged it in, no soap. Where the image should have shown in Octoprint there was a place marker.

8 Mega Pixels 50M 6 LED USB Webcam Camera with Mic for PC Laptop Computer | eBay 2017 01 23 12 44 58

Octoprint really doesn’t do the webcam any way, there is a jpeg Streamer it links to on the Raspberry. Obviously something was off.

A quick Google and I found the Octoprint Webcam Compatibility List.

Reading down through the list I found this reference:

Webcams known to work  foosel OctoPrint Wiki  GitHub 2017 01 23 12 50 07

I didn’t bother checking the USBid of the camera, just looked at the configuration needed to make the camera work and what file to modify. This info is right at the top of the webpage as boot/octopi.txt

Going to have to SSH to make the change. So off to another computer on the network to run a terminal program. Mac guys can use the Terminal app in /Applications/Utilties. Windows users seem to prefer using PuTTY. Since I’m not a Windows user, I can’t help with PuTTY but most term programs work the same any way so my screen shots should look more or less like what you might see.

Raspberry Pi IP

You’ll need to know the IP address of your Octoprint installation. If you can’t figure it out, there’s actually a plug-in for Octoprint that’s quite useful. It’s called “Detailed Progress”.

Oct Detailed

To install it, click on Settings–>Plugin Manager–>Get More and look through the list of plugins you can download.

After the plugin is installed, the Pi will reboot and when it starts back up your LCD display will show the IP it has on your network. That’s the IP you’ll use in the Terminal program to SSH to it.

The plug in will also display, during a print, the elapsed time, the time that the print will finish, the estimated elapsed time of the print, and percentage done.

SSHing We Go

Run your Terminal application and you should get a prompt where you can type in commands…and you type in the following line replacing the IP with the IP of your Rasp Pi and press return:

SSH PI IP

On the Mac, you might see something like this if you have never SSH’d into it before:

SSH PI Authen

What it’s saying is it doesn’t have a ECDSA, encrypted digital signature for the host, so…type in yes, we want to make sure in future the Term program knows who this host is.

Next up you’ll be greeted with the Password prompt. No brainer, if you’ve never changed your Pi’s password, it will be raspberry

If you’ve used a different password, use it. A successful login looks like:

SSH PI LOGIN

When you arrive on the Pi, you’re in your users directory so use this line to give yourself admin status and go into the text editor on the Pi:

sudo nano /boot/octopi.txt

This is a text editor, you don’t use the mouse. You use CTRL keys and your keyboard arrow keys to move around.

SSH Nano 1

Use the arrow keys to move the cursor down to just below where it says, “# for available options”. The # symbol means the line is a comment, not a command.

Press Enter to start a new blank line and type in the configuration for your webcam. In my case the line will read:

camera_usb_options=”-r VGA -y” and end the line with the return key.

Press CTRL O, this will write out the file and yes, you want to overwrite the old file.

Press CTRL X, to exit the Nano text editor

Back in the terminal now, type in:

sudo reboot

You can now quit your Terminal application.

The Rasp Pi will drop the connection to your computer, reboot and you should then be able to pull up Octoprint and have your web cam work.

19
Jan

3D Printing Power Meter

Just wandering through fleaBay sometimes produces a “hey that looks kind of interesting”…which then unlocks the labyrinth of bunny trails.

Since energy seems to be a topic, when I spotted a simplistic energy monitor, well, heck, let’s take it for a spin..

Energy Monitor

This is a 20 AMP AC monitor, a cumulative monitor no less. For the rock bottom cost of $10 CDN. For bucks like that, it’s probably so accurate it’s even used in medical applications. Or Not.

IMG 2295

A whopping four screw terminal is all you need to connect said wee beastie to the AC source. Which in my case (in the event you are not in North America) 120VAC.

IMG 2297

The unit brags that polarity is not an issue, none the less I tried to keep the neutral and hot leads where they might go logically. This is using the broad assumption that the engineer who designed this anticipated such logical thinking. Or Not.

Instead of leaving those uber friendly 120VAC lines laying around, I made a quick box and printed it to house the hazards.

IMG 2301

Next, up, what to measure?

3D Printer

This was solved fairly quickly since I had a 16 minute print job to do. I plugged in the Energy Meter, turned on the printer. Darn thing worked. Am I surprised? Yes, I am. Many is the time I have received things from fleaBay only to have the smoke leak out on the first power up.

From the first power up, with no printer even turned on I got this information:

PM Start

Next I turned on the printer. In my case it’s a Kossel 360W 12Vdc 30A power supply, Raspberry PI Octoprint AC adapter). I initiated the print and the bed starting heating. According to the Energy Meter, it’s using 10.3W of power, 140ma. Not exactly a power sucker.

I examined the 12V power supply to see what the current draw was when connected to the AC line. Yeah, what was I thinking. I dunno. Line voltage is the only spec for AC they give you.

PM Bed Heating

Once the bed was up to temp, the hot end kicked in. Oddly I thought the bed would be the demanding one. Turns out the hot end is actually the energy sponge. At this point the bed is not on. Just the hot end.

PM Printing

And then the bed kicked in, with the hot end. With both heaters on, we have a 2A load. Not exactly a heavy power user. To put it perspective, five of these printers would use less than an electric kettle, although it will run longer…

PM Bed Printing

After the print job was completed, the energy meter displayed the Wh (watt hours) used for the 16 minutes. Of course the printer was still on and drawing power so that is displayed as well.

PM Complete

Summary

So what’s the point of all this? Honestly it was more curiosity than anything else.

I can’t see this saving any money or anything, and considering the energy meter itself is a load, if left on for long enough it would add itself to the energy cost.

Plus it’s not like companies who build/clone 3D printers are going to suddenly get energy responsible any time soon. You can’t compare energy costs of this printer vs that printer, magazines don’t even give out that sort of info in their reviews.

I’ve never a review that stated, “While this printer turns out incredible print jobs, the energy cost is far above/below normal”. Wait. I’ve never seen the latter, I’ve seen the former too many times without any supplied hi-res photos of actual print output.

So there you go, for what it’s worth. Which could be slightly less than some of the reviews you’ve read. Or not.

13
Dec

Octoprint – Webcams – Slic3r

Not a day goes by that I don’t learn something new about 3D printing. Sometimes it’s fairly important, other times it’s more of a “Hey, how’d I miss that one?”

This entry is more of the latter.

For the past several months I have been throughly putting both Astroprint and Octoprint through their paces. Originally Astroprint was winning and that’s kind of odd when you stop and consider that Astropint is really a fork (subset of code) of Octoprint.

Astroprint simplicity for setup and usage, plus it’s fairly limited capabilities were the advantages. However the Octoprint crowd hasn’t been sitting by either and with the last two or three updates, I’ve completely swung over to that side of the platform. So who would want to use Astroprint? Someone who wants the absolutely easiest setup and an interface that actively scales astoundingly well to any device you connect with. Cellphone, tablet, computer, all look and work exactly the same.

What you give up with Astroprint is control during a print job. Therein lies the major difference. Octoprint is like running Repetier Host but remotely.

For the reminder I’ll stick with Octoprint. Note, this isn’t meant to be a guide on getting Octoprint running, there’s plenty of info on the net for that.

Webcams

Octoprint allows you to connect almost any USB webcam to the Raspberry PI it runs on. Webcams vary, in quality, price, mounts, well, just about every aspect you can think of. Octoprint has a web page that shows webcam compatibility so if you’re not sure, check it.

The benefit of having a webcam is not that you can watch your print in progress, it’s that you can CHECK your print in progress. Normally when you log into Octoprint you can see a progress bar. This more or less tells you the printer is still running. Not what it’s actually doing.

Hence if something has went wrong during the print, you’ll be able to see it immediately. A side benefit to this that you can even do a time lapse photo session of the print. Not to watch your print in fast motion but more to say critique the progress and spot any weak areas. Least that’s what I do with it.

As it happens, Staples had a sale on the Logitech C270 web cams so I took advantage of it and picked up a couple. These are HD web cams, 1280 x 720 wide screen support. Small too…

C270 Webcam

To make them work, I plugged them into my Rasp PI’s running Octoprint. Done.

Webcam Gotcha

After plugging in the webcam, a few things become abundantly clear. The first is if you are thinking about mounting the camera to your printer, keep in mind any vibration from the printer is not going to help it.

Second, these are WEB CAMS. Think about how close to you those web cams will be and you’ll get the feel for the minimum focus distance. Some web cams have adjustable focus, the C270 does not. I found anything closer than 30cm was starting to get blurry.

Lastly, once you have found a place for the webcam at a decent focus distance, you still have to mount it. Seriously these things have lousy mount options.

So let’s assume you need the camera close to the build surface. You need to modify the camera for manual focus. Fortunately Thingiverse has some items you can print to assist you with this. Like a complete new camera front with manual focus.

For mounting, a quick search of Thingiverse will reveal all kinds of mounts. I chose this mount and modified it for my own setup.

IMG 2053

Yep, some PLA, 3M screws and nuts, chunk of 2×4. True maker style. Sits nicely between the two printers I have.

IMG 2055

Running my web browser and pulling up Octoprint, this is what I see from the webcam on Bullwinkle:

Bullwinkle WebCam

I did have to remove one bank of LED lights I had on the build platform because they washed out the camera too badly. But I still got to leave one connected. It helps.

One other advantage of keeping the camera further back from the build area is you can see the full height (200mm).

Slic3r Coolness

Slic3r options:

Send Gcode OLD

So normally what I do for slicing is, run Slic3r, open the STL, change any settings I want, slice the STL, save it to my drive, quit Slic3r, run the web browser, connect to the printer, locate the GCODE file, and either drop it on the browser window to upload it, OR use the “upload” button in the browser to send the GCODE file to the printer.

So imagine my surprise when I spotted a couple of screen shots from other Slic3r users…mmmmm and then the Octoprint posting news…

Send GOCDE

What manner of silicon snake oil do we have here…turns out it’s the healthy kind!

First off, get Octoprint running. Then run Slic3r on whatever desktop computer you normally use it with. Click on the “Printer” tab and you’ll see this:

Slic3r Octoprint

See the heading “Octoprint Upload”…click on the BROWSE button and Slic3r will look for your printer, pop up a dialog with what it found to allow you to select that printer (handy if you have more than one on the network).

Slic3r Find

If you click the TEST button, it’s not going to work. Nope. There’s a blank field under the IP address you need to fill in. To do that, point your browser to Octoprint and select “Settings”–>”API”. See that BIG LONG line of hex in the API key? Copy it.

