Tiko Down and Out?

tiko-3d-down-and-out

Unfortunately it looks like this image of the Tiko 3D Printer is as close as I’ll ever get to one – after months of speculation by fellow Kickstarter supporters, and a recent article by 3dprint.com which explained some of the problems that have plagued the company since their massive Kickstarter success in 2015, the Tiko team have sent an email update to backers that sounds ominous:

“Basically, the company is now on standby while we pursue ways to get back on track… We made countless mistakes, and we are now in a tough place, but it doesn’t mean that everything we built is suddenly worthless.”

It sounds like there may still be a glimmer of hope that investors may see the potential in Tiko and jump in to save the day, but given my previous experience with the failure of Solidoodle after the Press 3D printer, I’m not holding my breath. A few batches of Tiko’s did make it to the US and Canada, however online reports seem to suggest that the hardware and software hasn’t really lived up to expectations, being released out of desperation to get some products out there without being fully tested. A real shame, this was a Kickstarter campaign I was really excited about and the journey started off so well.

Maybe I’m just cursed? This is now the second printer/company that I’ve supported that has hit major troubles. Which means that I think I’m throwing in the towel with crowdfunding 3D printers – there are just too many risks and challenges, and there are so many options already available and sitting on shelves that the risk hardly seems worth it to save a few dollars with a startup. Given how well my Cocoon Create 3D printer has been going over the past year, bought for only $399 AUD from Aldi, I really can’t see the point. In the time Tiko has been struggling to produce 1 printer, Cocoon Create has supplied 1 very successful printer (read my review here), and looks poised to release the next generation machine any day.

That’s the other problem with these sorts of crowdfunded technologies – in the time that it takes to develop and manufacture them, the more established companies and new startups have already brought out ever newer machines that are superior to the technology a year or two ago, even superior to technology only a matter of months ago. The pace of change in 3D printing is extremely quick, and if you get caught for too long in development, what you’re developing will likely be out of date before it even leaves the factory.

Obviously I’m a huge fan of crowdfunding, having just wrapped up a successful Kickstarter project using the old Solidoodle Press as a plotter, but I now have a very big question mark about funding anything as complex as a 3D printer. I really do hope the Tiko team can negotiate their little hearts out and find some sort of a way to move forward. I would love nothing more than to one day have a Tiko on my workbench, and be running it side-by-side with my other printers and writing some reviews for you all. I’m just not holding my breath…

– Posted by James Novak

Advertisements

When Layer Orientation Matters

20160819_Meshmixer Plane Cut

Often when you are 3D printing the main thing you think about is how much support material your print will have, and you orient your print to minimise this – reducing material waste, print time and any manual post-processing to clean up the print. However sometimes the best print orientation for these reasons is not the best for mechanical strength, and I’ve just discovered this with one of the parts for the InMoov robotic arm I’m currently building (see the first collection of 3D prints in my previous post).

The “RobServoBedV6” part is where the 5 servo’s connect that control the individual finger movements, using screws to fix them in place. However some of the stands are splitting as I screw into them as shown in the photo above due to the layer orientation. Yes I could use super glue to fix them, but the split will just happen  somewhere else. So I’m going to completely cut the stands away from the part, and re-print just these stands in a different orientation to improve their strength. This is where the free program Meshmixer comes in very handy, and I’ve previously published a few examples of how to use it for my friends at Pinshape – just click here to find out more.

In the top right image you can see the first step of using Meshmixer to edit the STL file. I have used the Plane Cut tool to slice away the bottom plate, and then repeat the process to remove the other 2 segments which seem to be strong enough for the screws at the moment. This leaves me with the 2 stands that I’m having issues with. These can now be exported as STL’s ready to 3D print (orientation is not important here, this will be set in my 3D print software).

Cura from Meshmixer

I’m printing these parts as we speak on my Cocoon Create 3D printer, and have used Cura to prepare the parts and get the G-code. As you can see to the left, I have oriented the parts so that the layers are perpendicular to the original orientation, meaning that when I screw into them, the force from the screw will not pull the layers apart. Super glue will hold these replacements onto the original part really well as they are printed in ABS.

If you are designing your own parts from scratch in CAD and intend to screw directly into them, keep this issue in mind. However if you’re downloading a STL where modification isn’t as easy, knowing this simple trick in Meshmixer can really help you repair and improve a part rather than trying to re-print it from scratch and potentially use a lot of support material in a different orientation.

– Posted by James Novak

Cowtech 3D Scanner – The Build

20160729_Cowtech Ciclop Build

3D scanning has featured a few times on my blog (eg. see my custom virtual reality headset which perfectly fits my face), so it was only a matter of time until I bought a scanner for myself. Earlier in the year Kickstarter convinced me to help fund the Ciclop 3D Scanner from Cowtech, a $99 open-source system that was impossible to refuse. Yep, $99!

