Review: Seacans PLA filament

June 19th, 2014

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My printrbot simple shipped with 1lb of black PLA filament. This was great to get started, and it’s amazing how many prints I was able to do with so little plastic. I’ve still got probably 1/2 of the original black left, but I really wanted to do other colors.

I’d seen people coloring their filament using sharpies, and lately it seems that there are some very simple ways to do this with good success. I’ll probably try this next time I want to get some more colors and just buy a 1kg spool of natural PLA.

I had decided I wanted white, clear, and maybe one color (purple?). This sent me down the path of looking at the various places I could order from and trying to justify the shipping costs on top of the $20-$40 price per kg. Worse still, the printrbot store was actually out of stock on all but black when I had the burning desire to buy more filament.

Then I came across seacans.com – really nothing stood out about this vendor over others with the exception that they offered a 2kg rainbow pack for the price of 2kg of filament. Looking at the site today it seems they no longer carry this useful sampler of 8 colors, but they still have very good prices.

There are many options for filament – but my experience with seacans.com was positive. I would use them again.

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The shipment came double boxed. Each spool of filament was bagged in plastic with a desiccant pack. I’ve done quite a bit of printing with the new colors, and in general it’s been successful.

Measuring the thickness of the filament is interesting. The black that shipped with my Printrbot is 1.78mm. The rainbow pack from seacans.com varies across the colors: purple 1.72mm, orange 1.73mm, yellow 1.64mm, green 1.69mm, black 1.76mm, blue 1.69mm, red 1.70mm, and white 1.68mm. It is possible the size varies more across the length of the material. Since the Printrbot filament is not on a spool, I can easily test multiple locations over the entire length and it seems to be pretty consistent at 1.78mm.

With my prints – I haven’t noticed any big variations on the quality of the prints due to the thickness differences. With a 5% size difference you’d think it might show up more in the prints.

Initially I did have some trouble with the extruder gear grinding the filament down and failing to feed. I solved this with a fan (more on that in a future post). I’m not sure this can be simply attributed to the ‘cheap’ filament, but overall heat of the room (summer vs. winter) and feeding from a spool (more drag on the material).

If you can find a ‘rainbow’ pack, it’s worth a 30% premium over single color spools. I’ve had a lot of fun with the 7 new colors (I had black before). I also would suggest that cheap filament, while it may have some quality variation on size – is just fine for the hobby printer folks like myself.

Goodbye NCF – Hello Teksavvy

May 3rd, 2014

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License photo by  cesarastudillo

I’d been with NCF as my internet provider for a long time, I’d even written up a review of the service. I still think it’s a good organization to support, but I can no longer recommend it as a good ISP to use. My recent experiences with them have led me to believe they do not have the technical skills available to assist their customers effectively, and they repeatedly failed to call me back as promised.

I had decided on Teksavvy based on success my friends have had, their overall reputation and my interactions with their sales and support staff answering my questions. I’m still on a DSL line, but now using 15/1 which is the fastest available to my home at the moment. I would have stayed with NCF but the upgrade cost from 6MB to the 15/1 speed was going to cost me $89.95 [this has recently changed to a $49.95] whereas the admin cost at Teksavvy was $50. I had picked April 21st as my switch-over date and set this up with the two providers.

This is when the disaster happened. We were over one week without internet service at home. Not fun. The big bad guy here is Bell, but it was handled very poorly by NCF staff.

The long story: I sent in the cancellation to NCF on March 31st. Set the date as Apr 21st. They have a form you submit to do this – however there is no email / indication that the form worked or was waiting to be processed. 24hrs later I called in to check if it was in queue, someone at the NCF office was able to tell me that it was indeed received.

I then signed up for Teksavvy starting as of the 21st.

Monday April 7th just before noon our home internet was disabled. No more DSL signal. A call to the NCF office was frustrating, I was told that the order to Bell was done correctly and the 21st was the right date. They failed to take any effective action to resolve my problem.

Tuesday April 8th. More calls to NCF, sounds now like Bell processed the disconnect order early. My only recourse? Sign up again with NCF, pay the admin fee and wait 5 business days to be reconnected. WTF?! Deep breathing. Call Teksavvy see if they can expedite my sign up with them, frustratingly I still have to wait the 5 days as that’s a Bell delay. Internet turn on day scheduled for the 15th.

Thursday April 9th. Call into NCF, talk to someone sort of useful at the office who is able to tell me the history of this screw up at NCF and what’s happened with Bell. He’s reasonable and says that they’ll have a refund to my account discussed. Promised to call me back with an update – still no call to date [as of this posting].

Sunday April 13th. Yes, we’re still without home internet. Called at 4pm by a Bell technician who is doing the outside work to connect us to DSL. I tell him my sob story about being out and is it possible we might have service today? He calls me back about an hour later and says that the outside work is all done, line looks good to go, but he was unable to get the Bell office to connect us early.  We need to wait for the Tuesday install date.

Tuesday April 15th, 3am. Dog wakes me up for some reason. He wants to go sit on the deck outside and look at the moon. Grr. Well, I’m up anyways – power cycle the DSL modem. 3:30am we’re on the internet again. 15/1 speed, still connecting through NCF [more evidence this was entirely Bell messing this up]. In the morning I setup my login / password to Teksavvy and switch over to that service entirely.