Octoprint API

Switch back to Slic3r and PASTE that API key under the IP address. SAVE the printer configuration and that’s it.

From now on, when you slice, click the SEND to Octoprint button and the GCODE will be stored on the microSD card for you. It won’t clutter up your hard drive any more. If you have more than one printer, as I do, just select that printer profile in Slic3r and that’s where the GCODE will go.

Since I’ve started to slice this way I’ve found it super handy. Oh, if you open multiple STL’s in slicer and you’re wondering what the file will be saved as, it’s almost always the name of the first STL you opened so that’s what you look for on Octoprint.

7
Dec

Printer Vibration Iso – Part 2 et al

Before I get into the meat of the topic, I’ve noticed something rather interesting with the Arduino IDE and the Marlin firmware, at least on a delta printer.

During my tests with the firmware I’ve found the RepRap Smart Controller (an LCD2004) is very unresponsive when I was using the button on the controller. The whole printer “worked” fine, but, it was obvious that something had changed.

I initially thought that one of my “mods” in the firmware had affected it. However after going over my notes I couldn’t find anything that should affect the response of the rotary knob.

Purely by accident I was making yet another change to the firmware, when, much to my surprise, the rotary knob was back to fully responsiveness again. Say what?

I had inadvertently run the 1.6.5 version of the IDE and compiled and uploaded the firmware. Ah ha! I quickly ran the 1.16.13 version, re-flashed the firmware, ah yes, dodgy again.

Couple more tests and I found any Arduino IDE after version 1.6.8 caused the rotary to be flaky. I have no idea why, if it’s something in the IDE that has changed, if one of my libraries isn’t happy, or what, but it warranted a post-it note on the printer to remind me…

Printer Vibration – correction…

After my initial tests with my db meter a few days back, there’s been something gnawing at the back of my brain. Trying disparately to get out. Apparently. See, the 82db just didn’t ruddy sound, skip the pun, right. In my recording studio I’m well versed with sound check levels and something was wrong.

Tonight the penny dropped. I was metering the printer again with some new feet I made and I was sitting at 54db. What? How the? And then, as I said, the penny dropped. So for you audio geeks, here’s the scoop.

When I measured the original sound level previously, I was standing 1 meter in front of the printer. Cause sound measurement levels are supposed to be 1 metre away from the source. Tonight I was standing about 45 degrees off the front, but still one metre away. After scratching my head for a second or two…bingo. It hit me.

Or rather it didn’t “hit” me. What didn’t? The air stream from the fan. On my printers the fan blows directly towards the front of the printer. All db meters have very sensitive microphones and what I was measuring was the air pressure from the fan that blows 8CFM. If I put my hand in front to block the air flow, of course the sound level dropped.

But from the side, yeah, no air stream. Room was 50db without the printer doing any print job, and 54db with printing.

Live and learn. Again.

Feet Version 1

Here’s a recap of the original concept feet. I threaded the center of the vertical 2020 beam with a 5mm tap, screwed the mount to the corners, added the cute dollar store balls.

IMG 1987

Within a couple of days I found a couple reasons why this wasn’t a terribly bright idea. The first is, the damn balls roll. When I whack the stuck off the print bed, the whole printer wants to move because the print is stuck there. I also found the when printing with any speed, there’s a lot of movement going on. No, not so much it’s going to roll off, but enough that I didn’t get any warm fuzzies.

Lastly, there was the quality of the balls themselves. We’re talking dollar store stuff. I had visions of one of the balls splitting in half and the printer looking like the leaning tower of Pisa. Or worse, on my floor. In pieces.

This, of course, lead to a rethink.

Feet Version 2

It sort of started with, gee, I wonder what the balls are made of. Out came the box knife and I halved one. High density foam rubber. And not a lot of air holes in it either.

As I stared at the half, there was a spark of, ingenuity? Okay, so I didn’t want to throw out the pieces..I designed a holder for them.

IMG 2010

I used the same 5mm screw location from the last test set, added some double sided tape in the holder and mounted one on the corner.

Feet Mount

True it does stick out somewhat but the center is directly under the corner and the print is using a 50% infill.

Foot In Action

Now if the ball splits or whatever, the most the printer will lean is about 15 degrees. Plus with the design the printer doesn’t roll around or shift it’s weight on faster print jobs.

Just for the heck of it, I thought I would add three more cups for a total of six.

Iso V2

Safe to say that once you have the corners done, adding more doesn’t do much. Perhaps makes it a touch more stable but not by any margin that I could measure.

The other printer I have, I stayed with the corner design only.

Iso v1

Of course this printer has more weight pressing down on the corners than the one with six support points but really, I don’t see any difference in the amount of noise being transferred into the cabinet below.

All I hear now is stepper motor noise.

Isolation Enclosure

One of the disturbing things I see is 3D printer owners building all manner of cabinet enclosures to assist in printing the tricky ABS, or trying to keep the noise from the steppers at a level where they can get some sleep at night.

Why is this disturbing? Pretty simple. Electronic components are designed to work within a specific temperature range. The majority of commercial components are designed to work from -30 – +70C.

The ATMega2560 CPU is designed to work -55 to +85C. With a heated bed, in an enclosure, warmed up to 80C+, the not so earth shattering news is the component is not going to last as long as if it was in the free air.

On the printers that are designed to be enclosed, there’s no doubt a cooling fan for the electronics and a vent out of the enclosure. However, these are brand name printers, not the knock off junk one finds on fleaBay, BangGone, or AliExpleatedDeleted…

Secondly, the RAMPS board has some MOSFET’s on it and while those handle heat quite well (depending on the MOSFET on the board), adding some 90-110C heat to it, you know, just to keep it warm, isn’t going bode well over time either. Plus if you have under gauge wire for the bed, a bad connection to the terminal block on the RAMPS board, yeah, not going to bode well. At all.

Food for thought any way.

6
Dec

Raspberry PI Monitor Mount

I’ve been using a couple of Raspberry PI’s for Astroprint (Astrobox) and Octoprint (Octopi) for the last few months and both of them have been performing perfectly. Although, what I have noticed is that running two Octoprints on two Rasp Pi’s Wifi connections take a little longer to establish.

Whereas with Astroprint, easier to setup, easier and faster to connect to. Resizes well to fit smaller screens like iPads or mobile phones. The gotcha is you give up a fair bit of control (like speed, flow rate, etc). Thus, pros and cons.

But I digress so…I have a couple of Rasp Pi’s that I use for various purposes and they work well. Except for a few things. Like being small, compact, easy to access and so on. While the Rasp Pi is billed as a true $35 computer, in fact it’s probably closer to a $250 computer. Add a keyboard, mouse and monitor, power adapter (a good one), Wifi dongle if you use a Pi 2 and it doesn’t exactly look like so good of a deal.

If you have spare components laying around, of course it does get more cost effective, but it’s still going to cost as much as a budget laptop in the end. Something to keep in mind.

What I loathe is setting it up, plugging it in to a monitor, keyboard, rat, because I want to do something in the GUI (Pixel) not the command line. Then tear it down and put it away. Ugh,

I have an ancient Samsung monitor, VGA, and that’s not going to plug into any Rasp 2 or 3 easily. So off I go to find an VGA to HDMI adapter…Amazon has them so I order one and it shows up.

Adapter

The adapter works but I do wish there was side nuts on that VGA portion so I could screw in the VGA cable from the monitor. Good thing it holds fairly well…

Unfortunately now I have this unruly 6′ VGA cable, power adapter cable for the PI and so on… It’s still not neat…

The back of the monitor doesn’t have any place to mount a Rasp Pi, there is no room on the swivel base that allows easy access to the microSD slot, HDMI and USB ports…so…

IMG 2023

I found a VESA mount for the Raspberry on Thingiverse…and printed it out. Then I looked at the back of the monitor and thought, what about if I designed a hanger…

IMG 2022

The expression is quick and dirty. I used a protractor to measure the angle off the back of the monitor the PI would need to be mounted at to make it vertical. Designed a simple hanger, screwed in the PI, added some stand off feet…and then zap strapped the VGA cable to the monitor stand.

IMG 2026

No cables running on the desk, all behind at the back of the monitor. When I need access into the PI to remove the flash card or get to the ports, it’s exposed and easy. I can use bluetooth or 2.4Ghz dongles for keyboard/rat and less cables.

Before I had a 3D printer, there would have no doubt been some project box, double sided foam tape, and an appreciable amount of misery involved when it comes to stuff like this. This is one of the aspects that really draws me into 3D printing. Making needed stuff…

27
Nov

Printer Vibration Isolation

Honestly I have no idea how I get started on these projects somedays. I suspect it’s like a an idea or concept that’s been trapped in the dark cobwebbed corners of my mind and suddenly, they burst to the forefront. Or something like that.

As a guy with not just one printer, but two, Kossels, when both of them get going, the radio in the shop, which isn’t exactly top quality in its own realm, loses out to them.

It’s been a sort of quest to find a way to get them to be a little quieter. A few months back I had a Turnigy on loan and it actually made my Kossels sound quiet. But it’s gone now and I hear the drone of my own printers.

Today I’d had enough and it was time to do something.

In the past I’d try any number of things and in the process I’d learn a few things. The first thing is if you put a printer on top of a cabinet or table, whatever is under it will instantly be transposed into a speaker. Depending on the frequency where everything meshes, and trust me there will be some resonant frequency, it’ll be a mid-range drone, or a sub-woofer growl.

My printers sit on top of a 6ft x 30″ by 42″H cabinet as shown. The shelves aren’t empty and this is a good thing.

IMG 1985

I also tested a printer sitting on top of a wooden table, one that is 2″ solid oak top, 2 1/2″ square legs and solidly built. The drone coming from under the table area was wicked and the legs transmitted the vibration downstairs to the main floor through the floor/ceiling. Yep, easy to tell when the printer was finished its print job if you were downstairs.

I picked up some hardwood floor sliders, rubber on one side, fuzzy backing on the floor side.

Floor Things

They work fairly well, certainly better than setting the printer frame directly on top of a cabinet or table top.

Still I wondered if more couldn’t be done. I set about sleuthing and found all manner of things. From a MagLev setup, that apparently would wander on its own if you didn’t have all the legs absolutely level. Which made sense, sort of like mercury finding the lowest point.

To printed spring feet and even springs inside of holders. They were billed as vibration dampers but really, they just cut down the vibration from transmitting to whatever the printer was sitting on. If the printer shook to start with, it shook when all was said and done.

