Friday, 10 March 2017

UP! Mini 3d printer

So this arrived a few days ago.

Steve has an UP! 3d printer and can't recommend it enough. We were looking for an introduction to 3d printing, but couldn't really justify throwing a grand at what would effectively be a fancy toy just to play about with.

But when five UP! Mini printers appeared on eBay for less than two hundred quid each, we figured it was time to dive in and see what this 3d printing thing is that all the cool kids are banging on about.

The printer had come from a "printer farm" (apparently) and had been maintained by a "professional". Quite what this means, we're still unsure. We were warned that the printer head might need purging and that there was no support offered. Having seen a few of the BuildBrighton lot battle for months with their 3d printers, this made us a little nervous - but Steve was insistent that out of all the 3d printers out there, UP! was a pretty pain-free entry to the 3d printing world.

So we installed the software and booted the thing up.
After hitting extrude out came a greyish streak of goo. It turns out the printer was printing with black ABS before we got it. Having pushed some white into it, the grey goo lasted about a minute before slowly turning a chewing-gum white. At least we'd loaded and managed to extrude the filament!

The UP! software makes setting up the printer pretty easy. Click "initialise" and the print head/bed goes to their home positions (thanks to a number of limit switches). Click "maintain" and you can check the bed levelling.

This involves moving the head to one of nine different points. As per the instructions, we used a folded piece of paper as a feeler gauge and moved the bed until it was just gripping the paper. Then loaded a model and hit print.

This, apparently, is the first layer raft. But after printing this much, the printer sort of gave up. Actually, that's not really fair - the printer carried on regardless, it's just that nothing came out of the nozzle! It turns out we'd managed to bung the nozzle up on the first go!

Luckily the printer came with an attachment for removing the nozzle.

Unfortunately, it didn't fit!
It turns out that our printer is using a V3 nozzle, not a V2. Ours is 8mm o/d and has an internal thread. They're far less common than the original V2 type nozzle that just about every other 3d printer uses!

With the printer up to temperature, we carefully argued about who was going to be responsible for breaking the machine before we'd even managed to get a first print off it. Rock paper scissors settled it. I lost.

The nozzle actually came off pretty cleanly - the outside was covered in black gunk and inside a white blob of ABS blocked the nozzle hole completely. It took about an hour of soaking in acetone, picking at with a pin and pulling the ABS with some super-fine tweezers and drilling with a 0.3mm bit (broke two of the buggers in the process) to get the nozzle completely clear.

With the nozzle cleared, and midnight fast approaching, we decided to give it one quick print before calling it a day, whatever the outcome. I grabbed a little dragon off Thingiverse and loaded into the UP! Studio software. Before printing, Nick insisted we should recalibrate the bed. Steve suggested that we might have crashed the bed into the nozzle (which could be the cause of the blockage).

So this time, we set the nozzle height so that it gripped the paper, then backed it off by 0.1mm on all nine points across the bed. Then I insisted that we leave all the doors closed (on the UP! Mini) and let the printer get on with its thing, instead of us crowding around it to see how it's getting on...

About half-way through the print, we couldn't resist lifting the lid and taking a peek inside. Something wasn't right.

We'd set the fill to 65% yet our model was hollow inside. And there was lots of "stringing". We had a nice solid raft, and the ABS was flowing freely but something just didn't ring true.

Nick asked why the dragon on screen was pink and red. It turns out that the model we'd downloaded had all it's normals facing the wrong way! As easy as clicking "fix" in UP! Studio and the onscreen dragon turned blue.

So we hit print, closed the printer up and left it to do it's thing. The print time went up from 6 minutes to about 19 minutes. About half-way through we peeked inside again, just to make sure everything looked as it should - things were a lot more promising this time!

At the end of the print, the UP! Mini beeped loudly and we took our first 3d model off the print bed.

Ta-da! Success!
A little 3d printed dragon.

The UP! Mini has been surprisingly simple to set up and get working. Having seen quite a few of the BuildBrighton lot fighting with their Prusa homebrew models, spewing reams and reams of spaghetti and spending hours trying to get the bed level, getting the model to stick, blocking and unblocking the nozzle, only for a slightly wonky, half-recognisable shape to appear, the UP! Mini was amazingly easy to use.

As Steve likes to remind other 3d printer users, with his UP! printer, he loads a model, hits print and out it comes - no messing about with calibration and bed sticking problems every time; his printer may have been expensive compared to some home-made/kit versions, but it "just works".

Hopefully our UP! Mini will perform as well as these early tests suggest it should!