Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Printers are Idle

What? The printers aren't printing? What's wrong? WHAT'S WRONG?

Actually there is something wrong with both of them. It's a minor thing but something I want to fix properly before getting them up and running again.

This guy put one printer on idle:

See that part sticking out in front, on the top? Yeah. That guy. For whatever reason it caught on some wires you can't see on the other side of the print head. Those are some thin wires that really should be protected better. In and of itself that wasn't the problem. When it caught on those wires it made the print head hang when it goes side to side. When it freed itself it was in the wrong place but didn't know it. It continued to print but the layers were now about an inch to the right.

That's called 'layer shift' for very obvious reasons. And that ruined a print that had been running for over twenty four hours. I'm still going to send it to my friend because he's crafty enough he can use it to make something else.

The other printer has been having trouble with that same component but for different reasons. I've been able to print decently even though it's a problem. But since I don't have anything pressing to print I decided to idle them both and fix the darn thing once and for all.

My solution is going to be to tape those wire to the much larger ones running along side them. That serves a dual purpose of keeping them safe and keeping them out of the way. Which I guess is the same purpose really. But I'll call it two reasons.

Here's the next question. What do you use to tape something when it's right up against a block of metal being heated up to about 220 degrees Celsius? For those of us using imperial measure that's over 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Regular old electrical tape isn't going to do it here.

There's a special tape meant for high temperature use. There's a piece of it holding the heater in place under the print bed. Of course I don't have any on hand so an Amazon order was placed. In case you want to know this is kapton tape and it's used in a lot of places where high temperatures are around. It's good to have some on hand anyway. At least if you have a 3D printer it's good to have on hand.

When it arrives I'll test that the parts are working properly (heat it up, wiggle the wires, watch the temperature) and replace what is bad. Then I'll carefully align the sets of wires and spiral wrap tape them together until they pass the problem area. After that they go into the main cable bundle that's in a textile sleeve.

Until then the printers are sitting here. I unloaded the filaments so they're truly idle and kind of sad to see.

I'll have them running for a couple of months and then my next upgrades happen. Those are going to be a doozy. I'm upgrading the entire frame to extruded aluminum and there's an upgrade from the manufacturer as well. All new plastic parts will be printed. At the same time I'll do the routine maintenance I've put off. These things are literally going to be stripped down to parts and rebuilt in the process.

And I'll be spinning that design around so the sticking out bit is around back and less of a hazard for the wires when I print it again.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

I Designed and Printed Something!

Ok. It's not going to be amazing. That much I can promise. But it's something neat.

My friend painted the two (very large) new monsters for my dungeon crawl. She's such a sweetie! She used bases she had on hand that fit the monsters which is fine.

She used round bases. I use square bases. Hrm. This is a problem. At least for me it's a problem.

OpenSCAD to the rescue! If you don't want to click the link it's a text based CAD program. It's great for learning how all this works and for making pretty much anything. All the plastic parts for my printer were designed in it. And I understand words a lot better than menu commands at the moment.

I wanted a square base with a cutout for the round base. I'd done similar things. So now it was time to do it again.

Meet Carol, the carrion crawler. Actually she's a cavern crawler from Reaper Miniatures due to IP stuff. And yes. That's a metal mini so it's darn heavy.

You can see her round base fitting very nicely into the square base. A bit of double sided tape and she'll be secure enough. And I can remove her from the adapter if I want a round base.

I did the same thing with the hydra. I'll post pictures of him some other time.

It doesn't sound like much of a design challenge and it wasn't since I've been playing around in OpenSCAD for a while. But it's so nice to be able to design something you need and then make it. AND have it work!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

OK - Something I Printed

I've been rather less than generous with pictures of the 3D printed stuff, which is a rip since the idea is to see what I've been doing. Right?

Here's something I printed for a friend. He bought into their Kickstarter and then started sending me files and lists of what he wanted. I picked this one as the first print because it was going to take the longest.

I painted the miniature that's on there for a sense of scale. He's on a one inch square base.

This was four separate prints - first floor, second floor, roof, and doors. The total print time was 156 hours and it took over a kilo (one spool) of filament hence the purple snow on the roof.

Yes. You read that right. 156 hours to print this. That's what 3D printing is about. It's about waiting. The layers on this were 0.2mm each so it took five passes to make 1mm of print. I'll let you try to do the math on how many layers there were.

Here's the link to the file so you can see their painted pictures and the detail inside. It's pretty intense on the first floor.

I used up that orange-ish filament I'd had sitting around for a while and now I'm working on the purple. Due to getting a monthly subscription box I end up with spools of filament in colors I wouldn't have chosen for myself. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it isn't. He's getting prints out of the colors I don't like.

It's all right! He's going to paint it and I confirmed that he was fine with odd color prints. The printer makes it easy to change filament so that's a plus. I haven't enabled the sensor to pause the printer when it runs out of filament because I've heard about too many failures both ways - false positives and not working as it's supposed to work. I time the prints so I can be around when the filament will run out and I can swap in the next roll.

I posted this picture on Facebook - in some 3D printing for tabletop/gaming groups, in the printer group, and on my own page. I wanted to show it off. The sheer size of it is impressive. I take no credit for the design but it's a darn good print.

