Sumpod 3d Printer replacement

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[I wrote this blog entry a while ago but I'd not gotten around to finishing it.]

I'm sad to say I gave up trying to get my Sumpod 3d printer to work reliably. Despite spending a lot of time and effort, the fact is that the combination of problems with the extruder and the hot end made it not worth my time to get it working. (Some of the newer Sumpod models have improved the extruder and also allow mounting of the extruder at the hot end eliminating another potential source of problems - the Bowden tube - and some owners of the original Sumpod are making progress towards reliable prints so perhaps my Sumpod adventure is not quite over.)

Despite my frustration with the Sumpod, I was totally sold on the idea of 3d printing so I decided to source a replacement. I looked at several commercial machines such as the Ultimaker, Replicator, and Sumpod Aluminium. I considered the quality of prints shown on their web sites. (I was shocked that there were still no sample prints on the Sumpod web site.) I also looked at lead time as I was impatient for a replacement. I followed "featured" designs on Thingiverse, several forums and blogs looking at the quality of prints from different machines. I looked at the number of Thingiverse designs for the respective printers - to get a feel for the size of their respective communities. I watched lots of YouTube videos of both successful and failed prints.

After my experience with the Sumpod, I decided to look for a popular machine with a big community behind it; the community is the best thing about the Sumpod.

While I was tempted by the fascinating-looking Rostock, I finally began to focus on the MendelMax. The MendelMax is a derivative of the popular RepRap Mendel that uses aluminium extrusions rather than threaded rods. The quality (and speed) of prints looked brilliant. There were several commercial enterprises developing the design further and there was an active community of successful owners. There were also several interesting blogs with MendelMax enhancments/experiments - such as RichRap's.

I considered purchasing from Trinity Labs or LulzBots but in the end I sourced the majority of the machine from Creative Machines in the UK. The kit from them included almost everything except fittings needed to attach the upper aluminium plate of the print bed. I was very pleased with the quality of the kit. It met my expectations except for a few unrealistic ones; I was expecting the kit to include soldered stepper drivers, the extrusions to be drilled and the bed to be drilled but these were simple tasks and the description gave me no real reason to have expected this.

I think my new MendelMax is brilliant. I'll definitely write more about what I've been doing with it in future posts.

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Sumpod 3d Printer improvements

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My Sumpod 3d printer now has several upgrades. I've upgraded the software to Marlin (Thanks to Stohn and Erik for the firmware.) This gives noticeable improvements in print quality and allows the printer to be driven a bit quicker.

I've upgraded the hardware adding:

  • an SD card reader (for printing without a computer),

  • an rotary encoder (knob) to control the printer and navigate the SD card, and

  • a speaker for feedback from the rotary encoder. (I'm planning to add beeps for error events in the firmware so it is more obvious when something goes wrong or when the printer is preventing me doing something stupid - like extruding when it is too cold.)

This morning I printed these coins for my children:

They are very happy with them. I uploaded the designs to Thingiverse as thing 23369 and thing 23374 respectively.

Most of my other prints have been things for the printer itself, such as a small mount for the SD card reader and a spool holder.

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Making more things on my Sumpod 3d Printer

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Now my Sumpod 3d printer is working, I've been taking requests for things to print. Tracy designed these with inkscape and I did the rest:

Caleb asked for a blue snake. I did my best to design one:

He loves it which is what matters but I think it needs more work - both the design and the printing. I did rather like watching it print especially the hex in-fill:

and it was good to see that the printer coped with the slight overhang created by building up and out on the lowest layers.

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Bed levelling my Sumpod 3d Printer

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I initially used spheres of blutack to level the bed on my Sumpod 3d printer. This worked surprisingly well and was good enough to start testing but wasn't very robust.

For something more robust, I followed Stohn's method. The components I used were:

For each corner in turn, I used a screw with a large washer (to spread the force) through the platform without the bed in place to drive a captive pronged nuts into the platform and then removed the screw again.

I then put the springs and bed in place and put the screws back in (using smaller washers). I screwed it together leaving a bit of space to tighten it during levelling.

I don't know how others are doing the actually levelling, but I used replicatorg with X axis and Y axis homed then moved the Z axis until it was less than .5mm from the bed. I then attempted to slide a business card under the nozzle; and tightened the closest screw until the card wouldn't go under and then loosened it very slightly until the business card just went under. I then moved slowly towards another corner. Every 10mm (or sooner if it looked too close), I tried the business card and, if necessary, adjusted the screw (of the corner I was heading towards).

I'd welcome comments about better processes for bed levelling.

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Success with Sumpod 3d Printer

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I've never been so pleased to see a pink alligator!

Today I did exactly what I said I'd do in the previous blog post. First, I took apart the hot end of my Sumpod 3d printer to clean it. I'm not sure if Tracy approved but found a Brulee torch (like this one) made a perfect tool for cleaning the nozzle. I used it to burn off all the PLA from an earlier leak. I kept at it until the smoke stopped. Although the smell wasn't as nice as burning sugar, then end result was almost as satisfying as a Creme Brulee. I definitely recommend this to others who've got a dirty nozzle.

Next, I put everything back together with a fresh piece of PTFE tube (from ebay). This presented a small problem as my hot end has a very slight misalignment between the PEEK/insulator and the nozzle. (This is probably why I initially failed to insert the PTFE fully and thus caused a leak.) I'd got around this last time I reassembled the hot end by shaving a very tiny amount of the tube with a pencil sharpener. This seemed to work but didn't lead to a successful print so I thought I'd try something else this time.

So, I threaded the push fitting, the MDF holder, and the PEEK onto the PTFE tube. Then I pushed the PTFE into the nozzle making sure it went in completely. I then screwed the nozzle and PEEK together - this way the PTFE is pushed in really tight. Finally (with some care to push the fitting down) I screwed the PEEK and push fitting together. This seemed to work better than any of my previous attempts where I screwed everything together first and pushed the tube in last. It seems a more reliable procedure to ensure success than the obvious/natural (?) way I'd been doing it before.

I said that I was planning to clean the filament as it entered the extruder. I did this but it was rather half-hearted effort and I don't think it made much difference.

I printed the same 20mm x 20mm x 3mm block with solid in-fill that I tried yesterday and it came out much better:

One corner is slightly less neat than the rest - the corner where the layers start:

This was quite a short print less than 30 minutes, but I was optimistic enough that I'd beaten the jamming problems that I called Richard Sum to thank him for this help and let him know I'd made good progress.

This evening I tried a more complicated (and more useful) print. This time I used the default skeinforge hexagonal in-fill and the print took a bit less than an hour. I watched very nervously as it took shape:

I was very relieved when it finished (especially as the pink filament was close to running out):

and I'm pleased with the result:

Now I have to actually think about what I'm going to use this printer for. I'm sure my lovely boys will have some ideas.

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