While current designs are limited to the Cube’s small footprint, that’s not to say it hasn’t been useful. A recent highlight of the use of 3D printing here on campus is an 8th grader who, in his creation of an underwater submarine during the DEEP project, used TinkerCAD to model the fins he needed for stability and maneuvering. It took him all of 30 minutes to get the flavor of TinkerCAD, design his pieces to integrate with his servo motors, and request to use the Cube. His first prints came out beautifully, and are already embedded into his project. (If you decide to read into the DEEP project link above, look for the sub with the red triangular fins from 2014.)
One major benefit of the Cube, its plug & play nature, is also its shortcoming as a teaching tool. So much is done for you that there is less control and viewing of the finer aspects of printing an object. On the positive side, its healing tool will automatically correct for errors in design, but on the flip side, you can’t control the temperature of the hot end, set the print resolution, or view the details of the print process as you might in Slic3r and GCode. For these reasons, among others, I decided to build my own 3D printer.
Now, when I say "build my own 3D printer", please don't picture me designing it from scratch, ordering all of the parts separately, or laser cutting the frame. While I have the physical tools to do so, my knowledge level is not that high. Rather, I purchased a Printrbot Simple Maker's kit from Amazon. At less than a third of the cost of a Cube, I couldn't resist. The opportunity to build a 3D printer for $350 would allow me to dive in and make mistakes without too much damage to my pocketbook.
Though this kit comes with just about everything necessary for printing, there is still quite a learning curve. There's more nuance in building a 3D printer than assembling, for example, the model airplanes of my childhood. I can equate it most to my days building computers from parts purchased at the Pomona Computer Fair in the mid-1990s, finding that perfect chassis, adding the motherboard, RAM, video card, floppy and hard drive. I was intrigued then about the wonders of building my own computer, and I feel the same today about this new field.
The entire build took approximately 6 hours of uninterrupted time on a Saturday, and another three hours calibrating the following day. Documentation from Printrbot is ok, but I needed to dig deeper when it came time to calibrate the X, Y, and Z axes and the extruder. Through the build I've learned a tremendous amount about the actual mechanics of the print process, as well as the interaction between the hardware and software. I went with the suggested Repetier software, which integrates Slic3r and outputs GCode. You can view the Picasa web album of photos below for more details on the build. I have also included other online resources I found helpful during the process.
Printrbot Getting Started Guide - Official guide from Printrbot
Josh Marinacci's Printrbot Simple Getting Started Guide - I found this guide tremendously helpful for Slic3r set up and calibration of the X, Y and Z axes.
Slic3r Printing Tips - I used this guide to create different settings in Slic3r, for solid versus hollow prints.
Printrbot Talk Forum - This forum was helpful for reading how others were experiencing and working through all kinds of issues ranging from set up, configuration, printing, software and more.
Printrbot Simple Build - My Picasa web album of the build process