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Self Actuated Printing

One of the things that made me want to buy my Huxley was its ability to print without a computer attached. Of course it still needs a computer to start the print – but once it is printing it can be left alone to finish. I have just brought a kit from think3dprint3d that should change that completely. They produce a kit that will fit on the Sanguinololu and enable it for total autonomous printing.

See No Evil – Print No Evil

The first thing that is needed for self actuated printing is a display – obviously without that there is no way to see what you are choosing to print. The next thing is some way to interact with the system. In this case it is a rotary encoder and push switch combination. Lastly there is the SD card reader that I already have.

In the kit is the display, rotary encoder, two pots (one for LCD contrast the other for LCD backlight), one push switch for reset and connectors and wires. Not included in what I brought is the SD card reader as I already have that – although there is another kit which does include it. The only thing that you need to provide yourself is the case which is available on Thingiverse to print out.

As I final thing to check off on the list is that the firmware in the printer needs to be Marlin rather then the default Sprinter. Marlin cannot fit on the 644p that is supplied with the Sanguinololu so you will have to get a 1284p instead. Again, having tried to play with Marlin in the past I already have that chip.

Keeping It Up
Marlin is a great upgrade – I won’t go into all that it offers here but suffice to say that is much more advanced than the version of Sprinter supplied with Huxley.

You may have noticed that I said I had played with Marlin in the past. When I had originally tried Marlin it wouldn’t maintain the temperature of the hot end. Since I have put on V 1.0 RC2 it maintains the temperature perfectly – mostly within about 0.5C.


So on with the kit. Think3DPrint3D have  a great guide to deal with the construction of the machine so there is no real need to repeat it here – there is a link at the end of this post. One thing I did find confusing was the wiring diagram – its a little bit of a rats nest so I made a list of where all the pins come from and go to:

Sang Pin Function Panelolu
2 +12V N/C
3 GND LCD 1, LCD 5, LCD 16, CON6 6
4 5V LCD 2, CON2 1
5 A4 LCD 14
7 A3 LCD 13
8 TX1 CON6 1
9 A2 LCD 12
10 RX1 CON6 2
11 A1 LCD 11
12 SDA LCD 6
14 SCL CON6 3
15 N/C N/C
16 N/C N/C
18 !RST CON2 2
CON6 6 → LCD 3
CON6 5 → LCD 15

The kit contains all the you will need to make the panel with the exception of the case. However all is not lost there is a link to a case designed by them on Thingiverse – so if you have a RepRap that is of the triangular frame it should fit just fine. There is even a choice of left or right hanging.

The fiddly part of the kit is getting all of the sockets wired up. If you don’t have a   tool that can make a professional job of crimping the connectors then you will need to bodge it. I followed Nophead’s YouTube video.

Another thing in the instructions that isn’t clear is how long the wires need to be inside the case. They suggest that it is ‘at least’ 10cm. If – like me – you overestimate (by approx 5 cm in my case) you will have to try and squeeze in all the cables. This could lead to pinching one or more wires and potentially causing a headache sorting it out. I would say that you only really need to have the cables 10cm from the other side of the SD holder.

One of the great things of Marlin is that it supports directories on the SD card. If you plan to do a lot of printing away from a computer of the same items then it could be useful to sort the files in directories.

Finished display on the printer

The display in ‘Watch’ mode. Shows the current state of the printer.

But in the end

The kit went together well – if sometimes a little fiddly and the occasional cloudy instruction. It does what it says it will do and works really really well. I love that I can now just pick up my printer – take it where I want and print. All without the computer. Of course you still need a PC to slice the models, but the printing can now be totally autonomous.


Think3DPrint3D Website

Enclosure Thingiverse Page

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Simple Slicing with Slic3r

Can you get to print faster with Slic3r?image There is a general workflow I use for printing in 3D, you design your item, you slice it and finally print it. Originally it was the second step that would take the most time for me as I was using Skeinforge. That was the slicing software of choice for eMaker – and still is. It produces arguably the best prints out there at the moment. But it is slow – really slow.

Bytecode to native
Skeinforge is slow as it uses the Python scripting language. As I understand, Python uses the bytecode method to execute the scripts. This means the the code is translated and run in a virtual machine. It is the virtual machine that then runs the program. This is what slows down Skeinforge. So the new kid on the block is a program called Slic3r. This is programed using PERL and then compiled to run on Linux, Mac and Windows natively. As an example I sliced the model “Ducky Swimming” using Skeinforge and Slic3r. Skeinforge took 18 seconds to complete whereas Slic3r needed just 2.4 seconds – that’s 750% faster. Taking a more complicated model the “Babylon 5 – Starfury“. Slic3r was in at 38.97 seconds and Skeinforge was 8 mins 18secs.

It can safely be said that Slic3r is much faster the Skeinforge. Another advantage with Slic3r is it’s simplified interface. Skienforge as many plugins that means up to 180+ variables that could be entered many of which aren’t exactly clear as to what they do – although you don’t always need them all. Sli3cr on the other hand has about 60 and most have a clear simple English title.

