Assembling A 3D Printer From Parts
Q: Building a 3D Printer can be...
a) a lot of fun,
b) a real challenge,
c) frustrating at times
d) all of the above.
A: d) all of the above.
Here's a look at what's involved in assembling your own 3D printer from a "bag of parts", in this case a Deezmaker Bukobot.
1- It starts with a lot of parts.
Unpacking the box reveals a whole lot of seemingly random parts. How is this going to turn into that picture I saw on the Internet?
Make sure you go thru the kit's packing list and make sure everything was included. This will also introduce you to the various parts and what they are called. You'll notice I've labeled the bags to make things easier to locate later. Contact the company if parts are missing.
2 - Assembling the frame
The first you assemble is the printer's frame or box.
You want to be extra careful at this point to get everything square. If the fame or box is not square, the printed items will not look right, have the right dimensions, or fit together correctly.
3 - Motors & Pullys & Belts, Oh My!
Once the frame is assembled, we begin to add the mechanical parts of the printer, including motors, special belts, steel rods and pulleys.
Again, you want to take your time as once everything is installed, it will not be easy to access these components.
4 - The Build Platform
Yes, that's a piece of cardboard, cut with a laser cutter to insulate the back of the unit.
We assemble the platform that will support the parts while they are being printed. This printer had a heated platform to ensure the plastic or other media sticks when printing the initial layers. It will move in and out on the "Y" axis
5 - The Extruder
This part slides left and right, and holds the high-tech "glue gun" nozzle that lays down the plastic, one layer (.1 mm to .3 mm) at a time. Notice all the wires that are showing up.
6 - Organizing The Wires
It takes a lot of wires to make a 3D printer work. Now it's time to orgainze the wires so they look neat and will not snag when the printer is operating.
7 - Add The Limit Switches & Power Suppily
Next we add the switches that allow the computer to locate the build platform location. When the platform bumps into the switch, we know where we are at "0" (zero).
The power supply provides the power to the motors and heaters.
8 - Add The Controller Board
You can never have too many wires.
Now that everything is assembled, it's time to add the controller board that runs the printer. This is a special purpose Arduino computer and all the electronics needed to run the motors, turn on the heating elements and check the temperatures. It takes commands from a PC or memory card and creates the printed object.
Labeling wires and triple checking your work is critical at this step. Best not to attach the wrong wire to the wrong spot.
9 - Final Cleanup
Everything is installed, but there are still a lot of wires!
After using a bunch of wire ties, things look much better. Most of the wires were hidden on the back side of the X-axis brace and under the controller board.
10 - Ready For Testing
The kit will usually include a list of things to check and adjust as part of your first print. Follow the list and re-check everything. You've put a lot of time and effort into this.
After the software is installed in your computer, plug everything in and turn on the power for the first time. There's a series of tests and adjustments you'll need to perform, then it's on to your first test print. In my case, it was some cylinders.
And here is an early frog print.
Things Will Go Wrong
Here's an example of a print gone wrong.
Turns out the filament I had purchased was not appropriate for this particular 3D printer. You should always start with the brand they recommend, even if it's a little more expensive. Once you're comfortable with the printer and the way it works, you can experiment.
The good news is that filament is cheap. Mistakes are not expensive and are usually easy to correct. Don't hesitate to contact your 3D printer company if problems persist.
Some filing required
Most 3D printer manufacturers produce their kits in small lots and constantly improving them. Sometimes, this causes a part to not fit or directions to be slightly out of date.
For this kit, a small adjuster tab did not fit into it's designated slot. It turns out the plastic used to make the tab was just ever so slightly thicker than it was supposed to be. After a review of the instructions and an e-mail to the company, we found out that yes, that's where it was supposed to go. A few minutes with a file to widen out the hole, and we were good to go.
This web page contains the assembly instruction manual and additional images for the Bukobot 3D printer assembled here. Take a look to get a more in-depth idea of what is involved.
While you can still purchase, or create your own, 3D printer kit, many printers now come pre-assembled and ready-to-print. If you are not comfortable dealing with wires and small parts and the occasional question (how do I do that?), kit building is not for you.