Category Archives: troubleshooting

Plutarch’s Debut is Nigh

workbench

Plutarch 1.0 is scheduled to make his party debut two days hence at J’s Halloween 2016 bash. The active duration of the party is roughly four hours. Here are my goals for Plutarch 1.0 during that time:

  • he must not fall off my shoulder
  • his head must remain attached to his body

Spontaneous decapitation has been a serious issue for this bird. His good-enough-for-prototyping attachment system might not be ready for primetime. We’ll see.

Whether his electronics work for the frightful fiesta’s duration is almost secondary.

While I celebrate the success of Plutarch 1.0’s ahead of schedule completion, I’m excited to get his successor out of the prototyping stage.

Here’s what Plutarch 2.0 looks like as of Halloween 2016. Keep in mind his deadline is 368 days in the future:

p2point0

He’s a discombobulated mess. But he’s much improved over his predecessor:

  • got 3D printed bevel gears working
  • added avoicebox with categorized, individually addressable sound calls
  • wrote a Maya-to-Arduino animation translator for the jaw movement
  • wrote a file processor that handles the WTV020SD-16P’s wonky-ass file format
  • amplified Plutarch’s speaker so he can be heard over party din
  • made a 3D printed chassis that’s modular and easy to assemble/disassemble
  • added multiple microphone inputs so that he can turn toward the loudest sound in the room
  • replaced soldered joints with connectors

Plutarch’s jaw opens and closes in sync with his sound calls. He’s got reliable, if shaky, 3-axis head movement. All of these systems mostly work, at least in isolation.

I just have to put everything together into a single, functional organism, at which point I can start working on the final challenge: his animation decision trees. Plutarch 2.0’s almost there and I’ve learned a tremendous amount about electronics and robotics over the last few months.

Unfortunately, I’ve just run into a couple of walls.

too many wires

Too many wires. Not enough space inside the body cavity for Plutarch’s y-axis servo to rotate freely. Voltage mismatch between the Pro Trinket and the voicebox and no room to cram a regulator in there.

Working in this cramped space is difficult (especially with a splinted pinky), and the microcontroller’s going to have to move to a more accessible spot. The 90° connections between Plutarch’s control wires and the microcontroller are eating up way too much servo rotation room.

Complexity could be conserved by tying a couple of grounds together. Connections could be used with higher-gauge wire. Options exist, but we’re gonna need a hogshead of brain juice over the next few weeks to figure all this out. And cash. Cold, hard cash.

It pains me to buy a $13 part to fix a problem I might have forseen but when one considers that $13 is an average morning at Starbucks for some folks, the bad feels wither away. Also I take comfort in the fact that I really have no idea what I’m doing so expectations really shouldn’t be that high in the first place.

A year remains before Plutarch 2.0’s unveiling. Still much to learn.

Make: 2015 Digital Fabrication Shootout

I’ve just returned from Make: Magazine’s 2015 Digital Fabrication Shootout. Huge, huge, HUGE thanks to Make: for granting me the opportunity to participate, and a thousand quatloos to generalissimo Matt Stultz for keeping the cat herd on point during the tests.

workspace

We testers have been asked not to reveal or discuss which machines we tested until after Make publishes in November, so I’ll do my best to provide a description of the testing process without letting the cat out of the bag or the horse out of the barn or whatever mammal-preposition-structure metaphor you choose. Onward we go.

Full disclosure: I traveled to the Digital Fabrication Shootout in San Francisco at Make:’s expense. I did not receive any financial compensation from Make for the time I spent at the shootout. Fortunately you don’t have to declare having your mind blown to the IRS, because that totally happened. At least twice.

Most of us left for SF on Thursday the 30th. A weather snarl on the east coast of the US caused many of the New Yorkers/Bostonians/Rhode Islanders among our crew to arrive late, but the midwestern contingent, myself included, got in right on schedule. We agreed to meet up at 10AM to let the late arrivals sleep in a bit. This would be the last time any of us got a full night’s sleep for the rest of the weekend.

