Latest Stories3D Printing
    Tested In-Depth: 3D Printing with Printrbot Simple Metal

    After building the Printrbot Simple Metal a month ago, Will takes it home to tweak and test its printing capabilities. We sit down to discuss the current state of home 3D printers, best practices for getting good prints, and several modifications and add-ons to make the Printrbot even better!

    Setting Up a 3D Print Server for the Printrbot Simple Metal Using Octopi

    Last week, I shared my experiences getting started with the Printrbot Simple Metal. Once I was happy with the quality of my prints I was getting, I wanted to try something a little different. I set up a print server for the printer, which would allow me to control and monitor it remotely, anywhere that I have power and a Wi-Fi network.

    OctoPrint provides a web interface for the printer that replaces Repetier. It lets me send gcode to the printer, adjust settings like temperature, zero the axes, heat up the print head, and change filament. It's free, open-source software, to boot. Instead of dedicating a PC or laptop to the print server, I wanted to use a Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi is a $30, credit-card sized PC that uses a SD card for storage and has an Ethernet port and a couple of USB ports. Rather than set up Linux and then configure Octoprint myself, I was able to use a pre-configured version of Linux designed to run on the Raspberry Pi that includes Octoprint called OctoPi. Clever, right?

    I also picked up a few accessories for the Raspberry Pi, including a USB Wi-Fi dongle (so my print server will work where I don't have Ethernet), and a Raspberry Pi Camera Module (so I can watch the prints when I'm far away). After looking at the power available from the printer's motherboard and deciding that it probably wouldn't be sufficient to run the Raspberry Pi, I scrounged up an old USB power brick to power the Pi and found an unused SDcard in the same drawer. I already had an older Raspberry Pi revA around, but even if I'd bought a newer Raspberry Pi revB, along with the camera, a longer cable for the camera, and the Wi-Fi dongle, it would have cost less than $70.

    MakerBot Mystery Build: A Fast One!

    Friday means it's time for another mystery object to be printed from our trusty 3D printer! This week, Will sets the MakerBot to build something that we actually need to use on a regular basis for Tested production. Place your best guess as to what it is in the comments below!

    3D-Printed Daft Punk Helmet and Ducati Bike

    Here are two really awesome 3D printing projects that were brought to my attention today. Noe from Adafruit sent over their latest DIY guide to making your own 3D printed Daft Punk-inspired helmet, equipped with LED lights. The helmet shell is actually one solid piece, which you can download from Thingiverse and scale to your head. Printed with translucent PLA, Adafruit chose the visor color for their filament, and painted the gold around the outside for the helmet frame. The visor can also be outfitted with LED light strips and a control board for programming animations. It's not exactly a sculpted and cast Volpin piece, but would be fun to try out!

    Sean also sent me a link to this mind-blowing 3D-printed Ducati motocycle, posted to Ultimaker's blog. Effects artist and 3D printing enthusiast Jacky Wan used photo references to create a 3D model of the bike, then broke it down into pieces with meshes optimized for printing. He ended up with 40 individual pieces, many of which were designed to print with minimal or no support structures and could snap together. Painted and assembled, the model is a gorgeous testament to the ability of modern FDM printers. More photos of the bike here, and all of the STL files are here. Now that would be an awesome project to build!

    Bits to Atoms: Building the Millenbaugh Motivator, Part 5

    After three months of work, the Millenbaugh Motivator has been completed and the parts have been delivered. As Adam has demonstrated before, finishing is extremely important and he immediately got to work on the Motivator parts in order to detail and finish it along with his Mecha-Hand for Comic-Con. There were some difficulties with the crankshaft due to tight tolerances and the addition of paint, but I’m working on a revised version for him to use later.

    Adam's painted Motivator.

