Tuesday, July 26, 2016

M3D Micro: Gap and Offset Settings are stored in the Micro 3D Printer

At YouthQuest, we support all the printers that we distribute to partner sites with which we teach 3D printing to at-risk students.  Up to now, all of our printers operate offline and do not have to be connected to a computer.  Moreover, setting the gap and leveling the bed is done completely autonomously without any client software interaction.

The M3D Micro is different in this regard.  We set the gap and the leveling offsets in the M3D Client.

This presented a new question for us.  If we travel with an M3D Micro, do we also have to travel with the very same computer that we used to set the gap and the leveling offsets?

Fortunately, the answer is NO.

When we attach an M3D Micro to a different computer and start the M3D Client software, it goes out to the 3D printer and retrieves the gap and level settings.


At most sites with which we work, the computers and printers must be gathered up and locked safely away between classes.  If they had to worry about making sure that a specific computer was hooked up to a specific printer, it would make life a bit more difficult.  Fortunately, they won't have to worry about that.  When they attach the printer to any computer having the M3D Client, the client will retrieve the vital gap and offset values from the printer.

Moreover, we often find ourselves traveling with our 3D printers.  In the lab, each printer is connected to a full sized notebook computer.  But, when traveling we like to use tablet sized computers.  If the client held the keys to gap and leveling, we'd have to start the whole process over again each time the printer was connected to a computer other than the one used to set it up.  However, since it is the Micro that stores that information internally, I can use any computer I like when on the road without the need to run through the entire setup process. 

I would still CHECK the values to confirm that nothing had physically changed with the printer during travel.  But, that simply means running the "Move to Point" for each test point and verifying the values are still valid.  That is way easier than having to start the gap and level procedures from scratch.

It Aids When Helping Others

Being able to open up the printer and get it set up correctly before passing it on to a student, teacher or family member is also beneficial.  Not everyone is equal when it comes to their abilities to understand the gap and level procedures completely.  Younger children, in particular, need help.  So, being able to set up a printer before giving it to them and knowing that the settings will be maintained when they hook the printer up to their own computer is a good thing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

M3D Micro: Chameleon 3D Ink Prints Beautifully

For our upcoming 3D ThinkLink Lab Immersion class, we decided that not only would it be fun to let the students explore the color-changing properties of Chameleon 3D Inks; but, also highly instructive in the subject of Thermochromatic materials.

We purchased every single Chameleon color offered by M3D for our exploration.  And, since we will have at least 10 cadets and we're limited in our number of available Micro printers, we needed to print out the samples before the class begins.

The Gap

 I have finally settled on the gap that works best for us using PLA.  Our 3D Systems 3rd Generation Cubes came with a "Gap Tool" that is a strip of plastic that measures a uniform thickness of .10mm thick.  I am now using this to set the baseline gap and corner offsets of the M3D Micro.  While I have not found the need, I can increase the gap simply by increasing the Bed Height Offset on the Calibration Tab of the Micro client software.

The Scope of the Print Task

We printed 12 sets of each color in groups of four at a time using two different printers.  They were print with a layer height of 350 microns and density of low.  Each group took approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.  Each sample has a printed number indicating a specific color.

Genie Blue Ice Test Sample
This means that we have printed 120 objects using Chameleon 3D Ink, non-stop, over a period of several days.

The Print Experience With Chameleon

I was very pleasantly surprised by the overall experience of printing with Chameleon 3D Ink.  In fact, if I were to select a single phrase to describe the process it would have to be "Smooth as butter!"

And, I literally mean that.  

Removing the Chameleon is so smooth and easy.  It seems to have a slightly softer surface characteristic than regular PLA.  Chameleon has a unique tactile feel as it is separated from the build plate.  The texture reminds me of a plastic known as Delrin.  I use a palette knife (Nicole #7) purchased from AC Moore and/or Warner's "Apply" window caulking knife found in hardware stores.  Both items have a nicely sharpened blade.

I admit that I am easily amused.  But, watching the material change color as it is printed is just plain fun... as is watching it morph into a different color as it cools.  The color transitions are not always as expected..  For instance, I placed one item in the freezer for a few minutes.  It was a deep purple when it came out.  But, what is surprising is that it has remained a deeper color than those that were never placed in the freezer, even though it's been sitting out for a while.  This tells me that when we have the thermometers ready for our exploration in the lab, we are going to see some interesting results!

Not a Single Clog

I have to mention that I'm very impressed by the fact that even after hour upon hour of printing with the M3D Micro, I have not had a single clog.  Nor, have I had any warping with the Chameleon materials with the test objects.


Not a single reel of Chameleon 3D Ink has given even a moment's worth of trouble.  In fact, it's been a joy to print and remove Chameleon parts.  But, the real fun is going to come later as our cadets get to explore the variety of characteristics presented in the entire Chameleon line-up.  I'm really looking forward to it.  We'll be sure to create a video.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

M3D Micro: Printer Plate Observations

For most users, what I am writing about in this article may seem trivial.  But, if you have a child that is expected to use the M3D Micro alone, it may be worth a few minutes read.

To install a plate, we put the back edge into the printer, lay the plate down and slide the plate forward so that the two tabs catch and hold the plate in place.

I'd noticed that some plate seem more difficult to pull forward and wondered why.  When I wonder why, I start examining things more closely.  And, in this case I pulled out my trusty digital calipers and started measuring.

I have five build plates.

Because my digital calipers came from Harbor Freight, I felt that I needed to measure multiple time and average the result.  I would then compute the delta, or difference, between the largest measurement and the smallest.

