Stumbling, learning to walk, but not walking yet..

I’m thirsty. I want a water-tight minimug from my RepRap so I can toast it’s success. But alas, I cannot. Yet.

I’ve been printing a lot, trying to get better. Progress comes and goes. There’s joy and disappointment. But the march continues.

Lots of pictures and video – as much as the huge post a few posts ago. Let’s start with how I got to even be printing in the first place.

Before the first minimug of the last post, I was waiting on a new higher-torque stepper motor to arrive. It arrived:

According to the Stepper Motor page that model stepper motor should have a 3/16″ diameter shaft (4.7625mm, which is smaller than 5mm), which was disappointing because I thought it might complicate cutting splines onto the shaft, but I went with it anyway. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the shaft was in fact 5mm:

Great.. So I went about cutting splines into the shaft, just as I’d done on the previous stepper motor, using the same rig.

Here is the old motor and the new motor side by side. Guess which has more torque?

Unfortunately, when I went to install the stepper motor, if I pushed it right up against the plastic for mounting, the part of the shaft that was splined was actually not quite in the center.. So plastic coming down through the hole in the top of the piece wouldn’t be lined up with the splines. In fact, this may have even been the case with the original stepper motor ( 😮 ), where perhaps only part of the splines were reaching the plastic. I still think the higher torque was required though, after seeing the rest of what I’ve gone through.

So I went about spacing the stepper motor away from the plastic with washers, which was not terribly fun. It would have been easier if I’d just removed the extruder piece from the carriage and held the whole thing sideways, but I didn’t want to have to worry about the trapped hex nuts falling out of their plastic spacings, so instead I spent way more energy worrying about dropping washers everywhere.

Anyway, I finally mounted it, and after a brief panic when it didn’t initially work, I soon got to this:

Successful powered extrusion! I can’t remember if it was the first try after that, or maybe one or two more, but then came JeffTry15 (my first minimug, from the last post).

Here was a video taken during that momentous print:

The quest for the water-tight minimug started there. Part of the quest is for tradition – I want to toast my successful printer with a thimble-sized shotglass that it itself made. Another part is functional – if I can’t print a minimug with enough precision to hold water, how can I print a functioning geared extruder to replace this one? That last sentence would have me wondering, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Here was minimug #2 (on the left), next to minimug #1 (on the right):

Here they are on another surface, swapped (#1 on left):

…and on another surface:

On minimug #2, you can see the bottom layer here because it was off, but not off enough to be outside the print.. The bottom layer is very thin, compared with the rest of the layers (and in PLA, it looks like the only layer that has any chance of being water tight).

There was promising set of preference fields in the RepRap host software that I thought would help in making a water-tight base, but they didn’t pan out (I’m all ears if someone has suggestions):

FoundationLayers – (The number of layers of material to put down under the object being built before building proper starts.)
Extruder0_ExtrusionFoundationWidth(mm) – The gap between the infill zig-zag pattern used to fill the interior of the foundations (if any).
Extruder0_ExtrusionLastFoundationWidth(mm) – same as above for last foundation layer only

When I tried setting FoundationLayers to 6, the RepRap repeatedly homed 6 times, each time moving up a bit, with basically empty layers (no “foundation” was printed). Then plastic extruded wouldn’t stick to the base, so I had to cancel that print (and the idea of using those fields).

At one point (probably later than this, I can’t remember) I tried using skeinforge again with tonokip’s mendel skeinforge settings, but without the “shield” behavior that the RepRap host software usually does, it didn’t manage to extrude the first layer well and I went back to the RepRap host software.

So anyway, after the 2nd print I was able to make my third minimug, which was probably the best one yet.. To make this I took the JeffTry15 file that made the first minimug, copied it, and by hand added four lines before the Layer1 comment:

G28 X0 ;set x 0 - added by JLK by hand
G28 Y0 ;set y 0 - added by JLK by hand
G28 X0 ;set x 0 - added by JLK by hand
G28 Y0 ;set y 0 - added by JLK by hand

This was necessary because after going to the dump location and purging, my Mendel was having some strange problem where it wouldn’t go to the correct X location. I can’t describe it – X travel usually works fine, but after this particular move, it would often (almost always, if not always) be wrong. So adding the above explicit home command (even twice for meaningless good measure!) fixed that problem.

