Clearing a Filament Jam on a Type A Series 1

single bolt

Neighbors take out the trash at 3AM, gregarious dogs hump your leg, and 3D printers jam. These are unfortunate but unavoidable facts of life.

I’ve invested in nighttime earplugs and my leg’s been celibate lately, but the other day the first ever maintenance issue with my shiny new Series 1 cropped up. Filament jam. Booooo.

The support section of the Type A Machines website is unfortunately silent on the subject of clearing a clogged nozzle. Scouring forum threads is seldom productive for me, so I grabbed a hex wrench and dove right in on the off chance that I might learn something without breaking something expensive.

The first thing I’ll do is check for obvious problems. Is there a blob of plastic blocking the nozzle? No. We’re good. Just to be on the safe side I’ll insert a pin into the nozzle’s opening and wiggle it around a little.

What about the hobbed gear? There is some powdered filament on there that can reduce the gear’s ability to grab the filament and push it into the extruder. I keep a small, stiff paintbrush around the 3D printers for just such an eventuality. Type A has made the gear very accessible, so it’s easy to clean. Ten points to Ravenclaw.

cruft

Neither of these easy fixes got me up and running again, so the next step is to take the extruder apart and see what’s jamming things up inside.

The extruder comes apart with a few turns of a single hex bolt in the middle of the extruder; ten more points to Ravenclaw for keeping things straightforward.

extruder open

Things are so simple here that any blockage should be obvious. The gray schmutz is probably thermal paste but definitely not melted plastic, and it’s not messing with the printer’s feed tube anyways.

This indicates that the clog is further down in the needle assembly. There’s really only one way to handle this short of replacing the needle and that’s to manually force whatever’s stuck in there through.

The extruder, unaware that it’s been vivisected, will happily heat up as normal with a few clicks from Octoprint. Set the target temperature to 300° and then use a long piece of thick wire to push the molten goop through the nozzle.

You’ll want a pair of pliers to hold that extruder block while you do this. A prehensile tail will be handy if you’d like to photograph the process and put it on your blog.

(My tail’s just a crusty little degenerate twin so no photos for you.)

unforeseen problem Big old warning: if you push too hard, you can accidentally force the needle through the extruder block when you do this. Turns out the needles are designed to be removed, but I didn’t know this when I began the process.

So, gentle pressure it is, with the extruder block held in a pair of pliers. You’ll get some zit-popping levels of satisfaction when the hot plastic plug finally bursts free through the nozzle.

Just to make sure there’s a free flow of filament, keep the needle at 300° and use a second pair of pliers to push a length of narrow gauge wire all the way through the needle and then work it back and forth. You’d be surprised what kind of crud you can floss out of one of these.

floss

Reassemble the extruder (one hex bolt. ONE!) and you’re back in business.

back in business

Series 1 Endurance Test

I’d been printing pieces of the Faire Play armor one at a time on my Replicator 1. A helmet here, a cuisse there, a few tassets there, all the while taking care to keep the bed level between prints. Start, stop, wait, reheat, repeat. I can usually manage printing a suit over the course of three or four days, with breaks for sleeping, eating, and doing enough paid work to keep the lights on. The suit’s got about 40 pieces give or take a few chain links, so it’s been a tedious process.

As promised in the last post, I threw the entire armor set at the new Series 1 to see what would happen. All the pieces of the armor, all in one go. I wasn’t expecting it to actually work.

Here, you’re looking at the results of a 36-hour print.

faireplay

Let that sink in for a bit. 36 HOURS. This printer ran for 36 hours, nonstop, in a residential setting and was quiet enough that everyone slept through the night. That’s huge right there.

I haven’t dialed in the print settings for this model yet– I’m still in the let’s-see-what-this-puppy-can-do-and-don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff stage of evaluating the printer.

So I’m seeing some stringing and a bit of crumblyness to this print, and the success wasn’t unqualified; one of the tassets did fall over and cause a cascading failure in one of the greaves.

These problems, though? Small beer. Tweaks.

You Say You Want Some Evolution: Type A Machines Series 1

Longtime readers of this blog will know that, except for a few dalliances with a Printrbot Simple Beta, I’ve been working with a MakerBot Replicator1 since, like, forever. Lately Zheng Labs has been ramping up for Kickstarter #2, and I realized I’d been spending more time tweaking an aging bot than designing and iterating prints. So I did the research, made some calls, bit the bullet, got my ducks in a row, and finally purchased a 2014 Series 1 printer from Type A Machines.

series 1

Photo credit: Type A Machines.

