My 3D printer works – what I learnt on the way

3D printsAfter months of frustration, I’ve finally got my 3D printer working at an acceptable level. Go me!

So what changed?

First, I installed the new filament feeder system. This mechanism was created by another user and is so clever that MakerBot are now selling it as a replacement for their own, clearly flawed, original. There’s no question this new mechanism is a huge step forward. MakerBot support suggested I print my own new version – a lovely Catch-22 where they wanted me to fix my malfunctioning printer by printing a new part. Joe from Inition Thinglab in Melbourne just sent me the replacement parts.

Secondly, I replaced the thermocouple. Getting the temperature right is clearly an important part and there was something wrong with the old one. I have to say I broadly resent this fiddly level of replacement – the thermocouple was not a trivial thing to remove and replace. In effect I’ve had to replace two of the significant parts, of the very expensive machine I purchased, in order to get it working.

Thirdly, and this really annoys me, I changed the PLA (the plastic that is used for printing). The Replicator 2 comes bundled with clear PLA that simply does not appear to do a good job – that’s my experience and borne out by comments in the forums. I switched to green PLA, bought from the wonderful Bilby CNC, and now I’ve had a 100 per cent success rate and, for the first time, printed at high-resolution.  Finally I have a 3D printer that works!

The niggling remaining problem is that I cannot for the life of me get the thing to print a raft and supports, which slightly limits the types of things I can print. From reading the forums the way others have dealt with this is to get a custom-made glass replacement for the standard acrylic printing bed. Again that just seems ridiculous after spending upwards of $2000 on a printer.

So my take-aways from this experience are that if you get a new printer and it doesn’t work – start by assuming there’s a problem with the machine, just as you would with a new television or toaster. Don’t waste time assuming operator error. If you get a Replicator 2 make sure you have the new filament feeder system. And buy some better quality PLA than that with which the machine comes supplied.

I would also strongly recommend buying through a local supplier so you get local support – the 24-hour turnaround and lack of local warranties makes dealing with the US frustrating, for all they seem like nice people.

I’ve had lots of local support from Joe at Thinglab – who has shown immense patience and skill. I’ve also found Bilby CNC to be amazing – they sell PLA at a really good price, provide next-day delivery and are really friendly.

So now I have a working 3D printer, what am I printing? So far it’s mostly been things for the fun of it and just to reassure myself I really can trust the machine – a Yoda, some frogs, a rocket ship and a little 3D cartoon of my head. As close as I’ve got to practical use is a zombie cookie cutter.

But hey, zombie cookies cut with your own 3D printed cutter? Can you get more geeky than that?

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