In a lot of ways, it reminded me of my recording studio. Where the monitors tend to reflect down into the shelf or cabinet they perch on top of. If it was concrete, no vibration at all. But that’s kind of heavy and unruly to deal with…

Just for a test, I lifted one of the printers while it was printing to see what isolating it might sound like. Wow. From the usual drone to little stepper motor noises.

I put it back down on my cabinet and grabbed my DB meter.

IMG 1986

The lowest reading I could get was 83db @ 1 metre. Moving the meter around I could get 85+db though.

I was thinking about mounting the printer on rubber pneumatic bladders like we used to have at work when I happened across a Thingiverse item. A very simple design, used dollar store balls about the size of a golf ball. I modified the mounts slightly and built my own.

IMG 1989

Those are somewhat soft squishy balls, worth all of $1.25. And wowzers, do they work.

All I hear now is the steppers. No more drone coming from the printer/cabinet/table. Because the balls are bouncy, I found the whole printer does move a little more, so I don’t know at this point if that’s a good or bad point.

It could be a good thing since it’s absorbing some of the energy of the printer as it tosses the hot end around. Most deltas tend to have vertical energy as opposed to the Cartesian’s X/Y axis energy.

Out with the DB meter again, doesn’t matter where I measured from at 1 metre, the highest I can get it is 81db. As far as sound goes, 2 or more db is a significant change. A 3db change is often perceived by the ear as twice the volume, because the ear is logarithmic not linear.

There is enough weight on the balls that there is no way it’ll “roll” off, perhaps even different kinds of balls would perform differently as well. No idea at this point. If these “high ticket” items start to sag, well, another $1.25 and all would be well again…

I also saw someone use tennis balls in the same concept. I also have those but the little toy balls seem to work just great so that’s what I am going to test with for the meantime.

So there you go. What to know what your printer would sound like if you did the same thing? Lift it up whilst it’s printing. If you like that, print the mounts and isolate it.

Trendy….

17
Nov

Delta 3D Printers – Mirth, Myths and Madness

3D printing is not new, it’s been around in some form or other since 1989 or so. What is new is the introduction of 3D printing for the hobbyist, we poor unsuspecting souls. This has been gaining momentum since 2011.

A quick search of the net will result in the fact that there are over 1,000 different 3D printers available today and a small percentage of those will be delta style printers. That small percentage is the basis for this blog entry. Dated, today. Stardate whatever…to go where no man has gone…oh wait, we have gone there.

Delta’s owe their heritage to Johann the person who provided the jumping off point, not to be taken literally, for the delta’s we have today. His first prototype was the Rostock, followed by the more refined Kossel.

While it seems like age ago now, a mere short 18 months ago what I knew about 3D printing could be written on your fingernail, in large type and the nail would still be plainly visible. I suffered from D.A.A.P at the time. What’s DAAP? Dumb As A Post. To put it into perspective.

When I started I understood there was some hardware and software to make the thing work. Software I assumed would be fairly easy because I’ve been writing software since 1979. That was a bit of a mistake looking back, but at least I had the background to figure things out.

The hardware, that looked amazingly easy, turned out to be not quite as straight forward as I assumed. Thus I decided I’d better have a good backup plan before I “built” any type of printer.

As it happened, David, one of the members of Fraser Valley Makerspace had cobbled together some extrusion, electronic bits and mechanical pieces, and made them available through the Makerspace as a Kossel kit. He had a working one, so…I decided it must work and bought one.

The Madness

There are seemingly two kids of people who want 3D printers.

The first are those who want to use it like a toaster. Take it home, plug it in, briefly read enough of whatever documentation there is to make toast and use it. Of course there’ll be some burnt bread, but there’s a better chance of it working at the on set, the learning curve will be mainly filaments and software.

My first piece of advice, if you’re this first type, buy a Cartesian printer. Brand name. Make friends with other people who have them, even better if they are local to you. Check out any local maker spaces, they make great resources. Something eventually will not make sense and/or break, you need a backup plan to keep the toaster toasting.

If you must build a kit, find someone who has built one that can help you build it. As a friend of mine put it, two heads are better than none.

The second types are the tinkerers. My ilk. Folks who love to build stuff, take it apart, tweak it, make it work better, change it, redesign it, use it and educate themselves to no end on it. Whatever it might be. There is as much joy in building as there is using for me and my ilk.

My logic at the time was that if I got stuck at some point in the build, I needed a parachute to help me over the rough areas and that would be where the Makerspace came in.

I had zero clue at the time I’d be dangling off that rip cord for more than a month with the ground rushing up at Mach 3.

I owe my sanity in my initial build to one of the FVM members, Rob. While he’d hadn’t built one of the kits himself, he did own a Ditto 3D printer and had single handedly got the mini-Kossel working at the space. Thus when I got stuck or didn’t get something, Rob to the rescue. A lot. He become, unbeknownst to him, Rob Rip Cord.

Even with a well equipped workbench, micrometers, scopes, power supplies but I have to say that I found I needed a metric tap and die set, metric drill bits, metric hex wrenches, metric hex screw drivers. I did a lot of shopping on fleaBay.

Plus my kit didn’t include any preformed wiring harness, no Dupont ends already in place, no power supply, or power supply wiring, thus for a fair chunk, I was on my own. However, having built circuits since I was 13, it didn’t really present much of a challenge in many respects.

There was a manual that I downloaded. It was supposed to be a guide on how to build the Kossel. Pretty evident from the start that the downloaded manual was for a different printer. Everything from the nuts and bolts to the extrusions were different. Sort of like building a Chevy with a Honda manual.

While I thought this lack of instructions must be unique, in hind sight I have now found scads of printers in kit form that clearly state, “If you don’t know how to assemble one of these, don’t buy this because we offer no manual or limited technical support”. Of course the price of the kit reflects this but still…not what a first time builder wants to start with. Me? I suffered DAAP, I was undaunted.

I finally reached the frustration point where I was either going to toss it out, or find the humour in it. Fortunately I found the humour.

IMG 0119

And while I’d like to think that I know what I am doing when it comes to building things, yeah, not so much for a 3D printer. Mostly due to the fact I didn’t know how the thing worked in the first place. DAAP.

I did everything backwards, wrong, or just dumbly. Heavy on the dumb. Hey I even lost some of the ball bearings out of the linear rails because I didn’t know they just slid off the rail…oh yeah. A comedy of errors abounded.

Yet, I still remember the first print…and no, it’s not supposed to be a lace doily cube. It’s what you get when you don’t have the foggiest notion of what you’re doing but you do it any way.

At this point, I wasn’t believing in miracles, I was relying on them.

IMG 0188

So I churned out a few of these stringy things, and they might have made good scouring pads for pots and pans, but something was amiss and I didn’t know what it was.

The Myths

And of course like every desperate individual I turned to the internet for help.

I was still suffering from DAAP I should add.

Using the net without knowing much is like using Dr. Google as your personal physician. There are thousands of DAAP sufferers like myself whose opinion and help is about as useful as a milk bucket under a bull.

Thus it was finally through the Makerspace gurus that I learned something new. A thing called “bed levelling”. My prints didn’t adhere to anything because, well, my basic point of reference didn’t exist. At least in this world.

My Kossel kit had an auto level probe, but for the Marlin firmware version I had, it seemed like every time I levelled, just before the print started the firmware tossed all the bed info it just collected and proceeded to print yet another scouring pad. Handy. Not. Auto level working? Not.

After learning many tweaked the firmware to adjust for the bed level I decided against that avenue. My logic was that if anything happened to the firmware I’d be doing it again, i.e. bugs in the levelling routines or whatever, well, yeah.

I decided to do bed level via mechanical style.

When I inquired how anyone levelled their beds manually, I was greeted with tales of woe, daring do, silicon snake oil and just plain dumb luck. I had copious amounts of dumb, just seemed to lack the luck.

The tragedy was that you loosened the top end stops with the micro switches on them and moved them up or down less than a cats whisker and hoped you got it right. For all three towers. With a flat blade screw driver. 1/8″ thick. Like that old saw, “Measure it with a micrometer, mark a line with chalk, cut it with an axe.”

I looked at the problem, pulled out a drill bit and did my first mod, on the 7th day. The ‘x’ marked the spot, put in an M3 x 6 bolt, the head triggered the end stop switch.

IMG 0199

What used to take days of fiddling manually to get right, took all of 30 minutes, 3 minutes to set the scripts in Pronterface. The only firmware tweak required was if the center of the bed was concave or convex. You had to change one of the rod lengths and re-level. Again, do it a couple of times and you can do it in your sleep.

For the X/Y dimension size, print a cube, measure it, calculate how much too big or too small it is, change a number in the firmware, level the bed if needed, reprint, check. Having built a number of Kossels for others, worst case from power on was out .21mm, best case build was out .06mm. You need that kind of accuracy to print a.. ah… Pokemon. Or something.

Eventually the FVM kit would be upgraded to include the screw carriage adjusters and better belt grips. Huge progress.

However the myth still exists today that delta printers are next to impossible to level, or will take days to do. So you must have auto level.

The real truth is, if you understand (or take the time to understand) how to do it, you’ll find you can manually level the bed, exactly, once. And unless you change the hot end, diagonal rods, effector or something that will change a dimension in the build area, you don’t level it again. Period.

I printed over 900 hours on my first Kossel before I changed the nozzle and did a re-level. In 15 minutes. Big whoop.

The fact is all 3D printers come with their own little bag of issues. Be it the slicer, firmware or how you communicate with the printer. Pros and cons. Plan on doing a lot of research and look for actual A/B print examples not opinions in a forum.

Lastly it helps, especially if you build a kit, to be an information sponge. Obtaining little bits of info from others with the SAME kind of printer as you and then TESTING that bit of info to see how it fairs on your printer will enable you to produce better prints.

Even after logging over 2,000 hrs on my first printer, I am still learning and testing what I can do to turn out better quality work.

The Mirth

You’d think that just having a printer that works would be joy enough. Truly it is very satisfying, but I’m going to step back a moment here and think out loud as to WHY my Kossel kit was more than I’d even hoped for.

LongJaw

For the two FVM kits I built for myself, my thanks goes to the FVM’er, David who, either by shear good luck or design managed to cherry pick most of the best parts for a Kossel build.

The one shallow item in the kit was the full graphic display (12864). As a software programmer I know how CPU intensive just updating these displays can be. I think I had mine on the Kossel for about 3 days before I tossed it in the dumpster (along side the auto level probe setup) and replaced it with a Smart LCD 2004 controller.

The rest of the kit, stellar. Just stellar.

The first is the linear rails. These are premium items that will give hundreds if not thousands of printing hours. Nowadays you see what I call the cheapskate bearings like the Rostock used for the carriages. They are big, burly, have mass, and will not wear well over the long term.