I also put some tape over my Y opto endstop, on the theory that it was too reflective and that was screwing up Y-axis homing every once in a while. It did seem to fix it (I didn’t see that occur during the next print), but I have seen it miss Y again since then, so I’m not 100% sure.

Anyway, the explicit homing code added to the gcode file, plus the y-axis optoflag tape, yielded this – minimug #3:

Third minimug:

It still wasn’t water tight. The next two prints were horrible..

Fourth minimug:

The fifth was worse:

I filmed this next video lineup/diary right as the sixth was beginning to print (in the dump/purge phase):

This next video, which was filmed during the printing of minimug #6, is an example video I’ll probably use when trying to describe to someone what a RepRap is, what I’ve built, and what it looks like when printing (at least for now):

The resulting minimug #6 was indeed better than #4 or #5, but showed signs of burn PLA.. I need to start keeping track of each print with its temperature and settings, etc, like a scientist.. (well, I’m trying through these videos, but I can’t remember what the temperature was for that print):

(That tall L-shaped thing to the front-left of the cylinder in those pictures is the “shield” that the RepRap host prints out every layer, to ensure there’s plastic in the nozzle before printing)

Another lineup of mugs (mug-shots.. aaaahaha!! ha! ahhh… ha.. hmmrph.. cough… (crickets)):

After this many minimugs, I was itching to try printing something else, if not just to eliminate the possibility that maybe making a water-tight minimug out of PLA was tougher than creating solid usable parts for Wade’s extruder. So I tried printing nophead’s beefed up version of the idle bracket for Wade’s extruder. The result was not good:

I tried printing another one, which came out worse:

…and here they are, side by side, with the 2nd worse one on the left:

Back to minimug attempts, and ended up with a few like this that didn’t even get to be minimugs:

Another, larger, lineup:

And then, just to satisfy my curiosity about minimug #7, I taped the bottom and went to see if it could hold any water at all.. It was cool to try, because when it’s under water it’s almost invisible (just like when they dip plastic rods into water in a science museum exhibit to teach about light refraction):

Ok, maybe it wasn’t invisible, but it was cooler than I expected.. I forsee someone uploading a small water pistol to thingiverse (if that doesn’t run afoul of the general aversion to gun-related anything in the RepRap project, or any such feelings that might exist at thingiverse).

But I digress. Next I tried printing another piece of Wade’s extruder (since my first part went so well). I think it’s because when you’re in the middle of a run of failed attempts at something, there’s a desire to try something else, if not to just avoid the “insanity is trying the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results” trap.. Even though yeah, I was making parameter and temperature changes each time, so it wasn’t actually the same, it still felt the same at the end when you had a leaky minimug.

I tried printing the smaller of the two gears for Wade’s extruder (again, I went with a variation by nophead, this one having an area to slide an M3 nut into for a set screw.

I gave that one another try, and this time the latter print turned out better.. It’s still unusable, but at least this time it looks like a gear and you can see more than one tooth!

Undeterred by my lack of success (which should have pushed me back towards experimenting with different temperatures, remounting the extruder several times, and messing with print settings to get a perfect minimug), I decided to try something even crazier – see how far it would make it printing out a whole sheet of Mendel parts from one of the RFO files that ships with the RepRap Host software.. (ok maybe this one was just wanting to see what the UI looked like after I clicked the “Load RFO” button).. I loaded tray 1, removed the pieces that I absolutely didn’t need (the belt splitter jig pieces), and tried generating gcode (which took a while). Here was what the software showed me the build would look like:

But after printing what actually might have been an almost workable layer for the first piece or two, it lost any ability to extrude enough plastic (temperature problem? jam? who knows), and this was the result:

Yeah.. So, couple that with the fact that I knew I shouldn’t be wasting time on that yet because I wasn’t even there quality wise, and I headed back towards minimugs.. Except I didn’t actually get to making another mug yet (before the time of this post, anyway). I wanted to try something different, and one of the questions that had been nagging me was whether ANYONE had made a successful minimug out of PLA with the RepRap Host software.. (maybe everyone had been using ABS with skeinforge?).. So I decided I’d do what I’d told myself I didn’t want to do yet – try extruding ABS.

