Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Understanding Shells, Layer Height and Infill

Getting great products out of a 3D printer requires an understanding of the settings that will ultimately dictate how the object feels in your hand. Those settings are the number of shells, infill percentage and layer height which directly control the density, surface finish and durability of the final print.

Shells and Parameters

Examples ranging from 0% to 100% of 3d printed infillIf we think about each printed layer of an object as a two- dimensional drawing laid out on the X and Y axes, then the number of shells on the object refers to the number of times the outline of the drawing is retraced. If the printer only traces the outline once, it is said to have one shell, if it retraces the outline a second time then it is said to have two shells. They are called shells because they are the outer most layer of the object and ultimately the part of the object we see and interact with.

The more shells on an object, the stronger it is. However, adding shells will also increase the print time significantly. Shells are also referred to as perimeters in some software and documentation.

Rule-of-thumb: Use fewer shells when prototyping or printing decorative objects, use more shells when printing items that will be put under more stress.

Layer Height

The number of layers in a print, or the object’s resolution, is determined by the layer height setting. Layer height is measured in microns (one millionth of a meter).

High-res objects use many very thin layers to create a smooth object. With high-resolution printing it becomes difficult to see individual layers in the object because layers are printed as thin as a sheet of paper at a thickness of just 100 microns (0.1mm).

Low-res objects are made of fewer, thicker layers. These objects feel rough to the touch and contain layers that are more visible to the eye, like sediment or the rings of a tree.

Items intended for display purposes are typically printed in high resolution, while prototypes and everyday objects can usually be printed at lower resolutions and at faster speeds.

High-resolution objects take longer to produce than low resolution ones. This is because for every one layer of a low-resolution object, there could be 5 times as many layers in a high resolution object. Each of those layers is extra time spent printing, but they can make a substantial difference in visual quality.

Rule-of-thumb: Use a bigger layer height for prototyping and rapid production, use a smaller layer height for display objects and more-accurate tolerances


Infill is the material used to fill the empty space inside the shell of an object, it refers to the density. Infill is measured by percentage, so an object printed at 100% infill will be 100% solid. More infill will make an object stronger, heavier, and slower to build. Likewise, less infill is lighter and quicker to build.

A 3D printer can extrude infill in several patterns. Some slicing engines create a grid pattern while others will use hexagonal or other geometric patterns. Items printed for display purposes rarely need more than 10%-20% infill, but functioning mechanical parts and pieces that will take more abuse will need 75%-100% infill.

Rule-of-thumb: Use less infill on test objects and prototypes that wont be subjected much stress, use more infill on functional mechanical parts and objects that need to be durable.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Steps to clear a clogged 3D-printer nozzle

Most popular 3D printers on the market -- Makerbot, Ultimaker, Cube, etc -- use a process called Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), where objects are made by the gradual depositing of melted plastic, one on top of the next. As any plumber will tell you, where there is liquid moving through a tube, there is bound to be the occasional clog. Since 3D printers work just like this, if you own or operate one, then chances are you will eventually run into a clogged nozzle.

Nozzle clogs happen for any number of reasons, but they are always frustrating. Some degraded filament may have gummed up the extruder, or a bit of a dust bunny could have wedged inside. This will cause all sorts of issues, from poor flow, to jamming or no flow at all. Regardless of the reason or resulting issue,  you've got to get your nozzle clean. Chances are, if you are like me, you have scoured the internet looking for information and found suggestions like jamming utensils into your nozzles hole, or creating an insane inferno with a blow torch in an attempt to remove the offending clog. Well here's what I have discovered to be the best way to remove a clog.

So your nozzle is clogged, now what?

The best way to clean a clog from a 3D printer nozzle is to soak it up using molten filament, and then pulling it out once it begins to harden. To do this, you will need Nylon Filament (which can be purchased at Taulman3D). It makes the ideal filament for cleaning because of it's slippery nature and viscosity, which helps in removing more of the clogged matter than PLA.