Total Plate Depth Differences

The great news is that when measured across the face of the plate, with BuildTak installed, the delta is just .04mm.  The deepest average measurement was 3.30mm and the thinnest average measurement was 3.26mm.  That is NOT a very big difference.  Here are the average measurements for the plates:
  • Print Plate 01:  3.28mm
  • Print Plate 02:  3.29mm
  • Print Plate 03:  3.27mm
  • Print Plate 04:  3.30mm  (Thickest)
  • Print Plate 05:  3.26mm  (Thinnest)
Tab Thickness Differences

This is where it makes a difference if a child is expected to install the print plate.  While any child should be able to install any of the 5 print plates that I measured, it will certainly be easier to install two of them.

The delta, or difference, between the average measurements of the thickest tabs and the thinnest tabs was .30mm.  While 1/3 of a millimeter isn't all that much, it is enough to notice when trying to install a print table into the M3D Micro.  Plates having the smallest measurement cab be slid home more easily than those with thicker measurements.

Here are the average tab thickness measurements for each plate:
  • Print Plate - Tabs 01:  1.78mm
  • Print Plate - Tabs 02:  1.50mm (Thinnest)
  • Print Plate - Tabs 03:  1.75mm
  • Print Plate - Tabs 04:  1.80mm  (Thickest)
  • Print Plate - Tabs 05:  1.56mm
Bottom Line

The Corner Offsets permit us to make allowances for tab thickness differences.  So, it's not a big deal in terms of print quality.  It's simply easier to slide home tabs that are thinner rather than thicker.  What this means for me is that I will choose the plates having the thinnest tabs for my granddaughter's Micro and keep the plates having thicker tabs for my own use. 

While the differences I've noted are very small. I would still run through a quick gap and offset routine each time I swap one plate for another.  It doesn't take a lot of time and adds a level of precision to your printing jobs.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

M3D Micro: Picture Your Prints in Action!

As I mentioned in the previous article, one of the nice things (among many) about the M3D Micro is that the outside chassis design allows us to attach some very useful accessories.

Along with printing, itself, I have a passion for trying to understand my 3D printers so that I can get the most out of them.  And, this means analysis.  So, over the years I have learned to use a number of  tools that allow me to refine that analysis.


There is nothing like a Stereo microscope when it comes to examining what is going on with prints.  The layer heights we use are so tiny that it's almost impossible to ferret out issues with the naked eye.  While I have a relatively expensive Trinocular (for a camera attachment) Stereo Microscope, I have been able to 3D print camera adapters for a child's stereoscope that work equally well.

(This is a fun topic for another day.....)

I was able to identify and fix a fairly substantial Z-Axis wobble with my first 3D printer simply by analyzing the print using the stereo microscope.


As much as I depend on my microscopes to help me identify potential issues with my 3d printers, that pales in comparison to how much I depend on digital cameras, both still and video.  Even when a video camera cannot natively capture slow motion, there is software that can be used to slow down the action for closer analysis.

There are two types of cameras that I want to focus on in this article.  The first is a 'borescope' or 'snake' camera, typically used for pipe inspection.  The head on these cameras is very small, usually about 8mm in diameter 40mm long.  I use the CrazyFire version found on Amazon for just over $16.

Snake Camera
While resolution is relatively low, the fact that they are so small lends these tiny cameras to the task of documenting issues in tight places very well.  I have created two different mounts for this camera.

The first can be used to document gantry travel.  It points the camera to the sides of the printer.

Snake Camera Mount Design - Side orientation

Snake Camera Mount - Side
I also designed a mount that points the camera to the center of the printer.

Snake Camera Mount - Front Orientation

But, my favorite camera that is small enough to be mounted on the Micro without adding too much weight or torque is the GoPro.  The resolution is excellent and the width of the image at close distances is incredible.

GoPro to Micro Cradle Mount Design

Here is what it looks like when mounted on the Micro 3D printer.

The GoPro mounted on the M3D Micro
So, what is the main benefit of using cameras for 3D printing enthusiasts?

Better Documentation

The 3D printing process is complex enough that mere words sometimes make it difficult to clearly explain what we see while printing or attempting to print.  A camera can communicate exactly what you are seeing to those trying to help you resolve any issues you may have.

And, this doesn't have to be hardware related.  Many of the issues that we are quick to lay at the feet of the printer are actually design related.  For instance, trying to print an item with an overhang without using supports can be easily diagnosed when viewed in a video.  Or, trying to print features that are simply too fine for ANY FDM printer might seem like a hardware issue; but, in fact, are design problems.  Having the ability to show those persons that would like to give us help makes that job a whole lot easier.

What I haven't done yet.  

Seeing is not the only sense that can be used to identify and describe potential issues.  Sound is another sense that those of us that have been doing this for a long also learn to appreciate.  So,  perhaps a future project would be to design a way to locate a small direction microphone so tha clicks, screeches and other strange noises that our ears can hear can also be passed on to others for their evaluation.  Just saying, "I hear a clicking sound." is not nearly as clear as playing back an audio capture taken while focused on a very specific location in the printer.

I hope this gives yoy some ideas of ways to improve your ability to ask for help and communicate your concerns.

M3D Micro: Stress Reducing Spool Holders

While I love the idea that I can hide my filament under the print table, there are some filaments for which it is specifically suggested that they be loaded externally.

The filament holder that all of us can download from M3D's site is a good, solid solution and works well.  But, I wanted to find a solution that would put the absolutely least amount of stress on the print head.  And, for me, that means using ball bearings and positioning the reel so that it unwraps as close to the center of travel as possible.

As usual, I turned to 3D design and printing to come up with some solutions.

Here are two different designs:

Side Mount Reel Holder With Bearings

It turns out that a side mounted version of a reel holder that unwraps anywhere near the center of travel must be designed so that the umbilical cord has clearance.  This means it must, of necessity, be tall.  The one I came up with looks like this.

