Dualstrusion with MakerWare Beta 2.0

March 19, 2013
TL;DR summary: The UI’s handy and the MakerBot slicer is mind-blowingly fast, but I had a great deal of difficulty getting a dualstrustion to print with MakerWare.

I opened a support ticket with MakerBot yesterday, trying to get MakerWare to connect to my bot over USB. If you’ve read yesterday’s post you’ve seen the litany of troubleshooting steps I’ve already tried. Today I’m thinking maybe I’m due for a firmware upgrade, but we’ll see what MBI has to say before I fix things that are only slightly broken.

While I’m waiting for that request to percolate through the support structure I thought I’d try a workaround: printing from the SD card. I’m interested to see how MakerWare’s new dualstrustion generation works, because ReplicatorG’s method is a little kludgey.

This is MakerWare 2.0.1.211 running on OSX 10.6.8.

I’m going to print my Magic: The Gathering Vampire and Cat tokens, because I already have black and white ABS filaments loaded. One color for each token.

I import the cat and MakerWare helpfully asks me if i’d like to put the model on the build platform. Yes, yes, I would like to do that.

cat

I can command-c/command-v to copy and paste multiple cats onto the platform, and Makerware automatically places them next to each other. This is quite a nice little feature.

Just for fun I see if MakerWare will let duplicate cats off into empty space. It does.

lots of cats

The delete key rapidly relieves me of my extra cats. Next I import the vampire. The vampire and cat are cohabitating, which needs to be fixed before I can print. That’s a simple click and drag.

cohabitation

I’d like to have a keyboard shortcut for “Add,” if anyone from the dev team is reading this.

MTG Vampires are either black or red, so I need to change the vampire’s color. I click the vampire token and then the Object button, which brings up the properties of this instance.

There’s a strange, unused text field under the dropdown menu. No idea what this is for. I can’t click or type in it.

text field

Ah. It turns out this alleged text field is a white color swatch indicating the color of the model. I find this out when I go to change the cat’s color. A label would be helpful here for first-time naïfs like myself.

It’d be nice to have a double-click on the color swatch bring up a color picker. As is I have to go to the Settings button on the other side of the screen.

I go to change the color of the extruders in Settings, and MakerWare crashes.

changing colors

So. I retrace my steps and I’m back in business in two minutes.

Exporting the .thing to a file is a single click of the Make button, and I don’t have to mess with any settings here. I just choose “High Quality.”

welcome

Out of curiosity I poke into the Advanced settings. The speed while extruding /traveling seems really fast to me– I’m usually printing around 45/65 and MakerWare defaults to 80/150.

But I’ll give it a go since I’m trying to approach this software as if I’m a n00b who just unboxed my machine.

Skeinforge is the default slicer for High quality. The slice starts OK, and then seems to hang around 66%. I’ll give it a few more minutes and then try again.

I come back three minutes later and the slice weirdly jumps back to 33%. Two minutes later it does some “Weave” business, then a print-to-file step, and finally it’s done! Total slice time, about 15 minutes.

Remember I can’t print via USB yet, I’m exporting a .s3g file and then printing from the Replicator’s SD card slot.

The first layer looks like this:

fail

It looks like some piece of software, either MakerWare or Skeinforge, forgot to take the cat offset into account when building the gCode for this print.

So I try it again with the MakerBot slicer, which slices so quickly at first I think something’s wrong. It takes literally less than 30 seconds.

I believe that somewhere between 1.0 and 2.0 the in-application name of this slicer got changed from Miracle Grue to MakerBot Slicer. This is disappointing.

This print, too, failed in exactly the same fashion, so it’s not Skeinforge that’s the problem. I’m looking askance at you, MakerWare.

So I move the cat over a little bit, to force the geometry to change in the reslice.

nudged

Also, as long as I’m here I’m going to drop the travel speeds to something I’m more comfortable with; the machine’s rattling violently at the default speeds. Here’s the result, still overlapping.

fail

I’ll try one last time with plenty of distance between the models printing at 45/65 travel rates.

fail

And finally I get something close to a decent print.

final

The vampire printed fine, but there are little bits of black filament embedded in the white plastic– I have no idea how they got there. They don’t look like they rubbed off the left extruder head, and they don’t show up when I print models with a single extruder.