Nozzle Cleaning Steps:

1. Heat the nozzle to 200C

2. Run Nylon filament through the extruder

3. With Nylon in the nozzle, reduce the temperature to 135C,  and once there let it sit for a minute

4. Slowly but firmly work the filament out of the top of the extruder

The key is to slowly work the filament out, millimeter by millimeter. You will know that you got the whole thing back out when you can see the narrow plastic that made it into the tip of the extruder.

If you pull too hard, or yank the filament too violently, it will break off inside the nozzle and you will have to repeat.

5. Repeat steps 1-4 until the filament you remove from the nozzle comes out clean

Steps to a cleared nozzle

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"This is Automation" by General Electric, 1955

What is Automation?? Find out that and more in this 1955 educational video from General Electric

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

SLIDE | Printable iPhone Slider

SLIDE, a 3D printable set of iPhone camera sliders for cinematic video. Learn more here - thing:74307

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Living with the Atom - 1957

In "Living With The Atom" the viewer learns about the discovery of the atom, its structure, its energy, and tests with atomic and hydrogen bombs.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Steam Locomotive

Promotional film from 1938, made by the New York Central RailRoad, explaining the in's and out's of the steam engine locomotive. Features the "Hudson" locomotive.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Arteries of NYC 1940

A Video from the 1940's explaining the transportation routes leading into New York City and the details of future transportation and infrastructure planning. Roads, railways, subways, trolleys and waterways are examined with many scenes of downtown New York interspersed.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Say Hello to the Avanti

"The 1963 Avanti was the last ditch effort of Sherwood Egbert to rescue the faltering Studebaker. Once again, the company turned to its ace in the hole, stylist Raymond Loewy, to conceive a car that would miraculously turn things around. He rented a house in Palm Springs and there with three young designers and with missionary zeal embarked on creating something new and revolutionary. The result -- the Avanti, got attention but didn't save the company. Studebaker was gone three years later."

Friday, March 22, 2013

What is 3D Printing and How Does it Work?

The phrase 3D Printing has popped up in the media everywhere from Jay Leno's garage to the cover of multiple tech magazines. Many people are curious to learn more, but given the adolescent stage of the technology there isn't much information to be found. Here I try to address that lack of information.
Q: What is 3D Printing?
A: The process of making a three-dimensional object from a digital model.
I've broken everything down into three main sections. In the first section I outline and explain the most popular types of 3D printing. The second section addresses the characteristics of 3D printed objects. Finally, the last part discusses current desktop 3D printer software.

Types of 3D Printing

Just like there isn't one way to print on paper (ie. laser vs inkjet), there are multiple ways of 3D printing an object. The types of 3D printing most popularly used in the industry are Fused Deposition Modeling, Selective Laser Sintering and Stereolithography.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the most popular type of 3D printing on the market. If we pull apart the name...
  • Fused: to join or blend to form a single entity
  • Deposition: to put or set down in a specific place
  • Modeling: the activity of making a three-dimensional representation of a thing
... it becomes much less intimidating. FDM is a fancy way of saying it attaches layers of plastic on top of one another in order to make a thing. I typically refer to this type of printing as a "glorified hot glue gun" because it works the exact same way: The extruder pulls in plastic filament (or string) and pushes it through a very hot piece of metal which then 'extrudes' (or spits) it out in a specific pattern.

The other two industry popular types are called Sterolithography (SLA) and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and both refer to a process where a laser or other focused light source is pointed into a bath of liquid plastic or resin that when hit with the light source will harden. The machine will draw layer by layer precise images in the liquid which will harden as it goes. When it is finished, you are left with a solid model. The biggest hurdles for SLS and SLA to overcome are the objects they produce are still very brittle, in addition to the high cost of this resin and technology relative to FDM machines.

Characteristics of 3D Printed Objects

A photograph can have high-resolution or low-resolution, where high-res is a lot of pixels very densely packed together so our eyes see one smooth picture, and low-res has fewer pixels and therefore the picture looks more blocky and less smooth.

High-Resolution Photo
Low-Resolution Photo

In 3D printing there are also high-resolution objects and low-resolution objects. A high-res object is one that has very very thin layers (some can be thinner then a slice of paper) so that you end up with a very smooth object where it's tough to see each individual layer. Whereas a low-res object has fewer and thicker layers, where you end up with a rougher object where you can very visibly see each layer.