Side Mounted Spool Holder with Bearings
Small 10mm bearings with 3mm holes were used.  The bearing insure that there is minimal friction drag for the print head to pull against.  It works very well with spools that have been used a bit.  The only issue is that with new spools, the filament can tend to be pulled off the reel to the side.  In this case, it needs to be monitored.  Otherwise, it works very well.

Front Mount Reel Holder With Bearings

Front mounted reel holders don't have to worry about umbilical cord clearance.  So, they can be designed to be more compact.  This was my second design, meaning that I already had the experience that the filament on new reels could be pulled off the edge of the reel.  So, this time I added a feature that ensured that the path of the filament would always be within the borders of the spool flanges.  This minimizes the likelihood that filament will unravel over the side of the spool.  

Front Mounted Spool Holder with Bearings
While it looks a bit strange, in my opinion this turned out to be an even better solution.  There is little or no friction drag and the guide does, in fact, reduce the tendency of filament to unreel itself in loops to the side.

The real story here is that the Micro's design allows us to use our imaginations to create all kinds of useful accessories.  In an upcoming article, I will demonstrate camera mountings.   We'll talk about mounting very tiny "snake" cameras and also a very convenient mount for a GoPro so that you can document and demonstrate printing your designs.

But, of course, we always have to be mindful about weight and torque.  As we design, we always have to be mindful that we do not want to stress the Micro's outside frame any more than we want to stress the Micro's print head. 

The M3D Micro... the more I use it, the more I appreciate it.  Love it!

A Different View of M3D

For most people, M3D is a highly successful 3D printer manufacturer.  And, they stop there.

My own view is that M3D is a great deal more than that..

But, before I reveal my take on M3D as a company, we need to go back to 1981 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the home of Hasbro.  Back then I worked for a video game company called Astrocade and we marketed the Bally Professional Arcade.

That was a time when many large companies were interested in exploring investing in video games and part of my job was being what we jokingly called. "The Chief Galaxian Killer", which meant that it was my task to show off the capabilities of the game system to prospective investors.  I was summoned to an apartment in New York to meet a prospective investor.  The apartment turned out to be the home of the mother of the Hassenfeld brothers, Stephen and Alan, who were top executives of Hasbro.  That afternoon and evening we sat on the floor in front of a TV playing video games and having a great time.

Now, THAT is my kind of corporate meeting!  :)

The investment fell through; but, I had a chance, in 1984-85, to once again work with the Alan and Stephen Hassenfeld..  But, this time I was working on a game system for Hasbro code-named "NEMO" that used video tape (VHS) for content.  (This was before CD-ROM's).

It was during this time that I made some mention of Hasbro being a great game company and Stephen Hassenfeld replied that Hasbro wasn't primarily a game company,  It was a plastics company and games were the vehicle to move plastic.  At first I was surprised.  But, on reflection I could see exactly why he said that.  Without plastics none of their games would be possible.  So, if they did not pay a great deal of attention to the process of formulating and producing plastics profitably, they could not produce the games they create.  On the other hand, if they got rid of games altogether, they still had the plastics business with which to survive.

That was a real eye opener.

Which brings us forward to M3D.  Is it primarily a 3D printer company?  Or, is its primary mission something different?

I think that over our lifetime we will come to see M3D's primary business is innovation.   3D Printing is just the beginning.  I have seen countless startups come up with 3D printer designs.  Some were very cool.  But, NONE of them have counted so much on innovation in their designs as has M3D.

I see M3D not as, primarily, a 3D printer company; but, as an INNOVATION company.

Like Hasbro, with games, 3D Printers are a way M3D can bring their product... innovation... into the marketplace.  That is an exciting concept to me.

I have spent hours on end, in the little time that I have had a Micro, using and testing this remarkable little printer.  And, the innovations behind the design impress me over and over.  Part of the catalyst for this article was a small quote in the WiKi article about M3D, "This low cost was achieved through reduction of "power consumption by a factor of 10 compared to professional 3D printers".  That is not an insignificant achievement.  Apparently, from that one innovation came the ability to design many other innovative components, such as the unique and ultra-compact gantry system!  Who could have imagined a 3D printer weighing in around 2 pounds with just a 7" footprint before M3D made it a reality!

Each session, for "Career Day" we take our Maryland and DC cadets to the University of Maryland's Fiscell Bioengineering Lab so that they can see how 3D printing is being explored for medical applications.  It is the highlight of the year for most cadets... and, for me!

Youth ChalleNGe Cadets at the Fiscell Bioengineering Lab

The Fischell Bioengineering Lab is a place where incredible innovations are being born and nurtured combining things like stem cells and 3D printing technology.

It is interesting to see that both M3D founders are graduates of the University of Maryland and that, in fact, one of them has a Ph.D. in bioengineering.  With that kind of background, it is no wonder that we see the kind of innovations in the M3D Micro that we see.

The next generation of FDM printers from M3D (the PRO) promises even more innovations.  But, I do not expect them to stop there or ever stop to rest and bask in the glow of their achievements.  I am sure there is a LOT more in store for us, beyond FDM 3D printers, from this remarkable innovation company.

Nope.  I don't see M3D as a mere 3D Printer manufacturing company.  I see it as a whole lot more.  And, quite frankly, while I have yet to meet anyone in their company, I'm very happy to have found them.  I love creative people!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What You Will NOT Find on this Blog

As I have mentioned, I am studying and evaluating the M3D Micro 3D printer as a suitable gift for teachers, students and grandchildren.  Due diligence requires that I scour the web for every scrap I can find regarding the M3D Micro.

And, among the many things I have found is that a fair number of early Micro users are serious hacker types that enjoy trying to use the Micro with alternative firmware and software.  While I have no problem with that, it runs counter to my interest in 3D printing for consumers.  So, you will not find any articles in this blog about modifying the printer with 3rd party firmware or 3rd party slicers.