Well here it is, built over a couple of days and making me feel like a kid again with a new kit of Lego. I bought the cheapest version of the scanner, choosing to 3D print the components myself (naturally!) which can be freely downloaded from Thingiverse. These worked really well, only a few areas where support material was time-consuming to remove, and were all done on the small build plate of the UP Plus 2. The top left photo shows most of these 3D printed parts (12 in total needed).

20160805_Cowtech BrokenAfter receiving the other scanner hardware from Cowtech this week, it was finally time to put this kit together – no simple task after I snapped one of the key parts early in the assembly process! You can see the 2 broken pieces of acrylic to the left, which are both from the long arm connecting the 2 main octagonally-shaped hubs in the middle photo at the top of the page. So far Araldite seems to be holding them, and this snapping seems to be a common problem people are reporting – maybe a bit better tolerances required in the laser cut pieces, or a different material that’s not quite so brittle.

Otherwise the assembly process has been quite straight forward, the video provided by Cowtech is very easy to follow, especially if you’re a little familiar with Arduino’s. There are some really clever details in the way nuts slot into the laser cut pieces and screws slide through the 3D prints that I’ve never seen before, so as a designer it was fun to discover these details. I really appreciate the tolerances for many of the different parts fitting together, from laser cut to 3D print to machined screws, I am honestly surprised how well they all came together for me. So in the top right image you can see the final result – I have to admit I feel like an extra 3D printed part is required to cap off the top above the camera, it doesn’t look right to me so this might be something I make myself soon.

The challenge I’m having now is that I can’t get my camera to be recognised by the recommended open-source software for the scanner, Horus. I’ve spent hours installing software and drivers, rebooting my computer, uninstalling, installing in a different order, rebooting… Nothing is working. Hmmm, a bit frustrating but as I’ve learned with these sorts of new products from Kickstarter, sometimes it can take some time for people to start posting solutions and updates as my order was dispatched quite early and there is just not much up on the forum yet. Hopefully soon!

Keep an eye out on my blog for updates, and hopefully soon some successful 3D scans!

– Posted by James Novak

Update 7/8/2016:

Settings That Work CroppedAfter some ideas from the Cowtech Facebook Group, I have solved the connectivity problem – hopefully it helps anyone else that reads this. Firstly the Cowtech Scanning Guide says to plug in the camera to set it up in Horus – but you actually need to plug in the entire scanner – 2 USB’s and power. I then went into the preferences, selected the appropriate camera and serial, then changed the Arduino type to “Arduino Uno” and clicked “Upload Firmware” (shown left). I had to close and then re-open Horus, but now it’s all up and running. Hopefully the rest of the calibration goes a little smoother. I think the instruction booklet from Cowtech needs to make this clearer, and include these preference changes.

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

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

Beyond FDM and the Future Printing Bureau

20160209_Complex 3D Prints

3D printing is a fantastic technology, and the quality of the prints from a desktop machine like my usual Up! Plus 2 are pretty awesome when you think about the fact that they’re produced on my desk! But at some point you’re likely to reach the limits of what can be achieved on such a machine, either through material limitations, size limitations, or in this case in the complexity of the parts themselves.

The parts pictured above are the next stage of development from some of the 3D prints I showed in a post a couple of weeks ago, with some of the patterns and ideas very similar. However now that I’m trying to move beyond relatively “flat” prints into these complex shapes that fit a 3D curved surface, the limitations of a desktop FDM machine become clear. The amount of support material needed, along with the delicate nature of the designs means that pieces of each part were broken during support removal, and on top of that, many areas of the prints simply didn’t print out clearly with lots of loose threads of ABS plastic floating around.

While these prints are enough to visually communicate a design idea, they simply aren’t accurate enough to allow us to physically test or embed electronics in. Therefore it seems we have reached the limits of what we can trial using desktop 3D printing, and must now look at moving to SLS or a similar high-end process, which of course means paying a lot more for prints. It also means that rather than being able to move back-and-forth between CAD and 3D printing multiple times a day, we will be waiting weeks while parts are printed and shipped to us – so a lot more pressure to really take what we’ve learned so far from these prints and ensure that the next set which we produce are going to work.

The reason I write about this is because there is always a lot of talk about whether everyone will one day have a 3D printer in their home. While it’s certainly a possibility, there are obviously limitations to the sorts of products people would be able to print with an affordable home machine. So why won’t everyone just have a SLS machine in the future I hear you ask? Well at the moment my university has purchased a SLS machine, however an even bigger challenge than raising the few hundred thousand dollars to purchase it (which of course will dramatically come down in price now that the patents have expired) is now how are we going to use it safely? It has an enormous checklist just to set it up including requirements for anti-static flooring, appropriate measures and warnings about the dangerous class 4 laser, being installed somewhere that has absolutely no vibrations around it (so not near other types of machinery), advanced air filtration and exhaust systems in the room, an eye-wash station next to it and many more… These don’t sound like the sort of renovations your typical home user is likely to invest in!