High-Resolution - Beethoven Bust 
Low-Resolution - "Wells" The Robot

High-resolution objects take longer to produce than low resolution. This is because for every one layer of a low resolution object there could be 5x as many layers in a high resolution object. Each one of those layers is extra time spent printing but can make a substancial difference in visual quality.

3D Printable Materials

As FDM machines are the most popular on the market, the materials those machines use are also the most popular right now. The material, called filament, is packaged much like spools of thread but are much larger and have plastic instead of cotton "string".

Spools of PLA Filament
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), is one of the most popular plastics. It is traditionally used to make all sorts of plastic home goods and is the material of choice for LEGO. It's high performance in impact resistance and durability make it a versatile plastic. ABS is petroleum based and gives off a toxic fume when heated, this is not an issue with proper ventilation to the machine. ABS plastic slightly shrinks when it hardens which can cause an object to curl off of the build platform. To combat this machines incorporate a heated build platform; the equivalent of making your object on a hotplate.

The other most popular polymer is Polylactic Acid (PLA), a bio-degradable plastic made from corn. PLA is very strong and rigid; ABS is softer and more flexible. It's a popular choice for filament because as the plastic hardens it stays very true to its original size and does not require a heated build plate.

Experiments are being done with bleeding-edge materials like nylon, wood fiber, and polycarbonates by hobbyists in an effort to expand the library of materials for 3D printers.

SLS and SLA machines do not use plastic filament. Instead, they use a liquid resin (in this case an un-hardened plastic) that, when hit with the light source, hardens into a solid.

Although still in it's adolescence, 3D printing is quickly maturing and with it will come untold wonders.

Modeling Software - If you want to take a foray into 3D Printing, modeling is your first step. Historically, 3D modeling has been a challenging thing to do. The software has often been unwieldy and infuriating to navigate. Here is a list of programs that are helping to change that.

123D Design - http://123dapp.com/
Part of a suite of modeling software by Autodesk aimed at beginners to 3d modeling. The whole suite is provided for free and has companion iPhone apps that allow you to make 3D models of real things with your phone's camera. 

Sketchup - http://sketchup.com/

A Google-supported product, SketchUp is also popular, free and well documented.

Autodesk Inventors Fusion - http://labs.autodesk.com/technologies/fusion

Of the four programs, this is the most dense and has the highest barrier to entry. Definitely more in the advanced category, this is free software that gives more precise control of the modeling once you get the hang of the interface.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Friday, March 1, 2013

Thoughts on ABS as a Filament

Additive manufacturing has been a popular topic lately. It was mentioned in President Obama's State of the Union address as an economic opportunity and appeared in Big Bang Theory in one of their schemes. I wanted to share some of my thoughts on desktop manufacturing and its trajectory.

The majority of '3D printer' manufacturers consider the capability to use ABS filament with their machines the gold standard.  They declare it to be 'experimental' and 'cutting edge' compared to other materials, but in fact the opposite is true. Allow me to explain.

First, a little history on of this type of manufacturing-- invented in 1989 by S. Scott Crump as a means of rapid prototyping, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the technical term for describing a process that attaches tiny layers of plastic on top of one another in order to make a thing. I sometimes describe this type of machine as a "glorified hot glue gun" because it works the exact same way: The extruder pulls in plastic filament (or string) and spits it out through a very hot piece of metal in a specific pattern.

The first plastic filament that Crump used was Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), a popular plastic that is used to make all sorts of plastic home goods and the ever popular LEGO. It's high performance in impact resistance and durability make it a versatile plastic. ABS is petroleum based and gives off a toxic fume when heated, this is not an issue with proper ventilation to the machine. Part of the appeal of using ABS for injection molding is the plastic slightly shrinks when it hardens making it easy to pop out of the mold. However, this is exactly what makes it so difficult to use with FDM technology.

Here, shrinkage causes the object to curl off of the build platform leaving you with a warped object. A couple of things have been invented to combat this, the most effective of which is the heated build platform or build chamber. Which is either the equivalent of making your object on a hotplate or inside of box that you ran your hair dryer in. Both methods have been developed and refined since Crump's first experiments.

