I just added a Relay Board Mounting Kit to my Cupcake. It’s been a few months since I’ve assembled something from a laser cut kit, so having that now-familiar smell of burnt wood, ash, and singed adhesive… Ah! That takes me back to when I first assembled my Cupcake!
Anyhow, up until this morning my Relay Board was hanging off the side of my Cupcake by the very wires it was connected to. In order to prevent it from shorting anything I had wrapped it in the anti-static plastic my circuit boards came in and then used electrical tape to seal it all up. Not the best way to do things and certainly enough to prove the world at large that I’m NOT an electrical engineer…
Building my MakerBot and getting it printing reliably was challenging, but totally doable by a technical novice such as myself. I have lots of people on the MakerBot Operators group to thank for their patience and help in getting my MakerBot online. Looking back, I spent about a month building and then calibrating my ‘bot.
It’s easy for me to forget that first month of occasional frustrations and triumphant victories, now that I’ve been printing successfully for more than eight months. It actually makes me a little sad when I read people writing about their own frustrations and how they’re ready to throw in the towel. The most recent example was noobcake getting frustrated with her ‘bot and getting ready to sell it off in parts. Thankfully, Spacexula swooped in to help her out.
This brings me to We Alone On Earth‘s recent post. WAOE are a group of introspective, philosophically and technologically minded twenty-somethings. To give you you an idea of their frustration with their ‘bot, the post was entitled, “MakerBot: not very much fun at the moment (caveat emptor)” Yikes. I realize that WAOE has revised their original post several times since the original publishing date – but they have a lot of legitimate concerns.
WAOE list off seven problems with the MakerBot. I’m not going to refute these points – but rather offer another perspective on them. After several updates, WAOE offer additional comments, I’ll include them here in “”.
- The PTFE is prone to melting. [WAOE expects the new MK5 Plastruder will resolve this issue]. I have never heard of a PTFE barrier melting. I’ve heard of them deforming from a blockage and had one develop a clog which I had to remove. Several people have purchased MakerGear PEEK replacements – but these are far from necessary. I clogged my first barrier once, cleared it, clogged it again, and am now using a slice of it as an insulating washer.
- Inexplicable printing behavior due to noise. [WAOE fixed this issue by twisting wires and installing a resistor]. I’ve never had this problem, but I know others have. Like WAOE, I’ve heard of people fixing these issues by twisting wires, using resistors, or ferrite beads. Perhaps my workstation has less electronic noise, but I haven’t had to do any of these things. Then again, perhaps my prints suffer from a certain degree of noise?
- Printing large objects is hard without a heated build plate. [WAOE notes this isn’t an issue if you’re good at soldering]. Totally true for ABS, but not PLA. However, this is really a problem with the print media – not with the printer, right? ABS will warp as it cools, unfortunate but true. I’ve had less warping problems in warm weather or during with a second print – basically when the build platform is already warmed up. Zaggo’s printruder is one of the largest things I’ve printed. Interestingly, his design takes into account that certain parts are expected to warp. Or check out Clothbot’s train track – it was designed with a lattice/correlated bottom to prevent warp problems. Plastic warps – but with careful and thoughtful designing, this shouldn’t be a limitation.
- The heated build platform is difficult to build and requires a relay kit. [WAOE notes this isn’t an issue if you’re good at soldering]. I can’t dispute either point. I just got both and haven’t had a chance to assemble them yet. I’m assuming the heated build platform, which requires SMT soldering, will be challenging. Frankly, fear of SMT soldering was the big reason why I didn’t jump into buying a MakerBot sooner. The MakerBot HBP is just one option for a heated platform – there’s several others out there. Don’t like SMT soldering? Try out Rick’s platform over at MakerGear. More into DIY? Well, use the plans posted for any of several other variations. As for the relay kit – it’s not a requirement – but it will prevent MOFSETs from burning out on your extruder motherboard.
- Calibrating Skeinforge is hard. [WAOE notes this is still an issue]. I like to use the word, “challenging.” A better way to look at MakerBot calibration is that you get out of it what you put into it. I have my MakerBot tuned to the point that I get reasonably good looking durable parts. Sure, I could spend more time and get even better looking parts. However, once I got it printing reliably I was much more interested in printing new things than refining the printing process. I’ll get around to improving the print quality even more – but I’m having too much fun right now.
- The Plastruder MK4 feed system is unreliable. [WAOE expects the new MK5 Plastruder will resolve this issue]. Getting the tension on the MK4 idler wheel is just one of those aspects of my MakerBot I had to experiment with and get just right. I’ve been printing reliably for eight months using the same idler wheel and gear. With proper maintenance, flossing the extruder, and clearing chips out of the extruder the current setup is serving me well.
- The threaded rods are of poor quality. [WAOE are getting new threaded rods, which should fix their problem.]. Of my four threaded rods, one is definitely warped and two have very minor warps. By experimenting, rotating them just so, and printing a few wobble arrestors I’ve eliminated most of these issues. You can definitely get more expensive and straighter threaded rods and improve your build quality.
A MakerBot Cupcake CNC kit is not for everyone – but the kit can be build and operated by anyone who is willing to invest the time to do so. It is a cheap, hackable machine that is literally going to be just as useful as you make it. Want less warpage, higher resolution, more reliable extrusion? You can buy an upgrade, build one from their plans, or design your own solution. Want a CNC mill, CNC pencil, or CNC music box? Design the very first one! Then again, you don’t have to do any of these things.
