Cocoon Create Goes the Distance

20161122_cocoon-create-print-summary

This week I’ve spent 48 hours printing 14 segments of my latest PhD project on my Cocoon Create 3D printer, and despite the usual hiccups like print warp and delamination of layers (they are some large pieces using ABS so it’s no surprise – stay tuned for a post on using a 3D print pen to fill gaps), the printer itself performed beautifully. With another 59 hours of printing left to go, I thought it was time to write a little update on the printer and why I think it’s probably the best value printer out there.

Firstly some clarification – the Cocoon Create is based on the open source RepRap Prusa i3, one of the most popular 3D printer designs ever. Many derivatives exist out there that all look identical, including the Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus which I’ve seen marketed quite a lot on Ebay. The benefit of this is that there are endless supplies of spare parts and forums offering tweaks and suggestions, you just need to look further afield then the “Cocoon Create” since this is the branding for the printers sold at Aldi in Australia only as part of the promotion this year. So there’s not much of a community out there specifically for this printer. But for the general type of printer, the numbers are huge.

As you can see from the top photo, I’ve nearly printed 1km worth of filament with this printer, which I only bought in February this year during Aldi’s promotion. You can read about my first impressions here. For many years I’ve enjoyed successes with the UP range of printers (including the UP Plus 2 and UP Mini), but with the Cocoon Create proving to be just as reliable, and only 1/3 of the price of the UP Plus 2 ($499 AUD), the Cocoon Create is definitely proving to be better value for money. If you do the maths, this printer has so far cost me only $2.90 per hour of printing (+ materials and electricity of course).ย  In particular the positives I really enjoy are:

  • Rugged steel design means that there is no movement in the printer – I never have to adjust the level of the print bed. Just click print and it works every time.
  • Good print plate that the filament adheres to quite well – no need for glues or tape. I also really like using the Brim setting in Cura to help hold the prints onto the bed and really minimise warping on large prints. I wrote a post about that previously with photos showing with and without the brim setting.
  • Decent sized build platform, twice the size of the UP printers ๐Ÿ™‚ (200 x 200 x 180mm)
  • Open in every way – software and hardware. Unlike many of the printers on the market, you can see and access all of the main features of the printer. Great if anything happens and you need to replace a part. Also you can use just about any software you like for slicing models and saving out G Code. I’ve just stuck with the recommended Cura so far, it has all the settings I need. The great thing about this is that you can get right into the details of the print settings, tweaking until you get your print just right – many printers come with proprietary software, which is normally good for simple plug-n-play prints, but won’t give you full access to settings.

A few things that are still a bit annoying, because hey, it’s still only a cheap printer and can’t be perfect:

  • The print plate can’t be removed from the printer (well not easily – you would need to re-level the plate each time), meaning that you need to scrape prints off in situ. I do prefer the ability to swap plates and remove a print when I can get at it easily with some tools.
  • The user interface is extremely old-fashioned, possible a relic from the 80’s – a single dial is used to scroll through menus and make selections, and it gets a bit painful.
  • Emergency stopping a print when something goes wrong requires either cycling through a few menus (see point above), or cutting power all together which is never a great solution. Perhaps a nice red emergency stop button would fit in with the 80’s styling?
  • Running back and forth between computer and printer with a SD card can be painful – with the cheap cost of WiFi chips these days, hopefully the next version can stream directly from the computer. However most printers still suffer from some sort of physical connection or SD card. Maybe it’s just because I keep my printer in a separate room to avoid the fumes…

Those are some of the main things on my mind as I reach the halfway point of this big session of printing on the Cocoon Create – keep your eyes out in 2017 for a return of the printer to Aldi, I have it on good authority that it will be making a comeback ๐Ÿ˜‰ Follow my blog (bottom of the page) or twitter if you’re interested as I will definitely be posting the news as soon as I have details.

– Posted by James Novak

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Brimming with Success

20160712_3D Print Brim

Excuse the headline pun, but this post is all about 3D printing using a brim, which evidently can really improve your success rate with large flat surfaces.

For those not familiar with a brim, it’s an option in some 3D print software (such as Cura) that lays down an extra width of material around your object and attached to it, one or two layers tall. You can see the brim around my enclosure in the top left image. Essentially this extra material creates a stronger bond to the build plate, helping to fight the contracting forces of the cooling plastic that can commonly cause warping. Of course there are many other ways to combat this, including laying down some glue or adhesive spray, printing the part in a different orientation, or using an enclosure to keep the print warmer so there is less warping from rapidly cooling plastic. However these aren’t always an option, so using a brim can be a really effective solution that only wastes a very small amount of extra material.

