Last week I revived a very special package, a box containing all the components I would need to assemble a printer. “Why would anyone what to build their own printer? Electronics stores are almost giving away ink jets these days.” This printer does not print with ink or paper, it prints plastic.
There are many types of 3D printers but the ones that have been making the most news are Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printers because a combination of expiring patents and availability of precision parts had made it possible for anyone with some time to kill to build one. FDM printers work by heating plastic until it is soft and malleable then pushing it through a pin hole opening to form hairlike strands of the plastic. Motors and belts move this extruder around while it is pushing the plastic out which forms shapes. This is repeated over and over creating layers of a 3D object.
If you want something done right, you need to do it your self. Though this is not always true, its often applicable in the world of 3D printing. More and more people are making businesses out of selling and servicing 3D printers, most printers have no support other than the operator. That’s why its a good idea to build the printer one’s self and get a good knowledge of how the machine works, because eventually it won’t.
I purchased a kit from Makerfarm for a Prusa i3v 10. A printer in the popular open source Rep-Rap family. This kit came with almost all the prices needed for full assembly, I just needed a power supply and a piece of glass for the build plate. The assembly was fairly straight forward with every step of the way documented by YouTube tutorials. Putting in hours after work it took me a few days to get it ready to print.
The first print was a calibration cube, 24mm by 24mm by 24mm, and it took me three tires until I could get one to print completely. Printing this helped me troubleshoot and find anywhere that I may have made a mistake when building the printer. I had to deconstruct and rebuild the extruder because some part of it were not tight enough the first time.
Once the calibration cube was completed, it turned out very nice. Often these printers require hours of tuning and calibrations before they will print anything decent. This Prusa i3v just need some bed leveling at it printed pretty well. Eventually I will go through all the setups and calibrations to get perfect prints but first I want to try something a little more ambitious than a cube.
I printed a few of these Star Trek com badges. A fan design that merges the styling of the new movie series with the com badges from The Next Generation. That’s pretty cool but I think we can do more.
Though it didn’t come out perfectly I was able to print this bust from a 3D scan of a Greek statue. The entire thing took almost 6 hours to print but it came out pretty well. The spaghetti like string hanging off it are places on the statue, like the chin, where the overhang was too great for the rigidity of the plastic and the print was printing on air. To counter this prints with overhand are often printed with attaching support material.
With 3D printing one also gets a choice in the material to print with. The most common choices are plastics, specifically PLA a corn based plasic, and ABS you standard toy plastic. All the prints made from the white material are PLA. PLA is considered the easier print material to use because it melts at lower temperature than ABS, cools faster, and is completely nontoxic. PLA is more brittle than ABS and more sensitive to temperature changes, making it very good for display pieces but not for functional parts. To print with ABS a printer needs to have a heated build plate to keep the model warm while printing. Since ABS cools slowing than PLA a ABS print that is not heated will curl and bend as it cools, causing the print to fail.
My printer supports printing with both PLA and ABS and I also purchased a spool of black ABS plastic. Above is one of my first prints with it, a clip on bow tie.
3D printing is still in a state where it’s really only best for hobbyists, but it is fun hobby to have. This is not the home manufacturing revolution some say it will be, but it might be a baby step towards star trek style replicators, and I am glad to have a piece of the future sitting on my table.