Second is the carriage pieces that I had a hand in modifying. The current ones hold the belts so much better and have the adjustment screws.

Third is the massive stepper motors in the kit. These are 1.68A steppers, probably overkill to the nth degree compared to the whimpy ones I see now, but they run great and cool.

The 2020 open beam extrusions do a good job of keeping the frame rigid, even when when printing up to the 210mm height on mine.

Then the stepper drivers. Out went the old A4988’s and in came the DRV8825’s. The 8825’s can deliver more current and/or finer stepping if you need it. Nice to have that additional overhead.

Heat bed. Many printers still don’t offer or come with a heated bed. My Kossels have a 220mm heated bed, large enough to print everything I’ve needed so far.

Top drawer extruder. Three redesigns later, the current one is the best design I’ve seen and I’d select it over any of the metal ones I’ve seen.

So…thanks FVM, David and Rob, from Rocky and Bullwinkle (and me of course)…

Twins Printing

9
Nov

Black is BAACCKKK…MG Chemicals

In my ever expanding quest to try out new filaments, I’ve always found that if you want to see how any filament performs, at the worst, just try out a roll of anything they make. In black. Seriously.

I’ve read that black filament is the toughest to print because of the dyes go into the production. Or magic. Yeah, one of those for sure.

Regardless of which of my delta printers I use, black has always been a bit of a duck shoot when it comes to getting good quality. Any other colour, no issues. Thus, must be magic. Yep.

As I sat staring at the two brand new unopened black spools of filament on my workbench I was undecided which I should try first.

The first was PLA, the new “improved” brand from MG Chemicals.

IMG 1911

The second, PETG. Truthfully PETG is my compromise to avoid printing with ABS (which gives me royal headaches) but it is so darn stringy and unpredictable that I haven’t printed with it much. Some would call that being a smart coward.

IMG 1912

Of course, I used common sense and did one at a time. And pigs can fly. Forget the common sense thing… I loaded up one of my deltas with PLA and the other with PETG. On the PLA I had to print out some tank treads for a robot I’m building so, 15 treads at a time. In black.

The treads are from Thingiverse Caterpillar Tracks. Although labeled as a work in progress, I’m doing it any way. Although I’d really like to build a fairly large Wall-E…maybe in time.

IMG 1903

My settings, 0.3 layer height, 50C bed covered in Elmers glue stick, 208C for the first layer, 200C after that. I’ve made 60 treads so far and they have come out absolutely perfect. No strings, no separation, just way better than I expected.

On the other printer, I decided to make something to hold my SD cards and flash drives. With PETG no less. Again, merely a design I found on Thingiverse called Moby_Stick

IMG 1910

My settings, 0.3 layer height, 50C bed covered in Elmers glue stick, 224C for the first layer, 222C after that. Used Slic3r’s built in support for the whale tail. Not the default supports but “rectilinear grid”, which I have found out is far better than the default support patterns.

On the whale the supports literally fell off when I chipped it off the heated bed. You got that right, I had to use a metal spatula to get it off the bed.

I’ve never had any issues with adhesion with Elmers and a 50C heated bed. I’ve read many a horror story from others about getting PLA or PETG to stick to the bed, heated or otherwise. With every solution from 70-100C heated bed to hair spray on painters tape, to Kapton tape. Me? Borosilicate glass, heated bed, 50C, Elmer’s stick.

Perhaps with a delta because the bed doesn’t move the glue stick approach works fine. But I’ve done the same with the standard Cartesian printer I had here and it stuck just as well. Thus the problem must lie elsewhere.

After the prints, I measured the diameter of the filaments. In hindsight it should have been done first but, well, in my excitement I kind of missed doing it. None the less, both the PLA and PETG measured out 1.75 on my micrometer.

Last year I used a number of different MG Chemical PLA filaments, which I will call “old stock” now. While colours like their gold or white were superb, some of the others, not so much. But this year, things are not the same old.

MG Chemicals has changed their products on Amazon. The new stock has cardboard sides and is labeled “Improved”. They aren’t kidding. I’ve noticed a few complaints about the size of the center hub not fitting some spool holders. Since I use spool rollers, spool center is a non-issue.

No idea what kitchen they are using to create this new improved brand of filaments they are selling, but so far in my tests, I’ve found that I don’t need my go to brands any more. I can grab a roll of MG, thread it up, and I know exactly what it is going to come out like.

When I add in the fact that MG is less expensive than what I usually buy, well, that’s just icing on my cake, sprinkles on my donut, gravy on my fries, well, you get the idea….:-)

21
Oct

Thermochromic PLA – MG Chemicals

Thermochromic filament is filament that changes its colour according to ambient temperature. I’ve mostly seen ABS filaments that change colour with even the slightest heat from your hand.

Thus it was with much anticipation at the outcome when I found myself with a spool of Mg Chemicals latest offering of Thermochromic RED PLA. Yep, PLA.

Staying in line with the rest of MG’s new products offering, it’s delivered in a zip lock bag, cardboard sides, and large spool center hub. All pluses in my book.

IMG 1839

I don’t know about the rest of the printing world, but it seems to me that RED filament must be next to impossible to make. Without fail, every red I have seen looks more orange to me than red. In my case, if it’s not fire engine red, it’s not red. So I of course, immediately looked at what MG ascertained was red.

IMG 1840

If you’re mumbling to yourself, that’s NOT red, well, you’d still be correct. Still, let’s look at the spool without a flash from the camera adding or subtracting anything from the colour. And for giggles, I’ll put a spool of eSun RED beside it.

This is MG Thermochromic on the LEFT and eSUN red on the right. MG’s is more in the purple hue range, and eSun is more to the orange. Still, if I have to pick something that at first glance is going to pass for red, it’s going to be the MG. No contest to my mind.

IMG 1843

Printing with the Thermochromic is no different than printing with any other PLA. I used the same temps, same retraction, same speeds. Wasn’t stringy or blobby in any way. Actually the more I use the new MG products, the more I like them. For the simple reason they are extremely consistent across the colour spectrum. I love not having surprises when I print…

One thing that catches you a little off guard though is when you look at the spool during the print job. It’s redish purple. And then you look at the print under the hot end. There’s a slight pink hue to it and other than that, it looks white.

IMG 1847

The beauty of thermochromic filament is of course that it changes colour. According to ambient temperature around it. One would assume that MG would have indicated the temperature range that will affect the colour. Which of course, at the time of this writing is the wrong assumption. There was nothing on the box, nothing on the filament label, no information that I could find that specified the temperature range. An oversight? Lack of data from the manufacturer? I honestly don’t know but it is something that should be addressed.

According to my own less than scientific tests, there’s about a 20F working range. Below is the finished print (Fossil Fish from Thingiverse) and the temp of the top of the print is 123F (50.5C the temp of my heated bed). You can see the tip of the tail fin has started to cool.

IMG 1849

Get down to 115F (46C) and you start to see more areas, again thinner areas cool faster…

IMG 1851

At 108F, 42C, things are starting to really change. Again, the thicker areas retain the heat better so you have to wait longer for them to cool.

IMG 1853

Finally at our human body temp, it’s completely gone through the colour change. This means that you can’t just pick up the print and have your hand affect the colour. If you’re looking for that temperature, MG’s thermochromic isn’t going to cut it for you.

Further, if you scan around the net looking for thermochromic filament specs to find the temperature range for the colour change, you’ll find what I did. Zip. I couldn’t find one company that actually spouted the specs for a PLA temp range for the colour change. All I could find was recommended melting temp. I found this odd, but seems to be the way it is. For whatever reason (plus I’m thinking the guys who dye the stuff have either never heard of Pantone or are colour blind).

Remember I said that this is more purple red? Heres the print from MG Red on the left, eSun red on the right. Natural lighting.

IMG 1855

If you’re like me you’d say the eSun is more red. But lets take the same fish and put them in front of a red toolbox lid.

IMG 1856

Isn’t perception a pain in the butt…so the key to the red/orange/purple thing is lighting, background, and frame of mind. There’s still no hands down colour winner but at least you know what to expect.

To summarize, I really like the new MG PLA. Thus, yet another winner for myself and MG.

The thermochromic is super useful where the temperature range will be hotter than the human body.

Where would that be? A few seconds to search Thingiverse for water tap nozzle should give you a few hints. Imagine you have kids and a PLA printed nozzle, if the nozzle is white the temperature is 115F to 120F+. Don’t touch it! Or jump in the shower unless you want to perform an equally quick jump back out.

Or make an ornament that hangs on the mirror in your car. When you come back to the car in the summer time, a quick glance will tell you if you want to open the door and jump in, or just take a step back as you open the door. Course if the ornament is on the floor mat, best to have someone else open the door, just to be on the safe side.

Something that sits on the mantle over the fireplace…in short, lots of places to use this higher range PLA. Just keep in mind the glass transition point…(60-65C).

Update: MG Chemicals informed me that the Red colour changes to natural at 43 °C / 109 °F. This is a little different than my somewhat unscientific approach with the IR temp gun readings. They stepped up to the plate with the info. Nice.

28
Sep

Wi Fi Fo FM

I’ve had a cheesy FM radio over the work bench in the shop for a considerable time now. A simple FM radio that can play a memory stick, runs off 5V, maybe 3 watts of audio power. Big maybe actually…

To use it you can smack a bunch of tactile buttons or an IR remote. When I can find it.

Wandering through eBay a while back I came across an FM radio, that looked a little better than my previous “cheese special” but what caught my eye was the “serial control” option for the radio. There is no card reader or USB port so it can’t play from a memory stick. But I rarely did that any way.

The radio itself isn’t much bigger than a standard sized business card. The usual jacks give you power in, speaker outs, a serial connection port and something labeled GRSV which I have no idea as to its purpose.

IMG 1759

There’s a blue LED backlight in the LCD display and the display is quite difficult to read at any angle other than straight on.

The eBay listing gave the basic serial port config (9600, 8, N, 1) and you send commands like AT+FREQ=1035 with no line endings to direct select a frequency. Which to my shock and surprise works quickly and seamlessly. There’s even a squelch setting in the radio so you can “omit” weak stations if you’re doing a seek up or down.

In reference to “seek”, the radio does not scan through the band and store the stations for you. That wasn’t why I wanted it any way. I normally just flip around between a few stations until I find something tolerable to listen to.

The FM radio works best when you power it from 3.3V, but it will take up to 5V. I found at 5V it got a little noisy at times, whereas at 3.3 it was better behaved.

I’ve found no way to have the backlight on all the time, in spite of others who outline a procedure to make it do so. But I don’t look at it much any way.