The problem was I didn’t want to get some PLA/ABS mix globbed up inside the extruder, but it’s not the end of the world if that happens, so I gave it a go (I’ve certainly printed enough ABS parts out on the Makerbot – that’s what most of my Mendel is made from!).

My first problem was what to print on.. On the Makerbot I’d found that double-sided tape on the acrylic bed worked ok.. I had some of it around, and despite my uneasy feeling about it, I tried putting it on the MDF bed:

I was able to extrude some ABS, although not a hell of a lot, so I shouldn’t have even tried printing but I did.. I guess I didn’t press down the tape well enough and it floated higher than the masking tape usually does, because this wonderful thing happened:

At least I have some scraps of ABS to remind myself that yes I’ve tried ABS on my Mendel:

That’s basically where I left it.. Next time I turn on my printer I either have to do more ABS experiments or flush the ABS out of the system to get back to PLA extrusion (which is always fun because of the temperature issues, etc). I’ve got this haunting feeling that time is creeping up on me, and that I’ll have to rebuild the heater barrel again someday (based only on my Makerbot experience, but that was usually after printing dozens of parts, so I’m hopefully nowhere near needing to do that yet). I can’t wait to get to the point where I’m printing out good usable solid pieces from PLA, like I did when I finally printed my extruder piece out of PLA back in December.

I’m tempted to ask people for advice (ok, screw tempted – feel free to submit advice in the comments!), but I shouldn’t need to – I’m my own source of advice! I’ve done this, with this very spool of PLA! The differences here are:

1) Obviously, it’s a different printer (Makerbot vs Mendel), with different quirks
1a) The extruder strength is different
1b) The extruder grip (gear vs splined shaft) is different
1c) The idler wheel spacing is different (known spacer bar for Makerbot, unknown for me)
1d) The idler wheel spacing will slip more over time here (fixed by other extruder pieces)
2) I’m using the RepRap Host software instead of skeinforge to do my slicing
3) I don’t have any idea which thermistor I’m using, so I haven’t changed firmware to reflect which thermistor I’m using, so the temperature numbers won’t necessarily be the same
4) Maybe moisture or age has affected the PLA (I doubt it, but it is a difference, and people have talked about it).

So, suggestions, stories of success/failure with others’ water-tight minimugs, etc are all welcome. While typing this I did a google image search on “minimug success” and one of the images was this beautiful minimug (looks like ABS) that Zach made back in 2008. I’m drooling. I wonder what size nozzle that was? Bigger?

That’s it for now!

8 Responses to “Stumbling, learning to walk, but not walking yet..”

  1. whosawhatsis says:

    I’m in the same boat. I’ve been using my y-bar clamp as a test piece, and while each one gets better (I can see through the upper holes in the most recent one!) I still have a long way to go before producing watertight parts. I’m watching here closely to see if you have any breakthroughs I can duplicate. Here is a lineup of my first six attempts:

    • jkeegan says:

      AHA!!!! I can’t verify it until late tomorrow night at earliest, but I think Tony Buser solved both of our problems a week ago! From the link you posted above, Tony posted about a problem with RepRap Host if you told it you only had one extruder. I’m 99.999% sure that that’s what at least my problem was, if not also yours.

      Here’s my understanding: When you first install the RepRap Host software, the Preferences window starts out with a “Globals” tab, “Extruder 0”, “Extruder 1”, and “Extruder 2”. Under “Globals” there is a choice NumberOfExtruders. I (and I’m guessing you) set this to 1, since we only have one physical extruder.

      Here’s the thing though: those tabs weren’t representing physical extruders.. They were representing extruder PROFILES.. Within an extruder profile’s preference tab there’s an address field (e.g. Extruder0_Address) that determines which PHYSICAL extruder it relates to. So you could have one extruder profile for PLA, and one for ABS, yet both map to the same physical extruder 0.

