3D printing

Yolo, I got my 3D printer.

Posted by Fares on July 3, 2020, 8:40 p.m. Edited on Aug. 9, 2020, 10:03 a.m.

I recently bought a 3D printer and I would like to share my experience with you. When i said recently, I kinda lied a bit, actually that was almost a year ago but I didn't have time to write about it until now.

First of all, I got myself the Ender 3X printer from Creality, which is a cheap Chinese brand that build quit many 3D printer with different qualities and features. The price was about 180 eur including 2kg of PLA (I will explain shortly what is it) and some accessories and replacement parts.

Hopefully, the Aliexpress store had a branch in Spain from where my printer was shipped. After waiting for 5 days I finally got the package.

After a first glance, all parts seem to be included however, the instruction manual was quick difficult to read. I immediately made space in my living room and started mounting pieces and parts together. I had some difficulties understanding how some parts come together but hopefully there are tons of videos on Youtube explaining the step-by-step guide (also provided from the printer's company). After around two hours I finally managed to finish mounting the printer and turned it on.

Now let's get a bit technical here. How does it work? how does a 3D printer in general works?

Quite simple, there are two main parts that you need to understand:

  1. The printer uses different materials (plastic) that is melted and used for printing. The most used one is Polylactic acid (PLA) filament, I will not go through the chemical composition but you can find it here. Basically this plastic melts at a temperature starting from 180 C and is the main component for printing. This plastic comes in 1kg coils with a personalised diameter (in my case, I had the 1.75mm one). The filament is taken from the coil and passed through a motor (that pushes it to the next component) and then to the Extruder. The Extruder basically is an electric heater that heats the PLA till the melting point and with the help of the previous motor, it outputs the material from a nozzle with again a predefined hole diameter (in my case a had a 0.4mm nozzle).
  2. The second part is the moving part. Basically, 3D printers use three axis of movements: X, Y and Z. If you want to print a 3D object, the printer start printing it layer by layer. So first, it moves the previously described nozzle only in the X and Y planes, once it's done, it moves the Z axis just a bit (upward) and again moves only X and Y. By doing this continuously again and again, the printer is able to cover a volume of around 24cm in all three directions.

Overall, the software installed on the board of the 3d printer allows the synchronisation of tasks described before. I was actually really surprised if this is gonna work. With a precision of 0.1mm I thought that there will be a lot of precision and synchronisation problems. Especially for a device that is blind and assumes that the starting reference point does not change.

This technique is by the way called Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), you can learn more here.

The other thing that I want you to know is that the printer does not understand 3D objects. Instead, one should convert any 3D model into an gcode. the latter is simply a file with coordinates of how the end point (nozzle) should move from a starting point to a ending point (creating a line). So I needed a software that converts 3D models to this format. Hopefully there are plenty of them and I decided to go with CUDA which takes a 3D model (in STL format) some parameterisation such as layer thickness, temperature and many more and converts it (sliced) into the GCODE format.

 On Thingiverse, one can find endless files and models that are straightforward printable.

 So I ran my first print and got this:


and here are other works:


and this is what a failed print look like:



Of course, as with any project, any thing can fail. In the case of 3D printing, it is so painful to run a print that takes around 10 hours to finish, go to sleep and wake up in the morning to some spaghetti soup.

Many things can fail and I will not go into details here but I just want to say, once you make a failure, you learn from it and it never happens again. For me, I got an IP camera that I can monitor from my phone and let me see the state of my long prints from anywhere. If something wrong happens, I also mounted a WiFi switch to the printer so that I can remotely turn it off until I get back home.

 I hope that you enjoyed/learned something from this post. Waiting for you comments. Ciao.