3D printing is yet another new blog category being introduced on the website. Wow! I must be planning on working hard. I decided to launch this category with the arrival of my new UP! Mini 3D printer. The purpose of this category is, as its name suggests, provide an outlet for me to blog about my experiences in 3D printing.
There are three main reason why I bought an UP! Mini 3D Printer. Firstly and chiefly I bought it because of the reduced price, which is probably due to a new version being released soon. Secondly, I bought the UP! Mini because of its cute size. I really didn't want one of those DIY printers that belong more in a workshop than in a living/work room.
The third and final reason was because it supports 3rd party filaments (1.75mm PLA and ABS) like the reels I have seen on sale at 1kg for £18 or £12.50 for 0.5Kg.
This image shows how small and sleek the UP! Mini actually is. Here it can be seen in comparison to the box that contained Intel's Galileo and the box of the Parallella. It can also be seen in comparison to Sony's CMT-CP101 Micro HiFi Component System. From a design perspective this printer is exactly what I need, as it does not look out of place in even the tidiest of living spaces.
When the box arrived I was slightly cautious in opening it, as the one I received previously a week before appeared to be damaged on arrival and had to be returned. Quite fortunately when I open the box of this one everything seemed okay. Apart from the printer itself the contents included a box of tool kit goodies (Item 1 in the picture), which you can read more about below and a power supply brick (Item 2 in the picture). (Item 3 is not included, but just bombed the picture!). It also includes a 1.5 lbs ABS reel.
Although a 20V power supply is specified in the blurb, the one supplied with my kit was an AC to DC adapter specified at 19V and 9.47A. Really Poor! Its amazing how a lot of products from the emerging power house leave one with the feeling that a lot of attention has not been paid to detail. The power supply brick is rather large too, then again at almost 10A this is not too surprising.
Although the powering rating differences was a small bug bear, initially what really got me was that the power supply brick did not have seem to have a kettle mains lead. I thought "You've got to be kidding me!", "Where am I supposed to get a lead at 9.00pm in the evening, in Worthing? The lead in question is a power mains kettle cable lead 3-pin IEC, which retails for about five quid for a 2m in length one. Eventually I found the lead amongst the items in the box of tool kit goodies, after foaming at the mouth for about 10 minutes.
The physical characteristics of the UP! Mini 3D Printer are listed below:
Model material : ABS & PLA Plastic / 1.73mm / white
Build size : 4.7” x 4.7” x 4.7” / 120 x 120 x 120 mm
Layer thickness : 0.2 / 0.25 / 0.30 / 0.35 mm
Workstation compatibility : Windows XP, Vista & 7, Mac
Size : 240(W) x 355(H) x 340(D)
Power requirements : 100-240V, 50-60Hz, 220W
I had already watched a number of YouTube videos about the printer before I bought it and was quite happy that the installation process would not be too difficult. According to the manual the application software used to drive the printer should be downloaded from PP3DP's website, which is what I did next. This can be seen in the image above. The Download section is at the bottom of the page from where a link can be found to the software. The download section also contains a link to some models, which I might investigate and 3D print in the next blog post.
The topmost entry on the software page was the latest version, so I clicked and downloaded that one.
Double clicking on the executable leads to the next set of dialogs, which are read from left to right. The first pop-up dialogue that appears is a welcoming Setup wizard. clicking on the next button leads one to the next dialogue, which is the License Agreement. After giving the License Agreement a cursory glance and promising myself to read it religiously when I have time I accepted it and clicked on the next button.
Next you are presented with the opportunity to Select a Destination Location. I left the Destination Location of the installed software as the default and was quite happy to move onto the Select Start Menu Folder. The dialog for the Start Menu 's shortcut item is called UP! by default, which sounded good enough to me.
The Select Additional Tasks dialogue, which appears next, allows one to create a desktop icon. So I agreed to create a desktop icon and clicked on the next button. Finally, I was taken to the Ready To Install dialogue and when prompted to begin the installation process I did by clicking on the install button.
When the application software finished installing the printer's device drivers appeared not to install, as can be seen in the right-hand side image above. I didn't feel too concerned about this though, as the installation of USB device drivers on Windows machines, Windows 8.1 in this case, are notoriously problematic. A quick check in the installation directory revealed the location of the USB drivers and a google search revealed that others had had a similar problem, which they solved by installing the drivers manually. Hence the importance of knowing where they are located in the installation directory. (UPDATE: You can read about how I installed the USB device drivers in the second article in the series Installing the parts, configuring and printing my first 3D models).
The application software, seen above, which is quite basic is used to configure the printer, as well as send 3D objects to it, via a USB cable. The USB cable, which is supplied with the kit looks very robust and is encased in a thick Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) shield. 3D objects are typically designed in third party software packages and loaded as STL model files, the 3D printing standard adopted by the RepRap folks. The open source 3D design package, Blender (www.blender.org) can be typically used, since it allows the export of .STL files. I haven't actually tried using the UP! Mini software yet, but so far it has not crashed and it looks good. I will attempt to blog a post in the future, which takes one from designing an object in Blender and printing it out on the UP! Mini, once I learn how to do so myself! LOL.
The packaging of the printer is quite robust with items of foam and clips (seen in the image above) used to hold its movable axis in place, including the cell board and the z-axis lead screw. The first item, in the image above, is the material shaft. This item needs to be reinstalled once the foam holding it in place has been removed. It seems to be used to constrain the depth to which the cell board can be lowered. Once in place the material shaft looks basic, but seems to do the job.
As mentioned previously the printer is accompanied by a box of tool kit goodies, which can be seen in the image above. Included are 3 perf or cell boards (item number 5), more of which can be bought, presumably, when these 3 run out. I will not bother introducing these items individually here, instead I'll do so during future articles when they are actually used. An exception to this and one of the more interesting items in the box is the extrusion head (item number 3) , which is discussed in more detail below.
The extrusion head, which is shown in the image above, can be seen from four different angles. It needs to be installed manually, which is not as scary a task as it sounds. It seems to be levitated to its connection point in the printer through the use of a magnetic field generated from three magnets. This is an example of what can only be described as well thought out product design, as even the non-technically minded users should be able to perform this task. I haven't installed it yet, but again according to the YouTube videos I've watched installing it should be within my and most peoples skill set.
One of the immediate reasons why I need a 3D Printer is to print robot parts like in the "Shoes" for my 17 DOF Robot. I also need it to experimentally design and produce parts for my Robotics using FPGAs series in general. However, as you can probably tell from this post I have not yet finished installing the 3D printer and as it is quite late on a Sunday evening now, I may not have the opportunity to do so until next weekend.
Over the next couple of months I plan to blog my progress in 3D printing for use in robotics (and maybe in other fields too) and for use, if there is time, in a 3D printed stop motion animation project. The stop motion project is another project of mine that I have had to put on the back burner, until I get some spare time, whatever that is! Anyway, as always you can read all about it here, on this website.