My First Two Weeks of 3D Printing

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Now that I’ve had my 3D printer for 2 1/2 weeks, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned (in no particular order):

  1. I wish I’d paid more attention in geometry!  I jumped into the deep end and started designing my own stuff. That requires some math & geometry (neither are particularly strong suits for me).  Now, don’t let that scare you – it’s not that hard, and today Mr. Google is there to help.
  2. Frankly, it’s been about what I expected.  The printer itself has just worked.  I haven’t had any issues where I wondered whether or not the printer was doing what it’s supposed to do.  On the other hand, there is lots of futzing to do – lots of little lessons to find (lots of reading on 3D / CAD forums); some obscure tips & tricks.  Fortunately, I came across Lon, who I consider a mentor, who has been INCREDIBLY helpful.  He has several years of this under his belt and shares things that help, when I need to know them.  If you’re thinking about getting one of these printers, and all you’re going to do is print objects from Thingiverse, you may not have as many of these trials & tribulations.
  3. It’s fun to gauge people’s perceptions of 3D printing. As expected, most don’t think it’s in the home user’s domain yet.  Others, who are kind of like me, are at the tipping point – about ready to make a decision to get one.  The absolute best way to get someone’s imagination flowing is to hand them an object printed on a 3D printer.  Amazement always follows.
  4. It’s not as expensive as you think!  I was conversing with a friend who lives across the country and who follows me on FaceBook.  She said something like ‘…but it’s so expensive!’ (and she was thinking like $10k kind of expensive!).  No – it’s about 10% of that!  Still, not cheap – but what did a good laser printer cost 10 years ago?  What does a good, fast computer cost today?  They’e in the realm of reality if you do your homework.  But, you can also pay lots more than I did for one.  Shop wisely.
  5. I’ve lost lots of sleep.  I want to perfect the things I’m designing, and I want them to be right – right now.  Between drawing the parts up in CAD and printing them, it takes time and commitment.  For better or worse, I’m the type that digs in and won’t let go until I’ve got something solved… and that takes time.  For the past two weeks, I’ve spent about 2 hours in the morning before work and 4 or 5 hours in the evenings on 3D printing related things. And, when printing overnight (which is about nightly), I’ll get up in the wee hours and kick off another copy or another design.  I’m at the age where I need to get up a couple of times a night, so that just works out if timed right :).
  6. The printing itself is slow.  Just now, I printed a small piece that’s a proof of concept for a larger model (one functional part that will be replicated out in a pattern). It took 9 minutes to print.  But, in final form, the whole piece will take 3.5 hours to print.  Some things I’ve made take over 7 hours to print.  You’ll need to schedule your printing / designing time wisely.
  7. For the above reasons, I need to think things through before printing.  “Measure twice; print once“.  I’ll learn that someday.  I’m not the most patient person in the world, and instead of just printing & seeing how it comes out, I need to be a little more thoughtful about whether I’ve double checked all of the small details, because they matter.
  8. It helps to be handy, but you don’t have to be a master craftsman either.  Pretty simple stuff, really – like going to Home Depot for plexiglass & putting holes in it (used to make side covers to control the temperature); mixing up acetone & ABS to make ABS slurry; measuring with calipers.
  9. Organization is hugely important!  This applies to physical stuff (components, pieces & parts) but maybe more importantly on the computer.  I’ve generated hundreds of files between the CAD drawings and the sliced model files; many of them are different revisions of the same pieces.  Having a structure & file naming scheme is important, otherwise I’d be lost trying to remember which one worked the way I intended it.
  10. While it’s not quite ready for every household, I think it’s far enough along for more than people realize.  They just don’t know it yet…  Soon.  Very soon.

Are you ready for a 3D printer yet?

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