I guess it was eventually going to happen. I'd not had a compelling reason for a 3D printer so I basically ignored them. After expanding my RC hobby to include 1:10 scale rock crawling, I decided it was time to get a 3D printer. And the use of the printer wouldn't be restricted to just the rock crawler either. 3D printing was already established in the RC flying community as well. There is one company I am aware of that sells the print files for printing the entire aircraft. As I write this, I'm not sure that is the road I'll be heading down but if it is, I'll be ready for it. I'll blame the long Minnesota winters for giving me a reason to give that a try.
As I was going to quickly discover, jumping into the 3D printer world is similar to picking an RC radio system....maybe even worse. There are several methods of 3D printing. After spending a little time researching them, I decided that the my needs and my budget could be best served with the fused deposition modeling (FDM) method. Don't let the big words scare you. An FDM printer is what most hobby/craft folks use and it functions by extruding a plastic filament layer-by-layer onto a flat surface. The filament is on a large spool and is fed into a heated block of metal (extruder block) that precisely squirts it onto a flat surface. Each layer is melted onto the layer below it while the extruder block is precisely moved in the X, Y, and Z axis by some fancy electronics all controlled by a small computer. Easy peasy!
Here you go! This is the printing head on my 3D printer doing what it does best....extruding melted filament onto the flat surface I previously mentioned. The printing head is made of many distinct parts, fans, motors, heating block, nozzle, and a heat break to name a few. A very precise stepper motor is used to push the plastic filament into the heater block where it then comes out the nozzle. The flat surface is referred to as the printer bed. It has a heater in it whose temperature is controlled by the computer, just like the heating block. Some filaments require the bed to be heated in order to ensure proper adhesion while others do not. But I'm getting ahead of myself so let's roll this back towards the beginning.
After doing some research and talking with some local friends from the flying club, I narrowed the field of a hundred or two 3D printers down to just two, the Artillery Sidewinder X1 and the Prusa I3 MK3S+. Both of these printers have a large user community which means lots of online help to help answer the plethora of questions that come with 3D printing.
I was strongly considering the Prusa printer because of the above photo, the Prusa 3D printer farm. Their are 500 printers in the above building, the same model as the one I previously mentioned. These 500 printers are printing parts that are used to build the same model printer that is sold to their customers. These printers are networked together to reduce the amount of human intervention needed to run them. Think of it this way....Prusa is so confident of their printer that they use it in their production line. That is pretty cool. Unfortunately, with that level of confidence comes a higher price tag, better than twice what the Sidewinder sells for. In the end, I decided I could live with the less expensive Sidewinder X1....and several of the local guys in the flying club were also using the Sidewinder so local support was just a few miles away, if needed.
So now that I'd decided on the Sidewinder, I waited the obligatory week for the printer to arrive from an East coast vendor. It came well packaged in sandwiched layers of perfectly cut foam all tucked into a heavy duty shipping box. The pic above shows the printer as delivered less the foam and shipping box. The printer's base is to the left and the printer's gantry is to the right with a few odds and ends between them on the table.
The base of the printer contains the power supply (an off the shelf item), the heated bed with the Y axis motor, and the color touch panel (TFT), and the all important mainboard. The gantry is attached to the base with 4 screws and about 5 plug-in cables. On the gantry, an X axis stepper motor drives the printing head from side to side (left to right) while a pair of Z axis motors controls the printing head's elevation. It took about 15 minutes to review the assembly instructions and put the two parts together. A couple of tools were needed and were even included in the zippered pouch which also contains a couple of spare parts.
With the printer assembled, I headed into town to check out a 2nd hand store to see if I could find a suitable small table that would work as a printer table. I was surprised when I drove up to the building only to find a CLOSED sign hanging on the door. The building was for sale and I assume this past year's COVID lock down had something to do with that. My wife mentioned I should try the Habit for Humanity store. It sells donated items to help fund the Habit for Humanity program. Good idea and certainly worth a try!
Needless to say that I was way past happy to bring home this table. With the exception of the wooden top, everything else was metal construction, being welded or screwed together. Some of you might recognize it.....if you ever worked in a business office back in the 80s when wide-carriage tractor fed dot matrix printers were commonly in use. This was one such table made specifically for these 50+ pound old school printers. The large box of paper was loaded onto the metal shelf and the paper fed up through the slot in the table top and into the bottom feed opening of the printer which sat over the top of the slot.
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