I had an old set of Apple speakers from an aged iMac. Put some Dupont connectors on the cables, shoved them into the FM board and they work really well.

IMG 1763

There’s no fancy EQ, if you can call what passes for EQ in these budget things an EQ any way. Sounds nice, that’s all I care.

The MOST annoying thing about the radio is fact that the knobs work backwards. Turning them clockwise decreases the volume or the frequency. I think who ever drew the PCB was either mounting the rotary decoders from the rear or with a jumper cable. So I modified mine to work like it is supposed to.

IMG 1760

Took all of 5 minutes. Works perfectly this way too.

For serial control, you can test things out with a USB to Serial adapter (keep the voltage at 3.3V) but I wanted Wifi control so I don’t have to go looking for a silly remote, I can turn off the radio from the network.

The simplest WiFi control I’ve used, over and over, is the ESP8266’s. Either as stations or access points. Great little work horses. And cheap as borscht… I used a Lolin version 3, with the cruddy CH340G on it for usb to serial and programmed it with the Arduino IDE.

IMG 1762

I didn’t use the RX/TX since that’s the USB serial connection. To keep the separate i used the Serial.swap() command. This moves the 8266 TX/RX to pins D8/D7 respectively. Ran those to the FM radio’s serial TX/RX and it works like a charm for control. In the sketch for the 8266, I hard coded in the FM stations I wanted.

Type in “radio.local” in any browser on the network and the radio shows up (it has MDNS or Zeroconfig as some call it). Pick what you want, away you go.

Radio FM Web UI

The buttons labeled Radio ON/OFF are not actually power ones. They are the MUTE controls for the radio.

The volume goes from 0 to a maximum of 15, and with a 3D printer running in the room, about 7 is good enough. With the printer off, 2 or 3 is ample for background music. According to what I read if you run the volume fairly loud, the two IC’s on the back for the amp tend to run hot so a heat sink for them is advised. At a setting of 7, they don’t even get warm.

Last, there is a place to solder in a wire for an antenna, and true for some stations just adding a few cm’s of wire helps reception. However for the most part the radio is quite sensitive any way.

One of the things I would have liked would be for the radio to have RDS (that’s where they broadcast the station name, and the song title; buried in the music broadcast itself). The radio IC in use has it, but the PIC chip that is controlling it obviously doesn’t support RDS. Which may not be a bad thing anyway since I’d have to put a full display on the radio so I could read it. Once in a great while…

A cool little one afternoon project that I’ll have to print a box for after I’ve tested it out for a while…

25
Sep

Sore Throat…On The E3D HotEnd

How’s that old saying goes, when it rains, it pours. Seems like just yesterday I was replacing a RAMPs board that went south. Oh, wait, it was yesterday…

Today, something else. As if. Like magic. As in print quality…more specifically, extrusion.

Last three days, I’ve been also having some prints that were under extruding. Of course after you crank up the tension on the extruder to the point that if it does burst under pressure the resulting shrapnel is going to be hard to dig out of the walls. And me.. So then you crank the heat to the point that the furnace in the home is no longer required. After which you blow torch out the hot end nozzle to get the printer working in case there was something causing an issue with the filament.

Murphy’s Law has already decided that you’ve missed the problem completely. Mainly because the part that is not working correctly is in the least accessible place. Inside the hot end. Of course.

Two things to keep in mind here, my printer has just under 2,000 hours on it (certain parts of it are original) and these prints I use for quick tests I print at a fairly fast speed. So I’m trading quality for speed.

This is what the prints had been looking like…bad one on the left, after the repair, good one on the right.

IMG 1753

Pretty easy to spot the one on the left that looks like there is an extrusion problem. And it’s true, there is. Just not where I was looking. As usual.

A closer look reveals how bad the ugly one was…now at a fast speed the infill doesn’t always drool up tight to the perimeters. I know that, so I don’t pay much attention to it. But for the large plain infill areas there shouldn’t be all those gaps. Houston, we have a problem.

IMG 1754

For the last year I’ve avoided taking the hot end apart other than to clean out a nozzle. I don’t know why. Probably because I didn’t want to re-level the printer to the bed. Which in reality takes me all of 10 minutes at the outside because I’ve done it so many times (not a fan of auto levelling delta printers).

Any way, when you rip apart the hot end, inside the cooling tower you find one of these:

Tube

The filament enters the metal tube and goes into a PTFE tube so it doesn’t melt in the cooling tower when you’re printing. Consider this a good thing.

I pulled the throat tube out of my E3D head and compared it to a replacement I have. You won’t have much trouble guessing which is the 2,000 hour tube (it’s the one on the left if you’re stuck)…

IMG 1757

Using a 1.5mm rod, I tried to push it through the tube and well lookie that, it was binding like crazy. Apparently the tubes do wear out but out of sight, out of mind.

On my replacement tube, the PTFE tube is a lot longer. Not sure if that’s a good or bad or indifferent thing.

Installed the new tube, adjusted the firmware for the new Z height, re-levelled the bed (10 minutes)… and printed the same Jack.

IMG 1755

The outline is closer, but not perfect cause the head is just flying around this small design (it’s a book marker), but the large infill is huge improvement.

Delta printers, because of their simple openness design, are at least easy to fix once you figure where the problem is. So add this little throat thing to your list of parts you’re going to need in the future.

24
Sep

Smokin’ RAMPS

My main Kossel printer has slightly less than 2,000 hours on it but the RAMPS 1.4 board on it gave off a very familiar odor the other day so I shut it down until I could get to it.

Later, I fired it up and it seemed okay. For about eight minutes. Then the room got sort of filled with smoke, accompanied by that familiar burnt electronics smell. No fire, but it did jam home a point that if I was 3D printing, I don’t want to leave the thing unattended.

Ripping the printer apart revealed the culprit. The heated bed MOSFET.

IMG 1748

Apparently it overheated, was laying against the terminal block and started to melt its way through, which then shorted out the terminals and…as they say, the smoke leaked out. End of life for short.

According to the specs for this particular MOSFET, it’s “supposed” to dissipate 110 watts at 25C. There is a heated bed about 2″ above it that is heated to 50C, which, probably isn’t helping it any either.

I thought I had a spare around here someplace, because, the simple fact is if you’re going to own a 3D printer, your best bet is to build one so you can also fix the thing when it will inevitably break. It’s not a question of will it break, but when will it break.

No way I could find a RAMPS board but David (FVMaker designer for this Kossel kit) had some spare boards. Life saver!

I replaced the RAMPS board and presto, up and flying. And of course, that’s more or less the same time I found the replacement RAMP board I’d ordered who knows when off eBay.

IMG 1751

This eBay special I found came with all the jumpers on and I thought I might as well set it up properly and once I’d done that I thought I’d also test it to make sure it was going to work.

Surprise. Surprise. It kind of worked but when I told the head to move, it only went half way. Ah ha. Stepper jumpers were not right. After rechecking about eleven_leventy times, they were set right. But I was still only getting half movements.

I started searching the net for schematics for RAMPS 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 hoping to find what the heck was going on. No soap. I had a 1.4 board, no two ways about it.

Next step was pulling all the jumpers and testing with a digital multimeter. Imagine my surprise when I found it didn’t matter if the jumpers were on or off, there was continuity between the jumper pins regardless. Which, is, of course, wrong.

Pulled the plastic off the jumpers so I could see the circuit traces and wow. There is definitely some village that’s missing their idiot. See all the arrows? You can see the foil traces on the PCB.

RAMPS 14

Every set of jumpers for the steppers was done the same way. But why?

What I think was, no, not that it was a design error, but, for the A4988 stepper drivers, all jumpers had to be shorted to get to 1/16 steps. The PCB was designed with all shorted jumpers to save on the cost of adding those little jumpers, actually they didn’t even need to add in the pins.

However when the DRV8825’s came along, the jumper positions changed. But these boards were probably so plentiful they were sold as “proper” RAMPS 1.4 boards with all the jumpers.

Quick work with prying off the plastic holding the pins and a couple of minutes with an sharp blade and the board worked just like the other.

While I was comparing the two boards I had a look at the MOSFETs. The main original board used P55NF06 and the “repaired” board used IRF3205. According to the data sheets, the IRF3205 is the more capable MOSFET.

Under closer look at the data sheets you walk away with the idea that neither one of these is exactly what you’d call a performer. When the Vgs is less than 5V, there are better choices. Personally I’d suggest the IRLB3034pbf which would work well within the limits the 12V main supply to the RAMPs and voltages less than 5V for control.

To keep the MOSFET slightly cooler I added a small heatsink to my RAMPS. It’s not pretty by any stretch but it does help.

IMG 1752

Yes I know it’s mounted incorrectly (it’s not touching any other MOSFET even if it looks like it is in the photo), they didn’t design the PCB to have a heatsink so this worked out to be the best way. Unless you want to remove the heatsink and mount it somewhere off the board. Another option if you want to go that far.

The more closely I look at the RAMPS board I can see too many cost cutting short cuts on it. Thus, a good idea to have a spare….or two

10
Sep

Put a sock on it!

E3D would like you to put a sock on your hot end: E3D Sock No, really. I’m not kidding.

Silicone Sock Fillets

Seems there was this REDDIT thread where someone did this a while back and it’s been the single most requested item since that point. People have be clamouring for it. Not sure exactly what people but by reading the rest of the announcement you’d have a better understanding.

The socks come in bundles of three. Silicone, even high temp, custom poured, massaged by virgin ants, will eventually succumb to the high temp of the hot end (call it the Priestess end) and be sacrificed. Poof. Yep, you need more than one.

E3D is even including these socks with every new hot end they sell. You know, so you can keep your filament in your…I mean in check…safe PLA’ing and all that.

And really what 3D printer enthusiast doesn’t want a clean nozzle? Take a look at the photo of what your hot end looks like before and after being protected with a sock on it:

V6 with and without silicone

That’s right kids, if your hot end looks like the one on the left, you might want to have it checked. By a professional.

And SHARPER prints! The laws of heat transfer tell us that if your hot end is moving so slow above the printed object that it’s melting and distorting the layers as it goes, you’ve got more than a hot end problem. You got a SPEED problem. Big time and this little blue bandaid isn’t going to lower much of anything. Except your bank balance.

E3D even clearly shows how you install your sock to prevent dribble and just the tip of your hot end is visible.

Sock placement

Now perhaps Cartesian printers suffer from this hot end malady, but on my delta, with 1887 hrs on it, I barely have the beginnings of the disease… Whew, lucky huh?

