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Al Print Platforms for the MakerBot

Filed under: Hacking,MakerBot,Metalworking — jet @ 11:15

Over the weekend I made myself a couple of aluminum print platforms to experiment with heated print surfaces. I figure that not everyone has easy access to metal-working tools, so I made a few other that I put in my new store.



MakerBot Cupcake Technical Note #0

Filed under: Hacking,MakerBot — jet @ 17:48

Some lessons learned during the assembly of, and early usage of MakerBot Cupcake #235.


I bought the “Deluxe” kit for $950 that comes with pre-soldered boards, tools, and pretty much everything you need to get up and printing. Mine was missing a couple of random bits I was able to find in my spares box — a header here, a screw of the right length there, but otherwise everything was in order and neatly packed. It was US$ 200 more than the “regular” kit, but the time saved sourcing parts and soldering chips was well worth it to me. There were a couple of times I needed a small screwdriver to pry/move something, but I did most of the assembly with the hex keys and box wrenches included in the Deluxe kit.

The instructions weren’t always perfect. I had to print them out (long story) and discovered that all of the images in my printout were reversed left/right. At a few points the text was right and the photos were wrong or vice-versa. Still, my experience fabbing and working with kitbuilds made it pretty easy to finish the kit in a few evenings.


This is where I had (and still have) the most problems, mostly due to my MakerBot controller being a Mac G5/PowerPC.

One of the more important free tools — skeinforge — has problems on PowerPC due to the default Python install being wonky. Someone on an Intel Mac would tell me to “do foo”, I’d “do foo”, and it would fail, so we’d go around about whether or not I was “doing foo” properly. After switching to my MacBook (Intel) for testing, most of the software issues went away and I was able to design/print some test objects.

General Usage

My SolidWorks Student Edition expired the week before my MakerBot showed up, so it’s off to the world of free software for modeling. Learning Blender is a bit difficult after using SolidWorks and the free version of SketchUp is not very powerful past simple geometries. Compounding the problems is again, the G5 I’m trying to use as my server. Reading the Blender FAQ it appears that a G5 with a big monitor can be problematic due to memory issues. Switching my display from “millions” to “thousands” of colors and closing most of my other apps has made it crash much less than before.

It seems to me that the UI for ReplicatorG was branched pretty early from the Arduino world — some of the painful bugs of early Arduino days still exist in ReplicatorG. In particular, do not turn off your Makerbot while the ReplicatorG control panel is open. I’ve hung my G5 several times this way.

Design Notes

A few things I’ve learned in my first few designs and test prints

Small holes are hard. I tried to make a 3mm hole in a 1cm thick drive wheel and ended up drilling it out. When you’re making an object, remember that the print head resolution is much lower than what you see on screen. (If you’re used to lasercutters and Stratasys machines, it’s like going from .3mm technical pencils to kid’s crayons. :-)

Learn to dial in your raft while it starts to print. I’ve ruined several prints because the raft wasn’t firmly embedded in the print surface from start to finish. After a few layers, the raft would start to peel off the surface and the print would be ruined.

Learn g-code. You might want to verify or change the code generated by skeinforge. In my case, I started adding a M01statement after the first movement to build the raft to verify that the raft would actually be on the print surface. I also had to go through and edit the temp settings at various places to account for my personal cupcake’s printing requirements.

Get a cheap caliper, even a flimsy plastic one is better than a ruler for measuring things down to ~1mm. I’m making a housing for an LCD display and the art-store $10 plastic caliper is as good as my Starrett for the resolution the Cupcake can print.

That’s all for now, will post more as I learn more.


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