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

More Time Fixing, Less Time Printing

2015-02-21 Press ExtruderIt’s really no surprise that a new day printing with my new Solidoodle Press 3D printer has thrown up new challenges. Half way during a print I noticed that plastic had stopped coming out of the nozzle, and applying pressure to the filament from the top didn’t seem to help. Now one thing that is quite nice about the Press (as opposed to the many issues which I’ve found earlier) is that much of the nozzle can be opened with simple thumb screws. Finally, some forward thinking in terms of design! The first image above shows the cover removed, along with the front of the main body (no tools required).

I had already retracted the filament, and found that indeed my guess was correct – a blockage in the nozzle (image 2). This was a nice easy fix, removed with tweezers when the nozzle was cool. What I didn’t expect was to find the extruder gear drive completely loose (the toothed part that feeds the filament down), to the point that I could pull it off the motor with the tweezers. Obviously this is the cause of my problems. After some searching on the always useful SoliForum, I found many people experiencing the same symptoms of filament not extruding, and a nice walk-through fix from Solidoodle Support. Basically the issue (which I’m sure will be a recurring one) is that the gear is held onto the motor shaft using an extremely small screw. When this becomes loose, the motor will freely turn without engaging the gear, thus not moving the filament.

Unfortunately you need an extremely small Allen key in order to securely tighten the gear in place, threading through a 1.5mm vent on the side of the housing – which I don’t have (and doesn’t sound overly safe with all the wires there!). However by taking the gear out, I could wedge a small screw driver into the hole and pre-tighten the screw, then push it onto the D-shaped shaft of the motor in the correct orientation. It’s the best I can do for now, time will tell how long it lasts before needing to be re-tightened. Hopefully the link to the Solidoodle Support page for this fix will help anyone who comes into this issues.

– Posted by James Novak

Convert Your Solidoodle Into an Up! in 3 Steps

2015-02-11 Time LapseAfter a previous post where I listed my steps to printing success with the new Solidoodle Press, I am now on a roll with completing prints. My secret? Convert the Press to be more like one of the Up! series of 3D printers!

There are really only 3 key things you need to do this, 2 of which are obvious in the time-lapse photos above of my latest complete print of the Beer Bottle Lock:

  1. Avoid the mess of glues and sprays – much of the success of the Up! 3D printers is that they use a perforated PCB as the printing plate. I bought 2 perforated boards from Jaycar and cut them to fit on top of the existing glass plate. A bit of masking tape is all that’s needed to secure them in place. Just make sure they’re completely flat, shiny side up.
  2. After watching all my early prints fail on the Press, I realised the other element the Up! printers combine with the perforated board is a good ‘raft’ base (automatically generated for the Up!), creating a solid lock into the perforations and evening out any issues in bed level before you get to your product. This is not a feature available in SoliPrint, so for the print pictured above I actually modeled my own 0.5mm thick raft in CAD. While this is a bit more complicated if you’re printing downloaded models, it’s relatively quick to add using the freely available MeshLab or similar STL editing software. However if it’s your own design, it should only take 30 seconds to add this detail before exporting to an STL. Pictured below is the raft after peeling away from the Beer Bottle Lock, along with photos of how the Up! Plus 2 prints a raft before putting your STL on top for reference.2015-02-12 Build Raft
  3. Change the nozzle temperature and printing speeds. The Up! Plus 2 prints ABS plastic at 260 degrees, while the default for the Press is only 215 degrees. This is too low to properly melt ABS and let it flow. At the moment I’m using 240 degrees with good results, and also slow the printing speeds so that there is less shaking and opportunity for error. My settings from this successful print are below.150211 Second Success Edit

I realise many people are having success using a variety of other hacks/fixes/additions which you can find on the useful SoliForum website, but this is my own twist on improving the Solidoodle Press. Also a big thanks to Solidoodle for releasing the new SoliPrint software version 1.1.1 which has corrected some of the bugs I initially wrote about.

Finally, below are some detailed photos showing a comparison of the print from the Solidoodle Press (pink), to the same file printed on the Up! Plus 2 (green). The main thing I’m noticing is that the Press does an average job of flat surfaces parallel to the print plate, failing to fill them in completely like the Up! Plus 2. But the other surfaces are quite good! Of course it’s important to keep in mind the Press is about a third of the price of the Up! Plus 2, so expecting the same quality is asking a bit much. Yet I believe if Solidoodle continue to improve their SoliPrint software, the quality could really come close to that of the Up! Plus 2. Time will tell.

2015-02-12 ComparisonIf you have any questions about getting you Press to work, or want to share your own modifications, please post them in the comments section.

– Posted by James Novak

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

Solidoodle Fix Number 1

2015-02-10 Solidoodle FixOne of the first problems all Solidoodle Press owners find is the ‘umbilical cord’ to the extruder getting caught behind the arm at the back of the printer (photo and discussion in one of my first posts about the printer). It does not sound good and will have you jumping for the power switch! Well thanks to the ever useful SoliForum and a video from Ray Steele, I think I have now (temporarily?) solved this problem.

A simple rubber band can be used to keep tension on the cord and prevent it from being able to fit between the extruder arm and back of the printer. Luckily the small pins used as hinges for the lid of the printer can slide to the side (indicated by the red arrow), allowing you to fit the rubber band in and the lock it in place by sliding the pin back. Tweezers or something similar are enough, and you just need to use a rubber band (or link a few smaller bands together) to get the tension right.

One small fix for man, 999 fixes left for mankind.

– Posted by James Novak