Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Personal Guidlines For Testing New 3D Printers

I love testing new products and have had that opportunity many, many times.  It's been a pretty interesting journey.

Along the way, I've come up with some guidelines for myself designed to help avoid running down rabbit trails or blaming the new product for outcomes for which they are not responsible.  I thought it might be helpful to point out some of these guidelines.  This list isn't complete; but, it's a pretty good starting place.
  • Set realistic expectations
  • Avoid using old filament
  • Avoid using 3rd party filament
  • Take the time to calibrate
  • Use simple forms for first tests
  • Document with video
  • Be as clear as possible when reporting observations
  • Useful tools for analysis
So, let's take them individually.

Set realistic expectations

M3D has been crystal clear that users should opt out of early delivery if they are unable or unwilling to deal with early production issues.  3D printers are very complex products that require the tight integration of software and hardware.   Early adopters can, and should, expect some fits and starts in pursuit of perfection.   Some anomalies will only show up in the field.  And, when they do the reason is NOT that "the printer is garbage"; but. simply that an unknown issue has surfaced as new users push the limits.  Patience is our friend.

Avoid using old filament

To me, filament is one of the weak points of any 3D printing experience.  Old filament, in particular, can be so internally damaged simply through absorbing moisture from the environment that it can make even the finest 3D printers look like utter dogs.  This is one reason why I urge people to by filament in smaller reels rather than huge reels.  And, I keep filament in closed containers with desicant while being stored.  But, even with that protection I would ALWAYS exclusively use brand new filament while evaluating a new 3D printer.

Avoid using 3rd party filament

Not all filament is produced using the same standards of uniformity.  While i know the M3D Pro is built to be able to use any high quality filament, for initial testing purposes I want to remove as many loose variables as possible.  This means using a filament that is absolutely certified for use in the printer.  And, for me, that means using M3D filament for my initial testing.  This then can be the baseline as the tests branch out to include 3rd party filaments.

Take the time to calibrate

We drum into our cadets that to successfully use our tools we have to KNOW our tools.  Every single time we open a new M3D Micro printer we go through the same complete calibration drill of leveling, gapping and setting the backlash.  Only after these operations are complete can we give the printer a fair shot at evaluating it's performance.  Yanking it out of the box and immediately expecting a perfect print simply isn't fair to the printer and distorts our evaluation.

Use simple forms for first tests

Having designed and printed thousands of objects over the past half decade, I have plenty of challenging prints to throw at the M3D Pro when it arrives.  But, none of them would tell me as much as a simple thin wall 20mmx20mm box with a pointed roof or a modest 3D object that combines some common 3D primatives like spheres, cones, rectangles and holes.  These objects are small enough to be printed very quickly.  And, they are also small enough to be readily examined under a stereo microscope where Z-Axis wobble and other common issues can be easily identified and described.   Print quickly and analyze slowly.  :)

Document with video

I'm a little biased here because I was a video producer for more than a decade after graduating from college.  These days we have a variety of video tools that can help us in our quest to analyze issues with products and materials.  My own arsenal includes everything from a dedicated 3-chip video camera to a simple little $10 snake camera that can be mounted right on the chassis of the printer.  Phones and GoPro cameras are also great tools to help us communicate what we see.

Be as clear as possible when reporting observations

When we do fine issues, it's very important to try to be as clear and complete as possible when reporting our finds.  "It clogs" might be accurate; but, it's hardly helpful to support personnel trying to replicate the issue and find a solution.  Great information would include the type of filament used, the age of the filament, make of the filament, when in the printing process the clogging showed itself and if you were able to easily clear the clog immediately.  The gap settings would also be helpful and whether other objects worked with those same gap settings.

Useful tools for analysis

Those of you that have read my earlier blogs know that I absolutely love an inexpensive child's stereo microscope called the C&A Scientific My First Lab World of Wonder Scope.   There are actually several versions of the C&A Scientific children's scopes and all of them are invaluable at well under $100!   This particular model includes 50x optics as well as 20x glass optics.


Other tools that are really helpful are a digital depth guage and a set of digital calipers.  Both can be purchased at relatively low cost on Amazon and Harbor Freight has a variety of different digital calipers from which to chose.  These very helpful in measuring the actual results relative to the design software specs.  For instance, in most 3D printers holes are typically smaller than designed and posts are typically larger than designed.  The question is just how much any given printer will vary so that we can make allowances for that.

Testing and evaluating a new 3D printer can be a lot of fun if we approach it as a journey with plently of opportunities for discovery.  I'm looking forward to my M3D Pro journey.  :)


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