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.

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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.


What should my first layer look like?

February 24, 2013

Your 3D printer just arrived. The nearest hackerspace is 100 miles away. You’re all ready to start printing, but all you really know about the technology is what you’ve seen on YouTube videos and breathless reports on Wired, or the Colbert Report.

They never show you the bottom of the print in any of those venues. It’s always Stanford bunny this or Colbert head that, and that’s all well and good but there’s no one around to tell you you’re doing it wrong.

first layer

I was happily printing failbottom models for months before I went to Maker Faire in Detroit and saw a proper print done by some experts.

The stringy bottom on the first two prints is mostly caused by having an off-kilter heated build platform. Make sure your heated build platform is as level as possible before you start printing.

MakerBot Replicator 1
ABS, 240° C
HBP 110° C, with painters’ tape

(These are prints of my Magic: The Gathering Fungus Tokens.)

MakerBot’s leveling script never seems to work perfectly for me, but since I’m printing small objects anyway I just make sure the HBP is locally level in my printing footprint. There’s no need for the corners of the platform to be 100% level if the center’s good enough.

I often start a print and let it run for a single layer to let the print heads get to their destination. Then I abort the print, remove any plastic from the HBP, and use ReplicatorG’s homing function to home the Z-axis to minimum.

(In ReplicatorG, go to Machine->Control Panel and select the Homing menu to do this.)

Then it’s a matter of twiddling the thumbscrews on the HBP until the nozzle passes MakerBot’s business card test. When you slide a business card between the nozzle and the HBP and the surface of the card just catches on the nozzle, you’ve got it.

It takes some time to get a knack for it, so don’t despair. I find it works best when the nozzle makes an indented scratch along the card’s face.

The first company to ship an auto-leveling build platform gets a fistful of cash from me.

It’s possible to get a mirror-smooth base when printing on kapton, but I’m mostly printing with ABS on painters’ tape right now. More on that in a subsequent post.


The Delrin Plunger

January 21, 2013

Fresh off my success clearing the left nozzle on my Replicator, the right nozzle stopped working.

So I cleaned it out with the aforementioned acetone and drilling process, and still no go. So the next thing to try is adjusting the fabled Delrin Plunger.

It sounds like Elvish plumbing equipment, but it’s just a little piece of plastic that lives inside the Replicator’s Stepstruder Mk. 8. The plunger’s job is to maintain pressure on the filament so that the stepper can feed it into the heated nozzle.

Over time the filament will wear a groove in the plunger’s head, which reduces contact between the plunger and the filament, which in turn makes it had for the drive wheel to push the filament through the nozzle.

This is what a plunger looks like after about eight months of more-or-less daily use. The blue arrow points to the wear on the head.

delrin

If filament isn’t emerging from your nozzle, or it’s coming out really slowly, rotating your plunger may help.

With a couple of hex wrenches this is a ten-minute job. Be aware that the plunger is inside a two-piece plastic case held on to the stepper by two bolts.

This is a right extruder, so the plunger goes on the left side, pointing away from the Replicator’s midline.

delrin_in_place

And then here it is with the second piece of the case attached. Note that I’ve rotated the plunger 90° so the filament has maximum contact with the plunger’s head.

assembled

When you disassemble this case be careful that the plunger and washers don’t go flying. The washers you could probably replace, but I have no idea where to get a new plunger. MakerBot’s fresh out of them.


Tinkeriffic Snack Mill

November 30, 2012

mill_full

All of the pieces necessary to build this structure can be found in the Tinkertoy Classic Jumbo Set.

You will need:

Print the sawmill. Be sure to print the foot twice. The guide bar is optional.

First wrap a piece of tape around an orange rod to create a tight fit for the blade– you don’t want the saw to bind up or slip when cutting something hard like an apple or carrot.

tape

Slide the blade onto the rod. It should be very snug.

blade

Put one spool onto the peg on one side of the bed.

wheel

Slide the orange rod through the spool’s center bore and secure it with a clip.

lock

Do the same on the other side. Be sure that the saw blade can spin freely in the bed’s center groove.

two_locks

Make a crank handle by sticking the yellow rod into the round-edged spool. Add the coupling to one end of the orange rod.

Put two clips in the top bores of the spools. Connect these clips with a blue rod. This adds stability to the sawmill.

brace

Insert the feet into one of the edge bores on two spools.

feet

Connect the footed spools with a blue rod, and connect the footed assembly to the bed assembly with two red rods.

back_end

You’re ready to go! Start cutting. You can snap the guide bar into the hexagonal holes on the bed if you want straight cuts.

Unless you have a prehensile tail or have epoxied the bed and feet to a cutting board, milling a snack is a two-person job.

Hang the crank over a countertop edge so it doesn’t strike your work surface while turning. Hold down the rest of the assembly with your free hand.

Crank the saw up to speed before feeding it a snack. A child should easily be able to produce 60 RPM, which is enough to cut a carrot. Feed the snack through the mill and continue cranking until the snack has passed the blade.

apple


Once More, With Rigor

November 29, 2012

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post on printing with PLA, where I claimed that the orientation of the painter’s tape on the build platform is important to the stick-to-it-ive-ness of a PLA print.

But is it? Really?

A comment from CymonsGames (who’s doing some great stuff on Thingiverse, BTW) got me thinking. Is this 3d-printing feng shui, or is this a real effect? Does the grain of the painter’s tape matter? It worked once yesterday.

But anecdotes ain’t data, people. Imma test this.

I’ll try and remove as many variables as possible from the experiment, but since my basement clean room is currently occupied by an eldritch horror I’m stitching together from abattoir scraps, I’ve got my Replicator in the living room and ambient temperature control isn’t really possible. It’ll be somewhere between 64° and 69°F.

I made a special model for this print test: it’s just a 30x30x2mm solid with a raised zheng on it.

And some skeuomorphic rivets. Because, rivets.

Most importantly, this model is thin, so I can run this print a bunch of times quickly.

ReplicatorG Settings:
10% infill
.22 layer height
print 240° on first layer, 210° afterwards
HBP: 35°C

I used fresh tape before every print, all from the same roll. The first three prints were with front-to-back tape, the next three were with side-to-side tape. All tape was the same stuff, 3M Scotch 2090-1A ScotchBlue Painter’s Tape.

Minor tip: Make sure you have tape everywhere that you plan to lay down PLA, especially the homing line from the corner of the build platform to the start of the print. If you miss that little detail, your print head may end up dragging a blob of plastic all over your first surface and mess with the print.

Here are the results:

In summary: these tests don’t show much difference in stickiness with different orientations of painter’s tape.

I even mixed up the orientations just to see if I could mess up the print. No good. Every print looked more or less the same except for a little curling on front-to-back #1.

The information contained in that last post is no longer operative. Put your tape on side-to-side, front-to-back, whatever gets you through the day.

Scientific method. For great justice.


Printing on Painters’ Tape

November 28, 2012

Here’s a little tip that would have saved me some grief and troubleshooting when printing with PLA on painters’ tape with my MakerBot Replicator 1.

The orientation of the tape matters.

Lay your tape front-to-back on your build platform, not side-to-side.

Look at this photo (of blue PLA on blue painters’ tape, so click to embiggen):

See where the front-to-back tape ends, and the side-to-side tape creates a rats’ nest of tangled PLA filaments?

Now look at the same print, but with front-to-back tape covering the print surface:

Much, much better adhesion. Fun new model coming soon, so watch this space.