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

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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

Solidoodle… Try, Try Again.

Another day, another headache. The video above shows what happens when the auto-level feature of the Solidoodle Press 3D printer fails to pop down at the beginning of a print, causing the nozzle to collide with the print plate. It doesn’t sound good! The only way to stop that terrible noise is to cut the power. Unfortunately this isn’t the first time it’s happened either. The only way I’ve found to deal with this is to turn the printer back on and use the slider for the z-axis height in the settings to drop it down and relieve the pressure on the extruder. I feel like it’s thrown some of the calibration off though, and with the auto z-axis calibration not working in the current version of SoliPrint, I’m going to have to do some searching online for fixes. If you haven’t read my previous post, a great place to start looking for help with the Solidoodle Press is the SoliForum.

Some of you may also be asking what’s going on with my shiny print plate in the video. Well, as mentioned in yesterday’s post I’ve stuck 2 perforated PCB’s onto the glass plate to see if the prints will stick, much like the old faithful Up! Plus 2. So far it seems to only work moderately well (which is still a whole lot better than printing onto the glass), but since my collision problems it doesn’t seem like the nozzle is close enough to the plate anymore during the first layer printing. The video below actually shows the start of a successful print with the perforated PCB’s, although there are some major problems with the auto-level tool still not working!

In this video I manually dropped the auto-level tool just in time, however didn’t manage to raise it quick enough causing it to collide with the side of the printing plate. What a nasty grinding sound! Amazingly when I flicked the auto-level out of the way the printer actually went on to print something (almost) successful! The photo below shows where I had to stop the print as the small details beginning to snap as they collide with the nozzle, but the main point is that the print stuck to the perforated PCB plate. This gives me some hope! If I can only get the z-axis working properly again I might be able to get that magical first print out!

2015-02-09 11.45.20I also have hairspray at the top of my shopping list just to see if that makes much of a difference printing on the glass plate – one way or another I need to figure this all out ASAP! If you’ve experienced issues like this with Solidoodle or any other 3D printer I’d love to hear about it, please comment or subscribe to keep up to date.

– Posted by James Novak

Solidoodle 2nd Look…is it meant to do that?

So my second play with the new Solidoodle Press has been challenging, and still no prints to show for it. While yesterday’s post of my first impressions was quite positive, now as I’m trying to calibrate and print there are plenty of questions being raised (which it seems like most owners are having as I’m searching online for fixes/answers). A great place to find out about all the bugs and issues people are experiencing is the SoliForum – especially if you’re searching for fixes, or considering buying a Press.

The first thing I’ve come across is that the automatic z-axis calibration doesn’t work at all. No major problem, since the printer automatically levels each time you go to print anyway (as in the video above). But definitely wasted some time trying, switching everything off, disconnecting plugs, re-trying, waiting… you get the gist! Hopefully the next SoliPrint update will fix this, from the SoliForum it looks like the previous version of the software worked fine.

Now actually running a print has been the ultimate challenge, and one I’m yet to conquer. The above video shows what happens when you go to print after following the instructions from Solidoodle (Getting Started Guide), with the filament not sticking to the glass plate. Having looked around online, most people have very quickly gone to hairspray, water-soluble glues, tape, mixtures of acetone and ABS… the list goes on and sounds like the sort of random advice a witch doctor would give. However if a secondary product was required in order to print, don’t you think Solidoodle would supply this in the box? This is the very reason I’ve avoided the original Cube printers we have at my university, and relied instead on the Up! Plus 2 which uses a perforated PCB board as the printing plate and therefore requires no gluing. With all this technology, surely we can do a bit better than having to make a mess and spray glue everywhere? I’ve bought some perforated PCB’s from Jaycar (pictured below) so will see if I can use these as a plate before getting my hands dirty with glue. I couldn’t find a single one large enough, so these 2 might be OK.

2015-02-07 Solidoodle 2nd TimeThe scariest problem I came across was during the second attempt at printing, when there was a loud grinding/buzzing sound from within the machine! I couldn’t get my hands to the power fast enough to shut it down! The second image above shows what caused the problem, with the black cable cover getting wedged behind the arm of the extruder, stopping it from going to it’s starting position. I have since seen a post from Solidoodle acknowledging this problem, and have found that by twisting the cable cover around I can prop it out of the way. But I will definitely be looking at a more secure solution to this problem; seems like if so many people are experiencing the same thing there just wasn’t enough testing by Solidoodle prior to shipping. Hopefully no real damage has been done to the machine. Again check out the SoliForum for a range of fixes, including a 3D printable clip on Thingiverse (although if you’re having problems printing in the first place, this might not be for you!).

Another concern I had yesterday (read the post by clicking here) was that the very nice, professional housing for spools of filament wouldn’t fit third-party spools. And I was right (third picture above). I’m sure by keeping the upper lid open there will be no affect on the printer, it just looks a bit less ‘contained’ and thought through as a product. Surely with the variety of options available worldwide 3D printer manufacturers need to just accept that we all want to experiment with materials and may not want to wait weeks and weeks for their ‘propriety’ filament to ship when a local supplier can provide it in days (without the high shipping costs as well).

Screengrab - non-centeredFinally the SoliPrint software of course has a few noticeable bugs besides not calibrating the z-axis. The main one I’ve come across already is that while you can move your imported model anywhere within the print volume, the printer will still print in the center of the plate. By a bit of experimentation I found that in the menu Options>Slic3r Options, there is a ‘Print Center’ setting which by default is 100,100. By changing these values, you can determine where on the plate is considered the center of your model (providing you know which X and Y coordinates are which). Hopefully this is also rectified soon, the print should just match the on-screen preview.

Well that’s day 2 of my experimentation, really hope that next time I will have some success actually completing a 3D print. I think it’s clear that the Press is far from a consumer-friendly, plug-and-play machine at this stage. I’m sure with time it could be, but not yet. A non-3D print nerd would already be demanding their money back and wondering what all the fuss about 3D printing is. Stay tuned and please comment and share if you’ve gone through a similar process 🙂

– Posted by James Novak