For one thing, I believe that 3D printer manufacturers should be helped and encouraged, by users,  to provide THE best firmware and printer client software possible.  I know this takes time.  But, in the end both the company and users reap the benefits.

My ultimate goal is to see the time when an M3D 3D printer can be taken out of the box by ANY user and used without undue stress.  This means that the ultimate goal for the manufacturers software is that it be so intuitive and easy to use that ANY user can be successful at using the 3D printer.

Again, to reach this goal, current users need to understand that software improvements with something as complex as 3D printing, require a sometimes lengthy iterative process of gradual response to unfolding user's requests and needs.  Being impatient and turning to 3rd party solutions divides the community's attention and scatters the educational demands among too many options.

So, we will not cover any 3rd party solutions for firmware or slicing.  

Instead, we will patiently ask for owners to make use of this blog to let the entire community know what you would like to see in the future regarding the printer and the software that drives it.  By focusing on what is provided to us by M3d, we benefit the great majority of M3D Micro owners and certainly those in the demographic I am interested most in helping... teachers, students and, of course, my grandchildren.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

M3D Micro: It's SO GREAT to Have a SUPER QUIET 3D Printer!

One the one hand, the Micro is, admittedly, THE slowest printer that I've owned.

On the other hand, it is, BY FAR, the quietest 3D printer I've owned.

I'll take QUIET any day!

I amazed my coworkers this afternoon when I fired up the Micro and printed an object.  I then called each of them into the lab to witness just how quiet this little 3D printer is when it's printing compared to the other 5 makes and models of FDM printers we own.

Each of them were as impressed as I am.  And, that is important.

I am beginning to see the Micro as THE 3D printer for TEACHERS.

Teachers need quiet in their life because they often need to take work home, like grading papers or preparing lesson plans.  A screeching 3D printer, no matter how fast it prints, is simply NOT going to be used as much as a very quiet printer that generates minimal noise pollution.

This is an extremely important reality.  I've become convinced that teachers who have a 3D printer in their home, and use it, are FAR more likely to develop a true understanding of the power of 3D design and printing to wake up sleeping brains as no other technology can do.  When they "get it", by personal experience, they will inevitably become passionate about using this power to wake up the brains of at-risk kids. And, turning on the minds of at-risk students is OUR passion at YouthQuest.

But, back to the immediate subject at hand... the wonderful quietness of the M3D Micro...

At this very moment, my wife is nearby, exercising and watching TV.  The Micro, less than a foot from me, is printing a color changing object that will be used in the 3D ThinkLink Lab and I am putting down my thoughts in this article.  Neither of us is, in any way, distracted by the Micro printing. 

I can tell you that this has NOT been the case with my other 3D printers.  Most 3D printers operate at decibels that can best be likened to fingernails on a chalkboard.

Yes, I have put up with it up to now.

But, it's going to harder to do so in the future.  When I finally have to give this M3D Micro to my granddaughters** I'm either going to cry like a baby or immediately buy another!  You can guess what it will be.

Hmmm... I'm going to have to create something useful on the Micro for my wife pronto so I can justify one more printer around the house to her.  (She likes the quiet, too.)

**Uh-h-h-h... I'm just making sure it is set up perfectly... that's why I opened their gift.  I promise!!!  (Yeah... right....That's what they all say!)

M3D Micro: Unexpected Benefits of Printing With Chameleon 3D Inks

Even if you do not have any other application for which Chameleon 3D Inks are required, I urge you to purchase at least one reel.


No other filament demonstrates the heating & cooling process that occurs during 3D printing as does the Chameleon product line!

Heating & Cooling Demonstrated by Chameleon 3D Ink

What better demonstration of the 3D printing process dynamics than this!  As the Coral Orange Chameleon 3D Ink is heated it turns white.  As it cools, it turns coral orange.  The point at which the temperature drops below the threshold to return the color to orange is quite evident in this photo.


That gives me an idea for our next YouthQuest Foundation Immersion Class in August

The Immersion Class is held in our Chantilly 3D ThinkLink Lab.  And, part of the function of the Immersion Class is to give students opportunities to do real lab tests.  (Last time we tested the Real Sense Scanner with different skin tones and they came up with ways to enhance the scanning process.)

I'm thinking of having them test the affect of infill choices on cooling.  By taking images of the same object being printed at the same point in time in the printing process we can measure where the color change takes place with each print and compare it.  (We might have to use the "Percentage" instead of actual time because different infills will result in different print times.  But, that can also be part of the "lab" experience.)

I think they are going to have a LOT of fun with that one.  :)

M3D Micro: What if a "Cheat" Code Doesn't Work?

M3D designers and developers have come up with a very innovative way to help us get the most out of the wide variety of filament they have and will introduce.  It's called a "CHEAT" code and is printed on the label of every M3D spool of filament.

The idea behind it is that every single type and color of filament has an optimum print profile.  I don't know all the variables; but, we don't have to know that to understand that being able, in software, to optimize all the factors that affect printing quality is a great idea.

And, normally, works flawlessly.

But, last night I opened a new package of Coral Orange Chameleon 3D Ink with a printed code of "CRL".  It failed to load.

I contacted support and, while waiting for a reply, decided to do a little experimentation.  Noticing that most of my Chameleon spools had a cheat code of "CAM" I decided to try that.

VOILA!!!  It worked!!

Being a software engineer for more than 30 years, I understand that it is impossible for software to be flawless.  But, the good news is that when a cheat code fails to produce the desired results, M3D has given us alternatives.

M3D support got back to me quite quickly and the message confirmed what I'd just experienced.

