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My Experience with a DIY 3D Printer (RepRap Prusa i3 Rework)

i3.jpeg 3D Printing has become much more mainstream thanks to the open source project: RepRap. Their fantastic research and design allows for economical rapid prototyping as well as the ability to print itself parts for another printer! This ingenious idea sparked the idea of Self-Replicating machines within the community and ever since then, members have created their own designs for 3D Printers. Among of the many designs are the RepRap Mendel series, which was the first of it’s kind. There a many Do-It-Yourself kits online that can even go as low as for 300$, with many people recommending to build your own. This is exactly what I’ve decided to do back in 2015 when I bought Replikeo’s Prusa i3 3D Printer Kit. For a low price of 300$, compared to the Lulzbot’s Mini printer at a whopping price of 1,250$, had a larger build volume and the gift of being able to assemble your own printer! (however, whether or not that is a gain is up to you)

In this article, I will explain my personal experience with this particular kit and 3D Printing in general.

The Kit

Replikeo’s website can be found over at http://www.replikeo.com/en. They currently have three different kits, one of which is the same one I have but with a dual extruder setup. The difference being is that you can load another filament into the other extruder to have that print side by side with the main extruder. The Ormerod 2 - 3D Printer Full Kit is based of a simpler design than the Prusa i3 while having the same specifications. The kit we’re going to be talking about here is the Prusa i3 - 3D Printer Full Kit with the 6mm Aluminum Frame upgrade, 1.75mm filament for increased accuracy and 0.4mm Nozzle diameter. The filament type is ultimately depends what you want to print out, however PLA is far easier to print than ABS so this is recommended for if you have never done anything with 3D printing before. I’ll also make sure to go over key terms so that you’re not loss.

Terminology

  • DIY Kits are unassembled pieces of that make up a 3D printer. They are uncalibrated, made up of many pieces and can be a great challenge to anyone who isn’t use to Do-It-Yourself. This is exactly the kind of kit this article is conveying
  • Fused Deposit Modeling is a technique used very commonly in 3D Printing that basically describes the process of laying down material layer by layer, building it’s way up to ‘replicate’ the object.
  • Filament is the thermoplastics used for 3D Printing, and is ultimately the material that is made up of object.
  • Extruder is the actual hotend that feeds in and melts the filament in order to create the object.
  • Hot End is the component that melts the actual filament, do note that this can go up to 280 Celsius sometimes so touching it at all when the printer is active is a BAD IDEA!!!
  • Nozzle of the Hot End is where the plastic finally gets ejected out. The smaller the diameter of the nozzle, the more precision the finished product will have but at a slower speed. The larger the diameter of the nozzle, the less precision the finished product will have but at a faster speed.
  • Print Area are the dimensions the 3D Printer can print up to
  • Heated Bed is the build plate having a heater which can prevent warping. it’s necessary for printing ABS and HIPS filaments
  • PLA is a biodegradable thermoplastic made from renewable products like cornstarch and sugar
  • ABS is a thermoplastic known to be one of the hardest to print with, but provides as a very durable material. This is the same material Lego bricks are made with
  • HIPS is a thermoplastic that is easier to print with than ABS, and still retains the same amount of durability. This is not as popular as the other two, however is recommended for beginners

Tools Needed

Even if you weren’t investing time and resources into a DIY kit, you would still need tools to maintain the 3D Printer. They will add up quickly, but it’s necessary to have them. I will list tools needed for building and eventually maintaining a 3D Printer here:

  • Calipers are needed to make very accurate and precise measurements. Digital Calipers are preferred here to make things a lot faster but vernacular will do
  • Adjustable Wrench are needed to tighten down nuts and bolts
  • Screwdriver set of varying sizes, both Phillips and Flathead. An electric screwdriver with replaceable bits will make things incredibly efficient, but overkill for certain steps
  • Super-Lube Oil PTFE Filled is absolutely a must for any machine with moving mechanical parts. This brand is perfect for the application but others may be just as good or better
  • Unwanted Rags or Cloth which will be used to clean surfaces or apply lube
  • Tweezers mainly to clean plastic off of a hotend… Best not to have you fingers near a piece of metal heated at 240 celsius
  • Isopropyl Alcohol of at least 90% is used to clean the print surface
  • Elmer’s Glue Stic Disappearing Purple to prepare the build surface for printing
  • Blue Painter’s Tape

Usually, DIY kits tend to have all the parts and modules already soldered and assembled so that all you would have to do is just simply put them into place, however there may come to a point where you would have to attempt repairs of your own or they just simply aren’t soldered. This is the point where you can contact the manufacturer for a replacement, or grab a soldering iron and make repairs. Any radio shack soldering iron would do fine along with some 60/40 Solder and a Desoldering Braid would do perfectly fine ($20-$30 worth of tools). There are other tools you can use to touch up

My Experience

Because Replikeo is shipping from Hong Kong, do expect a 30 day shipping time. They do ship on the same day of the order however, so anyone who has ordered anything from China should be used to this wait time. There are other shipping methods to shorten the time, but is very expensive and do costs a great fraction of the printer itself. Considering how this is a DIY kit in of itself, patience is indeed a virtue. You will be spending quite a bit of time on this, not just assembling the printer but also calibrating, queuing up prints and the actual print itself. I know for a fact that I spent a great deal of time doing this myself. The assembly took a few days, half of it reading up on the assembly process.