In the top right image you can see my first attempt at printing this enclosure half, which is very clearly warped as the outer edges lifted up from the plate under the contracting forces of the cooling plastic. Support material was used, but nothing else. In contrast, you can see the middle image which is the end result once the brim from the left image was removed – perfectly horizontal! This is really important for this design since it is one half of an enclosure, and the warped version simply won’t fit properly with the other half.

20160712 CuraIt’s certainly not something needed for every print, but for large surfaces it’s proving to be very successful. If you’ve had similar problems with warping and haven’t tried a brim yet, it’s worth giving a go – you can see where to access this setting if you are using Cura on the left, very easy, or if you are using another program to slice and print, have a look through your settings. The raft is another option you may have used, however the raft builds up a lot more material underneath your entire object which is wasted. It can also be a good option though, especially if you are using a printer like the Up Plus 2 which does not have the option of printing a brim but will do a good job with a raft.

– Posted by James Novak

Abstract Portrait Drawing Machine

Earlier in the year I gave a little demo of controlling a 3D printer with a Wii Nunchuk controller. Well I can finally show you where that project went since it ended up in the ACM SIGCHI Designing Interactive Systems conference which happened this week in Brisbane, Australia. The easiest way to explain what it does is to watch the video – but in simple terms it is a process of automatically drawing abstract portraits from a webcam in real-time, using a hacked 3D printer to draw this artwork on paper. Perhaps the machine version of Picasso?

For those of you who follow my blog you would no doubt be familiar with my frustrations with the failed Solidoodle Press 3D printer, which was so bad that it actually caused Solidoodle to close down only a few months ago. Well this project has stemmed from a need to find some useful function for the machine rather than simply throw it away, so now it is more of a 2D printer and it finally seems to be useful.

20160606_Hacked 3D Printer

The photos above are from the DIS experience night where conference attendees were able to come and get a free portrait drawn in about 10 minutes, taking home a cool souvenir and a unique, one-of-a-kind artwork produced entirely by algorithms and a machine. I was just the guy loading paper and pressing a few buttons on and off (a slave to the machines!). But it drew (pardon the pun) a really good crowd for 3 hours with some fun group portraits, some posts on social media, plenty of suggestions to play with different drawing tools and materials, and a pile of portraits with no technical failures during the event – amazing considering my experiences with the Solidoodle printer!

This is something anyone could do with their 3D printer (or indeed any CNC machine) since it is all controlled by standard G-code, it just requires a way to hold a pen on the extrusion nozzle (in my case a custom 3D printed attachment) and a way to convert any linework into G-code – in this case using the Grasshopper plugin for Rhino. I wish I had something like this while I was an Architecture student, it would’ve been fantastic to cheat with my drawings and use it to create quick pencil sketches of my designs from a CAD model! Haha perhaps there is more to this project yet.

To access the published paper that accompanies this work, click here for the link to the ACM Digital Library.

– Posted by James Novak

Spreading the 3D Printing Bug

20160528_3D Printing Workshop

Another weekend, another 3D printing workshop. This is my third year at Griffith University as a lecturer, and my third year running these weekend workshops on 3D printing for local school teachers to help answer their questions, teach them CAD, and get them hands-on with some 3D printers so that they can take this knowledge back to their schools. Definitely a great feeling to turn a few more people into fellow 3D printing geeks like me!

Within an hour of running the group through the basics of Solidworks, everyone was printing their first little key ring designs, all unique, and for them a really exciting moment to see their first design being produced on our Up Plus 2 printers in our brand new 3D printing lab. I couldn’t drag them away while their parts printed out! But I don’t blame them, I still love watching the printing process.

We then moved onto some more complex designs for some lattice chess pieces after a suggestion from one of the teachers, and eventually found our way to creating some designs around a 3D scan of an arm.ย  Combined with an analysis of what’s happening in the world of 3D printing, some of the theory, and the future careers some of their students may be interested in, I’m quite sure this was a very big day for everyone!

We will be running some more comprehensive workshops at the beginning of July over 2 weeks (during the school holidays), so keep your eyes on my blog for details when I confirm details with the uni. Teachers can even bring 1 student for free, so this should be a lot of fun.