Let’s be completely fair in this comparison– I’m juxtaposing a 2012 vintage machine made of plywood and hobby motors with a sleek new 2014 acrylic and steel bucket o’ hotness. It’s not a fair comparison by any stretch, but if nothing else it’ll help show how far prosumer 3D printing has come in the last two years.

We’re in the late Carboniferous here, folks. If MakerBot Industries got us out of the primordial soup and onto dry land, TypeA Machines has us fornicating in the ferns and laying hard-shelled eggs.

There’s still a long way to go before we fly, but boy howdy have we made some big leaps since 2012.

This particular Rep1 has 957 documented hours of printing, not including the gods-know-how-many-hours I printed before the original Mightyboard melted a year ago. It’s been through a few nozzle replacements and an extruder upgrade during that time.

I haven’t even owned the Series 1 for 957 hours. How’s it going to hold up over time? Same? Different? Better? Worse? Who knows. But let’s dive in for a first look.

side by side

Cost Comparison

A Replicator1 in inflation-adjusted 2012 dollars is $2,208.09 in 2014. The TypeA machines 2014 Series 1 is $2,749.00 today. That $500 difference quickly evaporates when one considers that (time==money), and every minute you’re not spending with a jammed extruder is a minute you could be working on the Next Big Thing.

The Unboxening

The Series 1 arrived at Zheng Labs in a fracking HUGE box, 24″ on a side. It’s well protected in some serious closed-cell foam and includes a bunch of accessories and tchotckes including, but not limited to, a cute little print removal spatula and an Elmers’ glue stick. More on the glue stick later.

Assembly ain’t rocket science; all you’re doing is attaching a couple of acrylic panels to the sides of the machine for aestheics and ventilation. You’ll need less than 10 minutes and the included hex wrench. Note: assembly time may be reduced by temporarily removing all cats from the work area.

inspector

Setup

Once the printer’s all put together the next step is getting it to talk to your other devices. Type A Machines helpfully includes a short cat-5 cable for this purpose.

Plug in the ethernet cable, turn the printer on, and then connect to the printer using your browser of choice. Lo and behold, it works after some fiddling. Expect to spend about ten minutes doing this the first time, especially if you’re an impatient type who power-cycles any electronics that don’t respond within seconds. (guilty, as charged.) The fine print on the Quick Start guide clearly says the Series 1 might need five minutes to recombobulate after a network change.

Initially I had some trouble connecting to the printer over the network, but those problems went away after I ssh’d to the printer once. Coincidence? Who knows. Connections are working flawlessly now and have been for days.

Once the printer’s connected it’s controlled with Octoprint, a web-based interface for 3D printing.

Pre-print prep

The bed-leveling bugbear haunted my experience with the Replicator1 for years. If you don’t get your print bed leveled properly, your print doesn’t stick and you’re left holding a frustrating bag of fail. Over time I’ve gotten super-proficient at getting the Rep1 level, but it’s a tedious process. Sometimes it takes five or ten minutes to get it right.

Not so with the Series 1. You home the Z axis from Octoprint and then turn ONE KNOB. That’s it. Leveling takes less than a minute and you’re ready to go.

bff

This. This knob. This knob is my new BFF.

BONUS: The Series 1 has wifi! I prised the iPad from the kids’ grimy hands and repurposed it as a printer control device. It’s fun to stand in front of the machine like a manager with a clipboard. It’s also easier than running to and fro across the room to my desktop machine to control the print head.

ipad

I’ve since started using an iPhone to control the printer, because it’s easier to hold up one-handed while I’m leveling the bed.

wish_list.append('mobile CSS for Octoprint')

Print controls are clear and straightforward; upload gCode to the printer and hit print. The printer’s got about 5GB of free space on it, so you’ll be able to store all kinds of models right on the machine.

On generating gCode: you’ll need to download Cura for TypeA Machines to slice your models. More on that software in another post.

wish_list.append('Cura for iOS')

First Print

You’ve got two options for getting your prints to adhere to the build platform; painters’ tape or a glue stick. Let’s try the glue stick because it’s NEW! and DIFFERENT! At least to me it is.

No special skills required, just rub down the print area with the (included) glue stick and wait for the glue to dry. One could cover the entire bed with glue, but in the interest of Yankee frugality I just painted the center of the platform.

I’m using my preferred PLA for this print.

Wait five or ten minutes for the glue to dry and then hit print. Rep1 users will be familiar with the happy burble and kachunkachunks of a hobbyist bot. The Series 1 sounds completely different; it whirrs all sleek-like while it homes, like the opening few seconds of a Front 242 riff.

(Front 242 is Daft Punk for old people, kids.)