If that's all you want to know then you can stop here. I'm going to proceed with everything that's wrong with it and why. No. I don't and won't have pictures of that.

1 - Stringing. Inside the smaller curves the plastic didn't adhere well enough and it pulled out into strings. It happened because of the way the print cooling fan directs air. I haven't found a replacement fan shroud that minimizes this and I may take a crack at designing one myself. But there's very little if anything I can do in the print settings to help this one.

2 - Drooping. This is the opposite of what happens when the print gets cool too fast. When it doesn't cool fast enough the plastic can sag away from the previous layer. So you get little loops of filament. This happened on the sides where the print fan can't get an adequate amount of air in time. Again it comes down to something I can't change.

These problems happened due to the way the print fan shroud directs air and the size of the print. I couldn't move it around so that it was minimized or eliminated. I feel bad with the amount of cleanup he's doing to have to do but a lot of it isn't immediately visible or is in parts (like the inside of the roof) where it doesn't matter as much.

It's not perfect but it's darn pretty.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

A Day in the Life of 3D Printing

This is not a typical day. A typical day for me is simply printing. Print, remove parts, change filament, clean bed, print some more. It works great. I get lots of stuff done.


There are those days when that doesn't happen. I have an entire bin of spare parts just in case something goes south. I haven't yet printed a spare set of printer parts (yes, you can do that) but it's on the list.

Today was one of those days when it didn't happen.

The overnight prints finished just fine. I took those off the printers and was my normal less-than-graceful self. I hit the shelf that stores about twelve rolls of filament. Twelve rolls at one kilo each. Turns out I hadn't secured the shelf brackets properly and the whole thing came down.

My head got a bit of a bump from the shelf but nothing serious. Because I was leaning over the shelf mostly fell on my back to little effect. But now let's take stock of the damage.

  • The power supply for one of the print servers was broken
  • One side of a filament holder was broken
  • The metal tin holding small tools and nozzles was dented beyond repair
  • The other printer had a part broken
  • One side of the cover of a print server was knocked off
  • A metal mesh cup for various tools was squashed a bit

Overall this doesn't sound too bad, right? A broken part is probably the worst but the rest is minor or can be replaced?

It took both printers out of commission. The one without the broken part needed to be fully calibrated again (note - I replaced a screw that had fallen out of the bed frame so that may have messed with the alignment too) and I couldn't print the replacement part until then.

After FIRMLY hammering the shelf brackets into place and putting the filament back I assessed the damage and decided I didn't want to deal with it at the moment. I needed a new power supply anyway so it was off to the computer store. That would be a nice break. I got that and some replacement filament I had been considering anyway.

When I got home I took advantage of the situation to more properly deal with the power cords. I have a UPS but it was just sitting on the floor as a temporary measure. I decided to wall mount it. I measured several times. I put the wall anchors and screws in. I had them in the wrong place. The UPS fits nicely sitting behind the printers, across the tables. So that's where it is.

Again taking advantage of the situation I did some minor repairs I had been putting off. One of the cable bundles wasn't quite secured well enough so I redid that. And the screws for print server case that had gotten bopped weren't long enough, which is why the cover fell off so easily. Longer screws were used.

I used a replacement for the broken filament holder and got that in place. Note - print another replacement. Then I went through the four step process of calibrating the printer again. It takes some time and by the last step you're dealing in fractions of millimeters. But it's done.

Now I'm printing the parts I need to fix the other printer. Once that's done I'll run the four step calibration on that since I'm sure at least one roll of filament bounced off that print bed. When that's done I'll have both printers running again.

What's left? Reprinting the filament holder piece I pulled from spares. And that's about it. Overall it could have been much, much worse. I was very lucky that more of the rolls of filament didn't hit the printers. Bent rods and broken controller boards could have happened. But they didn't and it's a series of minor but necessary steps to get them both working again.

This is the side of 3D printing that a lot of people don't understand. It's not a matter of plugging it in, running a wizard, and printing. There's a lot of futzing that goes with getting the printer ready to go and then keeping it running. I'm not one of those people who tears down their printer and rebuilds it in a different color just for fun. Yes. There are people like that. But there's still more or less constant tweaking to be done, improvements to be made, and generally wondering if you're going to get a print or have the hot end encased in a blob of hardened plastic.

Technically I lost a day of printing because of this. Not even technically. I lost a day's worth of time I could have been printing. I'm not under any hard deadlines so this day isn't going to cost me anything. But I realized how much I dislike having the printers sit idle. There's always something I could be printing and not being able to do it rather than not doing it by choice is very frustrating.

More Printing! Always More Printing...

I really need to work on the rest of the game stuff but it's so easy to focus on the 3D printers when I've been sitting next to them while I work from home for a while.

These are my printers. They're affectionately known as The 3D Printer and The Other 3D Printer. Or 1 and 2 if I'm using the print servers. They were printing a request for a friend at the time I took the picture. They're not complicated and they don't take long so I wanted to get them finished and to him in a reasonable amount of time. And I'm using up filament in some less-than-useful colors.