– Posted by James Novak

Drawing in 3D – First Attempt

20160514_3Doodler Pen

If you follow 3D printing at all, chances are you’ve at least heard about 3D printing pens like the 3Doodler and others, with the 3Doodler originally funded through Kickstarter and now a successful brand. While I’ve seen people make some really interesting things like the Eiffel Tower and Golden Gate Bridge, I have to admit the pens have never really interested me. I can see the fun for kids because they are so easy to pick up and begin using, much like a hot glue gun, and there are templates you literally trace over to construct your object. However the models are really only visual, it would be almost impossible to make anything accurate or functional in the same way you can with an actual 3D printer.

However I was given a 3Doodler, and have been looking for an excuse to try it out. Well, one broken 3D print off my Cocoon Create (who by the way have their own 3D Pen which was sold through Aldi for $79) and I finally had my chance! The benefit I see of such pens is the ability to repair and weld details on a regular 3D printed part – in this case a Voronoi Tealight Candle Holder available on Thingiverse. You can see the before and after photos above.

I have to admit the process wasn’t nearly as easy as I thought. The slowest speed of the pen is still quite fast, and once the plastic starts coming out of the nozzle you really need to get moving! The easiest repairs were the little ones near the bottom of the design, just a quick squirt and it was done. The larger distances were much more messy because of the speed of extrusion, but adhere well to the existing design especially if you use the nozzle to melt some of it to begin with and fuse the new material. I found that once I had roughed out the repair, I could use the hot nozzle to go back and “smooth” the outside surfaces like putty (although the result is far from smooth). This could be further improved with acetone (you can see some of my previous experiments cleaning surfaces with acetone here) but for an experiment like this, I’m happy to leave it as is.

The kit comes with both ABS and PLA filaments, with 2 temperature settings on the pen to match. However it would definitely be interesting to experiment with some different materials – I see on the 3Doodler website they also sell a Flexy Material in numerous colours. I wonder if you could put a conductive filament through to draw electronic circuits? Hmm that’s not a bad idea, perhaps there is more use to this pen than I first thought…

– Posted by James Novak

What’s Happening to Consumer 3D Printing?

20160330_Solidoodle Pinshape Close

As these 2 snippets show, both Pinshape and Solidoodle have closed their doors this week, begging the question what’s happening to consumer 3D printing?

I have been involved in both companies, although from completely different perspectives, and posted about the impending closure of Solidoodle a couple of weeks ago when it was first hinted at on 3dprintingindustry.com. No surprise after the failure of the Solidoodle Press (which I purchased at the end of 2014), but a shame to see a leading manufacturer fall after one failed product. You can read the full announcement from Solidoodle by clicking here.

However the sudden closure of Pinshape is a real surprise, as I’ve been a guest writer for them over the past year and have been impressed with the community they have grown with frequent tutorials, news, competitions and more posted on their website to educate the public about the amazing opportunities of 3D printing. I didn’t see this coming at all! Ultimately their announcement, which can be read in full by clicking here, blames a downturn in investment and lack of opportunities to make a profit as a company within this consumer 3D printing space, citing figures from 2 of the big players, 3D Systems and Stratasys that parallel their own experience.

It seems that some of the excitement and interest in 3D printing, at least for consumer-level products, may be leveling out as the market becomes saturated with cheap options from China, and the people like myself who have the skills and interest in using a 3D printer at home have already bought into the market. With no genuine consumer-friendly (plug-‘n’-play) machines out there, the industry is yet to tap into the large general public market, and may never successfully do this due to all the complexities of not only running and maintaining a 3D printer, but learning the software to control it and design 3D objects. It’s not for the feint of heart!

Of course these aren’t the first companies to fall in the 3D printing space, but to have 2 well-known brands fall in the same week may certainly be a bit of an omen. Only time will tell. All I can say to Pinshape is thank you for putting together a great community of people passionate about 3D printing, it’s been a pleasure to work with you and participate in educating people about 3D printing. I have now posted PDF copies of the tutorials I’ve written for Pinshape with the appropriate posts in my Tutorials section of this website, so you can still read the tutorials, follow along and improve your skills.

– Posted by James Novak

UPDATE 1: it’s been less than 24 hours since the news about Pinshape was released, and I’ve already had 3 competing companies contact me to move my 3D files to their platforms – all with a similar speel about having the best community, expanding markets worldwide, making money by selling files etc etc… I’m curious to know what other Pinshapers will do, I’ve always maintained my Thingiverse account but it does have its limitations.

