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

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… 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

Solidoodle Press First Look

2015-02-06 Solidoodle ImpressionBelieve it or not, my 3D printer has arrived!!! If you’ve read through this blog before or run into me around the place you’ll know that I jumped on the Solidoodle Press band wagon way back in August 2014 when they were first ‘released’ (and I use the word ‘released’ very loosely!). But today is not for complaining, you can read my previous posts about my experience so far with Solidoodle by clicking here.

Let me start by saying I haven’t actually printed anything yet, this is literally my first impression un-boxing the thing and connecting it to my laptop. And the first impression is gooooooood! A nice, professional-looking unit not dissimilar to the Up! Mini that was in a design consultancy I worked for. Just a lot bigger (since the build volume is almost double that of the Up! Mini).

The printer arrived pre-loaded with a spool of ABS (maybe to soften the blow of so many delays?), and I like the way the spool is contained within the lid of the unit, further adding to the professional feel. Although I’m yet to see if this limits the use of other brands of filament. The printer also came with a handy little kit of tools and a full-colour getting started guide, all adding to the sense of professionalism and brand quality for Solidoodle. Very nice indeed.

Actually getting the printer to connect with the SoliPrint software wasn’t quite as straight forward, since I’m using Windows 8.1 the drivers are for some reason not automatically installed when connected. I had to read a few things on the Solidoodle website and manually install the drivers, but this did solve the problem. I also noticed that the newest version of SoliPrint must have some changes from the earlier one, as the instructions in the printed manual refer to some settings/menus that aren’t there or have a slightly different name. So best to follow this Getting Started Guide from their website, it seems much more up-to-date and thorough.

2015-02-06 Solidoodle ExtruderA quick play with the SoliPrint software and it seems easy enough to understand, although as I said I haven’t printed anything yet. Just extruded some material, loaded an STL, heated the print plate and nozzle. The layer settings are 0.3mm,0.2mm and 0.1mm, and there seems plenty of flexibility to rotate models and place them however you like. One thing I do really like is the clear cover over the extruder, allowing you to see the filament feeding down to the nozzle and potentially catch any problems with clogging etc. before they become serious.

That’s about all I’ve had time for right now, I’m looking forward to running some prints and side-by-side comparisons with the Up! Plus 2 I have over the coming days and weeks. I know the Press has an auto-calibration feature for the nozzle height, so this will be first up next time.

– Posted by James Novak