My hunch is that this is an atypical dualstrusion print– maybe I had such a hard time because MakerWare thinks all dualstrusion prints are intended to be fused together and not two models separated by a lot of space. I can’t say for sure.

It’s disappointing. MakerWare’s got a lot of promise but it’s not going to be a regular part of my workflow for a while.

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MakerWare 2.0 Beta: First Look

March 18, 2013
TL;DR summary: I was all excited to check out the performance of this new software, but couldn’t connect to my Replicator Dual even after extensive troubleshooting. I’m sticking with ReplicatorG for now.

This is MakerWare 2.0.1.211 running on OSX 10.6.8.

The download: the DMG for this called the MakerWare Bundle of Awesome; MBI remains lighthearted even in its mundane business details. I’m downloaded and installed in less than a minute. So far, so good.

The first thing I notice when I launch the application, even before the “What’s New” dialog, is that they’ve replaced the old gradient background with a subtle cityscape.

welcome

The software asks which MakerBot I’ll be using today. I’ll just select my Replicator Dual, now second from the bottom in the drop-down menu, and continuing its descent into obsolescence as progress trudges on.

The first thing I want to do is turn off the cityscape. I’m used to design applications that get out of the artist’s way– Photoshop, Maya, Illustrator, all these give me the option to eliminate geegaws and focus on the work at hand. I’d like an RGB 161,161,161 background, please.

I click the settings button in the upper right. No luck there, but it’s nice to be able to change my object display colors. So I go to MakerWare->Preferences, hoping maybe there’s some advanced settings there. Nope, it opens the same dialog.

I can’t find a place to turn the background off, so it looks the the cityscape is here to stay. Moving on.

Before I can print anything, I’ll have to connect to my Replicator. The broken USB cable button in the lower right looks helpful, so I click it. I get a notice that my Replicator Dual isn’t connected, and an option to “Export to File,” which I assume lets me save my bot settings.

not connected

I poke through the menus, looking for something that’s obviously “Connect to Machine.” Can’t find it. Must be an autodetect? I’ll quit and restart.

MakerWare starts up and some status boxes appear and disappear telling me that the Replicator is connected *and* disconnected. Don’t blink, you might miss it. The bot still doesn’t appear to be connected, since that USB cable icon is broken.

UI Design tip: the “sheared cable” icon might imply that the cable’s just really, really long; a less ambiguous visual cue would be a big red X over the icon.

Twenty years of talking relatives through hardware problems over the phone tells me the next logical thing to do is power cycle the bot.

The bot chirps its happy startup song and I see the same connected/disconnected status boxes fade in and out. As far as I can tell, I’m still not connected to the bot.

Sometimes the USB ports on my laptop get a little fussy, so I’ll try moving the cable around. Same results: still a disconnected Replicator.

So I click the Help button. It’s all UI help. Useful, no doubt, but not in my present circumstance.

help screen

I had some trouble with MakerWare 1.0 and the conveyor background services, so I’ll try turning those off and on again. No good.

Now I reach way way down into my troubleshooting bag of tricks, into the late 80’s. Turn everything off and on again, and restart from scratch.

Still no connection between the software and the hardware. MakerBot’s support page tells me to go to Services->Restart background service. I’ve done that already, but OK, let’s give it another go.

Still no connection. Just to make sure I’m not a complete idiot, I quit MakerWare and hop over to ReplicatorG to see if I can connect there. ReplicatorG connects instantly, so this is definitely a MakerWare problem.

Ok, big guns. Go to Terminal and ps -ef | grep conveyor. Find the conveyor process and kill -9 it, so I can restart it from MakerWare. This is the Unix equivalent of taking off and nuking the site from orbit.