      So the next part is that the RepRap Host software lets you specify which extruder profile to use to do which part of the printing.. So I can have an extruder profile called PLA that says to do the perimeter with these settings, but print the INFILL (the cross-hatching in the center of the object) with this OTHER profile, which you specify by name..

      I’d noticed when my minimug prints that it printed a layer of bottom, then it’d do a few perimeter layers, then do another layer of bottom (which I thought was just a horrible slicing decision). But now I see what was happening – after that first ‘bottom’ layer, the next few perimeter layers were supposed to have infill as well, but I had my Extruder0_InFillMaterialType(name) parameter set to “PLA-infill”, which didn’t map to any known extruder (since NumberOfExtruders was only 1, and my first extruder’s Extruder0_MaterialType(name) field was set to “PLA”). So the infill was being ignored, and the center of the bottom part of my minimug was hollow (as were the walls, probably!).

      You can certainly see that above in the first picture of the computer screen showing an entire tray full of parts (the RFO file with the outline of a huge gear). That gear was HOLLOW – no infill.. That drove me crazy at the time, and now I know why!

      So here’s what to do (and what I’ll try soon):

      Verify that Extruder0_MaterialType(name) is “PLA”.
      Set Extruder0_InFillMaterialType(name) to “PLA” also.

      You can also safely set Extruder0_SupportMaterialType(name) to null, unless you want to try printing out support material below overhangs (but at that point it’s probably worth creating another extruder profile for that, named PLA-support, so it has different temperatures, properties, etc).

      I’m hoping that’s it! Now all I have to do is clear the ABS/PLA mix out of my extruder barrel (hopefully just by extruding for a long time) and make sure my stepper motor tension is as good as it was before I started mucking with stuff trying to find the answer for this.

      • jkeegan says:

        Confirmed.. Changing Extruder0_InFillMaterialType(name) to PLA (the same as Extruder0_MaterialType(name)) changed the gcode output for a minimug. Previously, layer 0 had interior, layers 1 2 and 3 were just perimeters, 4, 5, and maybe 6 (missed it) had interior, and layers about that were just perimeters. NOW, layers 0 1 2 3 4 and 5 (not sure about 6) had interior.. above that are just perimeters.

        I got this info by printing to a gcode file, with the “Pause at end of layer” and “Display paths” options checked. When I try viewing RepRap Host generated gcode with Pleasant3D, it doesn’t show me layer-by-layer info, for some reason.

        Now, to print it!

  2. nuttzy says:

    Hey, at least I can recognize what you are printing now!

  3. Jeff says:

    Now that you have a little more torque it looks like you are running a little hot. You can also adjust the extruder feed rate parameter in the 5D firmware to increase the amount of material that you extrude for a given distance. My system has communication errors that cause the print to randomly fail so my wall of shame is also fairly well populated.

  4. whosawhatsis says:

    I made a minimug that is watertight! Sort of… It held water until I broke the surface tension by getting the outside wet.

    To get it printing properly, I first rebuilt my hot end. It’s a nophead-style heater block heated by a power resistor. I switched from a horizontal to a vertical orientation, allowing greater thermal transfer to the barrel. I also switched to a makergear nozzle, which has a shorter narrow-bore length (less resistance to extrusion). I also had to re-hob the bolt in my Wade’s. This got the machine extruding beautifully. Too well, actually, as I had set the extrusion rate WAY too high because of the resistance I was getting.

    My platform adhesion has gotten a lot worse, for some reason, so even my successful parts are coming out with shields that look like the flying spaghetti monster, but it’s printing!!!

    • jkeegan says:

      You’ve been touched by His noodly appendage!!

      Excellent. I didn’t get time to try printing last night, nor this morning. It’ll either be late tonight or early tomorrow morning. Can’t wait!

  5. spline hobs says:

    I’ve got this haunting feeling that time is creeping up on me, and that I’ll have to rebuild the heater barrel again someday..

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