First steps: 3D printing

In Embedded, Technology

Exciting times are upon us as the last couple of years 3D printing has really taken off. Driven by a large enthusiasts community of makers a lot of innovation and broadly available DIY sets for building your own 3D printer have become available and while they utilize an inferior technology (FDM – Fused Deposition Modeling instead of for example SLS – Selective Laser Sintering) to some of the commercially available printers, they’re good enough to produce some satisfying results.

My employer, high tech ICT, fortunately shares my interest in modern technologies and innovation and granted me the request to order a 3D printer to experiment with. So just before Christmas I went ahead and ordered the Ormerod2 made by RepRapPro. It had a decent track record, is from an UK based company and especially their controller, the Duet, is nice as it provides a web interface for the printer making it easy to control its functions, view its status or to print models by just uploading them via the browser.

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The kit was a bit of a Frankenstein kit, forcing me to get into contact with RepRapPro. Apparently RS Components whom I ordered the kit from mixed up parts from two kits somehow, both of a different version. So, some parts where not according to the instructions and some parts were actually missing but were shipped without problem by RepRapPro to me allowing me to continue building the printer.

The documentation is generally of good quality and the build was like Lego for grown ups. It is rewarding to actually make something. The print quality of the 3D printed parts of the printer however is of poor quality, and I have several cracks and one completely broken part already. Also the included sample role of PLA is less than stellar, sometimes randomly breaking and not very consistent. New rolls of PLA are underway as I’m writing this, so let’s see if that solves anything.

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Something I’m having most problems with thus far (and so does everybody else judging by my Googling) is getting the first layer to stick. No, let me rephrase that, getting the first layer to keep sticking. As soon as the PLA hardens it causes wrapping, some corners unstick from the bed and all is not well. I’ve now added Kapton tape to my glass bed and this seems to marginally improve the situation but it still happens. Might be a problem with the PLA quality as well though.

Anyway, what is very cool however is seeing object that you just download from the internet materialize before your eyes and although it is by no means fast, this is a glimpse into the future as far as I’m concerned.