    Now that I delivered everything to Adam and am back home, the only thing left to do is the finishing work on my own Motivator! And to be honest, this is the part that I’ve been kind of dreading. This goes way back to when I was a kid and built a lot of models. I would be super meticulous on all the details, get to the very end, and ruin the final paint job--every time. This has stuck with me and almost every time I work on a project, I get to the end and often peter out, leaving it unfinished for long stretches (or sometimes forever). In hindsight, I just didn’t have the right tools or know the right techniques for finishing work. I’d spray paint when it was too humid, too cold, too windy, too dirty, using crappy paint or my really bad airbrush setup. I had a subscription to Fine Scale Modeler magazine and would constantly try higher-level techniques before I understood the basics which almost always ended poorly. In the end, I just thought I was really bad at painting and finishing and it subconsciously kept me from finishing or even starting many projects. I still haven’t fully painted the Stormtrooper Blaster I made five years ago!

    My still unfinished Stormtrooper Blaster - weathering would really help.

    I decided to not screw around with the Motivator and just finish it, but I wasn’t sure how. On the trip to San Francisco, I’d hope to do some painting and finishing with Adam but we ran out of time. I did pick his brain about it and we tossed a few options around. Early on, while I was still building the Motivator, Adam was seriously considering metal plating the whole thing and asked me to look into it. I called just about every place in NYC and surrounding area and didn’t have much luck. Coating plastic, or electroplating, is done all the time--it requires the plastic to be coated in a conductive paint, which the metal plating will adhere to. It seemed like most of the places that do this work usually plate metal and they either didn’t do plastic at all or were reluctant to do so and they didn’t really want to do small jobs such as the Motivator. In the end, Adam decided to move on and figure out a different approach.

    3D Printing Material Mimics Balsa Wood Strengths

    "Materials scientists at Harvard University have created lightweight cellular composites via 3D printing. These fiber-reinforced epoxy composites mimic the structure and performance of balsa wood. Because the fiber fillers align along the printing direction, their local orientation can be exquisitely controlled. These 3D composites may be useful for wind turbine, automotive and aerospace applications, where high stiffness- and strength-to-weight ratios are needed." More info here. (Thanks, Sean)

    Getting Started With the Printrbot Simple Metal

    Norm and I kicked off July by building a 3D printer, the Printrbot Simple Metal It was the third printer we’ve built, and it was interesting building a printer with a metal frame, but once we got it assembled and did a couple of test prints, we didn’t have time to touch it for a month. I’ve spent much of the last week dialing in the printer, figuring out its nuances, and getting decent prints out of it. We’ll do a Tested In-Depth video with it at some point in the future, but in the meantime, here's what I've learned so far.

    First, in the time since we finished the build, the instructions for building the kit version of the Printrbot Simple Metal have been updated. The kit’s assembly instructions have been completely revamped, addressing many of the issues we had during the assembly. Along with good pictures, the newest version of the instructions provides written instructions for non-obvious steps.

    I love that the Printrbot makes it easy to make slight Z-axis calibration changes in software rather than hardware.

    The instructions for calibrating and making the first print are quite good, and I love that the Printrbot makes it easy to make slight Z-axis calibration changes—a common cause of bad prints—in software rather than hardware. It took two or three false starts, but we were able to print a fan shroud that was good enough to work in two or three tries. Because of the way this type of 3D printing works, it sometimes takes a few minutes for failures to become obvious. To give context, when we built our first printer, the original Makerbot Cupcake, it took almost a week of tweaking to get usable prints.

    Once you get past the first print, configuring the software gets a little hairy.

    MakerBot Mystery Build: Soft Boiled

    Will's back from vacation and that means it's time for another mystery build with our MakerBot Replicator. This week's build is something for typography nerds. Place your best guess as to what's being printed in the comments below!

    MIT Integrates 3D Printer and 3D Scanner To Print on Objects

    Many of the problems encountered while 3D printing are due to the fact that printers are actually pretty dumb. While the printer knows where the print head is at any given time, it knows nothing about the state of the print, which leads to some awesome failures. The folks at MIT have developed a printer that scans the print bed for objects, and can print on those objects. I'm hopeful we'll be able to use a similar method to print irregular-shaped objects without resorting to support material. (via Make and Sean Charlesworth)

    How To Mold and Cast Resin Copies of 3D-Printed Figures

    We do a lot of 3D printing at Tested, but it's a time-consuming process best used for prototyping, not mass production. To replicate our 3D prints, we invited Frank Ippolito up to Adam's shop to teach us how to make simple rubber molds and cast awesome resin copies. It's really not difficult to get started! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about memberships here!)

