A Start at Troubleshooting

Through my research and experience with the Makerbot 3D printers, I have been able to identify several common problems users run into. The following are some tips and tricks to help improve your 3D printing experience. Enjoy! 

*Before trying to troubleshoot any issues, always ensure that Makerbot Desktop and the printer’s firmware are both fully updated.*

Problem #1: One issue I have with a lot with the Makerbot Replicator is the extruder nozzle is either too far from the print bed and the filament is not sticking or the nozzle is too close and scrapes away build tape, occasionally scratching the build plate glass in the process.

In my case, this is often because of how much the printer is transported and jostled. This can also happen over time with the general shaking of the build plate during printing and when removing prints.

To fix this problem, you should first relevel the build plate. It is an agitating process, but it is well worth it to prevent build plate damage and failed prints.

If the problem persists, connect the printer to Makerbot Desktop and edit the z-axis offset. Go to Devices > Device Preferences to edit the z-axis offset. The detailed instructions for this process for Makerbot Replicator Mini can be found here. For Makerbot Replicator, the instructions can be found here. The process is very simple and effective.

Problem #2: Makerbot users also have difficulty obtaining well-focused webcam pictures with their Makerbots.

First, find the camera. It is in the front of the machine either on the left or right depending on the printer you have. Then, clean the lens with a lens-safe cloth.

If the problem persists, twist the plastic ring around the lens slightly in one direction. If the camera feed on Makerbot Desktop shows a clearer image, continue making slight adjustments in the same direction until the image is satisfactory. If the camera feed on Makerbot Desktop shows a blurrier image, make slight adjustments in the opposite direction until the image is satisfactory.

Problem #3: Filament jams are the most common problem that I come across. Jams can be caused by a large range of problems such as impurities in the filament, inconsistent filament dimensions, poor extruders, unlevel build plates, and so on.

The first and easiest solution is to tell the printer to continue printing without changing anything. In my experience, this is usually all you have to do to get the Makerbot Replicator to continue.

The second and more helpful solution is to unload the filament, cut off the end high enough to get rid of misshapen filament, and load the filament.

Check to make sure the filament is not caught on anything and is turned the correct direction.

If you are still having problems, check to see that the extruder is not too close to or far from the build plate. If it is either, see Problem #1.

Sometimes cutting off a large amount of filament will solve the problem.

You can also replace the Smart Extruder by following the instructions here. The instructions are the same for most Makerbot 3D printers. This page has great information for when your printer does not recognize the Smart Extruder.

 Level the build plate every time:

  • a new extruder is attached
  • the printer is jostled or transported
  • there is a clicking noise
  • the nozzle is cutting into the build plate tape
  • the filament is blocked from extruding
  • the firmware has been updated
  • the filament looks squiggly on the first few layers
  • the build plate tape is changed
  • the build plate is moved/removed or replaced
  • the purge line is not straight and consistent

This list is far from complete

Printing with the FlashForge Creator Pro on a Mac

I’ve been through so much with trying to get the FF to print on my Mac. I am on a MacBook Pro running OS X Yosemite. Reminder, I am printing for the purpose of using with students in a classroom setting. I had limited time to fuss with coding.

  • Trial 1: Replicator G
    • Did as instructed from FF and followed instructions from FF here to install ReplicatorG.
    • I tried to download dual extrusion files (from Thingiverse) and merge on ReplicatorG, only to wait for hours and find that prints don’t work.
    • Stuck to single extrusion prints, but some things took 4-5 hours before it was ready to print. I even consulted ReplicatorG’s instructions here.
    • Verdict: ReplicatorG took too long to generate G-code
  • Trial 2: Slic3r
    • From what I read online, Slic3r was a great alternative to ReplicatorG because it was so much faster.
    • 3D Universe helped with this post but it was for Windows. The video here is for Macs.
    • The extruders were not heating to the correct levels, which caused me to look into the G-code to correct for the type of materials I had.
    • Verdict: Although there was more control, I was skeptical of each print and felt the need to comb through the G-code each time.
  •  Trial 3: MakerBot Desktop
    • I downloaded this because of the MakerBots that came in at work. I accidentally opened a file I wanted to print at home with this and it seemed to recognize my FlashForge. At the bottom right corner where normally “Replicator” or “Replicator Mini” show up when my laptop is connected at work, “FFCreator Pro” showed up when it was connected to my FF.
    • I’ve been printing on my FF with MakerBot desktop since.
    • I have yet to try dual extrusion and I’ll keep you posted when I do. (ETA post end of July or August)

This was my 3 month journey trying to print, and things seem to change each month. Try enough and you’ll find the right fit for you eventually :)

3D Printing Ecosystem For Teacher Education

We prepare secondary mathematics and science teachers. I also teach the middle grades methods course and work with K-12 in-service mathematics teachers. See this post for why we chose these printers instead of others.