It's most frequently compared competitor is Polylactic Acid (PLA), a bio-degradable plastic made from corn. It is extruded at slightly lower temperatures than ABS but the biggest difference is it can be used at room temperature with little to no warp. PLA is very strong and rigid; ABS is softer and more flexible. When making complex moving objects in PLA you need to have very accurate tolerances as its strength makes it less forgiving.

ABS is a great material, from which more high resolution objects are being made everyday. This isn't experimentation though, this is refinement -- real experimentation is not in trying to do more with ABS, whose limitations are familiar to us, but in exploring new materials.

If we are truly trying to reach the next level of innovation whether it be in our ability to lower the cost of machines, make them more reliable, or expand their capabilities, all of it is hinged on our progress in material science -- On machines without a heated build element we can already use PLA, nylon, and wood based filament. With nylon its possible to make things ultra flexible, thin, strong and durable. The wood filament is cutting edge and makes it possible to cut, sand, or stain the object like regular wood. All are used at room temperature. These are just three materials that expand the capabilities of FDM technology and some of the most exciting innovations since Crump started.

If we remove the materials needed for a heated build element we have already lowered the price of the machine. With exploration of new materials, like the three I've mentioned, we can increase the reliability by focusing on materials that don't warp and have fewer sensitivities. With each new material, the properties of each expand the capabilities of the machine and it's application.  If we focus on finding cheap, renewable, and diverse materials we will be well on our way to the next generation of machines;

ABS was adopted for it's familiarity and has been successful for developing FDM technology. But the future of additive technology is about accessibility, affordability and capability, all of which the limitations of ABS fail to provide for. Machines that make useful objects reliably with very few sensitivities will win in desktop manufacturing. It's time we make way for the next generation.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

間 - Ma

Ma is the Japanese word for the space between two structural parts, the gap

Thirty spokes meet in the hub,
though the space between them
is the essence of the wheel.
Pots are formed from clay,
though the space inside them
is the essence of the pot.
Walls with windows and doors form the house,
though the space within them
is the essence of the house.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Year After SOPA

