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.

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