Hi and welcome to my blog on 3D printing the aim of which is to share my experiences in this immersive subject and hopefully pass on some useful information.
As soon as I heard about 3D printers and the ability to ‘make’ real objects, I was hooked. I didn’t see an actual 3D printer for a long while but spent lots of time reading about them and watching videos and as a result I decided very early on that I just had to have one.
Probably the first 3D printers I actually saw were in a FabLab in Exeter, I think they were Ultimakers but I am not so sure. I did then see an Ultimaker 2+ in the flesh at the BETT (British Educational Training and Technology) show in London. It looked and sounded great but at around £2800 was just way too expensive.
Along the way I did find what seems like a great little pre assembled printer. The Fabrikator II Mini. This is available from HobbyKing and retailed at the time of looking for around £160. I have just looked again and they are now £123 (absolute bargain). The build size is restricted to 100mm x 100mm but that is reflected in the price.
Buying a 3D Printer
Before eventually buying a 3D printer I spent a great deal of time finding out about them, what different types there were, what they could do and more importantly why should I get one. I looked initially at assembled printers, mainly I guess because that’s all I thought was available. I looked at makes such as FlashForg and Ultimaker but everything was either out of my budget or just didn’t tick all the right boxes.
3D Printer Kits
Whilst looking for the right model to buy I came across the term RepRap, a repRap printer is basically a 3D printer in a kit for that you build yourself. Until now I did not even know that you could buy a 3D printer in a kit – how exciting I thought. The purpose of the RepRap project was to produce a self replicating machine, basically you build a 3D printer and use that printer to make another one. It is not quite as simple as that but that’s basically the ethos of RepRap. A DIY RepRap 3D Printer in kit form seemed like the ideal solution and a cheaper way of getting my hands on one.
After looking at lots and lots of different DIY kits and working out the pros and cons of each of them I short listed two. The Anet A8 and the Hictop Prusa i3. I nearly bought the HicTop because of it’s more sturdy aluminium frame however after a lot of soul searching, head scratching and more research the Anet A8 won. The deciding factor was support. The Anet A8 has a massive user community and once I purchased it I found that this support was and is absolutely fantastic.
I bought the Anet from GearBest, a Chinese re-seller, I knew it would take a while to be delivered (nearly 30 days to be exact) but I was not in a massive rush and buying from China saved me money. In the end I managed to get it for around £109 (which included insurance and free shipping). A trick when buying it was that if you order the UK plug model it was about £50 more expensive, but if you bought the US or EU version it was cheaper and they send you an adaptor based on the country it is being shipped to. I bought the EU version to ensure that the PSU would be 220/240v however they all come with a switchable 110v / 220v PSU anyway – bonus!!
After deciding on which printer to buy, I finally ordered the printer on the 24th November 2017. After waiting patiently it finally arrived on the 23rd December 2017 at around 16:30 (just in time for Christmas).
It arrived very well packed but with everything being placed between three layers of polystyrene. As it was a Christmas present I was not allowed to officially open it until after Christmas (apart from checking for obvious damage). I was also not allowed to build it until I had finished a previous project that I started in the Summer (building a Man Cave) where ultimately the printer would sit. So, no shed, no printer.
I did decide however to carry out the electrical checks to confirm that it all works.
Whilst researching this printer I had identified that there were a whole load of upgrades available for this printer. Some of the upgrades are printable whilst others need to be bought. The point of upgrading the printer is that, although out of the box it will work, with a few upgrades this soon becomes a great printer. Some of the upgrades that I opted for were Mosfets to divert power for the Hot Bed and Extruder from the MainBoard, a sheet of borosilicate glass to print on, replacement GT2 belt for the motors, a Fused 3 Pin Socket to enable the printer to be turned on and off without having to remove the power cord. PSU cover, Mosfet stand, Frame Supports and Belt Tensioners to name a few.
There are plenty of build videos available and on the supplied SD card (or linked from the GearBest sales page) you can find printable build instructions and links to the official videos on YouTube.
Here is a link to the dropbox site with the contents of the SD card.
As is stands, from a UK perspective, straight out the box, printer is not particularly safe. The mains leads are screwed into terminals on the PSU and apart from a small plastic cover, they are exposed, which could lead to electrocution. Until I could build the printer properly I decided to go with the power lead that was supplied with the printer for testing purposes only.