The "CRL" is a cheat code; but,  if that fails for some reason then "CAM", which is a general code for all chameleon filaments can be used successfully. 

Other generic cheat codes are "PLA" and "ABS".  So, if you find for any reason that the cheat code on the reel isn't resulting in the expected results, then try an alternative.  Thus, since Coral Orange is a type of PLA filament then the generic "PLA" could also be used in a pinch.  Nice!

I want to compliment support for getting back to me so fast.  And, I also want to complement the M3D team for the clever system of "Cheat' codes that is (1) ultimately designed to bring us the best prints possible and (2) provides generic alternatives should a software or firmware glitch occur.

Issues without workarounds are tough.  But, issues that can be dealt with through planned workarounds are just blips in the radar that don't bring us to a halt at all.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

M3D Micro: Safely Unloading Filament

We have used a number of 2nd Gen Cube 3D printers in our Youth ChalleNGe classes.  One of the most frequent causes of filament clogs that were difficult to clear was due to impatience when unloading filament.  Like the 2nd Gen Cube, the M3D Micro uses a two step process to unload filament.

Unloading is a TWO STEP process.

STEP ONE:  Filament drawn INTO the print jet
The first thing the printer begins to do is to heat up the print jet and extrude some of the filament to ensure that the filament is hot enough to be removed correctly.  You will see filament coming out of the tip of the print jet.
It is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that no attempt is made to pull the filament out of the print jet at this point.  If pulled too hard, the filament can break, leaving some inside the print head.
 STEP TWO:  Filament pulled OUT from the print jet.
Once the filament has been heated to a safe temperature for removal, the gears reverse and begin to back the filament out of the print jet.  While we are asked to pull on the filament, care should be used to make sure we do not pull too hard.  A slight pull is enough to know when the filament is finally released from the gears of the extrusion mechanism.
One of the tricks you can teach your children or students is to mark the filament with a permanent marker just above the print head so that the direction of the filament is clearly identified.  Once we started using this technique in our classes the incidences of clogging went WAY down.

I've not had a single clog with the M3D Micro, so I don't know how difficult they are to clear.  But, easy or hard it is better to do everything we can to avoid a clog and being careful to pay attention to the two step removal process is a good start.

After the Unload 

There are holes around the reel that can be used to make sure the filament doesn't unwind and become entangled while being stored.  Simply run the end of the filament up through one of the holes and pull until the filament is secured.  Before reinstalling the filament be sure to cut off the end of the filament with clippers or scissors to ensure a straight, clean cut.

M3D Micro: Calibration Confirmation Reminder

Summer is a time of thunderstorms in the area in which I live and lightening can be an enemy of electronic equipment.  So, just to be on the safe side, I unplug the M3D Micro as the storms roll in and overnight just in case a late night storm pops up.

Normally, I plug the power back in before staring the M3D Client software.  But, this morning I forgot.  The software alerted me that no Micro was connected.  So, I powered up the printer AFTER staring the software.

When things are done in this order, soft 1st and power-up 2nd, the bed level calibration values all report as 0.00.

Fortunately, closing down the software and restarting it captured, once again, my previously set values.

I have no idea, if had I not noticed that all the calibration values appeared as 0.00, if the software would have operated with the correct values.  But, I assume it would not.  Bed leveling is so important to preventing clogging and producing the best possible prints that I will now always check to see that the correct values are set before beginning my first print.

In addition, I have saved an image of the calibration screen (or it could be printed) so that I will be able to recover the setting with little effort should they ever be truly lost or accidentally reset.

Monday, July 4, 2016

M3D Micro: Testing Antique Gold & Bed Height Offset Effects

As I begin this post, I have to make sure that everyone understands that the object I used for this test was never intended to be printed with an FDM (filament) printer.  It was designed to be printed on a $5,000 micro-SLA (liquid resin) printer designed for dentistry and jewelry applications.

The micro-SLA uses a laser to create layers on the surface of the liquid.  While capable of producing very fine features, the part hangs upside down on the print table and supports, which must be cut away, are an absolute requirement. So, in the end, the surface will have blemishes that must be removed either on the printed piece or the lost-wax casting that is made from it.

As you can see, in the image below, the diameter of the object is about the size of a quarter and the features are very, very fine.

41mm x 29mm Object in Gold

The M3D Micro did an admirable job, given the small size and the intricate tiny features.  It was printed twice.  The first time, it was printed with a gap of 10mm and a Bed Height Offset of .01.  Notice that the first layer appears to have slipped lightly, resulting in a blog at the base.  The offset weas removed and it was printed again.  This time the gap securely anchored the object to the plate.

The setting for the first print was 200 microns / Medium infill.  For the second, the infill was lowered to "Low".  And, the second print appears to have benefited by the change.

What is really remarkable about both prints is that the very tiny holes for the pendant wire are completely OPEN!!!

I do not have another FDM printer that could have accomplished that.  Compare the size of the holes with the size of the quarter and I'm sure you can appreciate what an accomplishment this is for a 3D printer that relies on melting plastic filament.

Obviously, the resulting prints are not absolutely pristine and perfect.   But, consider the amazing price / performance ratio this represents.  I took what was designed for a specialized $5,000 micro-SLA printer and printed it on a $349 filament printer!!!   That's quite an achievement.

Oh... and by the way, in my first attempts to print this object on the micro-SLA, the part broke loose from its supports and fell as a blob to the bottom of the resin vat!  It took a good deal of experimentation with supports to arrive at a successful print.  And, again, because it required supports, the surface required considerable work to finish smoothly.  Moreover, in the end, both printers ended up creating a simulated gold plastic object.