UPDATE 2: Pinshape lives to fight another day! It seems a huge swell of community support, along with some investors may have saved Pinshape just in the nick of time.

Solidoodle No More?

Rarely do I use my blog to discuss 3D printing news, you can find more than enough websites doing it really well already. However the latest post on 3dprintingindustry.com really grabbed my attention, and provides some inside information about the note currently featured on Solidoodle’s homepage which reads

Solidoodle Bankrupt

Of course the reason this has encouraged me to mention something here is that one of the big reasons I started this blog initially was to document my experiences of buying, setting up and comparing a new 3D printer from, you guessed it, Solidoodle! And boy wasn’t that a failure! The printer in question is the Solidoodle Press, and while my first impressions of the machine were positive, I should’ve taken the months of delays getting the machine in the first place as a bit of an omen.

I have barely had 1 useful print off this machine despite spending hours fixing hardware issues, and even leaving the machine for 10 months before coming back to it in the hope of updated software and support to get the machine running. This of course was wishful thinking. Getting back to the article on 3dprintingindustry.com, inside information from a former employee has revealed that failures like the Solidoodle Press have sent the company bankrupt, with unknowing customers still purchasing printers from the website and not receiving them. An official announcement will likely be made very soon.

It’s amazing to see a company with a once reputable name fall apart so quickly, and perhaps indicates the effect of such a competitive, saturated market of affordable 3D printers. It only takes 1 bad product for people to turn elsewhere, and as I experienced recently with buying a great 3D printer from Aldi (yes I literally walked into my supermarket to buy a 3D printer!) you certainly don’t have to turn far.

– Posted by James Novak

Cocoon Create with PET Filament

20160219_3D Print PET

I think I need to start off with a bit of a colour code:

My collection of 3D prints off the new Cocoon Create 3D printer is growing, and the quality is excellent! On the top left you can see the parts I’ve printed so far (SUP Paddle Clip, Motorcycle Key Guard, Motorcycle Rear Pegs Plug). Top right shows a comparison between the Up! Plus 2 and Cocoon Create for the same part, with not noticeable differences at all – a really great result considering the Cocoon Create printer is nearly a quarter of the price!

20160219_PET 3D Prints

PET+ is meant to be as strong as ABS, but more flexible which is particularly great for the Motorcycle Key Guard shown just above which must flex and snap around the top of some handlebars.ย The PET+ material prints at the same temperature as ABS, and results in a slightly more glossy finish. I also noticed there was no smell during printing, which of course is very noticeable when printing with ABS plastic – I wonder if this results in better air quality? There is of course a growing interest in the VOC’s associated with melting plastics for 3D printing. The quality of this part is actually better than my previous prints from the Up! Plus 2, and printed with almost no support material as shown in the image just above, whereas the orange print on the Up! Plus 2 was full of support and a nightmare to clean up with pliers. And did I mention the the Cocoon Create is only a quarter of the price? So far a real win.

If you want to read a bit more about this printer, which is based on the RepRap Prusa i3, just check out my First Impressions article, or head to the Cocoon Create website.

– Posted by James Novak

Cocoon Create Extruder Fix

20160218_Cocoon Create Extruder

After yesterday’s exciting successes with my new Cocoon Create 3D printer from Aldi, today there have been some hiccups – namely I tried to change filaments and could not load any new filament into the extruder. The filament would start to load, and after about 5mm there would be a “clunk, clunk, clunk” sound as the motor was grinding the filament but not pushing it any further down. Being jammed, there were 2 possibilities; either the filament was not able to find its way down towards the nozzle because something was misaligned, or there was some old filament jammed in there. So after only 24 hours of ownership, it was time to hack at it and take apart the extruder. It’s actually very easy, and I’ve used the photos above to try and illustrate how to fix a jam.

  1. Use an allen key to remove the 2 screws on the left side of the extruder – be careful as these hold the entire extruder together, so you want to catch the parts rather than let them drop. Also make sure your nozzle is nice and cool!
  2. The fan can just hang from its wires, but the heat-sink and 2 white spacers can be removed, leaving the motor and feeder as shown in the second photo. This is what feeds the filament down into the nozzle (entering from where my thumb is). Check for any loose material in here and clean (mine was fine).
  3. As circled in photo 3, this little piece of the remaining first filament is the culprit of my jamming. It wasn’t enough to grab with pliers, so I just turned on the printer, heated the nozzle, and then used a small allen key to push all the material down through the extruder, leaving a large opening for the new material to enter.
  4. Done. Just re-assemble and make sure all the little wire connections are firmly attached.