By some combination of Ubers and hoofing it, all members of our party arrived at the Maker Media lab, tucked inside the Innovation Hangar next to the Palace of Fine Arts.

Several times I witnessed the death throes of the taxi industry as six nerds waited RIGHT NEXT TO AN IDLING TAXI for our Uber to arrive. I’m convinced the killer app for Uber is the convenience of expense reports; reciepts get emailed to you, you forward them on to your corporate overlords, and bam. Done. Also, no tipping, which is darn handy.

The People

Ehmahgerd. The people. An assortment of keen minds at the tops of their games. Some of these folks I know from Maker Faires past, and the rest are now new pals of mine. Once we went around the circle once doing introductions I realized I was hanging out with the Justice League of 3D printing. That’s me, down at the bottom left.

testers

Those of us with prior CNC/laser cutter experience broke off to work on machines of that ilk– with only 3 days to test over a dozen machines there’s not a lot of time to climb a steep learning curve. I’m a 3D printer guy, so I grabbed the nearest printer, moved it over to an empty bench and started working through the testing procedure. Everything is branded at the Maker Media Lab, even the workbenches. Note to self: brand my workbench at home.

branding

The Process:

The testing process was fairly straightforward; every tester put his or her printer through its paces by running specially designed test prints, one at a time. The test models are designed to isolate one specific aspect of the printer’s capabilities; speed, resolution, etc.

In the interest of impartiality, testers were prevented from using any specialized knowledge/3d printing voodoo to ensure successful prints; we used manufacturer-recommended default settings for and followed manufacturer instructions to the letter.

I can’t show you any of the prints but I can show you these shiny and attractive stickers:

stickers

These stickers help to eliminate bias from the scoring process, and here’s how: each print begins with a logging a sticker’s number in a spreadsheet. Other data: the printer, slicer, filament, tester name, temperature, etc wind up associated with that sticker number. One print, one sticker.

Finished prints got labeled with their sticker and dropped into a ziploc bag.

At the end of the day, each tester’s bag is brought anonymously to the scoring room, where it was stored until the prints could be evaluated. The scorer has no idea which tester or machine made the print; as far as they’re concerned each print is just a number.

We had one print labeled 24601 that escaped to the countryside. No idea what’ll happen to it, but I’ll bet it’s miserable now.

All during this process we were ensconced behind a small barrier that kept muggles from getting into a space where safety and liabiity might be an issue. But you could still have come by and thrown peanuts at us.

rope

My Saturday highlight was talking to a gaggle of tourists from Beijing who wandered up to the rope line. Always a treat to see the mental shift in a native speaker’s face when they realize I’m trying to speak broken Mandarin at them.

The testing period was intense; Make: thoughtfully brought in catered eats which were consumed while hunched over laptops and printers, working, working, working. I think I saw the sun maybe twice the whole weekend– day one went until just before midnight and day two went even longer.

This is not to say there wasn’t the usual horseplay and shenanigans you’d expect from twelve geeks in a lab full of technology; far from it! There’s some downtime while print tests are running, so we used that time to document our tests, update social media (check #digfabshootout on Twitter, lotsa good pictures there), and, most importantly, chat with each other.

In between the prints and the coffee and the prints and the Red Bull and the prints there was a lot– I dare say a metric butt-ton of– 3dprinterati cross-pollination. Meeting up with this crew and sharing ideas has my mind going in all kinds of new and different directions now. Also, I gotta up my 3d printing game.

#staytuned, my friends. New stuff on the way soon, once I rest up a bit.

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

Curiasser and curiasser

Faire Play backer rewards are all I’m thinking about these days. The Athena Makeover Kits are done and should be winging their way towards my midrange backers shortly, and now I’m printing a suit of field plate armor for one of my top backers. My printer is working on a lovely pair of sabatons in the background as I type this.

