Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bout time for an update

Where does the time go? Nearly four months have past since STEM night and I there is not but a single image to show? Well let's say that a website upgrade is in the works... and there was certainly lots of activity that filled those four months. I'll leave the good bits for later but the most recent adventure has included lots of 3D printing, DIY PCB etching, more Pixel Panel software development, and a brief encounter with a giant red balloon.

Starting to learn the ropes... calibration and understanding the potential pitfalls are key to great printing
Z-axis calibration is, of course, very important
ABS plastic sometimes like to curl if it isn't happy with temperature and fill settings 

Did you know there's a international helium shortage. Look it up! I have a 5ft balloon and no helium!

Photolithography with an overhead transparency and a halogen light!
I thought it turned out alright for the first time. PCB layout skill is still novice-level but a nice badge to earn.

Arduino/C software development with RGB pixels, Teensy and SD card

Not looking to shabby. Two more will make a complete set!

Don't let anyone tell you that you can't bend LED strips and make nice curves.

 Brevity for now. Answers to come.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

STEM Night at Jackson Hole High School

Just returned from showcasing at STEM Night at JHHS! I was completely blown away by everyone’s enthusiasm and support, it was really great to see all the interest in engineering and technology in this small community. I gave a brief talk on some of my own work including my Pixel Panel and recently acquired 3D printer (the Printrbot) as well as the Maker Movement and some of the resources (like Arduino) for those looking to get started.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to follow up on any the material. Here are some of the photos that accompanied my talk. Cheers!


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Maker Faire 2012

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Printrbot – Hands-on review

First a little foreword: While I’m an engineer I’m a complete novice when it comes to 3D printing. I’d first heard of affordable 3D printers probably about a year ago. MakerBot was getting a lot of press for 3D printer and was being very successful selling kits for DIYer and Makers to build. I thought it was pretty amazing but at about $1500 it was too expensive to become an early adopter. However that changed when I saw a KickStarter project: Printrbot.

Printrbot  Your First 3D Printer by Brook Drumm — Kickstarter        PrintrBot
Brook Drumm was offering a 3D printer kit for $500 and the claim that the Printrbot was a great “first bot”… He had me at “hello.” I jumped on the bandwagon early and the project ended up becoming one of the most successful KickStarter projects to date raising over $800,000 and garnering over 1500 “customers.” While many have yet to receive their Printrbo, my early adopter status brought one to my door about two weeks ago… and so the story begins…


Opening the large flat-rate USPS box sent a slight tingle of excitement and anxiety down my spine. “Whoa! Look at all these cool parts!” and then “Oh man! Look at all these parts…” You can see big roll of white filament and all the 3D printed ABS plastic parts and the read heated bed. A bill-of-materials or sheet of paper with all the parts would have been nice… maybe an instruction manual, IKEA-style… alas no. This is a key difference between buying a product and funding a KickStarter project, the consumer experience is very different. This isn’t a cookie-cutter trip to Walmart, investing the dollars is only part of the equation. The reward is more than getting just a box of parts, you get to be a part of something bigger. But I digress.

PrintrBot parts        PrintrBot parts 1


So with no instruction manual or part list where do I start? Fortunately, Brook started to publish some Youtube videos of the assembly process, so I quickly started to follow along and bolt things together.
Oh how short-sighted! I followed the videos right into a trap! The wooden printer bed that was actually smaller than the first couple of videos let on and so the bases where incorrectly spaced. Ugh! Whew Whew… ok.. this is all part of the “experience”… I’ve watched the videos multiple times now so I can go all Private Pyle and dissemble and reassemble this blindfolded…

PrintrBot assembly        PrintrBot assembly 1

Fast-forward another week and things are finally assembled… Surely it didn’t take a week to assembly though!? I’d pin the assembly time around 10 hours spread out over a couple days, the rest of the time I was waiting on the power supply which was mistakenly not-shipped with the rest of the parts. Certainly that was a frustrating realization but Brook and the folks at Printrbot HQ quickly remedied the situation.