The Usefulness and Convenience the Bed Height Offset Feature 

I had tested adding the Bed Height Offset with objects having large, flat first layers.  But, the first layer for this object was 8 very tiny points of contact.  Being able to simply readjust the Bed Height Offset, to fit this new reality, was a piece of cake.  Without this feature I would have had to go through the entire process of resetting the gap.  I love this feature.

The Antique Gold Filament

I can't leave this post without mentioning that I am pleasantly surprised by the quality of the simulation of gold with this filament.  It's actually quite nice.  The filament seems stiffer than standard filament and with a new reel, it wants to unwrap itself from the reel.  So, I would keep a watch on it until enough the filament has been used for the sides of the reel to help tame the filament.

The specks of gold in the final product give the printed part a nice sparkle.  I know this filament will be a favorite for our cadets and my granddaughters.  I also have a reel of Copper that I'm anxious to test.

M3D Micro: Exploring Ways to Minimize Stringing (Part 3)

The more I test the M3D Micro, the more I like it.  In fact, based on my tests so far, I have purchased one for my grandchildren.  While I could have given them one of the other 3D rinters I have blogged about over the years, the Micro is the first one that met the low noise, small foot print and ease of use that I thought appropriate for them.  Cost had little to do with the choice.  Suitability was the decising factor.  They are going to love it.

As we continue our exploration of ways to minimize stringing, let's remember that after several iterations of testing, it was a setting of 250 microns and medium infill density that has risen to the top so far.  Here is the image of the print output with those settings.

250 Microns / Medium Density
We'll now move on to some tests at the resolution of 200 microns.  We have three samples:  Because an infill of Medium seemed to work the best at 250 microns, we'll begin with a setting of 200 micron / Medium infill.

200 Microns / Medium infill

There is some stringing between the top and adjacent petals.  But, for the most part, it's pretty clean.  Zooming in on the image some small blemishes can be seen, in the areas of greatest bulk, where the filament, while not creating a full string, pulled up a bit before cooling.  So, what of the Low Infill?

200 Microns / Low Infill
Oddly, the Low Infill version shows even more signs of stringing and the same level of artifacts!  The stringing is not limited to the top and adjacent petals.  But, can be seen in the lower left quadrant as well.  This is a bit confounding; but, it is what it is.

So, let's turn our attention to a setting of 200 Microns / High Infill density.

200 Micron / High Density
Well, at least this result conforms to my basic theory that higher density might cause more stringing due to greater heat retention.   The entire upper left quadrant has more than a few strings.  The artifacts, not resulting in full strings; but, leaving blemished seems more pronounced.

So far, the top candidate is still 250 Microns / Medium density.  

Perhaps it is because 200 Micron layers add more total density, and thus more heat retention, regardless of the infill setting.  Frankly, I'm finding these results quite counter-intuitive because in the past I have only focused on layer height with no regard for density or heat retention.  But, the software that runs the M3D Micro gives me much greater latitude over both layer and infill density than I have had with the clients of the other 3D printers I've used in the past.

I like that.  I like it a LOT!

In the next installment, of this series, we'll examine 150 Microns and finally in the last of these tests, 50 microns.

But, before then, I would like to share with you my tests of 'stickiness', as affected by gap height, using Antique Gold filament.  So, that will be my next article.  Very cool!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

M3D Micro: Polyester Film/Plastic Sheet vs. Metal

Sorry for the rapid fire posts that seem to contradict each other; but. I'm on a very tight schedule to learn the M3D Micro inside and out.  And, just as it happens when we are working on a new, complex design each iteration gets better and better.

I am not just learning for me.  I have more than enough 3D printers to accomplish what I want to print.  But, I need to come up with the most straightforward answers to M3D Micro questions because (1) I believe that this is, ultimately, going to become the most important printer for our cadets and teachers and (2) I want my granddaughters to have the best user experience possible with the M3D Micro I just bought for them.

The names of the game when it comes to setting the gap for a 3D printer are Precision and Repeatability.  Saying "Use a piece of paper" or "Use 3 pieces of paper" just doesn't do it for me.  Paper thickness is all over the place.

Without question, using a metal tappet gauge gives us precision and repeatability.  But, while I know how to use a metal Tappet Gauge without damaging the print jet that might not be true of a child.

Fortunately, there is another way to be precise without resorting to a metal tool.  The reason I know about this particular method is because every single 3rd Generation Cube from 3D Systems included one.  It's simply a polyester film / plastic sheet strip, of a precise gauge, and it works beautifully with the 3rd Gen Cube.  There is a VERY different feel when using plastic, rather than paper or metal, to set the gap.  It is MUCH easier to repeat the same setting over and over.  It really is nice.

I would get more of the 3rd Gen Cube gap strips.  But, the optimal gap for the 3rd Gen Cube is NOT the same as that for the M3D Micro.  The 'gap tool' for the 3rd Gen Cube does not work well with the Micro.

Fortunately, we have a well-stocked art supply store nearby that carries a variety of polyester film / plastic sheets.  So, I stopped by to see what they had.

By now, I knew, from the tests with the Tappet Gauge that the 'sweet spot' for the Micro gap is somewhere between .254mm and .381mm.  Since polyester film / plastic sheets are calibrated in "Mils", this put me in the range of 10-15 Mils... with 12 Mils, the likely best candidate.  Here's how Mils break down when converted to millimeters.
  • 10 Mil = .254mm
  • 12 Mil = .305mm
  • 15 Mil = .381mm
All I could find was 10 Mil and 15 Mil.  So, if 10 Mil was too small a gap, then I would have to use Bed Height Offset to make a slight gap increase adjustment.  Perhaps the best measure of the effectiveness of a gap is the appearance of the first layer and how well the first layer adheres to the second layer.

I ran 3 test prints and here is an image comparing the bottom layers.

