A few weeks ago I put down some of my own money to buy a 3D printer - the Dremel Idea Builder. I've been watching the progress of 3D printing for a while wondering when I put down the cash to get into the game.
Well, the day arrived, I had a birthday not far away (always a good excuse for gadget acquisitions), and perhaps more importantly 3D printing reached the point where you could pop down to your local hardware store and pick one up.
The Dremel Idea Builder borrows a lot from the FlashForge Dreamer which it seems to be derived from.
For the past week I've been steadily working on an enclosure for a prototype device that I might talk about a little bit more in the future. Along the way I've done a few test prints and I've been generally impressed with the output of the printer.
Now that I'm into this a little bit I thought I would share some thoughts that might help other travelers taking their first steps and also provide some constructive criticism of the Dremel Idea Builder and a few of the other tools that I've used along the way.
As a software developer I'm no stranger to having a fairly complex toolchain. What I've found is that 3D printing has quite a menagerie of tools that you need to use, but with the Dremel Idea Builder you can probably get away with just two or three initially.
I started using the 123 Design from Autodesk to do what I wanted. Generally speaking 123 Design is pretty easy to work with and there aren't too many things that I haven't been able to do (for my specific purpose).
One thing I have found is that the software will occasionally randomly crash, and also fail to remember that I'm actually authenticated against the 123dapp.com backend service where I'm storing my models.
The next tool that you come across is Meshmixer. Meshmixer is another tool owned by Autodesk which allows you to take your various models either from 123 Design, or other tools that produce models in common formats and lay them out into a print bed. You might have a multi-part model in 123 Design but to print you need to lay those parts down onto a horizontal surface. Meshmixer helps you do this. I've found Meshmixer to be a little bit clunky and it also randomly crashes. One thing that it can do however is print the support structures for more complex shapes (fortunately I haven't had to do much of this).
Once you've got a layout in Meshmixer it is time to jump into the first piece of Dremel specific software - Dremel 3D. Dremel 3D allows you to import a model (in STL format for example) and then configure a bunch of Dremel specific print settings. Once you are happy you can press build and send the job to the printer over USB (or alternatively save a build platform out to an SD card).
This is probably where my biggest beef is. I probably spend equal amounts of my time at home swapping between my Surface Pro 3 and my MacBook Pro. This means I've got the above tool chain installed on both my Windows environment, and on my OS X environment - so I often end up using both. I find that 123D works extremely well under OS X, but there are some models that the Dremel 3D software just fails to generate a build platform for - as a result I have to jump back to my Windows machine. I've tried figuring it out with a Dremel support person but no progress yet.
Print Adhesion and Removal
You quickly come to realize when doing 3D printing that there is a balance to be struck between getting your print job to stick to the build platform during the printing process, and being able to remove it afterwards. The Dremel Idea Builder comes with two adhesive pads that you stick to a perspex build platform.
For the first few print I did I printed directly onto one of these pads but I quickly found it hard to remove the prints afterwards and the scraping tool that comes out of the box with the Dremel is simply not sharp or strong enough to lift the prints without damaging the edge of the tool.
In the end I used what appears to be a common trick and used blue painters tape the cover the surface of the build platform. The print job adheres fairly well to the tape but still allows for easy removal afterwards. Worse case scenario you can peel the tape off the build platform and recoat it.
One of the things that I'm currently struggling with is temperature control. When I first started using the printer I had it on my desk in the office. The house is generally at around 21c due to the ducted heating. At this temperature I managed to avoid any noticeable warping of the print job. However, last weekend I moved the printer out into the garage which isn't heated. It is the beginning of spring here in Australia and it is still a little bit cool outside. As a result I've found my print jobs starting to warp up at the edges which creates a few problems.
At the moment I still haven't solved this problem. I could take the printer back inside but it does take some valuable desk space. Another option is either a heated print bed, or some kind of enclosure for the printer itself which is heated to a more optimal temperature.
Lots of people appear to use heated print beds with other printers but I haven't see on specifically for the Dremel yet. I actually wonder why they don't heat the space inside the printer given that would avoid warping further up on larger print jobs as well (I would assume).
I'm pretty happy with the Dremel Idea Builder. Other than a few grumbles with the software on Mac OS X I think the whole process works pretty well. Some of the issues I'm having seem pretty common for people getting started with 3D printing, and solutions seem to surface over time.
I'm hoping that we'll see some add-ons from Dremel for the printer around temperature control. The unit also seems to have capacity for a second PLA spool which makes me think we might see a dual extruder option in the future.