Tokyo HackerSpace has an Ultimaker!

23 03 2015

Most HackerSpaces have a 3D printer. Ours was an exception until January 10th. That was the day we assembled our Ultimaker Original. Now that it’s being used for about 2 months, and had done some prints on it, it’s time for me to write about the experience and how I find it. Here is a bit about how we got it, how was the assembly process and some tips&tricks.

The team that made it happen and our baby.

The team that made it happen and our baby. Of course I’m checking out my baby instead of looking at the camera. (Photo credit: Daniel)

How did we get one?

This part is all about how members of other hackerspaces and companies that come out of hackerspaces are awesome. During Maker Faire Tokyo 2014, our president MRE was touring sponsor tables, trying to convince them to give us a 3D printer and was being turned down. Around the same time Martijn and Erik from Ultimaker visited our table and we had a chat. Next Tuesday, we bumped into each other at DMM Akiba tour and started talking about manufacturing, 3D printing and hackerspaces. Around there, the topic of giving us a 3D printer surfaced. They visited us the same night, near the end of our open house meeting and Martijn dropped the bomb: “We may have an extra 3D printer that we can give to you guys. Do you want one?” I was excited, and said yes. Emails were exchanged, and a huge packet arrived to my house.

Had to play tag with DHL to receive the 3d printer.

Had to play tag with DHL to receive the 3d printer.

Ready, set, BUILD!

Next task was setting up a build day and actually assembling the printer. I created an event on THS website in order to get people together and finish assembly in one day. I managed to move the box to THS a few days before (thanks Henri!) and packed my toolboxes just to make sure we had everything we need.

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Contents of the box on our big work tables. We have the assembly manual on our laptops.

The box contains 2 Torx screwdrivers but you need other tools to assemble it. Obviously box cutters to take care of the packing, tweezers to hold the nuts and bolts in place during assembly, a rubber mallet to interference fit pieces together, couple of files to clean up slots so parts fit easier and carpenter claps while assembling the extruder if you have them. Mallet is especially important when you’re assembling the frame and the slider blocks. We didn’t have a mallet in the beginning, so I used a different technique.

The technique is called "hammer and a piece of wood" and it's quite effective. The wood distributes the impact force so you don't break anything. Be careful though, most of the parts are wood and it can chip or break easily! (Photo credit: Daniel)

The technique is called “hammer and a piece of wood” and it’s quite effective. The wood distributes the impact force so you don’t break anything. Be careful though, most of the parts are wood and it can chip or break easily! (Photo credit: Daniel)

Daniel was all “Is it made of wood?! It will flex a lot!” in the beginning. But once all screws were tightened, we had a solid frame. For some pieces, we didn’t file the slots at all to have real tight interference fits and wood actually compresses a little creating a real tight fit. Also this is a hobby grade 3D printer guys, and wood is better than plastic.

Slider blocks. Linear bearings are a tight fit and we didn't want any movement between them and the blocks. So mallet, hammer, pieces of wood and other tools were used to assemble them.

Slider blocks. Linear bearings are a tight fit and we didn’t want any movement between them and the blocks. So mallet, hammer, pieces of wood and other tools were used to assemble them.

One mistake on my part was just giving one day to assemble the printer. But we had 4 people having at it so we had time to take a break when our hands were tired. If you are assembling one by yourself, it’ll probably take 2-3 days. Also the extruder is the hardest part in my opinion, there are cables, linear sliders, bowden tube etc. all in a real small package. It’s best if you assemble it on a separate day or the beginning of a build day so that you are not tired and don’t make any mistakes.

Another thing to watch out is bending and assembling polypropylene sheet parts. They are tricky to fold and can rip apart if you are not careful. Also if you are working as a group, you may mix bolts and realize at the end you don’t have any short ones at hand for the cooling system. This results in using a longer bolt and then the printer does not sit on its feet as it’s supposed to. A Dremel and a cutter wheel is your friend in this situation.

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Trimming off the bolt so that the printer is flat on the table. It may have worked on the wire rack shelf but it was not sitting properly on the table.

Calibration, calibration, calibration

During and after the assembly, you’ll have to calibrate pieces. You’ll calibrate the XY-gantry by using the wooden spacers that came with the kit so that the axes parallel to the shafts and the slider blocks are at the same location. This is a fairly easy calibration as spacers help a lot during the process and the timing pulleys are rotating freely. You’ll have to calibrate the limit switches which is not that hard. The hardest calibration comes at the end, when you have to level out acrylic platform so that the extruder head is always the same distance from the acrylic platform. Because it’s fixed using four screws, it’s a bit hard to perform. Some 3D printers use only 3 screws to fix the platform to the Z-axis, which makes the job a bit easier as 3 non-collinear points in space define a plane. As an example, the heated bed kit uses 3 screws to level the print bed.

Our first print

At the end of the day, we were all tired but really anxious to try out our new toy. So we loaded up the Ultimaker Robot design to CURA and printed it out. We were taking pictures and videos like crazy during the first print and it went out without any problem. Watch the video and see how excited MRE was!

During the print job. You can see the support structures needed to print the claws of the robot.

During the print job. You can see the support structures needed to print the claws of the robot.

Finished robot and 100 yen coin for size. A little cleanup and this fella is sitting on top of our printer.

Finished robot and 100 yen coin for size. A little cleanup and this fella is sitting on top of our printer.

Best practices

Every tool and machine you own has to be used in a certain way to get the best performance. There are additional calibrations on the machine that we didn’t bother with as it runs pretty well at this point. Measuring the filament size is a nice thing to do as we had a problem with another filament (it was oozing non stop) which was a bit oversize. Also we have a notebook to collect data that’s sitting next to the printer. This is a neat trick I learned from my university machine shop: there is a notebook near the laser cutter and you tale notes of speed, power, material, thickness and quality at the end. We collect as much data points as we can and print down problems during the print so that we get the best quality. You can play around with lots of settings to get real good quality prints.

Location of your 3D printer is also important. First it’s made out of wood and wood expands and contracts due to humidity and temperature changes, so it’s best if your printer is in a controlled environment. But cold is your enemy as the filament may solidify prematurely. This happened to us a lot, our hackerspace is in a garage and the printer is sitting on the shelf right next to the shutter. So when someone opens it, the place cools down real fast. So we keep the door closed and heat the place up before printing anything. I had to cancel a few prints as the filament didn’t stick to the bed as it cooled down fast.

Another problem is stability: The extruder head moves fast and it’s enough to shake the machine which may cause problems. So a solid surface is a must. Also the extruder does not contain the feeder motor, which cuts down the weight so it doesn’t shake as much as a machine with the feeder motor on the extruder head. If the printer is shaking too much, you may want to lower the print speed to cut down on that.

Also you may find some errors during assembly and find some tips&tricks to get better results. We found a few errors on the manual and contacted the team so that it’s fixed in the new versions. You may want to register to the forum and share your experiences, there is probably someone who did the same mistakes you did and learned from it and there will be others scratching their heads, trying to find a solution if you don’t share it. It’s good Karma you know!

For more pictures, you can check out MRE’s gallery. I would like to thank everyone who was there during assembly. And I would like to thank Martijn and all the folks at Ultimaker for donating us a 3D printer!

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