Nothing’s ever completely straightforward at this level of 3D printing, and of course now I’ve got a strange little gremlin that didn’t surface the last time I printed a cuirass: I’m getting a small line up the side of the print where my printer’s print head stops, lifts, and begins a new layer. Take a look at the cuirass on the left.

cuirass lines

I’m doing my best to make this suit as nice as possible and I’m aesthetically offended by artifacts of the printing process like this one.

What’s wrong here? The geometry hasn’t changed since the first print, the filament’s exactly the same, and as far as I know I’m using the same slicing algorithm. I have replaced a worn-out print nozzle, but I can’t imagine that’d be the source of the issue. I’ve changed every setting I can think of and I’m still getting this weird little printing track.

Truth be told, it’s a fairly minor aesthetic problem in the grand scheme of things and now that I look at the original armor I do see some traces of this artifact there, too.

Even if it can’t be completely eliminated, it can at least be put on the back side where it’s less visible. The best way to do this is to just rotate the model 180° around the Z axis before printing. Easy peasy: take a gander at the cuirass on the right.

Troubleshooting a Shapeways Print

April Fools’ Day (愚人节) has come and gone and, to the Internet’s credit, most folks weren’t taken in by my last post, Printing With Steel on the PrintrBot Simple. Good on you, clever people.

But now the blog post just lurks there, context-free and malignant, a coldly crystalizing piece of unexploded Internet ordinance, waiting to disembowel the unwary traveler who pays no heed to timestamps.

Also! Faire Play’s funding period is winding down and only a scant five days or so remain before pre-production on Barbie’s parade armor is set to begin.

Shapeways managed to deliver the first metal proof of one of Faire Play’s backer rewards ahead of schedule! I was expecting this steel Aegis Pendant to arrive after the funding period, but we got a little lucky this week.

Here it is, printed in polished gray. I’m impressed with how well Shapeways was able to reproduce the meandros motif on the shield’s face.

pendant

I’m a little less enthused about the stepping patterns on the gorgon’s face, but I think I know how to fix it. First, a simplified explanation of how 3D printers do their thing.

Hobby 3D printers and Shapeways printers’ work on basically similar principles. First, 3D models are digitally sliced up into multiple layers from bottom to top. A print head traces a pattern on an XY plane for each layer, either putting down a thin bead of hot plastic or sintering tiny particles of steel powder into a solid form.

Once the XY pattern for the first layer is completed, the printer moves up one layer and repeats the process.

unforeseen problem The moiré patterns on the gorgon’s face are an artifact of the printing process. If you look carefully you’ll see the divisions between layers, like elevation lines on a topographic map.

macro

Rotating the model 90° on its X axis might mitigate these artifacts. I’m fairly confident that the face of the pendant will be smoother if Shapeways’ printer prints the pendant as if it were balanced on its edge rather than laying on its back. This kind of edge-on printing isn’t possible with a hobbyist 3D printer, but shouldn’t be any problem when the developing print is suspended in Shapeways’ matrix of steel particles.

I’ll check with the gurus at Shapeways and see if this is possible, or if they’ve got some kind of auto-orientation function in their printing software that I can’t do anything about. #staytuned

Plunger Fail

Lately there’s been a proliferation of 3d printing failure blog posts percolating around the twitterverse. I’ve got plenty of these on the blog already, so I’m dropping another one in the spirit of mutual commiseration.

Plunger Fail

I’ve been printing dozens of bloxen in preparation for Maker Faire NYC lately, and finally managed to wear out one of my delrin plungers. I had two or three days of intermittently failing prints before I figured out the problem.

I printed a new one, but printing a replacement plunger while using a faulty plunger leads to interesting results.

Ultimately I held my filament in place manually while the replacement plunger printed. It’s a quick print, about five minutes, so it was a good time to put a little dent in my Netflix queue.

What a difference a year makes.