1. I plan to infuse this technology in my Project Based Instruction course with secondary mathematics and science preservice teachers.

2. I would like for my preservice teachers to take these into the classroom and use with the K-12 students.

3. Preservice teachers will also have the option to make manipulatives for their class, whether it be a DNA helix or the London Bridge (for scale factor).

And so the case for:

  • 4 MakerBot Replicator Minis
  • 2 MakerBot Replicator (5th generation)

In addition…

  1. The scanner helps digitize something that may not be available online or easily created.
  2. Depending on the design and function needed, instead of printing on the MakerBots, if we needed something stronger or more detailed, it would be printed on the Form 1+.

Thus we have:

  • 4 MakerBot Replicator Minis
  • 2 MakerBot Replicator (5th generation)
  • 1 Digitizer (3D Scanner)
  • 1 FormLabs Form 1+ Resin Printer

** Added bonus for having all these machines was that in a class setting, students 24 students were in groups of 4, each group at a table with a printer, and that was theirs to maintain for the session.

So You Think You Want to Buy a 3D Printer for Yourself and/or Others

There are a lot of things to consider when thinking about buying 3D printers for the first time. The who, what, when, where, and why were important things to consider. Click here for the post about buying one for yourself.

  • Who. I know you’re awesome and that you will devote an awesome amount of time towards making this work. Be realistic about time commitments with regards to the following answers.
    • Who are you? How much money do you plan to spend? How much is in the budget for repairs?
    • How tech savvy are you and others using the printers as well? What is your experience with 3D printing? How well can you Google answers to your questions? Do you have a supportive IT department?
  • What. So many choices. What to buy? Below are some questions to consider before having your heart set on what someone else bought.
    • What are you going to do with the 3D printer(s)? Look at the materials, level of detail you want, and how big are the things you want to build. Can they be pieced together if too big?
    • Will this machine fit all your needs? If not, are you considering an ecosystem?
  • When. When will you need them?
    • With some brands of 3D printers, do not expect them to work out of the box.
    • If you have never worked with 3D printers, expect at least 10 hours (not including print time) worth of work before you decide to take on printing orders from others. Expect additional time investment with MakerBots.
  • Where. These machines take space. They also take workspace. Be realistic about the amount of use you want out of them.
    • Where do you want to put it while you use it?
    • Where will it be stored if not where it is used? If you store it somewhere not where it is used, it might not be used as often as you would like.
    • Is there a general area where all others have access to it as well?
  • Why. Yes, let’s all agree that these little additive manufacturing machines are cool. Other than that, why are you buying these?

For example:

1. I’m pretty tech savvy. I can maintain the FF Creator Pro on my own. Maintain 4-6 of them and be IT for them? No. My colleagues can call MakerBot and talk to their customer support whenever they need to. I did not want them to have to troubleshoot anything if it came to that, but if they needed to, there’s customer support. MakerBot has a purchasable 3 year all inclusive warranty and is easier to approach with a use friendly interface.

2. PLA will serve most of our needs. For the finer prints, the Form 1+ will print with resin.

3. I needed it sooner, and they may or may not want to use them later. I did most of the setup. The point for me is to get them on board and using the technology.

4. These take room. If they were just for me, piling them into my office was fine. There were some noise complaints, but the printers finally found a home on counters in a dedicated classroom with lab hours.

5. Other professors in the the team teach physics, mathematics, and sciences. They eventually want to use these for their purposes too. So far, there is no need to stray from PLA or resin.

My simplified spreadsheet:

Company Pro Con Choice(s)
MakerBot – crowd funded backed by Stratasys Longest established company. 3-year warranty available for purchase. Minis can be portable. Bad reputation for putting things out before they’re ready. Extruder* problems. Only prints PLA. 4 minis and 2 replicators to buy. 4 minis to take out to schools if need be. X2 and Z18 currently not worth the investment. 3D Scanner.
Cubify – crowd funded backed by 3D Systems Second longest established company. Fewer complaints about extruders. Made a mini to compete with MakerBot, but had to pull it due to failure. None. The max warranty was 1 year and limited online support.
FlashForge, PrintrBot, AirWolf..etc Cheaper than MakerBot, less problems (after initial setup), and better prints. Prints ABS. I would be your technician. ABS needs venting when printing. None. After looking into all these companies, decided that we needed another material.
FormLabs Form 1+ prints complicated things and uses resin so it is more sturdy. Resin left in resin tank needs to be used within 2 months. Need to measure amount of resin carefully. Form 1+ resin printer with extra accessories. There is a extended warranty that you can buy. The other resin company only had 1 year warranty.

*Extruder: print nozzle on a 3D printer for filaments (plastic in a roll like PLA and ABS)

Verdict: see the Ecosystem Post

So You Think You Want to Buy a 3D Printer for Yourself

There are a lot of things to consider when thinking about buying 3D printers for the first time. The who, what, when, where, and why were important things to consider.