So in my opinion it is far more likely that we are going to see even more Shapeways style service bureaus pop up, which is already the case through Staples in the USA and now Officeworks in Australia, where you will take your files to get printed in your local area. All the costs, maintenance and training is covered by these commercial businesses, and we all get to enjoy the benefits. Until then, it looks like I will be placing yet another order for parts on the other side of the world so we can test out these designs properly.

– Posted by James Novak

A New Year Miracle… Sort Of

20151230_Solidoodle Grommets

A “New Year Miracle” might be overstating things a bit, but these are the first useful prints I’ve had from my Solidoodle Press – and I use the word useful instead of successful, awesome or great because they are only useful in the sense that they prove what I needed to in a rough prototype – they fit. But if you look at the surfaces they are far from pretty, and for every one of these parts that was made another couple were thrown out. But compared to my last attempts, or anything else from this machine, it’s something!

These parts are just some little grommets which are designed to plug into a soft foam or neoprene material – some electronics get mounted within them and the rest is… well a bit top secret at the moment. Yes the usual excuse, but that’s how research projects go.

I’m continuing to get the slipping problem I wrote about in my last post using the Solidoodle and think I have an idea why – it might be something to do with the motor that drives the forward/back motion of the print head. I’m noticing that after about only 20 minutes of use the slipping becomes a problem, consistently, and that this motor is getting extremely hot, like hot enough to burn you. Which I don’t think should happen since it’s got nothing to do with the hot end of the print nozzle. So it’s possible that when it gets this hot, the motor starts failing internally. So normally the first one of these little grommets prints out fine, and then things go wrong and I shut down the machine for a while and start again. Obviously it’s manageable on such a small part, but means printing anything useful at a larger size will never happen.

Come on Tiko, I need you!

I’ve found a thread on the Soliforum from someone with the same issue and added my observations and a photo. Hopefully there are some solutions that people have found, there are a few suggestions listed already but I’m doubtful whether they’re going to solve my problems. I’ll try again soon.

– Posted by James Novak

Solidoodle Resurrected 10 Months Later…

20151213_Solidoodle Slip

*sigh… I really wanted to give my Solidoodle Press another chance to do anything other than act as a shelf to stack books on next to my desk. It’s been 10 months since my last post about the 3D printer, and therefore 10 months since I simply gave up trying to make it work after many long hours spent tweaking both the hardware and software with no success.

Obviously from the photos above it’s safe to say that I’m still at square one, although have to admit that these failed prints are about as good as anything I’ve had from the machine EVER! What I’m noticing is some slipping, where for some reason the printer decides to start printing 5-10mm offset in the y direction part way through the print. Up until this point of the prints I had been really excited that things were finally working and looking OK! As I look over at the printer which is having a 3rd attempt at this part while I write this post it looks like the same has happened again… I’m not surprised, just disappointed.

In order to get even these results a few things have happened:

  1. Most importantly I’ve been counting on the fact that 10 months means a lot of time for Solidoodle to update their Soliprint software, which they have. Some of my issues in the past seemed to be where the print nozzle would move erratically, crossing over areas it had printed without lifting the nozzle and therefore colliding with the print. On first impressions, this seems to have been improved. The user interface has also been updated and made easier to navigate (although you will still need to jump into the detailed Slic3r settings in order to tweak things like print speed and layer thickness). The current version is 1.3.0, and I’m pretty sure my last one was 1.1.3 – so there have been 9 software updates in this time.
  2. I’ve done a full clean of the print nozzle after noticing some issues extruding material. To do this I’ve taken apart the print head (as shown in a previous post), unscrewed the 2 pieces of the nozzle from the main block, and heated them over a candle to remove the bulk of material with tweezers. I’ve then soaked them in acetone for an hour or so, and cleaned out any remaining plastic. I have a feeling that part of the nozzle is taking longer to heat up than the very tip, so even when the printer says it’s ready, the filament is actually not liquefied at all and causing a clog. I have spent hours figuring this out, and now make sure I completely withdraw the filament after printing to minimise this problem.
  3. I have changed out my ABS in the Solidoodle Press to one I know works very well from use in an Up! Plus 2. This may also minimise clogging, I’m sure the stock that came with the machine will be as rubbish as the printer itself!
  4. I have glued the small screw in the extruder gear so that it can’t loosen – this may also cause some slipping of the filament.
  5. I’m raising the extrude temperature to 250 degrees Celsius, not the default 230 degrees which is a bit on the low side for ABS.