This quick process solved the problem and new material loaded without any further problems. After looking on the Cocoon Create website it seems that there is almost no support or FAQ as yet, so I hope this helps anyone stuck.

– Posted by James Novak

Aldi 3D Printer -First Impressions

20160217_Cocoon Create

Yes that’s right, Aldi are selling a 3D printer! For those of you not familiar with Aldi, they are essentially a global supermarket chain, and here in Australia, they also sell “special buys” each week which could be anything from power tools to clothing and everything in between. This weeks special: the Cocoon Create 3D printer for $499AUD, a bit of a bargain when you look at its’ specs. Although of course I had been skeptical, being burned by my last 3D printer purchase from Solidoodle (which you can read more about here) which I have now hacked to do other things, and still waiting for the Tiko that I funded on Kickstarter last year I had to have one… It might be sad by I actually can’t live without a 3D printer anymore with all the work I’m doing.

However what really grabbed me is that being Aldi, this printer would come with a warranty (1 year) and be easily returned if it was a dud (a real challenge when most printers are bought online and can be difficult to return), and also this printer is based on the RepRap Prusa i3 which means any replacement parts and tweaks will be easy to obtain. With some nice upgrades, particularly the metal frame (as opposed to most RepRap’s which use acrylic or plywood and can therefore be quite flexible) this really looks like a promising machine . Like anyone else serious about getting their hands on these limited weekly specials, I joined the 2 or 3 other nerds outside my local Aldi before they opened, and made the mad dash inside like a kid in a candy store! As you can see, I was successful ๐Ÿ™‚

20160217_Cocoon Create Unbox

In the above photos you can see some of the initial finds from the package, which included a thorough manual designed to guide someone with little to no experience of setting up a 3D printer and using Cura to slice STL files through the process, a spare pad for the print bed, some tools, a small roll of PLA and a SD card to use for transferring the G-code from Cura onto the machine (there is also a USB connection, but I like the SD card which means I can have my printer in another room where the fumes can be ventilated). Setup was very quick with just a few screws to join the pieces together, and then the leveling of the bed. Let me summarise some of my initial observations and thoughts after doing a few small prints so far:

  • The navigation through the menus is a little bit old-school (reminds me of DOS!), and could benefit from a touch screen. However there are a lot of controls available in the menu, allowing you to really tweak the performance of the machine without connecting to a computer. The beeping sound as you scroll through each option is a little annoying.
  • The home screen of the printer (shown at the top) is awesome and shows some really useful information such as temperatures of both the nozzle and bed, and how much of the print has been completed.
  • Leveling of the bed is manual and easy to do with the 4 corner wingnuts. Many printers now come with auto-leveling which can be quick, but also doesn’t always seem to work as well as just leveling it out yourself.
  • At one point I wanted to stop a print part way through as it was lifting off the bed – you have to navigate through the menu to find this option, and the only other way is to switch off the power. An extra button just to pause or stop a print would be really handy for those emergency situations!
  • To remove a print you have to pry it off while fixed to the printer – you can’t just un-clip the bed and really get at it with a scraper. This may cause some problems down the line, every other printer I’ve ever used allows the bed to be removed.

These are just a few things I’m noticing right off the bat, but overall I’m really really impressed with this machine – the very first print I did worked flawlessly which you can see below.

20160217_Aldi 3D Printer

This SUP paddle clip (which you can read more about here) was 3D printed with the same settings I’ve used on the Up! Plus 2 printer, specifically a 0.2mm layer height and minimal support, and printed in about the same 50 minutes. I can honestly not tell the difference in quality, which is extremely clean and accurate. As I write this a second one has been printed to the same high quality. For $499 this is a much better finish than I expected!

Funnily enough a significant reason I started this blog in the first place was to share what I thought would be an enjoyable experience with the Solidoodle Press, and begin comapring it to other printers I’ve used and hopefully benefit others looking to get into 3D printing – it’s nice to finally come full circle back to writing about my experience with this (so far) promising 3D printer. Stay tuned for more frequent 3D prints, designs and discussion of how this printer performs.

– Posted by James Novak