Getting Started With 3D Printing

With the excuse of getting it to kickstart the Makerspace equipment inventory, I went and bought an Ultimaker 2 3D printer a couple of weeks ago. Having looked around at the various purchasing options, I settled on buying the printer from PrintME 3D in the UK.  Living on Guernsey there are a couple of things we consider when shopping online:

  • Does the seller take off VAT?
  • What is the extra shipping cost to Guernsey?

PrintME 3D were great on both these fronts.  They took off the VAT automatically on the website and the shipping to Guernsey was only £20, which is incredible considering the size and weight of the printer.  Not only that but I placed the order on Sunday 26th April, PrintMe 3D dispatched it the next day and TNT delivered it to me two days later, on the Wednesday.  That’s pretty good turn around for a big parcel in my books.

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Having unboxed the printer and checked that everything that should be included in the box was there, it was time to read the instruction manual. Normally this is a step I wouldn’t bother with, after years of working with computers I can normally figure these things out.  However, I’ve done a fair amount of research on 3D printers, and have read quite a few stories of people that broke their printers on the first use because they did something wrong.

I was pleasantly surprised by the manual for the Ultimaker 2.  Whoever wrote it took care in their work and, although it may seem pretty big, it is well written, clear to follow and plenty of pictures to illustrate what needs to be done.

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All Ultimaker 2 buyers get a randomly selected spool of PLA filament (the plastic printing material) in the box.  I was a little worried that I may get some hideous red or yellow PLA that I wouldn’t want to use for anything other than testing.  However, I got a great metallic grey that’s got a great finish.

The first step, after switching on the printer, is to perform the initial configuration steps.  This is made easy by following the instructions on front display panel on the printer.  The first step is to calibrate the level of the print bed, this is the glass surface that objects are printed onto.  This must be done manually with the Ultimaker 2 and requires use of the jog-wheel next to the front display and turning some thumb-screws on the print bed.  This seems daunting at first but it really is a simple process.

The next step is to load the PLA spool onto the back of the printer and insert it into the feeder mechanism.  The instructions say the push it in firmly but I was surprised just how hard I had to push it.  Everything went smoothly though and hot plastic was soon emerging from the print nozzle.  When the printer is built it is tested and it took a while for the test material to be flushed from the print head.

It wasn’t long before setup was complete and I was able to start printing on of the example objects that comes on a memory card with the print.  The one I choose was the Ultimaker Robot, a 3D model of the Ultimaker logo:

Every time I have printed something on the Ultimaker 2 I have always been amazed at the fact that a solid object is appearing before my eyes.  Even though it took about 20-30 minutes to print the robot it was simply incredible to watch.  It was the same feeling as being a child and watching shapes appear in clouds, you can’t see specific changes happening but the cumulative effect is magical.

Having printed a sample object, I wanted to print something a bit more useful.  Rather than design something from scratch (I’ve only have very limited experience of using Google Sketch up for 3D design) I headed over to these two libraries of open-source 3D files:

I settled on printing a Hobby Clamp: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:12616.  I’ve got a couple of uses for this, so I wanted to see how robust it would be when printed in PLA.  I was really impressed with the quality of the print:

After that I wanted to print something a little more intricate… and fun!  I found the 3D printed marble machine #2 on Thingiverse: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:795952.  This is a little toy that’s printed in several parts and then assembled into a final product with moving parts.  Whilst the one that I printed works, its quality isn’t great as I scaled it down 50% but left all the other printer control settings the same as the full-sized version.  This is a full-sized one from the original designer:

 

Overall I’m very impressed with the quality and speed of the Ultimaker 2 printer. It’s built on an open-source design and has a thriving community for support should you have problems.  The guys at PrintME 3D are also very helpful.  Two weeks after getting the print they called me to see how I was getting on with it, they were very helpful with information about bronzeFill printing material from ColorFabb.

If you’re living on Guernsey and want to check out the Ultimaker 2, or want to find out how you can make use of it, please get in touch by leaving a comment, using the Contact Us page, or on twitter.

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