Go back to MakerWare and restart the service. MakerWare crashes after a few seconds of spinning beachball. Maybe kill -9 was a bit much.

Restarting shows me a services error.

services error

ReplicatorG still works.

I try an uninstall/reinstall, using the uninstaller provided in the disk image. I’m back to the broken USB icon again.

Meh. I’ll try a workaround tomorrow, printing from the SD card so I can evaluate the UI and printing experience. In the meantime I’ll get in touch with MakerBot Support and see if we can’t figure out what’s up.


The Emperor Wears No Kapton

March 8, 2013

The MakerBot 2X was just released, and I’m a little disappointed to see that MakerBot Industries hasn’t gotten rid of the Kapton tape part of the printing process yet. It’s easily the most frustrating part of working with the printer, and in a lot of cases it’s completely unnecessary.

For non-3D printer people who have stumbled across this blog post, Kapton tape is a space-age amber adhesive tape that one lays down on a build platform to help prints stick while printing. Kapton tends to bunch up and self-adhere, making the process of affixing it to the platform a real exercise in patience.

Without some adhesive assistance, prints slide all over the platform and you get a big bag of fail.

I haven’t had the opportunity to use a 2X yet, but I’ve been printing on a Replicator 1 for about a year and I’ve found a few workarounds that let me concentrate on designing stuff rather than getting my prints to stick to the first layer. Presumably these tips will apply to your shiny new 2X, too.

The models in all of the following photos were printed on a Replicator 1 using ABS of various colors, using the original Replicator firmware. I’m using ReplicatorG to slice.

HBP 110°
extruder 240°
layer height: .25 to .27
feedrate: 45
travel feedrate: 65
ReplicatorG 037
Skeinforge 50

I’m generally printing small models onto painter’s tape. The base on this squirrel is maybe 5 centimeters in radius.

squirrel token with NUNCHUCKS!

I get at least a 95% success rate printing these. (I need a lot of them because the kids and I use them as tokens in Magic: The Gathering.)

If you’d like a nunchuck squirrel of your own, download the STL here. Unarmed squirrel tokens also exist.

I was having such success printing tokens of all kinds on painters’ tape that for a while I was thinking Kapton was completely unnecessary until I tried to print a Dungeons and Dragons dice plinth.

painters tape plinth

See that circled gobbet of filament? That’s caused by not covering the entire platform with tape. The plastic won’t stick to bare aluminum, so when the extruder does its pre-print nozzle clearing it takes the extruded plastic along for the ride.

These gobbets can mess with your print if they get caught up in the print area, so it makes sense to cover the extruder path with a strip of tape.

Note where the edges of the dice plinth curled up from the platform. My understanding is that as layers of plastic cool, they contract and pull the lower layers of the print upwards. If you want to avoid this pulling, the first layer really has to stick to the platform.

The Sharpie marks around the print help me to make sure the build platform is locally level in the print area. I hardly bother with MakerBot’s platform leveling script anymore. I don’t see the point of having level platform corners if I’m not printing that far out, and getting level corners is a second exercise in patience that I just don’t have time for.

So. I lay down a small piece of Kapton in the build area only. Don’t bother trying to cover the whole build platform if you don’t need to. It’s much easier to work with that way.

I spread a liberal application of ABSynthe in the build area and then hit the print button again. Success. Those bubbles in the kapton are usually a problem, but with enough ABSynthe anything will stick to the HBP.

plinth with absynthe

Take a look at the difference between these two prints from the side. Painters’ tape on the left, Kapton with ABSynthe on the right.

plinth comparison

But, there’s a small downside to using ABSynthe: look at the bottoms of these prints:

underside

The ABSynthe I have at the workbench is a noisome slumgullion of every ABS filament color I have, which leaves a murky film on the bottom of the print. Note to self: make mono-colored ABSynthe for higher-quality prints.

Why not use ABSynthe on painter’s tape? I’ve tried it. The ABSynthe fuses with the tape and it can’t be removed from the bottom of the print without a lot of sanding.


