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).  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 🙂 (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 😉 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

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 🙂

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