Bottom Layer Comparison
The 10 Mil print definitely has the best look to the first layer.  The 15 Mil test had some 1st and 2nd layer adhesion issues.  To simulate a larger Mil, I simply entered an Bed Level Offset to +.01 after setting the Z=0 gap with the 10 Mil plastic strip.

Bed Height Offset to Simulate 12 Mil
While the first layer is not as smooth as the 10 Mil print, the integrity between layers was excellent.  It also was slightly easier to remove.

Using the Offset works for me; but, I would like to get it down so that simply using a single polyester film / plastic sheet strip would definitively set the gap and the bed leveling.  So, I will continue to hunt for 11 Mil and 12 Mil.

But, if I can't find them, the cadets and my granddaughters can get by with the 10 Mil strip. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

M3D Micro: More on finding the Balance Between "Stickiness" and "Removal"

Talk about concurrent processing!!! 

As I continue to print using Tough 3D Ink with the goal of finding the optimal settings for reducing stringing, I'm also trying to find a solution that will result in a balance between stickiness and being able to remove parts without damaging them or me.
Note:  This article is based, in part, on an excellent paper sent to me by M3D support.  Unfortunately, it did not include the name of the author.  But, it was titled "A Guide to Perfect Calibration on the M3D".  Through an internet search I think the author's name might be Aidan Horton.  If you know, one way or the other, please correct or confirm via a comment.
Warning:  While I have years of experience with other 3D printers, I am completely new to the M3D Micro.  So, I may or may not have come up with THE absolutely correct solution.  I am just sharing you what I think has been a successful strategy.  So, trust your own experience if what you are reading does not sound right.   And, be sure to add a comment correcting any misinformation I am conveying.  My goal is to learn as much as I can about the M3D Micro.  So, I do NOT mind correction.  
That being said, let's continue...
I first tried different weapons for attacking stubborn objects from print tables.  Believe me, this is not my first battle with objects that cling to print tables with a vengeance.  Over the years, I have amassed an impressive array of weapons of filament destruction!

Recalcitrant Filament Weapons

This is just a partial sample of things I've tried over the years.  I thought that surely, between gap changes and my arsenal of weapons, I would find the key to unlocking the grip Tough 3D Ink insisted on holding on to the print plate.

But, let's face it.  Tough Ink is REALLY sticky when it comes to its bond with BuildTak.  For the most part, that is good.  However, I was hoping that by increasing the gap, I would find a setting that allowed me to remove the Tough 3D Ink as easily as I am able to remove regular ink.

But, alas (used for dramatic effect), it was not to be.  The only thing I achieved by increasing the gap was to reduce the integrity of the first layer.  Yes, the total piece came off a bit easier; but, at the expense losing part of the bottom layer.  Not good.

Not willing to face defeat, I turned to an old favorite with other 3D printers... blue painter's tape.

Painter's Tape over BuildTak

It turns out that the bonding qualities between Tough 3D Ink and blue painter's tape allows me to set a gap that is both perfect for a solid bottom layer and is easily removed when the print job is done.

But, as always, there is one slight catch. 

I want to use the BuildTak surface for regular PLA and the blue tape surface for the Tough 3D Ink.  Adding the blue tape requires a change in the position of the print jet to account for the added height of the blue tape.

But, I do NOT want to have to go through the hassle of completely setting the gap to zero each time I swap build surfaces.

Fortunately, M3D's printer client gives us a very neat way to switch between two different settings with minimal hassle.   For now, we have to navigate between two screens; but, perhaps in the future the functions we need can be combined on a single screen.

Assuming that we have already correctly set the Z=0 staring point for our default gap for the BuildTak surface, we can add the blue painters tape right over the BuildTak and then go to the calibration screen with the image of the cat to set the BED HEIGHT OFFSET to account for the added thickness of the blue tape.


M3D Calibration Dialog - Calibration Tab
Notice the  "Bed Height Offset" arrows that allow us to define an offset from our original Z=0 gap setting.  For this, and for now, we will need to bring up the "M3D Print Spooler" screen.  When we open up the M3D print client another application is also opened.  However, it is running in the background.  We need to open it up in the foreground.  It's called the M3D Print Spooler.  We open it in one of two ways.

Method 01:  Both M3D Icons on the visible taskbar

Both M3D Icons are visible on the Taskbar
 If you see two M3D icons, side-by-side on the taskbar, click on the one to the right.

Method 02:  Only One M3D Icon is visible on the Taskbar

If there is only one M3D icon visible on the taskbar (as in the image above) You will have to click on the "^" symbol to open up all the currently available applications running in the background.  Find the M3D icon and click on it.

When the M3D Print Spooler pops up, bring it to the front and select the "Diagnostics" tab.  We are going to use the "Home" function found on this tab.

Click on the "Home" button.

Diagnostics Tab > Home Button
This should bring the print head to the center of the build table and lower it to the Z=0 position.  Check the Gap using the normal tool you use.  In my case, that is a Tappet Gauge for precise measurement.  If the gap is too tight, go back to the Calibration tab and change the value of the "Bed Height Offset",  In my case, I have set the offset to -0.25 and applied the settings.

New Bed Height Offset Value -0.25
 Remember to click on "Apply" before going back to the Print Spooler Screen and clicking on "Home" again so that you can verify the setting resulted in the gap you would like set.  Again, check the gap with which ever method works for you.  If the gap feels good, you are finished.  If not, adjust the value of the Bed Height Offset, click on "Home" and continue the cycle until the gap feels right for you.

It may take some experimenting to find the right gap the first time, but, once you find a value that works for compensating for the added blue painter's tape all you have to do when using the tape is to set the Bed Height Offset value to that same number and you should be good to go.

If NOT using the blue painter's tape, be sure to set the Bed Height Offset back to "0".