I’ve been printing with my Replicator1 for just about a year and a half now. Here’s what my Penny Catapult prints looked like when I started out. (This print’s a veteran of many Seej battles.)

And here’s what my prints look like after countless hours of learning and frustration and failure and learning.

That cross-grain seam in the catapult’s side arm is probably caused by two pieces of blue painters’ tape butting up against one another. I do all my PLA printing on painters’ tape whether I’m using my Rep1 or Printrbot Simple.

One major difference between these two prints is that the top is ABS and the bottom is PLA– after a year of working with both I’d have to say I definitely prefer PLA. It smells better and heats up more quickly, which saves precious minutes of printer warming when repeatedly iterating through a design.

You can get a mirror-finish base with ABS, but apart from that I can’t see a reason to bother with it. Most of my stuff doesn’t wind up in high-stress situations so the added strength isn’t much of a draw for me.

Clearing a Jammed Filament

printrbot calibration fails

In the beginning, One does not know that which One does not know. The Dark Art of 3D printing is shrouded in a miasma of confusion and rage and smug forum posts, and One despairs.

With time, kobolds and goblins and glitches and bugs fall beneath one’s blade as vermin are wont to do, and One’s place at the tavern edges ever closer towards the dim corner where the new Ones timidly approach to receive their quests.

And when One’s troubleshooting reflexes are honed vorpal-sharp, One is a scythe to trouble, or a rapier, or a headsman’s axe, and no issue endures the coming of dusk.


As troubleshooting goes, this is an easy one, but the trick to it is recognizing when it’s happening. This happens on my Replicator, too, it’s just a thing with FDM printing.

The Symptom: The extruder motor pulls the filament in for a few centimeters, and then stops. You can’t feel the motion of the filament between your fingers any more. The extruder motor continues to chug to no effect.

The Problem: A small piece of filament has snapped off inside the extruder, past the drive gear’s ability to move it further. This filament scrap is blocking the new filament from entering the hot end.

The Solution: Remove the hot end from the extruder assembly by backing out the screws that hold it in. Place the hot end on a non-flammable surface and heat it up to 200°C or so. Remove the offending filament with pliers. Let the hot end cool down and then replace it.

Pro tip: an animal-print workspace brings the boys to the yard. Gridded workspaces are sooooooo 2012.

Printrbot Simple: First Impressions


Lao Zheng's Printrbot Simple

In mid-May I got all hopped up on endorphins from 6AM yoga and BAM! right there in my Twitter feed was an offer. The first N users who bought a Printrbot Simple would save $50 off the already low, low price of $300. My impulse control weakened by the flush of healthy qi, I had one in my shopping cart within two minutes, or roughly the time it takes me to huff and puff four sun salutations.

Two-fiddy plus shipping isn’t a budget breaker for a 3d printed squirrel magnate, and the gnomes at Interdimensional Bank of Zheng say we haven’t skimmed anything off the upgrades fund in a while, so why not, indeed.

A quick note for anyone thinking they might purchase this printer once it’s out of beta in June and available to folks other than the lucky N.

if (eval(‘yourTime’)>=eval(‘yourMoney’)):
     buyADifferent3DPrinter()
else:
     thisIsThePrinterForYou()


If you’re a high school student with a few hundred bucks and a weekend to burn, grabbing the Printrbot Simple is a no-brainer. If you own a complete set of matching stemware, look elsewhere for your first 3D printer. Especially if your only exposure to 3D printing so far has been the SkyMall catalog.

Make no mistake, even more so than the Replicator1, this is a hacker’s 3D printer. You’re like two steps up from a homebrew RepRap when you get into the Printrbot Simple. If tweaking and calibration and watching prints fail while you dial in gCode ain’t your thing, purchase a different printer.

On the other hand: right after I made my first successful print on the Simple I was mobbed by Brazilian bikini models. Your mileage may vary.

On the gripping hand: as an instructional tool, the impact of the Printrbot Simple can’t be overstated. Anyone who assembles, calibrates, and prints with this bot is going to learn buckets about the ins and outs of 3D printing at a granular level.