IMG 1713

I do use tweezers when my hot end is getting up to temp and if there is any filament drool I whisk it away. Possibly that’s the reason mine doesn’t look like the one at E3D. Or maybe E3D was just going overboard for the shock factor.

Fascinating to see a market sort of created where there never was a market before. You know, because. Of. REDDIT. Where all the “experts” hang out (“ex” – the unknown quantity, “pert” – a drip under pressure). Like going to “Dr. Google” for medical advice.

Maybe I’m just old fashioned or not in the know, but apart from my tongue planted firmly in my cheek as I was penning this, I have no idea why a silicone sock for a hot end even exists. Maybe it’s the solution for those without some common sense. Like E3D. Who. Thinks. This. Has. A. Market.

[Addendum] It was pointed out that if you have fans blowing around the hot end, the sock can act as an insulator to maintain better control over the temperature of your nozzle. As opposed to wrapping your nozzle in insulation and Kapton tape (which is not nearly as inviting to lusty filaments). So perhaps in this case, a sock does make some modicum of sense. And I’ll leave it at that.

9
Sep

A PLA-sible day

3D printing tends to attempt to shorten the supply of printer filament on any given day. The keyword there is “attempts” for the simple reason there is so much filament available I seriously doubt we’re going to even make a dent in the current supply.

Having said that, it’s also worth noting that more and more manufacturers are appearing with offerings and promises of filaments that will take your prints to the next level. Having worked in the manufacturing industry for a long time, I have no doubt that a lot of the filament is simply a slight rebrand or remix of some existing filament.

So eSun, Hatchbox, AMZ3D, MG Chemicals, to name but a few, kind of boggles the mind as to which one to use. One would even think that PLA filaments are all basically the same. This would be incorrect, but a common assumption.

When I started with PLA, the two brands available were eSun and MG Chemicals PLA 1.75mm. Although both were PLA, they printed quite different in every aspect from flow to temperature. Depending on what I was printing more or less determined what PLA I used.

PLA Overview

While eSun hasn’t changed, MG Chemicals PLA certainly has. I’ve tested almost 3Kg of MG’s PLA thus far and it’s a marked improvement.

What used to come in a nondescript brown box, looking like something you buy in a back alley (hey, kid, over here, wanna buy some filament)…now comes in a colourful box that at least lets you know what it is.

IMG 1705

When you open up the box you’re greeted with a bunch of things I’ve never seen before…

First, the PLA is packed in a zip lock bag. You read that right. A zipped locked bag. You cut it open above the zip lock and you can pop the filament back inside and reseal it.

The second is the HUGE center spool hub.

The third is the sides of the spool are NOT plastic, it’s heavy cardboard.

IMG 1707

So let’s examine those items one at a time. First, the zip lock bag. The bag is vacuum sealed when you get it with the usual desiccate inside. What is not clear, nor could I find any mention on the box or a loose page inside the box, is, if you put the PLA back into the bag with the desiccate and zip lock it, does it remove any moisture or not?

Depending on that answer, if no, why the zip lock bag? If yes, MG should mention that because it’s a good thing!

So on to the hub. And my main gripe for a lot of PLA. PLA that is wound on a small hub is a pain when you got down to the last 1/3rd of the spool if you were using a bearing straddle spool roller. There is so much tension in the windings that the extruder would drag the filament off the roller. And on the floor, or wrap around the USB cable, or flopping about like a fish out of water.

Therefore the new larger hub is a WONDERFUL upgrade!

Last up we have the cardboard sides. Below on the right is a typical 1Kg spool of PLA (AMZ3D) and on the left is MG’s cardboard sided version, again a 1Kg spool. MG’s is obviously wider by a significant amount, but it is also significantly smaller in diameter. So it kind of depends if your spool has to fit in a specific area.

IMG 1710

Where I use my filament is in a spool roller off to the side of my delta printer. It’s obvious from the vacuum sealing process that the cardboard sides tend to suck in somewhat so I wondered what that might affect.

IMG 1721

As it turned out, it affects nothing. There is a slight tic you do hear once in a while where the cardboard is really pressed into the filament on the edges, but it’s not enough tension to drag the spool off the roller. So, 3Kg later, nothing to be concerned about.

Size wise, I used a micrometer and measured the filament diameter through out the prints, I found the filament was slightly oval, so a cross section would be 1.76 x 1.74 at worse case. I suffered no under extruding so it evens itself out.

First Print

The first roll of MG PLA I printed was green Glow In The Dark. When I opened the box I was shocked because it was already green. Wow, already glowing in the … ah…daylight? What? Apparently unlike any other glow stuff I’ve printed, MG decided to tint their PLA green to start with.

IMG 1708

Initially I though this was kind of dumb…and then, maybe not so dumb after all.

Most GITD (glow in the dark) filaments print some dismal shade of white/gray so in normal lighting they look about as exciting as a gravel pit. It’s only when the light dies that they start to glow.

MG’s on the other hand looks green to start with and in the absence of light, glows in the same green hue. Which means they look the same in light, or not. I’ve come to the conclusion this is a good thing.

That’s not the only difference either. The majority of GITD filaments I have used have a VERY textured surface on the RAW PLA. MG’s GITD RAW PLA is smooth as silk.

When both print, then the prints will exhibit the texture. Which I suspect is the globs of luminous stuff that makes it glow.

Of course, the big question, is, always, how long does it glow? Yeah, well, I found that MG’s glow permanence was no different than any of the others (eSun for example; but the eSun green not the blue). Matter of fact unless the room was pitch black, it was kind of hard to tell that MG’s had tapered off because of the green tint. The eye’s do funny things like that…

Two Pounds Later

Using a new filament is always a bit of a duck shoot when it comes to finding what temperature it likes to run at. Notice I said what it likes, not what we want. Big difference there.

MG’s old PLA liked heat. Although rated for 190 to 220C, I always got better results when I shoved that up to the mid-220’s. With the new filament, they changed the range from 190 to 230C. And really, about low 220’s is where the stuff really worked well for me (in a delta).

Raise the temp up high enough, you get “strings” as the print head moves around the job. Drop the temp by a few degrees and presto, strings disappear almost completely. I found the first layer was about 3 degrees hotter than the rest of the print.

The only drawback to heat, is that when you’re doing small areas and laying hot filament on top of hot filament and you don’t have any cooling on your printer, you’re like a piece of installed sheetrock/drywall. Screwed.

Keep in mind that this isn’t unique to MG, regardless of what filament you use, at whatever temp it wants, the saggy results will be exactly the same. In short, you need cooling if you’re going small and fast. Some try to go really really slow but at best it’s a loose bandaid to the problem.

MG PLA Summary

How many times have you read the “newer”, “better”, “faster” ads and walked away wondering what drug that ad agency was using?

With MG’s new offering, I have seen an upgrade that is a better all round product. One of the best is that if you used any of the old MG product the change to the new product is almost seamless. I’ve enjoyed how the first of the spool prints, to the last of the spool prints, it’s easily controllable, extremely predictable and overall I give it two nozzles up.

I’m looking forward to trying more of MG’s new PLA in different colours in the coming months. As I see it, a win for MG and a big win for me.

30
Jul

The Cycle of 3D Life – Thermistors

3D printing, undeniably, has to be one of the most fascinating, frustrating, researched, and misunderstood hobbies of all time. Not that I’ve actually had every hobby known to man to compare this to, but in the ones I have had, 3D printing runs at the top for the aforementioned.

Inevitably it starts with either a 3D printer kit, or a plug and pray…er I mean play printer. At some point, something breaks. Somehow. Quite mysterious in some respects. I’d blame the cat. Except we don’t own a cat.

Generally if you built the printer, fixing it is slightly more straight forward because you usually have a good source for parts and you know, more or less, how it goes together. On the other hand, if you have a ready to go printer, it can be somewhat tasking to find a shop that can or will fix it. Makerspaces are usually good sources for help or information in either event.

The two delta printers at the Wanch here, Rocky & Bullwinkle, have seen their fair share of repairs, mods, tweaks, adjustments and some mayhem that I throw in for good measure. Bullwinkle is the original printer, now 14 months old with 1800+ hours of printing time on it. Rocky is only 5 months and 170 hours.

Within the last couple of months, both printers have broken in the same way. Specifically the hot end thermistor. I suspect some collusion between the two of them for this to have happened but I can’t prove it. I’ll stick with, darn cat. You know, the one I don’t have.

You can find these little thermistors littered all over eBay and are very inexpensive. These are glass bead 100K styled and used to be stuffed inside a piece of brass tubing. There is a set screw on the hot end that tightened on the brass tubing to hold it in place. If you over tightened it, which took a fair bit of force, the glass bead shattered. Bad mojo.

A bigger issue was that companies would crimp the tubing on the end to stop the thermistor from sliding out. They got a little too carried away sometimes and the crimp would cut into the extremely fragile wires from the thermistor and cause a wire to break at that point. That’s what happened to both of mine.

Hot End Type1

At any rate, I suppose a lot of thermistors were getting broken because most of the replacements now are merely the glass bead and you reuse the tubing the thermistor came mounted in. I uncrimped the tubes so there’s some wiggle room.

None the less, now you’ll find a lot of thermistors that look like this:

Hot End Type 2

Or this:

Hot End Type 3

Much more friendly to mount and replace.

Ultimately on a delta because of the motion of the head, there is always some flex in the wiring and, yep, at some point, breakage.

Once I’d replaced the two thermistors, the first thing I noticed was that the heat cycles are different. Both printers seemed to struggle to maintain a nice even temperature. As in hoping all other the place, like +- 9c. That’s a big swing for the printers.

I have a window in the shop as well and if it was open, well, yeah, made things a lot worse.

Just for the heck of it I started looking for solutions and what do you know. Turns out all these thermistors that might look the same are hardly the same. Thus if you replace one, you’re supposed to tune for it. Who knew? I didn’t.

Low and behold, there is already a tuning routine built in the Marlin firmware (I’m using 1.02). Start with a COLD hot end, connect to your printer and send the following GCODE:

M303 E0 S200 C8

Your printer will start a self test cycle to determine the thermistor settings, S200 is the temperature it will use for the cycle. If you normally run your printer hotter or colder, use that for the temp setting.

Here’s a transcript of what the firmware does. Takes about 3 or 4 minutes to complete.

PID Rocky

At the end you get Kp, Ki, and Kd (not to be confused with Kraft Dinner) and you put those values into your Marlin firmware:

PID Configuration

After doing this with both printers, the temp control is FAR superior to what it was.

