Jason finally gets to try 3D printing.

So I’ve been interested in 3D printing for a long time.  I’ve been seriously considering making a 3D printer for at least 10 years, but haven’t felt the price is worth the quality of prints they can deliver.  I still think the price of commercial 3D printers is ridiculous for the speed/quality they deliver…but kits have reached a point where I think the price is low enough and the quality high enough that I started seriously getting interested.

Almost 3 years ago I backed Peachy Printer on Kickstarter – a <$100 3D printer project.  Their ideas matched some of my own so I was interested to see if they could pull it off, and $100 seemed worth the risk.  They claim they’re starting to package kits and should be shipping in the next month or two.  My goal with the peachy had been to use it to print the parts to build a reprap.  Well, reprap kits have finally dipped below $300 which for me was the magic point that I decided to save up some cash and pick one up.

I ordered the Folger Tech RepRap 2020 Prusa i3.  For those not familiar with that kind of terminology I’ll break it down:

  • Folger Tech – Company that made the kit.
  • RepRap – Open community project to create self-duplicating 3D printers.  There are MANY variations of reprap machines.
  • 2020 – This kit uses “2020” aluminum extrusions to for the frame.  Earlier “Prusa” designs used wood, or acrylic or flat metal plates for the uprights.
  • Prusa – This particular family of design is named after it’s designer Josef Prusa
  • i3 – this is the 3rd iteration of this design

This kit currently sells on Folgers site for ~$270.  I added a few options to my order:

  • 1kg Orange PLA filament
  • 1kg Pink ABS filament
  • 2004 LCD with SD card kit
  • Inductive proximity sensor

The two rolls of filament are the raw material used for 3D printing.  PLA is a more environmentally friendly biodegradable plastic that’s supposed to be very easy to print with and has no unpleasant smell when melting.  ABS is a somewhat more flexible plastic that’s also stronger…but more difficult to print with and has an unpleasant smell when melted.

The LCD kit lets the printer function stand-alone without being attached to a computer.  You load g-code files onto the SD card and can then select them from the LCD screen. (more on g-code and what it is later.)

The sensor will allow me to setup “auto bed leveling” which is a bit of a misnomer.  It doesn’t actually level the bed.  I just measures how out of level the bed is and then adjusts the height of the print head while printing to compensate for a non-level bed.  I won’t be setting that up for awhile but it was <$4 to add it so I went ahead since it was cheaper to order now than pay extra shipping on one down the road.

My kit was scheduled for delivery the day after Christmas.  I was watching for the mailman all afternoon.  By 6:45 I was getting nervous that the mail hadn’t arrived!  Then at 7PM I heard the packages being left at the door.  The filament and sensor came in a separate package which I opened first.  The printer itself comes in one large fixed rate USPS box:

 The outside of the box left no secrets as to what was inside 🙂  There was also a sticker with a code for 10% off on future orders from Folger.  The boxes looked like they had had a bit of a rough journey, and the one with the filament actually had a chunk taken out of it.  A big enough chunk that the bag around the roll of ABS inside was torn.  Filament is hydroscopic and can absorb water from the air which will cause problems printing so it’s usually stored and shipped in sealed bags with desiccant.  Here in the desert I’m not as worried about moisture, and there are ways to dry filament out so I’m not too upset about that.

Unpacking the main box gave me a sudden “what have I got myself into” moment. And the worst was yet to come!

This unassuming packet was the worst part of the entire project.  Inside is ALL of the hardware for the entire kit.  No sorting, no inner bags…just a pile of bits.

Here’s the full list of what is inside that bag of treats. I had looked for and hoped to find a list like this before ordering so I could prepare for sorting.  Having done it now I dont’ think there actually is a way to prepare

  The best I came up with was to use some egg cartons since there were just over 24 “types” of things to sort out.

On the screws I found it helpful to line them up head to toe like this to make sure they were all the same size.  With just 2mm difference between some of the screws a quick glance isn’t enough to tell them apart.

Ugh, look at that mess.  So many screws


This helped…but it’s still a LOT of parts to deal with!

  One “noteworthy” thing about Folgers kits is that they’re notorious for missing hardware.  Going through the list I was quite happy to see that everything in my kit was there and accounted for.  In fact I had 2-8 spares of every piece in the kit!  Unfortunately I would late learn then problem isn’t pieces that are listed and missing…it’s pieces that aren’t listed at all!

 Being a reprap this kit of course includes a number of printed parts.  Not as many as the earlier “Mendel” designs, just these 10.

I’m no expert on 3D print quality (yet) but these don’t look horrible and don’t look great to me.  They appear to be printed for speed with a large nozzle, but they’re accurate enough to do the job they need to do.
 The aluminum extrusions came with protective tape over their slots and then taped together.  I notice 3D printer people seem to have a bit of a fetish for Kapton tape.  Anything that was taped from the factory was taped with Kapton.  I can think of two possible reasons for this.  1) Kapton is apparently a good surface to print ABS on.  2) The stuff is all over anything NASA touches so it’s got a bit of a geek cool factor to it.

The extrusions had a lot of metal fillings stuck to the protective tape which worried me a little.   But it all came off with the tape and the extrusions themselves were clean and straight.

Well, this post is already annoying long and I haven’t even started construction yet!  I will however relieve any anxiety by saying now that I did get it built and 29 hours after opening the first box was successful on my first attempt to print!

So stay tuned, you already know it ends in good news 😀

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