Best of all, at $299, it’s relatively inexpensive. I’d be disappointed if hundreds of these bots don’t find their way into high school STEM clubs.

Well-to-do techie parents looking to build a 3D printer with their tweens might be the sweet spot for this bot, but Mom or Dad should be prepared to sneak back to the basement after bedtime to put in an hour or two of extra build time.

The Build

warning The Simple is a beta, so there are guaranteed to be some bumps along the road. It ships as a kit, so you’ve got to put it together yourself. You’re also paying someone else for the privilege of beta testing their hardware, which is a genius business model if ever there was one. Fortunately Printrbot is up front about that fact; “BETA” is laser-etched onto the build platform. You buys your ticket, you takes your chances.

Printrbot describes the build difficulty as “moderate.”

I am reminded of the time I went to the Thai place across town that isn’t my usual Thai place and I ordered the larb with a 7 on the 1 to 10 spicy scale which is where I like it but they use a different hotness scale and hoo doggies that’ll burn tomorrow on the way out but I could still mostly finish it. Ach, mein ass.

So maybe Printrbot’s definition of moderate is different than mine.

I’m not a complete idiot. I can read English and make logical deductions, I’ve got a well-stocked toolbox, I have an amateur’s burgeoning knowledge of electronics, and I’m not afraid to jimmy-jim-jim a part to get it to work. Surprisingly, given my pyrotechnic proclivities as a pup, I still have all ten fingers. I have a SparkFun wish list, for the love of Pete.

Even with my bona fides, I still find Printrbot’s estimate of one to two hours for assembly of the Printrbot Simple wildly optimistic. I’m sure there are wizards from the Printrbot community who can wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am this printer into a finished state in that time, but coming at this build cold I’ve probably got 8 hours put in over the course of three days. Keep build time in mind while you’re salivating over that $300 price tag.

Printrbot’s marketing claims that you can put this together with only a screwdriver. Maybe, if you’re the Last Son of Krypton or you have vise grips for hands. There are a few tools that will make this process much easier:

  • you’ll need super glue.
  • it amazes me that my kit didn’t include an Allen wrench. Maybe Printrbot figures that IKEA has acheived such market penetration that the probability of an Allen wrench being within reach is approaching 1.0 for a given location in the Western hemisphere.
  • a cordless drill with an Allen bit will speed up the assembly considerably.
  • a metric/Imperial ruler so you can tell the different bolts and screws apart
  • scissors or a hobby knife– you’ll be cutting fishing line.
  • an adjustable wrench, and maybe an M3 socket.
  • needlenose pliers
  • zip ties. You’re going to need a lot more zip ties than are included with the beta to manage all those cables.
  • painters’ tape for the print bed. No sense in marring that nice birch any more than you have to.

Most people willing to tackle this process are going to have this stuff in the toolbox anyway, I just include the list because I’m a huge fan of deflating marketing hype by emptoring my caveats.

There’s a point during assembly where one must gently fit two steel rods through laser cut plywood holes; these are the rods that stabilize the extruder arm as it traverses the lead screw. The holes are cut to very fine tolerances, so much so that it can be difficult to push the rods through.

I recommend that you put your steel rods in the freezer maybe an hour before you get started on the build. Thermal contraction will temporarily shrink them just enough to get them through the plywood. Once they warm up again they’ll be nice and snug.


rods in the freezer

Be prepared to slightly modify some of the parts that came with the kit to get them to fit. The laser cut plywood all fit together perfectly, but I had to file down the plastic edges of my hot end so that it fit into the extruder assembly. I accidentally stripped the wood around an M3 nut and had to super glue the nut in.

