Wednesday, May 27, 2015

3D Printer Project, Part 1: Decisions, decisions

This post is the link I give on Please use the navigation at the right to see other posts on the construction, tuning and use of my printer.

A while ago, I started to think about getting a 3D printer, and I decided to do it by building one. That way, even if I ended up not using it for much, I would have the fun of going through the process of making it and figuring it out. I wanted to keep the cost down, and that really pointed me at two options. One is the wooden Printrbot simple. It no longer shows up on the Printrbot web site; here is an example of it, though I think you can get it cheaper. It's a nice design, but it was at the limit of what I wanted to pay, and I didn't like the small size of the print area, and that it has an unheated print bed.

The other possibility is a Prusa Mendel i3. This comes from a family of printers known as Reprap printers. You can read about them here. The goal is to make printers for which many of the parts can themselves be printed. The Mendel is one of the more successful design, the Prusa Mendel is an improvement on the Mendel, and i3 means the third iteration of it. You can find Prusa Mendel kits quite cheaply on the web, many from Chinese vendors. Reading around the forums concerned me a bit. There were some criticisms of the quality of the parts, both printed and not. I take this with a grain of salt; sometimes, people assume parts sourced from China are automatically not so good, and in buying electronic components over the last few months, this has not been my experience. What I was more concerned about is that most of them have laser-cut acrylic frames. Acrylic is not a great material: it's brittle and so is easily broken in transit or on drilling out a hole, and it warps under load over time. There are a very few kits with wooden frames, and one from Replikeo which has an option of a steel (they call it iron) or aluminium frame.

Then I stumbled across a US based company called Folger Tech. They has an acrylic frame kit at a good price, and just at the point I looked they started to advertise a forthcoming kit with an aluminium frame. The design deviates a bit from the Prusa Mendel i3 (and there are some people on the forums who say it shouldn't be called a Prusa), but overall it looked good and was remarkably cheap. As I started to search around more, I found a hugely long thread on the reprap forum about building the acrylic version. Several people made the point that it was more like a kit of parts than a kit, and you were on your own for figuring out how to set it up. Then more recently, Folger produced a manual to help with building and configuring it. The new aluminium model was due to go on sale just about the time I was looking and I decided on it. My kit should arrive this week, and Folger have published a new construction guide for it. Initial reports from people who have built them are positive. I've also found dealing with the company good - they've replied to emails within a day, with helpful responses.

I aim to write further posts about how it goes when I try to build and use it. I think it might be a challenge. If I suddenly go silent, it means something went horribly wrong and I've either gone down to the end of Venice pier and thrown it in the ocean, or consigned it to the Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, also known as the garage.

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