Tuesday 13 October 2009

Open-Source to the rescue!

To build anything in a RepRap, you need to have a 3-D design, save it as a STL or triangle mesh file, and load it into the RepRap host software (or skeinforge).

To create these designs, RepRappers use different programs - Either an adapted 3-d modelling programs, originally used for animation (like Blender and Art of Illusion), or freeware versions of CAD software (like CoCreate). These solutions work, and work well, but each program has seperate advantages. I've been looking out for a 'better fit' - a CAD-style program, that supports building meshes and solids.

Make magazine today furnished me with a link to FreeCAD.

It's pretty slick - either I'm quite lucky, or it works quite well. Within a few minutes I was able to load it up, get started, create a small cube model, export it to an STL file and import it successfully into the RepRap Host software (not always an easy thing!).

OK, lets give it a real test...

Let's load up some data from a complex file: a human head.
To really test it, I created a large sphere, stuck it on top, and did a 'union' (Join).
This is not nice: most complex geometries cause all sorts of bent and broken and backwards triangles. Lucky there is an analysis tool to point all this out:
From FreeCAD

Pressing some of the 'repair' buttons sorted all this out.
From FreeCAD

This exported easily to an STL file: and then loaded straight into the host software.

From FreeCAD

It started to slice and print to gcode : it got to 55 layers through before I got bored and turned it off.

FreeCAD is currently alpha software so far, but certainly one to watch!

Saturday 10 October 2009

One step forwards

G'day all.

I've been quiet recently - I had packed everything away into the garage as we were planning to move. Plans change, we're now not moving so I unpacked the RepRap and fired it up.
From ResistorHeater

First problem : blocked nozzle, due to a broken thermistor - overheated - and set the ABS solid.
Cleared down and drilled it out.

I replaced the thermistor with a spare 100k makerbot one - my last spare.

Interestingly enough, I soldered in a 100k thermistor from Maplins into a spare circuit, connected it up, and the temp read about 20C at room temp, and 34C while holding it - pretty good without any change in configuration. It might be a suitable replacement for the 'official' ones.

Replacement thermistor in, I warmed up the heater and 'let rip'
From ResistorHeater

It works! Extrusion is pretty slow (232mm/sec) and wide (nearly 1mm diameter through a 0.8mm nozzle) but it comes out reliably and pretty consistently. Temp was about 225C and power (screw thread/servo) at 180/255.

Now I have something working, I can refine the nozzle size ( I should be able to get some 0.6mm B&Q nozzles) and the original BfB 0.4mm nozzle, plus I have some small drills.

I now need to get my settings and speeds right in the host software - my current version is months old, maybe I should update. I've been thinking about upgrading to version 3 electronics, too, but with the excellent Mendel design out with a much smaller footprint, I quite fancy that. It might be time to build a Mendel using my Darwin....