Not a big deal for your average maker geek, but someone expecting a snap-together 3D printer is going to be sorely disappointed around hour three. You can see where my file chewed up the top of the hot end in the closeup below.


hot end

Suggestions for Printrbot

I’d like Printrbot to etch more directions onto the wooden parts of the printer. Etched labels like “this side faces out” would be very helpful in determining orientation during the build. I got turned around a few times and ended up dismantling and reassembling the previous two steps of my build.

At the end of each step, a photo of the entire printer from multiple angles could help a lot. I kept getting disoriented and had to backtrack or skip ahead to find out what part went where.

Once you get the bot together the first print is very satisfying, but along the way there is likely to be some gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Here’s a test print of a small cylinder that I did, just to make sure everything was put together properly.


first print

Calibrating the Printrbot Simple so that your prints are the right scale is a whole other can of worms. I’ll get into that in a subsequent post sometime in the next few days. Watch this space.

MakerWare 2.1.061 Review

TL;DR summary: MakerWare is rapidly maturing, and while the UI is easier to use than ReplicatorG, I had a lot of difficulty getting anything more than a basic print out of it. I’m hopeful for the next version, but in the meantime I’m sticking with ReplicatorG.

This is my third review of MakerWare. The first. two. reviews showed the software to be promising but beset with enough problems so as to be unusable. Some problems persist, but the usability’s taken a big step up.

The biggest change I’ve made to my setup is upgrading the Replicator Dual’s firmware to the most recent version. This fixes the MakerWare connectivity problems I was having a month ago, and also makes the Replicator quieter and faster. I jumped from 5.4 to 7.2, and frankly I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner.

I’ve started aiding the printerless by offering prints of some models on Etsy. A recent order for a set of three Magic: The Gathering +1/+1 counters prompted me to download the new MakerWare to try printing multiple models with a dualstrustion printer.

MTG +1/-1 Counters

downloadThese are small models and they should print quickly, which makes them ideal test subjects. (These counters are available in The Forge, so go ahead and print some for your local Friday Night Magic game. Tell ’em Zheng sent ya.)

Launching MakerWare shows me a familiar interface, including the NYC skyline that I’ve maligned in the past as an unprofessional distraction to the process of 3D printing. I have it on decent authority that this image is the view from Brooklyn, which makes sense given that MakerBot’s HQ is there.

MakerWare Launch

The story of the Brooklyn Renaissance has progressed from interesting to beating a dead horse with a twee-stick. I’m sure it’s great to live in a land where the streets are paved with locally-sourced artisanal chutneys, but give me the option to turn the image off, please. I hear enough about how awesome Brooklyn is from reading Gawker. Or replace it with a truly iconic skyline, like Chicago’s. OH, SNAP. Yes I did, New York.

Back to the review: I reach into my Bag of Holding, withdraw an STL, and MakerWare puts it in the center of the build space, defaulting to white plastic for the build material.

first import

I Command-C/Command-V twice, and now I’ve got three +1/+1 counters. This little feature is far and away my favorite improvement MakerWare makes over grizzled warhorse ReplicatorG. The GUI’s very easy to use when it comes to duplicating and arranging objects on the build platform.

Three counters

Minor feature request: I’d like to be able to select multiple items and group them the way I can in Illustrator, so that I can click one and rotate/scale/translate the group around a common origin. This functionality is kinda-sorta of implemented with a drag across multiple items, but there’s always a chance you’ll grab something else on the build platform by accident.

I import a new item (the -1/-1 counter) and it shows up at the origin, which I guess is to be expected but I have trouble selecting it because another very similar item is in the same spot. I try to move it out of the way and I end up screwing up my placement and I have to start over.

This time I import a single instance of each counter. There is no snap-to-grid option that I can find, but there is an Auto-Layout feature that easily separates the models and places them independently on the platform. Very nice.

Auto Layout

Next. I want to print the -1/-1 in black, and the +1/+1 in red. This is pretty easy to do. Click the instance you want to change and then click the Object button. Select the extruder you want to use. In my case I’ve preloaded the Replicator Dual with black on the right and red on the left.