An odium for internet culture among the general public can seem justified when headlines show the dangerously large sums of money spent acquiring businesses without profit, when its martyrs blur the line between libertarianism and terrorism, and when its largest community is described in pop culture as being “fueled by envy and lost innocence”
Standing in juxtaposition to the general public, digital natives, who were born into an online world, can also claim justification in their skepticism of traditional systems. They were forced to stand by and watch in the closing hours of 2012 as a divided House adjourned while the United States proceeded to hurl itself over the fiscal cliff, and while a known global warming skeptic and author of the SOPA bill was named the Congressional Chairmen of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. A year ago these two worlds collided when the passing of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) came to a head on January 18, 2012.
Today marks one year since the unprecedented showing of internet activism that was the SOPA Blackout, where an astounding 75,000 registered websites, 25,000 WordPress blogs and countless other web affiliates blacked out in protest of the proposed legislation that attempted to completely overhaul the architecture of the Internet. 
This leaves us with the question: Where are we now?
As a refresher, SOPA, and it’s sister act in the Senate, PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act), were proposed bills that sought to address copyright infringement by enabling direct legal action against Internet Service Providers (ISPs) here in the United States. It proposed to allow the United States Attorney General, at the request of a copyright holder, to file legal action against websites that host or facilitate copyright infringing content by requiring American ISPs to block access to those webpages. Once notified, ISPs would have to act within five business days or face legal action. While copyright infringement is an issue and conversation we all need to address, the major problem with SOPA was in the largely open-ended nature of the act that would provide sweeping jurisdiction, and therefore immense power, to the US Attorney General to shut down or fundamentally alter webpages without the need for judges, juries or other due process. In essence, a complaint could become an immediate legal action without a court proceeding.
Since the blackout a year ago, there have been interesting developments on both sides of the discussion and some action around online sharing. Most notably, in 2012, we saw the U.S. Government illegally raid and shut down one of the most widely used file-hosting web services in a showing worthy of a Christopher Nolan film. Equally as deserving of place in a Nolan film, on the pro-internet side of the argument we saw the formation of the Internet Defense League with their ambiguous mission to “protect the open web” against “entrenched institutions and monopolies”. 
What is evident in these developments since SOPA is a distinct clash in culture between government and large corporations, with large and complex bureaucracies that struggle to match the pace of the rapidly growing online world, and the “Internet Community”, which has developed a fear of regulation that they see as serving antiquated systems which favor big money interests. This fear is somewhat understandable when you consider the way alleged copyright infringements are treated like acts of terror, enforced by armed FBI agents in a scene eerily reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984.  It would seem the struggle over governance of the Internet has started to resemble the streets of Gotham, riddled with fear and questionable actions on both sides, and without much hope of resolution.
Where do we go from here? Given my comparison to Gotham City, the natural train of thought would be to look for a masked vigilante to swoop in and serve swift justice to the bad guys. The problem with the current situation is, in my opinion, there aren’t “good guys” or “bad guys”. The real issue in this debate is that both parties are missing a critical piece of the equation: education. 
We as the creators, suppliers, users and natives of the Internet need to do our part to help educate others and facilitate understanding about how, why and in what ways the Internet is used. It is important that we take the time and give evidence when we claim that the repurposing of copyrighted content in the form of GIFs, YouTube videos and memes isn’t infringement or piracy but the nature of creativity and learning. We demand transparency and yet we need to be more transparent ourselves. It’s easy to get frustrated with mom or dad when trying to explain “social media”, but until we take the time and map it out in ways familiar and understandable to them, we are only perpetuating the same fears and misconceptions that threaten to repress our freedoms in the first place. 
As we open this dialogue, we need our representatives, the elected officials who are quite literally deciding the future of American growth and competitiveness, to show an equal effort. Our legislators must commit the time to learning and truly understanding what is at stake — not just monied interests, but American interests — and advocate on behalf of the Internet and their digital constituents who represent a big part of our nation’s economic future. From Congress we need transparency in lawmaking,  as well as well-defined, intelligent policies that enable and empower the enrichment of the Internet and its vast potential. All of this starts with education. 
We fear what we do not understand, and right now we sit across the table from each other confused, skeptical and fearful. This will continue as long as we lack knowledge about each other and our intentions. Very soon, the Internet will fuel the exchange of more than just media content, with movements like open hardware and desktop fabrication that will soon deliver things — digital objects and other atom-based items — we can send, copy and produce in our own homes. This is already happening globally, and from here it’s only a matter of time before we are sharing more complex files over the web like biomaterials and even DNA sequences. It’s time we have this conversation, and in order to do so we need to take the time and educate one another. 
So I challenge you in 2013, a year after SOPA, to take the time to learn and truly understand that which you do not. No matter which side of this issue you find yourself on, help others from other generations, fields, and industries to do the same. Where will be a year from now? Will we still be asking where do we go from here? Or will our education of self and others dictate a direction in which we can all proceed with confidence? You decide.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reflection on Lance Armstrong

For 8 years, ever since I first fell in love with the sport of Cycling, I have proudly worn a Livestrong bracelet on my left wrist. There is a full shelf in my book collection that is chocked full of yellow spines and bold yellow letting filled with information on the ins and outs of the sport of Cycling and more specifically, Lance Armstrong.

As media outlets do so well these days, when I woke up this morning on virtually every news outlet the titles screamed of Lance Armstrong's confession to Oprah. The reporting ranged from purely factual to that reminiscent of an angry mob demanding Lance's head on a platter, and I do not begrudge anyone on either end of the discussion of their opinions or feelings. The fact of the matter is Lance Armstrong systematically lied, cheated, and ostracized others all while reaping the benefit and avoiding the consequences of his actions.

In the past when people asked me "Do you think he doped?", I often responded with "I don't know. It doesn't really matter to me, the seven wins aren't what interest me about Lance". As someone who grew up idolizing the great inventors of years past, what I admired about Lance Armstrong during the era in which he competed for the seven Tour De France titles was not his athletic ability, but rather his wherewithal to examine, engineer and improve upon the commonly accepted fundamentals of the sport and the detail and level of execution to which he was able to do so.