A MakerBot kit is just a platform for your creativity. It’s just that big.
As for you, WAOE, if you want some help – drop me a line!
I figure to upgrade my Batch 9 MakerBot to use a Plastruder MK5, I’ll need the following:
$106.00 isn’t too shabby to upgrade to the most badass Plastruder money can buy.
A fair number of people I polled are waiting to buy MakerBots not because of money, but because they are waiting for the technology to mature. Is this you too?
If so, let me ask you this – would you be willing to spend $235 right now to play with a current “immature” technology MakerBot for an entire year before buying a full price MakerBot that’s more “mature” next year?
If you said yes, you need to buy a MakerBot today.
I bought my Batch 9 MakerBot in late November 2009. In the nearly 10 months since then MakerBot has come out with a $50 heated build platform and the brand spanking new more reliable $185 Plastruder MK5. The only “difference” between my MakerBot and one you buy today with all the upgrades is that I got to play and experiment with a MakerBot for 8 full months more than you for an extra $235. On top of that, I have all the parts for a complete Plastruder MK4!
$235 is a small price to play with a MakerBot for nearly a year.
Of all the bits to get working on my MakerBot, the Plastruder MK4 was the most challenging. There were so many ways for some critical component of the Plastruder to go wrong. You could:
- Cut the wrong length or resistance of nichrome wire
- A small patch of nichrome fiberglass insulation is scratched off, creating a short
- The nichrome is not wound close enough to the barrel, requiring extra power to heat
- There’s too much space between the barrel and nozzle, creating a gap where plastic and build up and cause a blockage
- Heat can travel up the barrel and plastic can ooze up the threads
- Heat can travel up the barrel, plastic can pool and then cool causing a blockage, bulge the PTFE
- The thermistor can burn out or short out
- Heat can cause the thermistor or nichrome to become unsoldered or lose connectivity
From the description of the new Plastruder MK5, it sounds like the improved designs solve all of the above potential problems!
Update: Beak90 offered several other possibilities!
- one could not heat it up enough and strip the PTFE threads.
- one could heat it too much and cause the PTFE threads to fail.
- one could put the thermistor in the wrong place and have it read the wrong temp.
- one could wind the nichrome in 2 layers and have it not heat enough.
- one could tighten the nut on the barrel too much and cause extra stress on the PTFE causing it too fail.
- one could forget to say the required magical incantations before firing up the plastruder causing everything to fail.
And, one more I just thought of:
The plans for the Plastruder MK6 look downright wicked
MakerBot just released the photostream and wiki instructions for the Plastruder MK5. This looks like a total overhaul of their original designs.
It is based on Charles Pax’s Paxtruder which has such a small form factor that it is possible to squeeze two extruder heads into one Makerbot. The Paxtruder also uses a delrin plunger which is used to push the filament against the extruder pulley, rather than the previous idler wheel design. I like the delrin plunger idea since it would be a lot easier to adjust tension and remove/insert filament. The idler wheel held in by a large bolt and nut works… but is finicky and sometimes prone to fussiness.
Out are the big/small/weird and whimsical dinos in favor of lasercut acrylic “arches.” There may be a benefit to the arches over the dinos, but I’m not sure what it would be.
The entire heater element and extruder head has been redesigned as well. I don’t recall seeing any published designs which reference this new system. We’ve all seen power resistors in use in RepRap/MakerBot projects – but they’ve usually been relegated to heated build platform designs. Now a pair are being used as the full heating element in place of tempermental nichrome wire. The problem with the old nichrome wire wrapped around the barrel system is that if you need to rebuild the heater, you’ve got to toss out the old nichrome since the insulation is going to get peeled off as soon as you pull it off the barrel.
The new MK5 system uses a PTFE sleeve to feed the filament down into the heater. Interestingly, the PTFE sleeve is encased in a snug metal tube which should prevent any bulging problems.
My understanding of the instructions is that the MK5 is far less prone to failure than the previous MK4 model Plastruder. I’ll grant the Plastruder is easily the most challenging component of the Makerbot to get working.
The instructions also hint at Generation 4 electronics. Right now I’m rockin’ the Gen 3 which have served me quite well. I wonder what the Gen 4 has in store? One thing I have to really like about the electronics is that I know they’ll never really be obsolete. If I wanted to upgrade to Gen 4, I can always print off a Mini-Mendel or Mendel, and swap in the new electronics.
However, if this new system is as resilient as the instructions describe, I’m on board. I’m probably not going to have a good excuse to test out this new Plastruder design for a while since my Plastruder has been behaving itself since the last time I rebuilt my Plastruder and I just scored some spare MK4 parts.
Perusing Capolight’s recent post about his LCD screen made me pine for an LCD display/simple SD print selection for my MakerBot. I think Zaggo was working on something similar a while back. Of course, there’s the RapMan with an integrated OLED screen.
I’m guessing I’m not the only one who would be interested in such an add-on for my MakerBot. It’s not a terrible burden to have a computer constantly connected, but it would be nice to have the MakerBot slightly more independent of a computer. Just bring plenty of plastic, electricity, and an SD card with your favorite things.