There’s a color swatch in the Object popup, but clicking on it doesn’t bring up a color picker the way I’d expect it to. Instead I have to go to Preferences, which seems like a weird place to change an object’s settings. I guess if you’re thinking that you’re setting the preferences for the bot it makes sense, but I prefer to think about the object I’m building rather than the tool I’m using.

Object Color

It’s easy to make the +1/+1 counter red, and now I’ll just copypasta the pair of counters and I’ve got three of each. So far, so good.

Ready to Print

I click the make button and get a bunch of well-organized settings, but I’m going to pretend I have no idea what I’m doing and just accept most of the “High Quality” defaults.

I’ve never managed to get a print to work on a Replicator Dual with lower than .18 layer height, but the High Quality settings default to .1 layer height. Either that’s a theoretical minimum that better geeks than me have reached, or it’s a minor oversight in the software. I change the layer height to .2 just to be safe.

My first print fails due to an off-kilter build platform and I have to cancel it from the bot. This isn’t a MakerWare-specific problem– it can and does happen with any software.

Feature request: It’d be nice to have a “try” again button, because now I’m waiting for the slice to finish again. It seems odd to me that MakerWare isn’t caching the most recent slice operation so I can try again quickly. Failed prints aren’t exactly rare as hens’ teeth, and this slice-fail-repeat pattern is really slowing me down.

I re-slice, wait, and try again. This time, it turns out the left extruder head is slightly higher than the right. The first layer of red counter goes to la-la-land, crashes into the emerging black counter, and the whole print goes kablooie. I cancel, get out a wrench, and adjust the hardware while the extruder nozzle is still warm.

This is frustrating, but not unexpected in the world of home 3D printing. So I try to keep things simple, and go back to printing a single color print of a single -1/-1 counter with Make it Now. Success.

Success

I need to print two more of these, so I Make To File and export the gCode. The gCode file is ready in a few seconds.

Export to File defaults to .x3g, so if you’re not poking around in there or haven’t RTFM’d you won’t even know gCode’s an option. You can’t print an .x3g file directly from MakerWare, at least not in this version.

I choose File->Make It from File (this really should be an option under the Make button) and a dropdown appears. I click Make It and the build fails before it even gets to the printer. It tells me to look at the log to see what happened. I see a bunch of cryptic errors in the logs that I’m unqualified to troubleshoot. I’m abandoning this method for now, and I’ll just print two more single copies of the -1/-1 counter, slice delay and all.

I’ll also need some red +1/+1 counters, so in the interest of keeping it simple I import the STL, change the color of the instance to red, and discover a bug shortly after I hit the Make It button. This version of MakerWare doesn’t like single-extruder prints with the left nozzle for some reason.

The Replicator goes through the motions, tracing an empty line on the build platform, but the extruder’s not heating up. It’s got residual heat from a previous attempt, but it’s not getting hotter.

doesn't heat up

But. Both extruders work just fine if I try a dualstrusion print again, now that I’ve leveled the HBP and made sure my nozzles are both at the same height. They work just fine in that they manage to extrude plastic, but they do that job just a little too well.

Both prints have these filament morgellons sticking out of them. Close observation during the print reveals that a little bit of filament continues to seep out of the nozzle as the machine switches colors. That tuft of filament catches on the print the next time the extruder sweeps over the top layer. Maybe this could be fixed in gCode by running the extruder drive motors in reverse for a bit in-between colors. I dunno.

morgellons

This is more cleanup than I want to get into. Probably better to print one color at a time.

At this point my effit-o-meter’s in the red zone, so I give up and go back to printing with ReplicatorG. It looks like MakerWare is sufficently advanced to handle a simple import-and-print operation, but for more complicated operations I’d prefer software that allows for quick and easy print iterations.

Verdict: Still waiting for MakerWare to live up to its potential. I’m looking forward to the next version, but for now the software is a perfectly cromulent way to troubleshoot away your Saturday morning.