Offset WITH Blue Painter's Tape
Offset WITHOUT Blue Painter's Tape

I will be testing this further in the next few days, since I have some projects requiring standard PLA and, of course, more testing of stringing with the Tough 3D Ink.  If I find anything that needs correcting in the process, I will note that this post has been updated in the very first line of the post.

M3D Micro: Exploring Ways to Minimize Stringing (Part 2)

In this update to our exploration of the best combinations of layer resolution and infill density to minimize stringing, we'll explore a layer height of 250 microns.  But, before we do so, I want to present a short video expaling why I believe the particular design I am using is a good one for these tests.

As you can see, we are printing smaller and smaller spots on the object as we are also increasing heat retaining bulk.  Thus, I believe, the normal cooling process is slowed a bit with each added layer.  And, the amount the cooling is affected is probably impacted by the density of the infill we have selected.

The fact that the more dense the object becomes the more filament cooling is slowed probably also explains why we see more cooling with 50 micron layers than with 250 micron layers.  While 3D printers get blamed for stringing issue, in fact, our designs and the choices we make with layer resolution and infill selection are also critical factors.  And that is because the speed with which filament cools is, at some level, dependent on the bulk of the filament that has already been laid down.

The tests that we have already done, seem to validate this theory, with a twist when it comes to the 300 micron test.  Let's review.

We compared 300 microns / Hollow Thick, 250 microns / Low and  150 microns / Medium.

Of the three test objects, the 250 microns / Low infill appeared to have the least amount of stringing.  If our theory about infill is correct, them why wouldn't the 300 micron object that was hollow not have come out on top.  I think that it, too, had bulk heat retention issues.  The operative word is THICK.  Yes, it had no infill; but, the walls themselves were thicker than usual adding to the overall bulk and heat retention.  With the 150 micron version, perhaps increasing the number of layers added to the overall bulk, offsetting the benefits of the Medium infill setting.

With this in mind, let's start with our best result so far, which was 250 micron layers / Low Infill and compare that with other infill settings at than same print resolution.

250 Microns / Low Infill
250 Microns / Medium Infill
250 Microns / High Infill
Interestingly,  the object printed out at 250 Microns / Medium infill was the cleanest overall print.  While this is at odds with the basic theory about infill, I'm not too surprised, nor, disturbed by that fact. It is what it is. 

While you have to open the images to full resolution to see it clearly, the object printed at 250 microns / High infill does validate our basic working premise.  It shows a considerable amount of stringing compared to the other 250 micron examples.  It also displays more surface blemishes where the print jet lifts away from a point to travel to another point.

So, for now, we can probably conclude that when printing Tough 3D Ink, at a print resolution of 250 microns, a good setting with which to start is an infill of Medium.

So, 250 microns / Medium infill becomes our new baseline for further string testing at 200 microns, whic we will cover in the next installment of our string test series.

Friday, July 1, 2016

A very Accurate Way to Set Your Gap

UPDATE:  I am now testing Mylar at a thickness of 10 mil (.254mm) and 15 mil (,305mm).  I have a feeling that I need to find 12 mil (.305mm) to test, which may be the 'sweet spot' for the gap.   10 mil and 15 mil sheets can be found in art stores.  15 mil holds the build plate; but, the bottom layer shows signs of delamination.  
UPDATE #2:  May 2017 - I recently found 11 mil plastic material that works very well with the original tip in the Micro.  The secret is to just let the tip kiss the surface of the plastic.  The tip should not grip the plastic against the print table because the print table is flexible.  
As I continued to run my stringing tests using Tough 3D Ink (Utility Grey) it was apparent that this material REALLY likes to stick to the print table with large footprint objects.  Because one of the M3D Micros is destined to go to my grandchildren it is imperative for me to find the EXACT gap setting that finds that perfect balance between sticking while printing and not taking extraordinary measures to remove once it has printed.

To me too much adhesion becomes a safety issue because the only items I know that can remove stubborn items from a print plate have sharp edges and children don't always point sharp edges in the right direction no matter how many times they have been told.

It is not enough for me to find the right item around the house, like a card or some thickness of paper, because if others are going to use the printer the method of setting the gap that i come up with must be able to be easily replicated.

Fortunately, we have an old tool that can help solve this very new problem... the Tappet Gauge, also known as a Feeler Gauge.  This tool typically is used to set the clearance between the valve stems and valve tappets of gasoline engines.  It is very inexpensive and readily found in automotive stores.  Or, if you prefer, it's easily found on eBay or Amazon.

Tappet Gauges include a number of metal leaves.  Each leaf has a precise thickness.  All that I've ever purchased mark the thickness of the leaves both in SAE (American Standard) and Metric.  For our purposes Metric is my choice.  Here is an image of the style I prefer.

Tappet or "Feeler" Gauge

This version has angled ends; but, you may prefer blades that are perfectly straight.  In either case, blades can be used singly or combined together to measure very precise gaps.

Since it is metal, it is important that we don't try to force a leaf blade under the print jet.  These need to used gently and with care.  But, as you get used to using one, you will find, with some experimentation, it not only helps you to set the proper gap; but, also helps you to obtain a perfectly leveled print table.

I wish I could pass on a precisely arrived at gap.  But, I'm still chasing that one down for the Tough 3D Ink.  Looking at the print now running, it appears that my latest setting may be just a hair to wide,  I say that because the filament doesn't appear to be as smoothly laid down as in previous prints.  However, I'll let it run to see the final result.  

To me, chasing the perfect print is all part of the challenge and fun of 3D printing.  If we do not let ourselves become frustrated by what we deem as failures; but, use those failures to learn, then each attempt becomes a tiny move forward to consistently great results.  Learning our tools and how THEY want to work is key to having fun with 3D printing.