As an aside, I do notice that one one printer, the hot end temp will always overshoot by 5 or 6c during the initial heating but it settles back down to the correct temp nicely and stays there. Doing a little testing I find out that the heater itself is the culprit. Yeah, they aren’t all made the same either. Who would have guessed…:-)

12
Jul

3D Airprinting Vase Mode

In spite of the fact that I feel I’ve probably made more 3D printing errors than the average person, possibly due to testing to see “what THIS might do” or “cause”, there’s sometimes one of those “ah ha” moments. You know, where the planets align.

Tonight was one of those nights. I’ve printed a fair number of “vases”, single wall designs, to hold pens and stuff and I can usually spot the ones that will print out correctly, and the ones that won’t. But every now and then, one catches me off guard and this is the result.

IMG 1612

Yep. Typical Thingiverse design but it’s coming apart at the “seams”. Now I tried everything I could think of to “fix” some of these, and usually ended up with a big fat fail. Until tonight. Through pure accident.

I am testing out a Cartesian printer (Hobby King Fabrikator), kindly loaned to me by one of the FVMakers (David) and having some fun with it. I was printing some of my torture test prints on it and came to the conclusion that the way the printer is built is good. In this case the bed is the Z movement, the head does the X and Y. I like it.

This scooted me off to see what other Cart’s match this setup. Happened through PRUSA’s site. I started reading some of the blog and then noticed a title that said, “WHAT ARE PERIMETERS GOOD FOR?“. I almost didn’t read it and then I did. And BOY am I glad I did.

The gist of the blog is that perimeters are easy, when your design is a box. It’s when all these angles start to go out or in that crap happens. Normally I use 3 perimeters but when printing vases, I use a single wall. But it fails a lot.

And here’s why: PERIMETERS: 2 vs. PERIMETERS:5 Rising angle: 13°; Layer height: 0.2 mm

Perimeters 3d

Yep. Air Printing. A single wall even at max resolution, well, sits nowhere. Whereas if one has enough perimeters, things will build up nicely. Here’s a snapshot of it, but for a detailed look, here’s the main link to it.

Perimeters curved face

Ah ha. One needs more perimeters and therefore VASE mode in Slic3r is very limited. Then I got thinking that when I looked at some of the samples on Thingiverse people had printed out, they looked like single wall thick. Which is where I got my second nugget.

Apparently Simplify 3D and CURA have the smarts to calculate extra perimeters in these areas and they do. Slic3r on the other hand adhere’s to exactly what you tell it to do. Not what you expect it to do…

Quite a well written blog article and I encourage anyone who has ever suffered these symptoms to read it. Worth your time.

10
Jul

ESP8266 Breakout Programming

Last year I sourced a bunch of ESP8266’s for programming but wasn’t excited about them enough until the Arduino IDE was expanded to support them. Then suddenly all of these inexpensive WiFi things became extremely versatile and useful.

This is the first one I started with, but of course I did some modifications to it. Like rip the battery box off and replace the battery wires with pins.

Esp8266 development board esp 12 er dp8266esp12

The result of the simple modifications was a voltage divider on the RX input because the USB to Serial adapter is tossing out 5V and the ESP8266 is a 3.3V denizen. Two resistors (1K and 2.2K) are used to do the job.

On the PCB’s, the terminals for RX and TX are labeled in reverse. In other words they tell you where the signal is supposed to go on the Serial adapter, not what’s coming out of the 8266.

The second mod was a NC push button on the Vcc line. The 8266 board has its own 5 to 3.3v regulator but in order to program it from the Arduino you need to put it into flash mode in a specific way. If you omit the normally closed push button, just disconnect Vcc at the pin.

ESP8266 Connections

Programming Step 1 – disconnect Vcc at the breakout. Place the jumper on the two pins on the bottom of the breakout.

ESP8266 Step1

Programming Step 2 – Connect Vcc to breakout board. Remove the yellow jumper from the PCB.

Esp8266 Step2

The ESP8266 breakout is now really for you to program it.

Programming Step 3 – in the Arduino IDE the setting for the breakout is the Adafruit Huzzah one. The port will be whatever USB to Serial board you have plugged in.

ESP8266 BreakOut Programming

And that’s it. Open an ESP8266 sketch, compile it and you’ll see the little blue LED on the ESP8266 flashing away like crazy. When it’s done the ESP8266 will automatically start running the code you sent it. It doesn’t reset when you connect the serial monitor to it like the Arduino’s do.

If you have the same breakout board, here’s a sample sketch for you to send to the board. It will sort of simulate the old Knight Rider bar graph and if you cover the photo cell it will change the speed of the cycle.

Knight_Rider

9
Jul

3D Print Fixin’

Sometimes it’s the simplest things, or things that look simple, that will rise up and confound us. At which point all of our accumulated knowledge is about as useful as an umbrella to a fish.

One of the makers at our space was having troubles printing a “Slimer” from Ghost Busters so I suggested he send me the file or link and I’d have a look at it.

First thing was to open the Slimer in Slic3r. And realize in .5 seconds where all the problem areas are.

SLM Step1

For example, there’s the cavernous mouth. 3D printers truly suck at “air printing”. So that throat tonsul is doomed from the get go.

SLM Step2

I won’t mention the second area, the fingers. With the tips of the fingers there’s no firm attachment to the bed and any bump at all and…well…poor old Slimer is going to have some digit problems. And everything there after that connects to it.

SLM Step3

Generating Supports

Slic3r does have built in support generation, but trying to get those supports out from inside Slimer’s mouth would probably qualify you as a budding Orthodontic wannabe.

So off to AutoDesk to find Meshmixer, download, install. Use the IMPORT function in Meshmixer to load in the STL file.

SLM Step4

And BINGO. If we weren’t paying attention, we’d see that Slimer is getting away. The red dot marks the center of the build area in Meshmixer but Slimer is way off that.

SLM Step5

So like the most dismal words ever heard by an Amway salesperson, “No Soap”. We have to fix this first, and thus, we bail out of Meshmixer for the moment.

STL Repair

The best piece of software for “fixing” bad STL’s is netFabb (free)…Go find, download, install, get running….then head to the project menu to open the troubled Slimer.STL file.

SLM Step6

netFabb will display Slimer, usually in a glorious green colour, but we’re going to “fix” him so who cares.

Look for the + sign (think of the red cross) and click on it.

SLM Step7

Good. Unfortunately that didn’t really fix anything, just started the process. We need to continue so head down to the bottom right corner of the display and look for “Automatic Repair”…and click on it.

SLM Step8

A dialog will show up with two options. Default repair and Simple repair. I used to use Default, but found that Simple repair works 100% of the time (better too)… so click on Simple Repair and then the Execute button…(don’t worry about executing Slimer; he won’t mind).

SLM Step9

You’ll notice the display sort of changed for a split second and what has happened is you have TWO Slimers. The original and the new one. We need to get rid of the first one (original) leaving only the repaired one.

Bottom of the main display look for the Apply repair button, click it.

SLM Step10

You’ll get a dialog asking what you want to do with the two parts. We want to remove the OLD part, thereby leaving the new part.

SLM Step11

So WooHoo, we’re done right? Yeah, not so much sparky. We have to SAVE the repaired design. Like this (a CONTROL CLICK for the Mac guys):

SLM Step12

Now the STL is repaired. And this is how you’ll repair any STL file that has issues. It works way better than the auto repair in Slic3r so it will pay you to learn how to do this.

Back to Supports

Remember when we last opened Slimer in Meshmixer he didn’t center on the print area? News flash for you. He still doesn’t. netFabb doesn’t auto centre, it assumes we know what we’re doing. And in some cases, that’s a good assumption. In this case, ah, no.

So how do we center it? Easy. Open the repaired STL file in Slic3r. Then use the EXPORT STL button in Slic3r to save the centered STL

SLM Step13

Exit Slic3r and get Meshmixer going again. Now, before you complain that you didn’t need to “fix” Slimer with netFabb at all and you just wasted your time, the point was to show you HOW to fix if need be, so you learned something (you did pay attention didn’t you?) so, your time was not wasted and in the future you may even thank me. Silently. Under your breath. Begrudgingly. Or not.

Importing Slimer repaired and centered in Meshmixer now looks correct. The red dot is close to where the good Lord split him so he’s in the center. If you catch my drift.

SLM Step14

On the left side of Meshmixer is a bunch of icons. Because someone failed their GUI design phase I think, but, well, an icon is worth 1000 words, hence click on the Analysis and then Overhangs.

SLM Step15

A dialog will display where you can make custom overhang settings or just use the defaults, as most of us do. The button labeled Generate Support is the one we want. Click on it.

SLM Step16

You’ll see a progress bar, some messages (or many in this case) about “nodes” and “pruning”. In a period of time Slimer will appear with supports. These are not permanent at this point. If you want to delete one or many, hold the CMD key down and click the support to make it go away. If you make a mistake (and how else would you have gotten to this blog in the first place eh?), CMD Z will UnDo and put the support(s) back.

SLM Step17

If you notice areas on the design are in RED, those are the areas that are going to have printing problems. Due to the angle of the printing (less than 45 degrees for example) and that’s where support(s) will be of benefit.

When you have the supports left you want, click the DONE button and then use the File Export item to save the supported STL file.

SLM Step18

Supports Complete

When we reopen the STL problem slime ball in Slic3r, he’ll look a lot different. Like he has grown way more teeth. Really those are just supports.

SLM Step19

Those small supports will break off quite easily when the printing is done, yet they do provide more that adequate support during the printing phase.

Summary

This lesson has been brought to you by the … oh wait, wrong program… hopefully you’ve gained some insight as to how netFabb repair and Meshmixer support works and you’ll be able to easily use them both when you need to. And yes, both programs do a LOT more, but just having a good understanding of how to fix things is a huge leap. Forward. Up. Okay, maybe just a bit of a wiggle then.

Having gone through all of the gyrations of fixing this design, to print, as you see it, there are other ways to do it as well. On Thingiverse, search for Minions. You’ll notice that they are printed in two halves and glued together. There is no reason why Slimer couldn’t benefit from the same procedure.

A simple task in Tinkercad to split, save the halves, perhaps fixing in netFabb (Tinkercad can screw up when generating the STL file) and then printing. My thought is it would be a lot easier printing. Or not. Honestly, I haven’t tried it, that’s an exercise for the reader. And yeah, you might miss this nugget if you just looked at the pretty pictures…

14
Jun

Clicgear Brake Hub & 3D Printer

The amount of golf and my friends and I play would not be what you’d class as “normal”. From about March to November we get out at least twice a week and for many weeks in there, three times. So 70 to 90+ games in that time frame.