    Bits to Atoms: Building the Millenbaugh Motivator, Part 1

    I remember watching the first Hellboy Mecha-Hand video that Will shot with Adam, and was pumped for what was to come. I'm a Hellboy fan and this particular prop had all the elements I love: mystical, mechanical, intricate WWII-era tech with a killer look. If you told me that two years later I would play a part in finishing said project, I wouldn’t have believed it.

    It almost never happened since I wasn’t going to enter Adam’s Inventern competition. At the time, I was spending every extra moment 3D printing and assembling iris boxes and TARDIS kits for my booth at Maker Faire New York. And more importantly, I didn’t think I had much of a chance of winning. Thankfully, my wife suggested that I should really make an entry video. Strongly suggested. Repeatedly. I finally listened and the day before the deadline I stayed after work to make a video for my 3D printed Octopod.

    A few days later, I received a call from the guys at Tested, informing me, that I was one of the top ten entries selected to continue on--I absolutely could not believe it. Later that week we received the next challenge: make a 1:1 scale replica of a household item using only the materials sent to us. I eagerly awaited my box of stuff but it showed up later than expected, leaving me only a few days to complete the challenge. For those who didn’t catch it the first time around, the box consisted of: sheets of cardboard, Elmer’s glue, an X-ACTO knife, a black Sharpie, masking tape, a cutting matte, some classic Tested stickers and the top-of-the-line Droid phone. While waiting for my box, I decided to literally use everything in the box, meaning I needed a use for the phone. I figured my best bet was to duplicate my video camera, using the phone as the flip-out screen, the problem was that I had never built anything out of cardboard. Ever.

    MakerBot Mystery Build: You'll Never Guess

    Time for another mystery object to be printed by our MakerBot! This week, Will actually designed the piece for use in a special project, so it's extra difficult to guess. Place your best prediction as to what's being printed in the comments below!

    MakerBot Mystery Build: Typeset

    Just because we're at Comic-Con doesn't mean that our 3D printer gets a week off! It's time for another mystery build with our MakerBot, and this week's build is something for typography nerds. Place your best guess as to what's being printed in the comments below!

    How To Shop for a Home 3D Printer

    3D printing's popularity continues to grow and more people are taking the plunge into this new consumer technology. With Will and Norm having built a Printrbot Simple for us, I thought it would be a good time to talk about buying your own printer. There are a many choices out there and it can be a lot of confusing misinformation which overwhelms you. It's not possible to cover all the printers out there, so we'll cover the basics and things to consider when buying a printer and places to look for information.

    The Basics

    As a refresher, let's walk through the fundamentals of a typical home 3D printer. Most are going to be Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) machines that use plastic filament pushed through a heated extruder which 'draws' onto a print bed, layer by layer until the model is finished. Many machines print with Polylactic Acid (PLA), a biodegradable, non-toxic plastic that produces nice, but semi-brittle prints. The other common plastic is Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)--the same stuff LEGO is made from. ABS is a little trickier to print with and does produce some fumes but it's also more flexible and durable than PLA.

    A higher-end choice but still in the realm of home printers are some SLA (Stereolithography) and DLP (Digital Light Processing) machines which print with liquid resin which is cured with light. They produce highly detailed prints but tend to cost more for both the printer and materials and we'll cover those in a later article.

    MakerBot Mystery Build: New Studs

    It's time for this week's edition of Print the Mystery Object! This week's print is for a wearable accessory that's a twist on a familiar object. Place your best guess as to what's being printed in the comments!

    Tested Builds: $540 3D Printer, Part 5

    Our build of the Printrbot Simple 3D printer is finally complete! Time to calibrate it and set it up for a first print. Will and Norm go over the software, load up a model, cross fingers, and test the new printer! Thanks for joining us this week through our build, and hope you learned something about 3D printers along the way. (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us with memberships!)

    Tested Builds: $540 3D Printer, Part 4

    Our build of the PrintrBot Simple Metal 3D printer is almost complete! After some unexpected setbacks, we continue piecing together the Z-axis of the printer, attach all the components of the plastic extruder, and get all of our wiring done. It's really coming together! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us with memberships!)