The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

August 1, 2012

This happens to me all the time. I start looking for information on some technical subject and I end up wading through ancient forum posts and forgotten wikis in a fruitless search for clues. A lot of this stuff seems to be written by and for people smarter than I am. It can be very frustrating.

I usually just want to do X, where X is something straightforward like “pause the print, move the Replicator’s extruder head out of the way, wait for user input, and then resume the print.”

After a few hours of of data forensics and a fair amount of trial and error I have a gCode solution for X. Keep reading.

This is the beginning of a Seej Tournament Bloxen print.

I found the need for this script when I started printing with PLA a week or so ago. I haven’t got the temperatures quite down yet, so my rafts curl up a bit at the edges and sooner or later end up taking the whole print for a joyride around the build platform.

I’m still looking for that perfect raftless print, but along the way I’ve got to actually produce some printed models. So I’ve taken to printing a raft, pausing, and then using painters’ tape to bind the raft down to the build platform.

I’m a huge fan of having a bag of popsicle sticks around any hobby project. They’re cheap, disposable, and can be quickly modified into a variety of simple tools (gaffs, hooks, spreaders, etc) with a pocketknife. They’re also great for evenly applying painters’ tape to rafts.

It’s kludgey, but it works. The only problem I’ve had so far is getting around the print heads to get the tape down on the raft, but with this new script the Replicator moves the nozzles out of the way before pausing the print.

Fair warning: this worked on my Replicator, but there are no guarantees it will work on yours. If this code crashes your extruder head, slags your controller board, or burns your house down and torches all you hold dear and dry-humps the ashes, it’s not my fault.

That said, it’s pretty vanilla gCode and I don’t expect you’ll have many problems with it, assuming your gCode is using millimeters and absolute positioning, which I think is the default output from ReplicatorG.

The first lines you’ll need to look for are:

(<raftLayerEnd> </raftLayerEnd>)
M73 P6 (display progress)

This indicates the end of your raft’s print. The next significant line you’ll see is one that begins with G1:

It should look something like G1 X-4.8 Y-4.68 Z12.6 F3300.0

This is telling your Replicator to start extruding the first layer of your model. In between these two significant lines, you’ll have to add this code:

G91 (*set to relative positioning*)
G1 X-60 (*move the print heads -60mm in X, assuming the print is using mm*)
M71 P60 (Press button to resume print)
G1 X60 (*move the print heads back 60mm in X*)
G90 (*return to absolute positioning*)
M73 P6 (display progress)

Be careful with your X move values. I don’t see anything keeping you from accidentally ramming your extruder heads into the side of your Replicator with too large a value.

I’m sure there’s a more elegant way to write this code, but I’m never one to let perfection be the enemy of the good. It’s done, it works, and I can improve upon it later.

This code also seems to disable the Pause button once the user has pressed it, which is irritating but I can’t bring myself to spend the energy tracking that particular bugaboo down. I’d also like to find a way to get the nozzle’s current position, move the heads, and then return to that position. I’ve found tantalizing hints on just how to do that, but that’s a hack for a different day.


Kapton tape. Not a good feature.

May 7, 2012

Ok, heads up. I really dig the Makerbot Replicator. Honest I do. I think it’s got great potential, and as a first-of-its-kind consumer level device it’s nothing short of revolutionary.

But Kapton tape has to go. If there’s one thing that diminishes the coolness of this device, it’s having to wrestle with a sheet of ill-fitting Kapton.

For the uninitiated, the Kapton is the substrate upon which all 3D prints are made. Before one runs a print, you’ve got to cover your heated build platform with a layer of space-age adhesive. It’s clingy, frustrating to work with, expensive, and absolutely essential to getting anything more than a blob of plastic ramen to print.

You can print a bunch of times with the same tape, but sooner or later it’ll get ripped, bubbled, or too filthy to use. Take off the tape and go through the painstaking process of getting it fitted to your heated build platform.

MakerBot Industries, hear my plea: do everything you can to get rid of Kapton tape in version 2.0.