As usual, at the start of using a new service I end up talking with Teksavvy support multiple times. It hasn’t all been perfect, but in general I’ve had lots of straight answers from the people there and it’s easy to get to real technical people.

Printrbot Simple – Software setup

January 30th, 2014

This post picks up right after you’ve finished all the steps to building your Printrbot Simple and turn it on and plug it into your computer for the first time.

There is an official guide you should follow – and it is worth reading through. I took some notes along the way and will share those here. There is also a forum post which covers setting things up that is worth reviewing as well.

As my home desktop is Linux (Mint 15 Olivia at the moment) following the official guide was a bit different than documented. They cover Windows and OSX, but the software is supported on Linux too.

First up you’ll want the mono-complete package installed as the RepetierHost software is .net based and the mono package provides support for that on Linux.

Then download the RepetierHost software and run the configureFirst.sh script (it will want to sudo and prompt for the password).

The printer communicates with the computer via a USB serial connection. On my system the USB serial device shows up as /dev/ttyACM0. However, regular users can’t talk to this device – so we can run as root OR we can add our user to the serial group. I found a helpful blog post that explained how to do this – just one line:

$ a=`whoami`; sudo usermod -aG dialout $a

As there is a sudo in the command, expect to be asked for the password unless you’ve very recently run a sudo operation. You’ll either have to log out and back in to enable access, or simply reboot.

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Now we adjust the printer settings as per above, and we should be in business. At this point I was connected to my printer! Very exciting to have software control of some hardware I put together.

In hindsight, reading the RepetierHost manual on installation probably would have saved me some effort I spent searching around to solve the USB serial problem.

Referring to the official manual on page 9  - “Configure Repetier Printer Settings”

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We’ve already covered the Connection tab, so now we’re onto the Printer tab as per above.

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Then the Printer Shape tab.

At this point we’re done with the printer settings and want to configure Slicr which has a tab visible on the main RepetierHost screen. Go there, and click on Configure.

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The Configure button we want is the top most in the screenshot, the lower button is for configuration of Skeinforge which we won’t be using at all.

This should launch a wizard to which we’ll answer the following questions:

  • Firmware type: RepRap (Marlin/Sprinter/Repetier)
  • Bed size: x:100 y:100
  • Nozzle diameter: 0.4mm
  • Filament diameter: 1.75mm
  • Other layers: 200C
  • Bed temp: 0C

Save the settings (click on the floppy disk).

Again, referring to the official setup guide we want to dive into the Slicr settings and make a few changes

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Layers and perimeters: Layer height 0.3mm / First layer height: 0.35mm, and make sure the check boxes are as shown.

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Infill, you can see some changes from the official manual here. I’ve adapted the settings as per this forum post.

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Skirt and brim – loops to 2 and distance from object tweaked.

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Now on the Filament tab a few changes as well (mostly based on the forum post).

Each of the tabs on the Slicr settings panel needs to be saved (and named) so we can apply them on the RepetierHost main screen.

At this point I hit a snag. The Z axis was way up near the top of the range and the RepetierHost software manual control wouldn’t allow me to move below the zero setting it was configured to.

Clicking the house button (home) will take the printer to the end stops, but as I haven’t calibrated my Z end stop yet that just means ramming the print head into the bed. I’d rather not do that. I dug around for quite some time to resolve this. The answer turned out to be simply: Install Pronterface and use it.

Once installed, Pronterface also refused to allow me to move below zero on the Z axis, but I was able to issue the G-code command “G92 Z50″ (you enter this in the lower right corner of the interface as pictured below)

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After the G92 Z50 command had been sent, I could shift the Z axis down. If you need to move it further than that, you can simply repeat sending the G92 Z50 command (as I did). This let me set the Z axis end stop “fairly close” to correct.

Now that the Z axis was (able to go) low enough I was able to switch back to RepetierHost and get things sorted out.

I leveled the bed relative to the hot end using a business card as a guide between the hot end and the printer bed. Added 3M blue tape to the bed. And set the Z stop to allow me to ‘home’ automatically.

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During some of my z axis manipulation.. I got the Y axis end stop cable twisted around around the Z rod. This was bad – I pulled the power to stop the grinding. and was able to unwind things and arrange the cabling to avoid the problem again.

I also noticed some of the wires coming from the control board were jamming the Z axis up / down movement. I bent those wires back out of the way. You’ll want to make sure nothing is in the way.

With the hot end all the way forward, you can see that there is some ‘give’ (at least in my build) to allow the hot end to move a bit up and down. Hopefully this won’t cause problems.

At this point I’m really close to being able to print, but there was one more stumbling block. The filament wasn’t feeding.

It doesn’t seem like the filament is making it down into the hot end far enough. When I pull it out.. it’s not soft at all, but you can feel that the hot end is very hot. By judging how far down the filament goes into the hot end it is apparent it’s not making it all the way down. I even removed the hot end and checked that the filament would insert into it properly.

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The trick was to whittle the end of the filament down a little bit to make it a point. Then I could manage to thread the filament all the way down to the bottom of the extruder (hot end).

Now I’m printing!