Before Lance Armstrong arrived on the podium in France, the world of cycling was still fairly crude. The majority of teams were still riding aluminum bikes, with descent mechanical components, and virtually no helmets. A lot of the norms for fitness, maintenance, and understanding of how to win was based on the historical status quo and traditions of a competitive sport that was well over a hundred years in age. When Lance Armstrong returned from his battle with cancer he took a detail oriented approach to examining every aspect of the sport.

With his teams at Nike and Trek they developed wind suits with dimples like a golf ball to reduce drag during time trials, they were some of the first to look at not just weight reduction with carbon fiber bikes but how the carbon fiber was laid up so it was stiffer, more compliant and allowed for a greater transfer of power then any other material on the planet. They recorded, analyzed and reproduced the most common wind scenarios for the various stages of the Tour de France within wind tunnels so they could test, refine and develop the fastest racing technology on the market. He and his team were meticulous about the power data, caloric intake and some of the first to implore the use of compression recovery techniques. The Lance Armstrong team helped launch the technology and science of cycling into the world it is today where we are measuring bike frames in grams instead of pounds, where amateur cyclists can intelligently and accurately discuss power-to-weight ratios because of affordable power meters, and where training regimens and recovery cycles are hotly debated topics on forums everywhere. Much of this being trickle-down benefits of the work that Armstrong and his support team did. This is the part of Lance Armstrong I have always admired.

The fact remains though that Lance Armstrong committed a number of wrong-doings which he did not own up to nor face the consequences for, all while perpetuating a state of fear for those who did speak the truth, and that is not a person I admire.

This leaves me with a decision: do I continue to wear the bracelet that for me has represented the ingenuity of an American mind to challenge and fundamentally change an entire industry, or do I remove it because as it turns out that same harrowing attention to detail, ability to methodically analyze circumstances and commitment to building the fastest human racing machine on the planet is the very same one that chose to dope and in the process lie to and deceive the many people who believed in him? This will take some consideration.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Generational Wows

My Mother often told my brothers and I as we grew up, the story about the first time her great grandfather and great grandmother who were straight off the boat from Italy, Nunna and Tuddi as she and her siblings knew them, saw an airport.

Like many of our Ancestors, they had come across the Atlantic Ocean on a boat through Ellis Island and unfortunately they lived some of the very real horrors that those trips entailed, death and disease. Their youngest child fell ill on the journey and for fear of being sent back, they had to bury the child at sea as to avoid suspicion and be denied entrance in to this land of opportunity. The sacrifice they made to come to America was certainly paid in more then just dollars and cents, but they made it here and did so the only way they could given the technology of the time.

Let's fast forward a half century, in 1951 construction that had begun a few years earlier on the Broome County Airport was completed and it opened to the public. It was a few years later, when my mother's father, my grandfather, took his grandparents to that airport so they could see for themselves this marvel of modern technology. As my Mother explains it, when they got there the two of them stood there looking out the windows at the planes landing and taking flight, they stood there holding hands with tears streaming down their cheeks. Not out of sadness, but out of true amazement and wonder. In their lifetime they had seen and been apart of the migration to America in what was the technological revolution of their age, the transatlantic freight liner; and yet here they were, witnessing regular Americans, purchasing tickets and boarding flights which would take them all over the globe in a matter of hours. This perhaps was the greatest moment of disbelief and wonder they ever experienced.

Let's fast forward another half century, to Thanksgiving 2012. There I stood in my parents basement next to a plywood structure, with a footprint no bigger then 9" x 5", that was whirling away squirting hot plastic in a preprogramed and computerized pattern producing a plastic bracelet. My grandparents watched in simultaneous disbelief and wonder as they peppered me with questions about how it worked, what it could do, where it could go! After about 10 minutes, it beeped and let me know it was done. I popped off the bracelet and handed it to my grandfather, who turned it over in his hands in amazement before sharing it with my grandmother. When my Grandmother asked "Someday, could it print a kidney?" and my response was "Yes, someday it will", I saw tears well up in her eyes as she thought about the potential of the little miracle that sat between us.

