Saturday, September 12, 2015

M3D Printer #1, test prints

I purchased the M3D printers on Kickstarter.  If you are not familiar with Kickstarter, it is a crowd funding sight, so there is some risk involved, before investing, check out the project thoroughly.  Also, be patient, ALL technology projects run late, most of the time, several months.  If that kind of thing makes you loose sleep, don't get involved.  Enough of my disclaimer.  At the time the M3D Kickstarter was concluded, the M3D was the largest Kickstarter EVER, raising 3.4 million dollars from almost 12,000 backers!

The M3D is now available direct, and is made in the USA,

I wanted the M3D to test filaments that I would not want to run on my Afinia, because of risk of damage to that machine.  Risking a $300 machine seems a lot more reasonable than a $1300 machine.  In particular, I want to run PLA filament that has been infused with Brass, Copper, Iron and Wood.  The Afinia is not optimized for using PLA, but the M3D is.

I first had the opportunity to play with the M3D at The Railroad Hobby Show, put on by the Amherst Railway Society.  We plugged it in at the hotel the night before we were to demonstrate it in the morning, and had it running in minutes.  Yes it was just that easy.  Pretty much plug-n-play.

Since an easy thing to print for me is wood or steel barrels, that is what we did as a test.  The first thing I noted is that it is SLOW.  The Afinia is not the fastest machine, but the quality of the prints is impecable.  The M3D took and hour to print four barrels, when the Afinia did them in 20 minutes.  In my opinion, time is not really the issue, quality of the print is what we, as modelers, are after.  While the machine is printing, there are many other modeling projects to work on.

Note that even 7-8 months from the early release software, M3D is still tweaking it.  Every time I start to use the printer, I check the web for updates.

The first prints, which we did in PLA, were very difficult to remove from the raft.  Since those initial prints at the show, my own machine arrived, and so far I have only printed in ABS at home.  Whether it is the ABS or the upgrade in software, the items seem to come off the raft much easier than they did in the early release.

My Test Print.

This is the same test print I did with the Afinia, to see what it will do, or, in some ways, what the software will allow the printer to attempt.  These are pictures of what the M3D will do.  As you can see, it could have been a cleaner print.  Of particular interest to me, the 1" thick wall (1" in HO scale, therefore, about .0115" thick).  The 1" wall and the 1-1/2" thick walls have started to print, AND those did NOT print using the Afinia.  Granted, they are not very good, but in the right situation, I might need a thin wall, and I have a chance with the M3D. The Afinia software, knowing that walls that thin are an issue, just ignores those thin walls.

As you can see in the view, as the print progressed, the thinner walls did not have enough surface to stay on the printing platform, and were knocked loose.  Not good, but if there was a thin section between two larger sections, then it would most likely work.  Again, something the Afinia would not allow.


In the early stages of printing, all the walls are now sticking to the raft.

 And when finished, all the wall printed nicely.  The posts, not so much.

 This is a good improvement over the earlier software, but the filament is still stringing between the posts.  If the posts were further apart, the filament would have more time to cool, and I believe this problem would go away.

The M3D software will allow me to print thinner walls than the Afinia, which could come in handy on many projects.  

Although the M3D printed items stand on their own, I had to compare them to what I print on the Afinia.  Here is an item I wanted to use to display some wheels in a tire shop.  I printed it both on the Afinia, the black one, and on the M3D, the red one.  No real comparison.

 Crisp and clean

Lots of stringing of the filament between posts.  If that is all I had, it actually could be cleaned up and used, but it would take a lot of work.  All the posts are there, but there is a lot of stringing of the filament between posts that would need cleaned up.

HO scale barrels.  The black one was done on the Afinia, and the red on the M3D.

The red one is slightly rougher, but otherwise, it is better, thinner wall, just a tighter crispness on the barrel rings.  Both printed from the same drawing.

I was just about ready to put this post to bed, then I came up with a couple more test prints.  First, here are some speaker sound chambers.  The black one was done on the Afinia, and the red on the M3D, the M3D at it's finest settings.

 The difference in obvious.

In this extreme close up, you can readily see the issues with the box printed on the M3D, simply not solid around the edges, and it will take some clean up to be of any use at all.  Probably usable, but not crisp.

Then I thought of the wagon wheels I printed for a diorama, that I had to get done at Shapeways, as they were too fine to print on the Afina.  As you will recall above, the M3D software will allow me to print some smaller wall thicknesses than the Afinia.  Soooo, I ran a quick test.
I should have put a penny in the picture for size comparison, but the smaller wheel is about 7/16" in diameter.  The finished, weathered wheels were printed at Shapeways, cost about $1.00 each, by the time you add freight.  The one in the center, printed on the M3D, probably cost a penny or two.  Although obviously not as fine in detail at the ones from Shapeway, it is finer than I could have printed on the Afinia.  In fact, it is small enough, the Afinia would not have recognized anything, and would not have printed anything.  

Well I have to find more time to play with it, and gets some of the more exotic filaments ordered to try.  The wood filled sounds like a good thing to make wood barrels.  And the iron filled filament might work for underframes, as it would help with weight.    

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