Quantity over quality?
Does this speed come at a cost? Slic3r does a very good job overall with prints, even having some little tricks to reduce the blobs you get from printing in PLA. Another function of Slic3r is the ability to specify different print speeds for different parts of the print. So you can choose to have the outside shell printed slowly to get a good finish and the infill printed faster to reduce the print times.

Simple setup
image Once Slic3r is installed on you computer – and by installed I mean the ZIP file extracted to a location of your choice – you can run the program. A window will open and be filled with a standard compliment of settings. Before you load up your first STL there are 3 setting you need to check:

Nozzle Diameter
Filament Diameter
Filament Temperature

That’s it! You can now load up a STL file and get ready to print. Although that is the minimum you need to do, you may wish to look at other settings to help you produce better prints, my suggestions would be:

Layer Height (I normally run at 0.3mm for a 0.5mm nozzle)
(2 for most prints)
Solid Layers
(3 for 0.3mm layers, more for thinner layers)
Print Speeds
Travel Speeds
Start and End G-Codes

RepRap community member RichRap has written up on his blog a more in-depth look at Slic3r and its settings – link at the bottom of this post – it is excellent and well worth a read.

Now the bad news
Slic3r is very much under-development – as given by it’s 0.7.2b version number. There are some areas where it isn’t able to match Skeinforge. The most obvious one is when a STL has a thin wall. If an object has a wall of about 2-3mm Slic3r will only do the outside shell – when set with my 0.5mm nozzle – sometimes it will ignore walls altogether if they are less then about 1mm. I have got around this by reducing my nozzle size in Slic3r to 0.49mm and that seems to solve some of the problems. Neither does it have Skeinforge’s ease at switching to different profiles.

But in the end
For 95% of my prints I use Slic3r. It is fast and generally produces good quality. It isn’t perfect yet, but it is being developed and many of the issues get ironed out fairly quickly. Not bad for what seems to be a one man programming ‘team’!

But there’s more! (Update)
Since I wrote this Slic3r has been updated to 0.8.2. This has been a significant update that has seen the addition of a pattern plate to help print multiple objects as the same time. Another feature is to move the start position of each layer reducing the lumps on a side/corner up an object. Internal perimeters are now printed outside first to help with overhangs. There are a number of other changes which I will look at covering in another post.

Slic3r Website
RichRap Blog
eMaker Website

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Filament from Faberdashery

I have come onto the 3D printing scene late in the party. However one of the problems that seemed to befall most ‘fabbers’ was the availability of filament to print with. When I first got my machine finding the 1.75mm filament within the UK was not easy. Not long after I got my eMaker Huxley (I shall review that at a later date) a company called “Faberdashery” started.

New way of buying
image It seems traditionally you purchase the filament you need as a weight on a spool. Of course this has benefits, you can buy loads at a lower cost per unit. This is great if you are printing lots of items or larger products. If, like me, you only print a handful of items every now and then you can end up with tons of plastic sitting around. The problem with that is that unless it is stored carefully, it absorbs moisture from the air which can affect print quality – the moisture boils in the print head and causes the extrusion to pop and splutter.

Step in Faberdashery (FD). Two things set FD apart from most of the competition. Firstly you buy the material in 1 meter lengths or 100m coils. Second you have a massive choice of colours, which is always expanding.

Weight or length
So why would you want to buy your material by length? Most slicing software used to process 3D models ready for printing can report the amount of filament used. Knowing this will mean you can order from FD the exact amount you need to print. No more excess filament sitting around needing to be stored carefully. Not to mention you are only paying for what you actually need and use.

Print the rainbow
imageColours, we all have our favorite one (mines purple BTW!). FD has colours in the bucket load. From your expected white, grey and black, to the off white “Architect’s Stone” or the new “Pearly White”. But also other colours, red, blues, pink, yellow, orange, greens and many more. There are also metallic like grey and gold, and a glittery “Galaxy Blue”. What ever you are printing FD will most likely have a colour to go with it.

Another big thing to consider when purchasing filament is the quality of it. This can be summed up in two ways, diameter consistency and filament malleability. You need the diameter to be really consistent, otherwise it could jam in your printer – this is really important for those with a Bowden tube. The filament needs to be able to bend to a degree, it has to come off of the spool/reel, bend up round the printer and into the printing head. Some of the cheaper filaments are brittle and can snap – reports are that all is not lost, there are some reports that leaving it in a oven at a low temperature for a while can help that out.

To this day I have not had an issue with the products from FB. It will bend to your hearts content – within reason of course! Neither have I had it snap on me.

The price to pay
Of course all this choice, flexibility in purchasing and quality comes at a price – literally. Weight for weight FD’s filament is more expensive then most out there. You will have to weigh (sorry no pun intended!) that up against being able to purchase only what you need, in the colour you want and know that the filament will go through the machine.

But in the end
Should you buy from Faberdashery? Like many things in life, it really depends on what you are looking for. For larger items or bulk prints it may be worth looking at some of the cheaper options – although I believe FD do offer bulk purchasing so could be worth an email. For the rest of us printing out little bits-and-bobs FD offers a wide selection and choice of quantity all wrapped up in a consistent quality package.

Faberdashery Website
Faberdashery Twitter Feed

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