  • Who. I know you’re awesome and that you will devote an awesome amount of time towards making this work. Be realistic about time commitments with regards to the following answers.
    • Who are you? How much money do you plan to spend? How much is in the budget for repairs?
    • How tech savvy are you? What is your experience with 3D printing? How well can you Google answers to your questions?
  • What. So many choices. What to buy? Below are some questions to consider before having your heart set on what someone else bought.
    • What are you going to do with the 3D printer(s)? Look at the materials, level of detail you want, and how big are the things you want to build. Can they be pieced together if too big?
    • Will this machine fit all your needs? If not, are you considering an ecosystem?
  • When. When will you need them?
    • With some brands of 3D printers, do not expect them to work out of the box.
    • If you have never worked with 3D printers, expect at least 10 hours (not including print time) worth of work before you decide to take on printing orders from others. Expect additional time investment with MakerBots.
  • Where. These machines take space. They also take workspace. Be realistic about the amount of use you want out of them.
    • Where do you want to put it while you use it?
    • Where will it be stored if not where it is used? If you store it somewhere not where it is used, it might not be used as often as you would like.
  • Why. Yes, let’s all agree that these little additive manufacturing machines are cool. Other than that, why are you buying these?

Considering all of these, the following were the steps I took:

  1. As I read about 3D printers on Wikipedia and watched Print the Legend, I thought about my tech savviness. I’m decent. I enjoy learning tech stuff and have a high tolerance for tech frustrations (that are within my control).
  2. Googled “types of 3D printers” and “Best 3D printers of 2015”. Be mindful that many things change very rapidly in the world of 3D printers. This was complied in late March early April. Some guides I considered:
    1. 3D Hubs – Based on many product reviews
    2. 3D Print – This looks at the best cheap printers, but I do not necessarily agree with everything they’re saying.
    3. Tom’s Guide – There is a table to compare the specs.
    4. 3D Forged – Nice Pro/Con charts
    5. Amazon. Good old product reviews of 3D printers on Amazon.
  3. I started my own spreadsheet of products. I did not want to spend more than $1500 and wanted dual extrusion, ABS or PLA (so I needed a heated bed wiht adjustable temperatures), and I wanted something that was upgradable.
  4. LulzBot was single extruder, PrintrBot required too much set-up, MakerBots seemed to be okay with sending out machines with problems that I cannot fix due to warranty, so FlashForge Creator Pro was my choice.

ReWiring the Fan

Rewiring the fan on FF Creator Pro looked a lot more daunting than it actually was once I followed the wires.

IMG_7058_2

  1. Remember to ground yourself.
  2. Turn the FF on one of its sides, not front of back. Unscrew the bottom lid.
  3. Unscrew the offending fan and screw in the new fan.
  4. You will need to cut some of the zip ties and thread.
  5. Pull the old wires connected to the offending fan away from the tube and follow to find where to unscrew.
  6. Take note of where the black and red wires are.
  7. Unscrew the correct screw terminals to release the wires and replace with the correct wires.
  8. Carefully thread the new wires into the tubes and ziptie them up like the previous ones were.
  9. Screw bottom lid back on and turn upright.
  10. Toss out the offending fan.

Cracked Fan

So, remember I recommended that unboxing video?

IMG_7062

When the extruder fell and fan cracked, I thought all was lost. Then I found that triangular piece… and decided to super glue it back together.

IMG_7008

It worked with the other extruder fan and printed a traffic cone. When I pressed my luck and tried to print another traffic cone, it shredded itself and splintered everywhere in the FF. I was lucky the door was down and there was a top.

I contacted Mr. Tang, and within 4 days, my new fan came and I had to rewire it.

FlashForge Creator Pro Set-up

Make sure you watch the video before and while you’re unboxing. Below is the video I watched. On my particular machine, it was hard to see the voltage switch to switch it over to the appropriate amount for the United States. I used my cell phone to take a picture to verify that it was set to the wrong voltage and used a screwdriver to switch it over. In this video, I was a little confused about what to do with the filament holder since mine was different. Other than that, this video was great.

FlashForge has their own unboxing video. You can watch that as well.

FlashForge Delivery

I ordered FlashForge Creator Pro from Amazon. I kept a close eye on when it was supposed to arrive.

I was very excited when the box finally arrived. The UPS delivery man rang the doorbell and by the time I got to the door, he was walking away. He said that it was too heavy to take to the door just to see if I’m home. Finally, he came back with it. Sure enough, it was heavy. The box came from China and through customs at LAX. It looked a little beat up.

IMG_6997_2

Make sure you are there to receive the package. The box is rather awkward to fit into a car.

Test Print FFCreator Pro

This is my first test print. Once I looked online that it was what I had printed already but taller, I paused the print just so I could see what it looked it. There was about 30% left. I think I did a pretty good job leveling the print bed.

IMG_7430