Ten minutes later we’ve got ourselves a Seej pennon.

flag

Note that this flag prints in pieces– I’ve yet to find an FDM printer that will handle that 90° overhang.

After a couple of prints with a glue stick the print bed starts looking like eczema. The rash wipes off with a damp rag and then you’re back to a pristine surface.

eczema

Print #2
Let’s use the go-to challenge print, the Beast Token. It’s got lots of fine details and almost-impossible overhangs, so let’s see what the Series 1 can do with it, this time on painter’s tape at at .06mm layer height.

I’ll be honest though, putting painters’ tape on a printer this pretty feels like slapping a bumper sticker on a Bentley.

beast token typeA

Niiiiiiiice. The .06mm layer height brings out the details in this model. You can see a little bit of stringing here and there, but I suspect that’s a slicing issue. Not a bad job handling the forked tail, either.

These small prints worked out well so I ran the printer on a gargantuan 22-hour print job. I’ll have to keep my cards close to vest here with regard to content except to say that the print succeeded and I’m thrilled with the results. The final technical hurdle in Zheng3 Kickstarter #2 has been cleared by the Series 1.

Downsides to the Series 1

In all, the Series 1 is a great printer, so I’ve really had to scrutinize my arm fur to pick enough nits for this part of the post. Here they are.

No heated bed. Yet. I’ll lemonade this lemon; printing with ABS isn’t really my bag anymore. I’ve never cared for the odors and I’m not printing parts that require strength, so printing in PLA only is OK.

Mitigating factor: Type A Machines was kind enough to include a roll of ProtoPasta’s High-Carbon PLA in the box for those who’d like a little more oomph in their prints. I’ll evaluate this stuff in a later post.

Also: Cura For Series 1 doesn’t run on OSX 10.6.8 and likely never will due to Apple’s discontinuing support for the 10.6.8 SDK. Sooner or later I’ll move out of my mud-walled yurt and upgrade my main workstation to a modern OS, but for now I just need to slice on one of the 37 other computing devices at Zheng Labs. On the upside I’m getting some cardio by running up and down the stairs a few times a day.

Mitigating factor: Type A Machines’ support has been friendly, prompt, and well, supportive about my admittedly edge case OS conundrum.

In Conclusion:

I’ve thrown all kinds of prints at the Series 1, trying to get it to fail. So far, it’s been very reliable.

Everyday prints (Seej bloxen, catapults, and the like) come off the print bed every time, with no mid-print failures, filament jams, or PLA ramen clouds.

Finally! This morning I had a filament break below the drive gear where one can’t grab it with a pair if pliers. Normally I’d take apart the extruder, clear the jam, and then reassemble. That’s easily a 15 minute job on a Rep1 that throws everything out of calibration.

Series 1? Just feed more filament into the extruder. It’s back online in less than a minute.

Later today I’m going to throw an entire Faire Play armor set at the printer, all at once, just to see how the machine handles it.

As always, #staytuned, my friends. Exciting ride ahead.

Newest Way To Fail

Wow. Totally didn’t see this one coming.

So I’ve been furiously prototyping models for Kickstarter #2. The keystone model for this next project is what we in the business call a giant-ass bucket of geometry. The gCode works out to something like 90MB (!) of data.

Models like this take forever to print, so rather than try to maintain a USB connection between the computer and the printer it’s generally best to print stuff like this from an SD card. A little interruption like a monitor going to sleep can kill the USB if one isn’t careful, and then you’ve got yourself a half-finished print.

The model started printing at 9AM yesterday after some very careful calibration and painters’ tape finessing, and everything was going great until about 2:30AM today, when I came downstairs to find this:

glitch

Mother pus bucket.

I’ve never seen this before, so to teh Googles we go. Turns out, at least in the opinion of some electrical engineers, the Replicator1’s Mightyboard generates a lot of electrical interference can cause the bot to fail over long prints.

Live and learn, back to the drawing board, and a host of other try-try-again platitudes must suffice to get me through the day.

Appleton Maker Fest

Appleton, Wisconsin is the nicest little city you’ve never heard of. Along with low crime rates and a thriving local music scene, it’s home to Lawrence University, a Harry Houdini museum with an interactive straightjacket exhibit, and the first Edison hydroelectric plant in the United States. Last weekend the Appleton Maker Space hosted their first Maker Fest.

makerfest

The Appleton Maker Space is tucked back in a mostly-underutilized commercial space off the west end of Appleton’s main drag, just the kind of location where you’d expect a hackerspace to be gestating.

Bonus: AMS is right across the street from some of the finest deep-dish pizza in town.*

Pizza wasn’t needed this day because, being that this is Wisconsin, the Appleton Maker Space provided a bratwurst concession for peckish attendees.