First test was the PSU itself. The wires came pre-stripped and tinned so I simply inserted them into the respective screw terminals and secured them in place. At first I did not think that the PSU connectors had been labeled as the build videos that I was following all had a white stick on label. I then noticed however that the connector names are actually embossed in the case above the terminal. Terminal 1, 2 and 3 are Live (Brown), Neutral (Blue) and Ground or Earth (Yellow / Green). All these are UK colour coded. The remaining 6 terminals are the 12v outputs (3 (-12v) negative / common / ground and 3 (+12v positive).
Before connecting the 12v leads I tested the output using a multimeter. My 6 terminals read – and + 12.54v.
Next job was to connect the 12v outputs for the mainboard.
Before connecting anything make sure that you disconnect the PSU from the 240v mains supply.
Contrary to the leads shown in many of the build videos (apart from the 240v cable) mine all cam with a 2 blue forked crimp connectors fitted making them easier to fit. Whilst comparing the build videos to my mainboard connections I noticed that the polarity on my 12v power connections on the mainboard were reversed. This is marked on the mainboard with a + to the left and a – to the right of the far left hand connector. Connecting these incorrectly would lead to a damaged mainboard!!
Also notice in the far RH pic that the screw terminals are only soldered to the mainboard via the connections themselves there is no additional support so make sure you take care not to overtighten or you may snap the terminal block off of the mainboard.
Next – Connecting everything up.
Connecting everything to the mainboard is relatively simple, everything is labelled. One thing that diod confuse me was the polarity of the Hot Bed power connections. As you can see in the LH pic I connected these with the + on the RH side and the – on the left. This is in sync with all ot the build videos that I could find but it would appear that the polarity for the power to the Heat Bed does not matter?
After connecting everything up I followed one of the electrical testing videos and checked the fans, the motors, the end stops, Heat Bed, Hot End heater and Extruder motor. As far as I could see everything operated OK. I did not however like the push button menu system. Upgrading this is not essential but I do believe whilst researching everything else I came across some info on replacing the LCD for a rotary knob version?
Building The Frame
When building the frame there are a couple of things to consider. First up all the ‘Shi Shun’ acrylic parts that frame is made of are covered in a brown protective paper. You will need to remove this. The best way to remove this material is slow and steady. If you just try and pull it off it will tear everywhere and it will take forever. Start at one end and start to peel off the paper pull it nice and slowly and every time you get to a corner or cut out it will want to tear in the weakest spot. To avoid the paper tearing pull it towards the weakest area and as long as you are gently it will continue to lift. After sussing out this method I managed to get most pieces off in one go.
The other issue was working out which screws are used where. This was solved when I realised that in the build instructions, eventually found online (mentioned earlier in this blog) there are pictures of the nuts / screws etc for each of the build steps. These are also shown in the official videos.
First I started with the main frame:
Then I built up the rear panel that houses the Y Axis Motor:
Then the bottom frame to house the Hot Bed:
Before installing the Hot Bed Frame Bearing Housing I removed the original bearings and fitted the Igus DryLin self lubricating bearings. These were one of the suggested upgrades to reduce noise.
Next I installed the HotBed supporting H Frame. As advised somewhere I installed this upside down, this allows for better running of the belts. Once it was all in place it seemed rather stiff. I loosened and then re-did some of the screws which help somewhat.
After fitting the belt however the Y Axis seems a little stiff (maybe that’s normal) but there is an annoying ratchet noise that seems to be coming from the motor but only when it gets halfway to the front?
The screws that hold the Y Axis to the aluminium H frame are inserted into threaded holes, two of theses threads failed but I managed to fix the problem by fitting some M4 washers and nuts that I picked up from my local hardware store.
To address the stiffness I may loosen off some of the nuts and bolts and check all the angles with a set square and re-adjust and see if that helps.
Before deciding on the final model that I would buy I came across the ‘HyperCube’. The ‘HyperCube is basically a hybrid DIY printer built using an aluminium extrusion frame. The first HyperCube was built by an Australian gentleman going by the pseudonym Tech2C. The first one that I came across though was a remix being built by Fugatech.
It is a great looking machine and like anything RepRap completely customisable.
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