When I get a new roll of filament (new being defined as 'new color for a brand') I always do a test print and label it so I know what it looks like. When you start getting multiple colors it makes it much easier to find the color I want. And I can compare them to see which one best suits the project if I'm not painting it.

For the test print I use a low polygon cat. It's scaled down to be 50mm tall and prints in less than an hour. It shows flat surfaces, some curves, and the angles. I then put a label underneath with brand/color/line (if there's more than one line by the brand). I don't put down the plastic type unless it's different than the one I use almost exclusively. That's a waste of space.

You can see where color starts to matter by the two purple cats. They're not as close as the two white cats but they're still ones I can pick up and consider rather than digging out the rolls and not knowing exactly how they'll look when printed. What's on the spool isn't always what is in the finished product when it comes to finish.

I have a small army of these on my windowsill now. I belong to a monthly subscription for 3D printing. I get at least two kilos of filament either in a theme or random. I also get some 3D printing related things and promotional items from the vendor. Overall it's not a bad deal and it's slightly less than buying two rolls individually. This is something for me to think about. The next box is going to help my thinking.

I was doing a LOT of printing to make the dungeon for my game. The convention is next month so I had to push myself. Having one printer down while waiting for a replacement part wasn't helping. But I did get everything printed and a bunch of decor to break up the grey.

That's currently the pile on my desk. I haven't put them away yet nor have I broken out those little tabs in the connection slots. While the printers can technically bridge that gap easily (bridge means just what you think, crossing an empty space while pushing out plastic) if they don't or there's some other issue it's going to be tough to clean up so the clips work. It's better all around to have them there. Even if it means breaking them out. I also want to run a sanding block lightly over the floors and tops of the walls. When the print head lifts it leaves a little point of plastic. Those suckers are sharp. A quick sanding gets rid of the 'ow' factor.

I won't have time to paint it before the convention. I have a lot of other things to do for the game (that hopefully I will be running) but I really want to paint it. I will paint it. After the convention.

Monday, January 7, 2019

I Airbrushed! (No Pictures)

I finally used my darn airbrush. I only used one and I used it to prime the minis for my dungeon crawl. I did this long after I should have done so.

I expected this to be good practice and it was. I learned that it's another tool that I need to learn to use better. Priming is great for practice because it doesn't matter what it looks like in the middle - it's going to be a solid coat at the end.

I'll be on my third photo tent enclosure when it arrives. I went from 60x60x60cm to 40x40x40cm to 30x30x30cm. I can't really go smaller than that. I didn't really measure the area well and I don't know what I'm going to do with the extra photo tents but I'll figure something out. Or not.

I did find that wearing a mask is A Good Idea. I also hope the fan I'm getting is powerful enough to pull the overspray into the filter. If not I may have to do some surgery on it to get a better fan in place. I'm hoping with practice there will be less of that but from what I read from my friends there's always paint flying about.

I'm debating about trying the airbrush on the minis for actual painting, even if just doing some base coats. I do need to learn but I also need to get these painted. It's a tossup. Plus I've got appointments after work pretty much all week so that limits my time overall.

The good news is that I used the airbrush, I understood how to use it, I realized that I'm going to need practice, I'm OK with needing practice, and that I cleaned it with a minimum of effort. All those are good because they're steps forward.

Which is why I'm tempted to use it for actual painting. But it's probably smarter to hold off and practice with ink and paper when I have more time. That means breaking out the brushes for the minis. Although those base coats are tempting me...

Friday, January 4, 2019

3D Printer = Frustration

When they work they're great. When they don't work then it's almost complete frustration because of all the things it could be.

My latest upgraded printer (The 3D Printer) is working just fine except for the fact it won't keep a constant temperature at the nozzle. This could be one of several things even though the actual heating process is simple.

The heating cartridge could be loose or bad.
The heating cartridge wires could be loose or bad.
The thermisor (temperature sensor) could be loose or bad.
The thermistor wires could be loose or bad.
Something else could be wrong.

Luckily the plastic I prefer is very forgiving. I could still get a pair of large floor tiles done. But then I put it through a torture test print (Note 1) and still got the temperature issues.

First round of testing!

Tighten the screws. Yup. Just tighten them. But not too much on the thermistor or you can crush it.

First round results? Temperature fluctuations when I move the wires.

Second round of testing!

Heat it up and tighten the screws some more.

Second round results? Temperature fluctuations when I move the wires.


I looked at how I bundled the cables and the connector for the thermistor isn't really well secured. So it's moving when the print head moves. That moves the thermistor wires. That's not good.

Wrapping the cables again so that wire and connector were firmly held got the temperature rock solid stable. I made a post with screen shots of the temperature differences for others to see if they're having problems.

Welcome to the glamorous world of 3D printing.

Note 1 - A 'torture test' print file is one that is meant to test the limits of what a printer can do. It tries to do overhangs, bridges, small details, specifically measured parts, etc. It's a test of how well you've dialed in your machine. With this one I can't get an unsupported print to go more than 60 degrees without the bottom layer sagging. That's actually pretty good since 45 degrees is the recognized standard for when things start to need support.