Our coastal and international readers should be aware that no event in Wisconsin can be held without at least thirty pounds of bratwurst in attendance. Pretty sure it’s in the state constitution.

The space was packed with dedicated Makers– I’ll leave it to their website to point out all the cool hardware they’ve got over there. Here’s one corner of the event, complete with the obligatory LAN party of kids playing Minecraft.

makerspace

Amid the chaos one usually associates with a makerspace’s being open to the chaos, someone was personalizing a banana for a younger attendee by etching her name into the skin. Of all the projects I’ve ever envisoned for a laser cutter, this’d be about the last one I’d ever come up with. Fantastic idea. I’d totally personalize all my bananas if we had a laser cutter at Zheng Labs.

banana

Show and tell time arrived and the assembled crowd asked for an “ominous puffy doll” to be modeled and printed on one of the RepRaps. I already had the laptop out so I fired up Maya and made this little guy. Concept to execution in ten minutes.

first pass

Later on I buffed out some of the stray vertices and cut a hole in the back so that Ominous Puffy can stick to your fridge with the addition of a neodymium magnet.

ominous puffy

You can download Ominous Puffy from his page in The Forge.

Heads up, badgers. I’ll be blogging, tweeting, and instagramming the ever-living snot out of Maker Faire Milwaukee in a couple of weeks, so if you’d like to meet up IRL and geek out over filament diameters drop me a line.

* deep dish isn’t pizza. New York style is pizza. Bring it, haters.

B-(A+C): Booleans and We The Builders

3D printing luminary Todd Blatt is of late heading up his second bit of crowdsourced Americana with his We The Builders project, Ben Franklinstein.

I missed out on the first pass at this with George Crowdsourcington, and since Todd overtipped our server for his share of Korean Barbecue the last time we met IRL, jumping in to help out with Ben Franklinstein seemed like The Right Thing To Do.

Here’s how this works. Everyone who wants to be involved downloads a piece of a scanned Ben Franklin bust. We print it, scrawl the piece’s coordinates on an inward-facing side, and ship it to Todd and others who assemble all the pieces somewhere in Baltimore.

The result’s a nifty pastiche of plastics in the form of a Founder. A quilt of quadrilaterals, if you will. Here’s what George Crowdsourcington looks like, all assembled.

I’ve printed two blocks for the latest project. My gold block is plain Jane, but I decided to do a little shenmeshenme on the blue one.

blocks

The first order of business was carving out a hollow inside the block. One’s first thought is to make a perfectly cubical void, but that’ll cause the roof to sag when printed on an FDM printer. So a peaked void it is, tapering to a single vertex at the top.

cut

Maya models surfaces, not solids, so subtracting the void (A) from the main geometry (B) isn’t a valid operation; B minus A equals B in this case. Printing B will get you a solid block, which is not what We The Builders want in this case.

The solution is to model a thin snorkel (C) connecting the void to the outside. This snorkel is mathematically legit, but too small for the printer’s resolution. The end result will be a printable void with no visible snorkel. We’re doing B-(A+C) here. Woo! Booleans.

You can grab the model here if you’d like to inspect this snorkel for your own mean self.

Midway through the print we do the old pause-the-print-and-drop-an-object-in-the-void trick, in this case a golden zheng. You can’t see the zheng from the outside of the printed model, but it does rattle a bit.

zheng

And then it’s a simple matter of finishing the print, boxing it up, and shipping it off to Todd and company.

The crowdsourcing phase of We the Builders is scheduled to wrap up in mid-September, and they’ve still got a few blocks to go. It’s free and a lot of fun, so go ahead and add your 3D printed stamp to this creative endeavor.

Faire Play Recurve Bow Now on Shapeways!

Here it is, folks! I’ve redesigned the Faire Play recurve bow so that people without access to 3D printers can get one on Shapeways.

Just click here and Shapeways will happily print you a bow and quiver on one of their industrial-sized dream-making machines.

shapeways bow

shapeways quiver

In her youth, Barbara Millicent Roberts (“Barbie” to the world at large) passed through a phase where she adorned her handwritten i’s with a little heart instead of a dot. By the time she completed astronaut training she had outgrown such frippery, and besides it caused too much consternation among the top brass and crew-cut stiffs at Mission Control.

She retained a secret, unprofessional fondness for the motif, and every now and then, when she wasn’t vaccinating pets, transplanting hearts, or busting perps in back alleys, she’d sketch a heart or two on a cocktail napkin and wonder how her life would have been different if she’d remained a hearter of i’s.

just bow and quiver