Your 3D Printing Crash Course (April 2015 Edition)

I bought a 3D printer.


I still haven’t been able to print anything yet, but I’ve learned a lot. If you’ve just heard about 3D printing and are curious, hopefully this post can get you up to speed on the major concepts and pitfalls.

When I say I haven’t been able to print anything yet, you should take that to heart!

This is a bleeding-edge technology, it’s NOT turn-key. Expect that this will take hours of tinkering, and will take significant effort to get to the point where you can just “click” and print (if that’s even possible, at this point)!

What is 3D printing?
3D printing is the idea of creating a 3 dimensional object with some CAD software, and sending it to a device which turns it into a physical object.

It does that by melting plastic filament and squirting it out of a VERY tiny hole (.4mm, or 1/100th of an inch). So, the “print head” moves over a platform and lays down this tiny layer of plastic, then moves up slightly and builds the next layer. It keeps doing that until the object is done. As you might imagine, this isn’t a fast, nor exact process (since your working with melted plastic). Printing an object could take anywhere from :15 minutes to 24+ hours, depending on how much material is used.

Here is a good overview:

I say it’s outdated because the software you use and how you get started has been simplified. Now, in the box, it tells you to navigate to:

And on that page, it goes into the detail of getting the right software and calibrating the printer for the first print. I spent about an hour getting the software, following the directions, and calibrating the Z-axis.

My current problem…
I didn’t get much farther than that. When I try to “home” the Z-axis, the printer drops down and just keeps dropping down, burying the print head into the print bed.

I have since confirmed that if I wave metal under the sensor – or as it approaches the bed, the LED turns on, but in the software, it doesn’t acknowledge it. I’m waiting to hear back from the vendor on if I have a bad sensor, bad cable, or if this is settable in the software perhaps?

In the meantime, I’m dead in the water.

Next steps…
For me, it’s getting that Z-axis sensor to work – and then I’m ready to print my first object. I’ll likely do another post or two as I go along, as I assume there will still be more learning ahead. For example, there are a lot of tutorials which talk about dialing in the temperature just right for your particular filament, calibrating the Z-axis to get the highest quality print, etc, etc.

So, as I learn some more about this topic, I’ll like do some write-ups and try to write down what I learned. Do you have a 3D printer? Got any tips or tricks? Please contact me or leave a message below!

Posted in 3D Printing, Computers and Internet, General, Infrastructure, Open Source, Professional Development, Uncategorized
4 comments on “Your 3D Printing Crash Course (April 2015 Edition)
  1. Rick says:

    Great post Rob. I am considering getting a 3D printer, but have not found a qualifying excuse yet :>


  2. […] As mentioned, I got a 3D printer – a Printrbot Simple Metal. In fact, I got one, returned it because it was defective and got a 2nd one. That one was damaged during shipping so I opted to repair that one myself. It costs $10 and took just a few minutes. […]


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