About a week ago, I visited the elementary school where my Mom is the librarian to share and talk about 3D printing with a group of 5th and 6th graders. I had been anticipating maybe a group of 10-15 students who didn't mind skipping recess to learn about a new technology. Much to my surprise, over a hundred students gave up their Recess and packed the library story steps past full to standing room only. They fired off a hundred questions: "Could it print jewelry?" - "Body parts?" - "Robots?" - "Cars?" - "Food?" - "Cheese blocks!?" As I answered their questions and watched as their eyes as their imaginations ran, these kids didn't question it. This was the future, they saw it how it existed and where it would go, but this was not a wow moment for them.

They are used to technology wowing them, they are used to the things that generations past see as magic as being explainable and comprehensible. This is the generation who came out of the womb with the iPod already dominating the market, for them this is the natural progression of their tools. Born into the internet age, these types of tools are expected and understood by this generation. For them it is but an extension of their skills and ability to actualize their imaginations.

My great-great grandparents lived from a day and age where a transatlantic steamliner was the only means to travel from continent to continent to a world where it was a matter of purchasing a ticket and sitting in a seat in the sky for a couple of hours; now, today's generation comes to school and is exposed to additive fabrication on their desktops. So I leave you with a thought to ponder: imagine what amazing and unfathomable technological accomplishments this generation will see, that will some day bring them to tears, as the tools of today have for generations past.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tips for Successful Prints with the Makerbot Replicator 2

Bucket of Failed Prints or Makerbot Spagetti!
I've spent a number of hours working with my Replicator 2 and have logged the better part of a thousand hours printing in the past couple years since assembling my first printer a Makergear Mosaic. After finding a lot of people having the same issues with their Rep2's that I have been wrestling with such as curling, the extruder stopping extruding, and funky starts to prints I figured I would share a few tips that I have found help lead to successful prints. 

Tips for Better Prints:

1. Purchase some Thermal Paste and apply it between where the heater block and the heat sink meet.

A significant portion of the extrusion issues people are having are related to excess heat seeping up the PLA during retraction of the filament as part of ooze prevention. Ooze causes the little pimple looking dots of plastic between layers, so the software very gently will pull the filament back up to prevent that if the filament is too soft then it will warp and the extruder gear wont be able to grab on to it and continue to extrude. The thermal paste helps the heat sink absorb and dispers a much larger amount of heat helping the extruder to it's job.

Here is the paste I ordered, it also comes with cleaner which is super helpful as well: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001FVI91U/ref=oh_details_o07_s00_i00

2. To help with leveling I would recommend buying a feeler gauge. These are staples in any Machinists toolbox, use the 1.00mm feeler gauge instead of a business card or sheet of paper while running the leveling sequence. You want it to just have an ever so slight bit of friction at each of the leveling points. Here's the one I ordered from Amazon, it's been doing a great job: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005689P7A/ref=oh_details_o06_s00_i00

For further accuracy when leveling, I also recommend using this interactive leveling object from whpthomas on Thingiverse to help with leveling: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:39430

3. To help prevent curling, some operators will recommend using rubbing alcohol on the build platform. I do not recommend this as it will be a serious challenge to remove any of your objects from the build platform once they are finished. The rubbing alcohol certainly helps with adhesion so much so that it makes it near impossible to remove the object after it has finished printing.

Replicator 2 purring away
Instead I recommend a light coating of Vegetable Oil applied with a paper towel. It helps significantly with adhesion therefore helps prevent curling while still allowing you to remove your print when it's finished.

4. Before starting a print, I always run the 'Load Filament' script from the 'Change Filament' menu under Utilities on your bot. This helps get the old and saturated filament in the nozzle out and get fresh stuff in there which helps with both adhesion and the quality of the first couple layers resulting in a nicer print.

Although, it's easy to get frustrated when the printer acts up, ultimately, the work that early 3d Printer operators are doing and sharing day-in and day-out is equally as important, if not more so, to pioneering and exploring this young field as the companies producing them!

I'll continue posting my findings, tips, tricks and musings here. Namaste.