It was a Monday in the London Hackspace, during a 3D Printer Meetup, that I first heard of Dragon Hall from James Dellow. He’d come along for a look to see what is was all about and to see how it would work with the young people at Dragon Hall. Now James had got himself a One-Up 3D printer and asked if I would build it for him. I’ve built more that a few and was glad to see someone else’s design.
The long and short of that was it ended up, with the use of a Printrbot Simple wood kit, as a much more robust, longer Z axis, Simple, but I diverse.
The guys from Dragon Hall ordered 3 Printrbot Simple kits from the US and the plan was that I would work with them to build them and then, going forwards, we would introduce some simple CAD and follow the full 3D print process from CAD through to holding the idea in your hand.. In my mind, one of the things that makes 3D printing so incredible.
And then then kits turned up. Three of them, in a box, six team members, we’re looking at two to a printer (to start with!). So we get to phase one, un-boxing. What the guys weren’t prepared for was the separating the wood pieces and sanding off any rough edges. That kept them occupied for a while, amid complaints about the quality of the cheap knives I’d picked up at the last minute. Finally we were ready for the first part of the construction. As always, when you have groups of people doing the same thing together, competition sets in.
For the first stage, I wanted to get the base complete and, even though they were looking at the same sets of instructions, you wouldn’t have believed it. It was a good thing that I had a load of extra zip ties. Nothing major, but some things have to be the right way round. So wire cutters and zip ties saw a lot of action during the first (and second) sessions.
By now the team competition was in full flow and, as chance would have it, the team that had raced on had to redo the most, so by the end of session one the slowest and steadiest team came in first.
For session two, it’s Y axis time… lots of cable ties, lots of bearings and, as we’ve almost come to expect, lots of room for error. We were down a couple of people this week, but the guys rallied on and, after twice as many cable ties as come in the kit, by the end of the session we had something that looked like a Printrbot Simple. These were the 2013 model, without the aluminium extruder and the wooden sliced version does take a bit of putting together. For some reason, people think that 1/4″ is the same as 6mm. Heads up, it’s not… it’s 6.35mm so when you build the extruder, by three slices in, your filament path is 1mm out. Doesn’t sound a lot, but it’s enough. Bits of sandpaper to the rescue and everything was together ready for wiring.
We missed a week for Easter and then we were back for the final session. Due to scheduling conflicts we were down to 2 of my regular team plus another couple of stand-ins who wanted to learn 3D printing. We were rocking…
Wiring was run, checked (re-run!). Endstops were triggered, connected properly and tested again, motors were run and, my slow and steady team (only one team member left at this point) was up and printing…The Winner!
Team two, ably assisted with our extra people were next and finally, the printer I was working on – only because the short notice scheduling change – was running as well.
But just building isn’t all you need. We had to get Repetier downloaded and then configured. I have some Slic3r settings I use, some I put together for a slow and steady print and some by Naomi from RoboSavvy, faster and more adventurous. Then it was welcome to the world of Thingiverse. What do we print? How big is it? How long will it take? What colour filament do I use? All essential questions in the tech age of 3D printing!
Considering there were differing levels of mechanical skill, the builds went surprising well. Those guys worked really hard and, I know there was some skepticism about 3D printing, but I think now, when the build has been completed, all those doubts have been put aside.
This technology is, and I’m sure a lot of people agree, the way forwards. When I was at school (and I’ve told this story a million times), the choice was woodwork or metalwork. Now, with Arduino’s, Raspberry Pi’s, 3D printing and all of the other technology of the last few years, the young people of today are the inventors and techno geeks of tomorrow and we should do what we can to encourage this.