As you can see from the picture the electronics board and wiring is really messy and that was my own choice just to speed up the assembly process and incase anything went wrong I could quickly debug the situation.

PrintrBot fully assembled    PrintrBot fully assembled 1


Alright, now lets print! Wait how do you print? This isn’t exactly Microsoft Word we’re dealing with here but the software is relatively straight forward… if you went to a 3D printer college!

OK, so ideally… ideally, this would be a plug-and-play process. I can plug a USB cord into my computer, so I should able to print out flawless 3D plastic creations… right? Not quite, while the technology is progressing and there are more “commercial” printers, check out 3DS systems, things are style in the early stages and this is a kit so it requires some tweaking and fine-tuning to dial it in. It’s a bit more of art form or craft, where a little insider knowledge enables you to milk out the true potential of the tech. But where is the fun in plug-and-play? The real fun is learning the secrets and mastering a new skill… I think I’ll need to order an Adafruit 3D printer badge after this.

As I’ve learned the key to getting a good print is getting a good first layer, which makes sense right? Strong foundation, strong home. However, it appears our little friend here has a sticking problem; the extruded filament just wont stick to the red heated bed. As I quickly found out once your filament doesn’t stick, the print nozzle is going to rake through the lifted pieces and create a mini-disaster. However, the fix was relatively easy, rough up the surface a bit with sandpaper or use a special high-temperature tape called “Kapton tape” that creates a different surface which the plastic will more easily stick too.

PrintrBot shark clip not sticking        Printrbot software

Mwuahahaha! It’s a shark-shaped chip clip I downloaded from Thingiverse. And it actually works! Why would I want to go to Walmart and buy a chip clip when I can just print out my own! The world looks a little different now, doesn’t it?

Printrbot first successful print        Printrbot first successful print 1

Now that all my chip problems are solved, what next? Thingiverse is the library and all it takes is a mouse click to download a file of an object ready for printing...

LEGO! That’s right, you childhood nostalgia sent through a series of tubes as electrical signals and formed right before your eyes on a machine of the future! OK, so maybe it is a bit rough… I can’t say I tried to fit it with any other LEGO pieces but the fact that its now sitting in front of me to be only minutes ago collection of electrons and plastic filament is simply crazy! The artist in me also kind of likes the imperfections, it makes the pitch-perfect LEGO we’re used to look a bit more human, a bit more dream-like… almost as if all the details didn’t quite make it through all those pipes and I only got the essence of the LEGO, the soul of the LEGO… Ok, lets reel it back Nietzsche… (Nietzsche?… is that right?)

Printrbot LEGO        Printrbot LEGO 1

So I can print a LEGO, its all downhill from here right? Well… not so much, as you can see my roll of filament quickly turned into its own art sculpture… which at first was cool but then turned into a disastrous situation… don’t let this happen to you! But frankly, there is still a lot fine-tuning if I want the print-quality to get better. That cube on the right is an example of a “calibration cube.” After printing you measure the sides and if they don’t match up with the ideal, the 3D printer hardware or software settings are adjusted. While this isn’t a bad first cube, there’s still a lot of improvement possibilities.

Printrbot filament disaster        Printrbot calibration

Some of the first prints are replacement parts for the Printrbot… that’s right you can print out the parts to build another 3D printer… the machines can replicate themselves! Google “Rep-rap” to learn a bit more.
Here’s a couple of examples, courtesy of eddiema who posted them on Thingiverse. A new z-end stop and some new clips and pullies.

Printrbot ZEST        Printrbot replacements


And there you have it, the Printrbot. I can’t quite convey it but there’s a feeling you get when you print out a 3D object successfully, it’s a mix of excitement and satisfaction… Personal manufacturing is just so cool! I’ve some more videos coming soon, so check back and see the Printrbot in action.

Got any thoughts or think I should print out something cool? Let me know!