While all of this is good, it still doesn’t get me a useful 3D print. I will soldier on for a couple more hours, but am very close to giving up on this machine as a 3D printer. I have a few ideas to take some of my experiments with Arduino’s and game controllers and hack this into some sort of 2D plotter or something.

Maybe through this second life the Press will find function?

– Posted by James Novak

Recycling 3D Printer Plastic Waste?

2015-06-22 ReducedI’ve had 3D printers at home for about 7 months now, pretty much since my first blog post designing the 3D printed kite-board fin. Inevitably there have been plenty of failed prints, and of course piles of support material. However rather than just throw it all away I’ve actually been keeping all the waste material in a bucket I keep next to whichever printer I’m using. The image above is the result of these 7 months of 3D printing; approximately 1kg of pure ABS plastic!

I’m certainly not the most environmental person, but I just can’t throw away this much perfectly usable plastic, so have put the call-out within my circles for someone with a filament extruder like the Filastruder to take it off my hands for free. Unfortunately an extruder is not part of my ‘toy’ collection (yet) or I’d be busy shredding this bag of plastic and extruding my own home brand of multi-coloured filament!

I’m not sure if anyone else has been doing a similar thing – if you own a 3D printer I’d love to know what you do with all this waste, and if you have any sort of filament extruder to recycle as much as possible. Please leave a comment with your suggestions, and I’ll post an update if I get this pile recycled by someone. Perhaps I’ll also keep an eye out for the next Kickstarter filament project!

– Posted by James Novak

UPDATE 26/6/15: I have since found a student with an extruder to take this off my hands – hopefully a small good deed for the environment.

Solidoodle Press – Steps To Success[?]

2015-02-10 Press SuccessOK so at this stage I’m claiming this to be my first successful print, despite the nozzle colliding with the print after 25 minutes and dislodging it from the plate. But until then things were running smoothly – the issues of yesterday are gone, and I feel like I’m now getting somewhere. Now that I am printing, my biggest gripe is with the SoliPrint software. I’ve observed that the nozzle likes to dart back-and-forth during printing each layer, constantly running through areas it’s already printed and ripping them off the print plate. This is particularly evident for the first layer. Grrrr! Someone really needs to fix this in the next update and get that z-axis lifting when jumping to new areas! I’ve read many people are having success using Repetier Host instead of SoliPrint, so will try this next to compare. Fingers crossed my success continues!

In terms of print detail, well it’s not perfect, but without having had the chance to tweak anything (since I’ve never had a print work until now) I’m still happy. The print pictured above is part of the Beer Bottle Lock I designed and gave away for free last year, you can click here to compare the resolution to that of the high quality result from the Up! Plus 2 printer. Obviously not as good (the text on top says “HANDS OFF”), but I’m sure there is room to improve things. Having got to this point after much cursing and reading of the SoliForum for help, I thought it would be useful to compile a list of the main things I’ve done to get to this magical first print.

  1. Use an elastic band to secure the cord to the extruder head out of the way – read my previous post for details.
  2. When installing SoliPrint, you will need to manually install drivers if you are using Windows 8.1. Download here.
  3. Don’t bother printing onto the glass plate without some sort of adhesive – water soluble glue, hair spray, tape, acetone + ABS mixture… it’s up to you. I’m trying perforated PCB’s at the moment, but don’t want to claim them successful or not without much more printing (although so far so good).
  4. When you start a print, be at the ready to manually pop the auto-calibration tool up and down – it’s better to be safe than sorry! (Read an earlier post to see videos of what happens when it doesn’t automatically work).
  5. Don’t rely on what you see on screen in SoliPrint – while you might move your model to a certain location, it will still always print in the center of the plate unless you move it within the Slic3r Options menu. (11/02/2015 UPDATE: Thankfully this has been fixed in the latest version of the software 1.1.1) You can also only print 1 STL file at a time (seriously? Come on Solidoodle).
  6. Try the settings below – these are the settings from this first successful print. Perhaps the main one is the nozzle temperature as I feel the default 215 degrees is simply too low for ABS plastic – the Up! Plus 2 uses 260 degrees, possibly allowing the plastic to flow more smoothly. I think somewhere in between (230 degrees) is a good middle ground. Also I have slowed the printing speeds down to give the plastic a good chance to adhere – at full speed things are really moving fast and shaking around.

150210 First Success EditHopefully these steps will get you on your way to printing if you own, or are thinking of owning, the Solidoodle Press. Also the SoliForum is an excellent resource at the moment. Stay tuned for more prints and possibly a comparison to using Repetier Host to control the Press instead of SoliPrint.

– Posted by James Novak