I Bought A 3D Printer

I volunteer in the HATCH maker space in Watertown, MA. I learned how to use pretty much everything there but the sewing machines (which was on my list) and even teach classes there. The things I used for myself the most were the 3D printers and the laser cutter.

With the Coronavirus lockdown, though, there are no more volunteers on site. As of 10/2020, volunteers and patrons can spend limited time in the facility, which is the best they can safely do, but it’s hard to try things and iterate and experiment in true maker fashion. I decided I needed to buy my own 3D printer.

I researched printers for about a month. Two of the most popular brands out there are the Creality Ender printers and the Prusa printers. The Ender printers are based on an open source design, very cheap and very configurable. The Prusa printers were more money, but more heavily tested, and had some very desirable features, some of which could be added later to the Enders, but not out of the gate.

What I got

I eventually bought a Prusa I3 Mk3S. The main reasons I did are

  • I wanted 3D printing to be my hobby, not maintaining and updating my 3D printer, so I was looking for more of a prosumer unit that would do more out of the gate, and hopefully “just work”.
  • The Prusa has a very interesting bed: A magnetic bed you can put a flexible metal sheet, so removing parts is easily done by flexing the sheet.
  • The Prusa has an option for mutli-filament printing, allowing you to work with 5 filaments at a time. it’s expensive, but there’s no way to add even a second filament to the Ender printers (other printers do have this option
  • I was impressed with Prusa support, and their community forums.

Build Or Buy

These are very complicated machines, and not everyone can (or want to) put one together. Even if you’re up to it, it’s very time consuming. For another $150, you can get it mostly assembled. I decided to get the kit, both as a “badge of courage” but also to learn about every part of the machine, so I can better understand and maintain it. It took me about 15 hours to fully assemble it, but I don’t regret the decision.

Octoprint

One wonderful addition to a 3D printer is a Raspberry Pi running Octoprint, which is a remote interface to the printer that allows you to control the printer remotely (usually just on your home network, but you can make it internet accessible), upload things to print, monitor the printer, and it even lets you point a webcam at your printer and watch it print remotely. I installed it on a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+.

Hello World

The standard “Hello World” of the 3D printing world is one of several standard models that test various features of the printer. A very common one is “Benchy” which is a little tugboat. It took me a while to finally get it to print right. My main problem was bed adhesion: The part would break off and move. Through fine tuning the Z axis calibration and learning more about how to use the bed, I was finally able to get it to print reliably. Here is the evolution of my attempts. The first one was pretty scary looking.

The Octopus

One of the things that I am fascinated by is compliant machines, and parts that are interlinked and move. I saw this super cute octopus design, and just had to print it. The arms are fully articulated and move up and down. It takes a bit of loosening up to get it to work right. This was very hard to print.

Planetary gears

This was another amazing design I found. These planetary gears have their teeth in a V shape so there’s no way it could be assembled. It has to be printed in place. All the gears spin and the center gear rotates with all the other gears.

Other Things I’ve Printed

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