While this obviously takes a toll on our sanity, it also takes its toll on our equipment. Specifically the golf carts. No, we don’t count golfballs in there because they aren’t really lost, just misplaced until someone new finds and adopts them. Yeah, that’s a totally different thing…

Our cart of choice is the Clicgear series. Best fit in our vehicles, nicely designed for the most part and easy to push. The earliest is version 2.0 and the latest is the 8.0 or the 3.5+. The V8 is a different animal because it’s a four wheeled cart, and keeps the clubs more upright, plus, oddly enough, it’s easier to push.

With the 2.0, 3.0 and 3.5 series they all share a common weak point. Or design flaw if you want to call it that. The brake hub. It’s a dogged plastic hub that is really not all that hard to break.

Clicgear Brake Org

So in a matter of time, it ends up looking like this:

Clicgear Brake Smashed

Replacement parts can be ordered from Clicgear but shipping to Canada is stupid. A trip to the local Golftown resulted in the “silly” being continued because they won’t order one, you have to buy a dozen.

A cruise around Thingiverse led me to someone who designed a brake hub for 3D printing. I downloaded and printed it out, and it didn’t exactly fit as well as I hoped

When I checked some of the dimensions they appeared correct except for the gaps next to the 2mm pins. Plus there was a gap in the center that while matching the original hub, did little so I remixed, adjusted the gaps and filled it in slightly.

Clicgear Brake Top

And the bottom (where the pins and gaps have to be exact):

Clicgear Brake Bottom

Printed at .2mm, 100% infill, with supports.

A simple matter to remove the nylock nut that holds on the wheel, remove the old brake hub and replace with the new one.

Clicgear Brake

While checking the hub for fit, I noticed that the cable is about as far out of adjustment as possible and yet still work. The way all of our carts seem to come from factory, where I’d say they have a quality control issue or two, is the dog barely catches the tip of the hub part. Thus considerable force on the hub.

The brake dog that moves is shaped to fit snugly into the brake hub, but every one I have looked doesn’t fit properly. If you have a Clicgear cart, I’d strongly suggest you check out the brake adjustment and make sure it is completely engaging and disengaging properly.

I’d printed a couple of spares now so we’re all good to go for a couple of seasons. Now if I could just find a way to print Titleist NXT Tour golfballs I’d be set….

3
Jun

Simplify3D – Delta Printer

Having logged over 1700 printing hours on my delta’s means that I have more than just a passing glance and familiarity with the operation, firmware and supporting software.

Having said that, I’m always on the watch for something that works better than what I currently have/use. Be it a firmware, mechanical part modification, or support software upgrade. It was with that in mind that I decided to try Simplify3D. Since there is no “trial” version, the only way to get it is to pony up the $149USD and buy it. Which I did.

The whole premise being that whatever GCODE Simplify3D spit out would be vastly superior to anything from Cura, Kiss Slicer or Slic3r. I know Slic3r extremely well so this sort of advertising statement should not be taken lightly.

Keeping all this mind, this is my opinion of the software, from strictly a delta printer users point of view. Cartesian printers could be a completely different kettle of fishes. I don’t know, I only own delta’s.

Buying and Installation

Once you PayPal the rather princely sum for the software, you’re given a link to download the software and you set up a cloud account with Simplify3D. Mainly for updates as I read it so you don’t need a full time connection to the net to use the software. I did need a connection initially to get the software registered so I could use it.

All in all, straight forward and painless.

Setup

When you first run the software you’re given a choice of printer profiles to choose from. And it’s NOT a small list by any stretch. At least until you start to count the Deltas in the list. Then the list is very small indeed.

To put this in perspective, one needs to remember that delta printers are not the printer of choice. The last “stat” I saw was that delta printers were the #1 choice for a kit and satisfaction but still only occupied less than 20% of the total printer market. In Simpilify3D’s printer support list, this is reflected.

Simplify3D’s software, which I’ll refer to as S3D after this, when running sort of resembles a mash up between a typical slicer and something Autodesk would do for a UI.

Simlify3D UI

S3D refers to your printer settings, which is actually more than just printer settings, as processes. You know, maybe because they didn’t know how to spell profile. Or processes sounded more impressive. The quick start guide implies that you can even select multiple “processes” when you slice. The quick start guide also completely ignores telling you just what might happen should you do this.

The model list is merely the bunch of STL files you are going to print. But yeah, models sounds more impressive than “objects” or “Tessellation”…

The toolbar is S3D’s nod to Autodesk.

S3D’s whole claim to fame is based on the processes as noted, and this is the first red flag that went up in my mind. I have custom built delta’s, not a Kossel MINI, Kossel MAX, or Rostock.

I selected some of the “prebuilt” processes for the delta’s and it was pretty obvious from the get go, those were token gestures at best and if something was actually printed it was more good luck than anything else. None the less, I did try printing with the various processes. I have the failed prints to show for it.

Custom Process

About 4 hours into seeing what S3D could and couldn’t do, and I decided the only way to make it do something is start and create a custom process (profile). Five hours later I was still working and testing. Because I’m slow? Nah, because the documentation that explains all the settings is so poorly written that it’s two points below a joke.

And there are TAB’s of settings, more so than Slic3r. And not exactly arranged in any logical manner. Plus some programmer decided that numbers were evil so you need to enter “percentages”, like for the first layer start height. Want it to start at .34mm, enter in 113%. Like that’s intuitive.

In the Preferences you can change the mm/m to mm/s and spend a lot of time trying to figure out where Slic3r settings might fit into the S3D settings. Because, there’s no import or conversion from a Slic3r configuration to S3D. Big oversight there to my programmers mind.

Even using the built in processes, when the print job was done the head didn’t home. It just sat on the print. And oozed. I have no idea why all the delta processes would ever want to do that.

Eventually I threw up my hands in surrender. 11 hours of trying to get a decent print and no soap. I emailed the S3D folks and asked for a refund.

Tech Support

I didn’t get a refund, what I got was a reply email that asked me what printer/kit I had and that they would create a “process” custom designed for my printer. All I had to do was provide them with my Slic3r config file and they’d transpose it for me. I sent them links to my delta’s specs and Slic3R config and within the day I had a profile back. They said that they have built a number of deltas and were familiar with them so

Sorry guys, but after looking at your “process” attempt I have to call BS on it. Anyone who owns a delta with a bowden tube knows that retraction is extremely important. The process I was provided gave a 1mm retraction at 30 mm/s. Bowdens want 3-5mm of retraction and 60-80mm/s.

Extrusion is set at .9 by default. Which made no sense at all. Extrusion width at .4 and on and on the goofy settings went. I seriously wonder if they even looked at the Slic3r config file.

Oddly, no one who responds to you via email from S3D tech signs their email so, I’m just going to call him, Blobby. Because that’s what the prints looked like. So Blobby, you get a fail. Time to work on your resume.

A Spaghetti Western

This is what S3D reminds me of.

The Good: opens any STL, repairs where need be, easy positioning. Slices any model in under a second. Creates GCODE files in seconds. Nicely done.

The Bad: stupid settings that should be numbers not percentages, lousy user manual, poor delta support.

The Ugly: Every print made from the generated GCODE.

In spite of the fact I set 3 perimeters for a prime, S3D decided, on its own, that I only needed two. And if you think Slic3r has sporadic moves, S3D is like a deranged hummingbird.

You can see from the first layer, the infill doesn’t meet the outline (and I have the overlap set to 34%), I’m using the “Blobby” process, and it’s going to be a fail from the start.

Outline Fail First Layer Fail

Looking at the finished print with the tech designed process:

First Layer Fail

Yeah on the top is the primed perimeter that is still attached to the main body of the print. Retraction is a big issue, and yes, that’s an easy fix. Less easy to fix is the fact that the infill doesn’t hit the outline. And this is caused by either under extruding, or a speed that’s too fast.

Of course when the extrusion defaults to .9, yes, then that could be a possibility. Dumb. Da. Dumb. Dumb.

For the speed, it’s interesting to see that outlines are variable speed. The inner most outline is done wiki wiki. When S3D gets to the outer most it slows down to what is in the “process” setting. I saw no way to get it to do all the outlines at the same speed.

S3D also fails miserably on bridging. Look at the top and you’ll see the infill doesn’t work. It doesn’t touch the outlines. So you have to print a couple of layers to get it to bind.

Bridging Fail

Blobby retraction settings are abysmal. 1mm at 30mm/s is pathetic. The gold one is a Blobby setting, the red one is from Slic3r with my settings. Notice the head is attached to the fin. That’d be wrong.

Clear Slic3r Superior

Finally Refunded

After three days hounding them I finally got a refund. So to their credit, they stand behind their “if you aren’t happy within two weeks we’ll refund your purchase.” promise.

I’ve uninstalled the software, tossed it in the trash. I miss it about as much as a root canal.

My Thoughts

So, exactly who or what market is S3D aimed at? One look at their web site and this graphic should give you all the info you need to answer that question.

S3D Printers

Yep. Main stream Cartesian printers that, should they become any more plentiful, we’ll have to develop a spaying program for. For the delta crowd and out of the box thinkers, nah, not so much.

If you’ve spent time and learned the nuances of Slic3r and tweaked it (which really isn’t that hard either), I saw that S3D had one advantage in that it allowed you to place custom supports where you want them. You know, if you don’t want to run MeshMixer and do the same thing.

Granted S3D did slice anything I threw at it in a heart beat, but none of the GCODE it created resulted in a useful print. Which kind of negates the slicing speed.

Essentially the way it’s marketed it’s for the plug and play end user, who is so fed up or frustrated with other slicers that just about anything short of a Craigs List ad for their printer would be an improvement.

20131008 004953

Now I’m sure you’ve all seen a lot of examples of failed prints, and for me, I have a fair number of my own that I can contribute as well. But even with the simple mode set in Slic3r I was getting better results than anything S3D was able to generate.

Lastly the CNC tool paths aren’t optimized in S3D. It looks like it’s playing “Whack A Mole” on your design because it’s all over the place. More so than Slic3r and that really surprised me. If you ever want to see what an infill should fill like, head over to ANY tee shirt shop where they print custom crests/logos and watch an embroidery head lay down stitches. The software avoids filling back on itself, jumps (called jump stitches) are kept to a bare minimum because they have to be manually cut out when the design is done. And yes, embroidery designs are multi-layer. You lay thread on top of thread in many places.

My dream is that someday a programming in the 3D print world will be able to replicate what’s been going on in the embroidery industry for a couple of decades when it comes to optimization and fills. Until then, we will just do the best we can with what we have. For Delta printers, S3D sure makes Slic3r look great.