The documentation can be found here over at RepRap’s official website. When I received my kit, to my surprised the plastic parts (carriage, idlers and ends) were actually plastic injection molded, not 3D printed. This is for the better as quality is far more consistent that way, however I cannot be certain they have switched over to 3D Printed parts. Lulzbot’s Taz and Mini for a fact do include 3D Printed parts, and they are very high quality parts. The package they came in is professionally well done. I ordered the kit from Replikeo when it was very new and they do know what they’re doing. All the Electronics was contained in it’s own Anti-ESD bag, delicate parts completely isolated from the 6mm Aluminum frame. Nuts, screws and tiny tidbits were all packaged inside it’s own plastic bag, for you to open when necessary. My only problem with them is that they’re not labeled, however using the process of elimination you can determine what they are. Calipers with a good precision work well here.

The electronics are all assembled and pre-soldered, good news for any of you that don’t work with electronics too often. The microcontroller is an Arduino Mega 2560, I’m not sure whether or not you’ll receive a genuine one, but it doesn’t make too much of a different so long as it’s a replica. The Motor Controller is actually a shield that goes on top of the Arduino, and include Screw Terminals for the Power Supply, Hotend, Heatbed and the Extruder Fan. The main purpose of the Extruder fan is to cool down the Extruder neck (the bit connecting to the Extruder’s body).

There are plenty of theories to put into practice in the world of 3D Printing which is why it’s important to be involved within the community. The RepRap community is by far one of the best DIY and Engineering communities with Hobbyist banding together, helping each other and documenting everything they have learned with every step of the way. That’s why I implore you to please documenting your build and results, so that anyone may learn from you as much as you can learn from them!

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do take your time
  • Do be careful, especially when working with delicate electronics
  • Do learn how to use tools properly
  • Do invest a good amount into your budget
  • Don’t stray away too far from the instructions. This is a little tricky as instructions might not change with different revisions of a printer using different parts
  • Don’t make permanent changes that won’t allow you to dismantle your printer. It’s designed so that you are able to fit in upgrades and reuse parts for an entirely new printer which is part of the fun

Building The Printer

The overall build of the printer isn’t done on one chassis, but rather different modules that makes up the machine. The Y axis is actually a carriage that fits onto a frame, in which supports the Z Axis which holds the X Axis. Know that we are using XZY rather than XYZ when talking about coordinate points. When building different modules, keep the big picture in mind as you work your way up to it. This gives you an idea of what each individual module should look like as you assemble each one. Before you utilize any of the Steel or Threaded rods, to lubricate them. You can do this by applying a drop onto a rag or a cloth, then twisting the rod along with that spot in the rag. Reapply occasionally as you work your way until it’s entirety of lubricated.

The last step in terms of assembling the printer should be the wiring. Essentially, the printer is ran off of a Atmel microcontroller, probably a Arduino Mega 2560 with an on board expansion called a Shield. The shield is called RAMPS and it allows for the following features:

  • Ability to have Dual Extruders
  • Cooling Fan
  • Heatbed
  • Replaceable Motor Controllers via modules
  • Reset Switch

There are different firmwares you can use to control your 3D Printer with. Each one is suitable for different applications, but the most commonly used is Marlin. This includes features such as:

  • PID Auto Tuning Support
  • Absolute and Relative positioning
  • SD Card Support
  • Flexible Endstop Support
  • Automatic Bed Leveling
  • Supports up to 4 Extruders

For our kit, we’re proud to say that we can utilize the Heat Bed and the Cooling Fan. With the entirety assembled, start inserting the 4 Motor Controller modules into the RAMPS Board. Then, hook up the Stepper Motors to the corresponding directions. There are two Z Stepper Motors and they are wired in parallel, best to make sure they’re wired the right way. Each motor controller have a phillips head potentiometer you can adjust. Turning this clockwise increases the current to the motor. It’s advised to have this on the lowest possible (so where it doesn’t move), then as the motor is moving turn it clockwise in 1/16 of an inch until it does. The last and final steps should be installing Marlin into the Arduino. You will need Arduino Drivers which comes with the latest installation of the IDE at their official site. Once you plug in the Arduino into your host computer, it should detect it right away. Open up the Marlin.pde file inside the Firmware’s folder available at Github into Arduino as a new project. Flash this to your Mega 2560 board.

The program Pronterface and Slic3r will be needed for the printing. Pronterface controls the 3D Printer in a GUI environment and Slic3r allows us to parse .stl files into a collection of GCode macros which are instructions for the printer. Inside Pronterface, we will need to run a PID Autotune. This is so that the Extruder and Heat Bed are constantly hitting their mark and won’t stray off too far. Note that this is useless if you have an excessive amount of moving air inside the room. After you’re done the Autotune, home into the Z Axis and make sure that the flat end of the Hotend’s nozzle is flush with the surface of the build plate. You should be able to wedge a piece of paper between the plat and the nozzle if you bring it up 0.3mm.

Overall, my experience with the Prusa i3 Rework has been great. I’ve been able to get high quality and successful prints out of the JHead and far superior results with the E3D-V6. I would highly recommend this printer if you’re looking for a challenge and a cost effective printer.

engineering electrical_engineering open_source


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