Friday, February 18, 2011

Quick update

I have still not managed to get the firmware loaded on the main board. Despite changing the baud rate and messing about with timing of the restart it continues to do nothing. What is strange is that the Arduino IDE reports a successful upload with no error messages. The fact that the LED does not flash when I push the restart button leads me to believe that there is something wrong with the board itself.

I managed to contact Lambert from Techzone Communications and he was very helpful in giving me a few suggestions. None of them has produced results unfortunately. One thing that he suggested is that I use Repsnapper as my host software instead of Reprap Host. I haven't gotten Repsnapper working on my tablet yet but it is not yet a priority since I am pretty positive that nothing is being loaded on the Sanguino by the IDE. Unlike Reprap Host, which is written in Java, Repsnapper is a C program and Lambert feels that it is more stable. Time will tell.

I am going to move on from the main board and try to load the firmware on the extruder board this weekend. Even if it doesn't work perhaps it will give me some more information to work with.

On a more positive note, I received my silicon heater pad and the PID controller for same. I will be ready to proceed with my heated build platform whenever I get the Mendel running. I also received my new Soldering station with both a soldering iron and a heat gun included. See Below:

Pretty Cool Eh? It also comes with these extras:

I have been using a fixed temp pencil iron up until now and I just can't wait to melt some solder with this thing.

A major task this weekend, which is a three day weekend for us Saskatchewanians, is to clean up the spare room downstairs. After we make some room in there I am going to move in all of my workbenches and gear. It will give me the room to set things up properly and get organized.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Into the Valley of Troubleshooting Hell I Ride!

After much messing around I have managed to get the GCode Interpreter to compile on my old Linux Tablet PC. I am running Ubuntu Linux but I had neglected to download all of the various AVR modules that I needed so I wasted a couple of days digging through the code for the compile error and searching the online forums for help that I didn't really need. At least I feel a bit like a programmer again. It has been a good 10 or 15 years since I looked through any code. I am going to have to get used to it

I was amazed, when I got into it, at the amount of settings and tables that exist in the Interpreter code. I will have to go through it again before I run the machine to ensure that I have things like the thermistor or thermocouple tables set correctly. I will double-check the accuracy of their readings with my handy dandy infrared thermometer the first time I power up the extruder. No Reprapper should be without one.

The next step is to get the software loaded onto the Sanquino main board. Unfortunately I have been unable to get this to work. The Arduino software tells me that it is uploading and that the upload is complete but there is no indication from the board that anything is happening. The LED stays a steady green. I have tried the various combinations of clicking on the upload icon and pressing the restart button on the Sanguino that are suggested on the Reprap Wiki with no results. There is always the possibility that I have a hardware problem with the cable I made for connecting to the board so I will check it with my multimeter. I will also do some searching online for other folks suggestions. Oh, before you ask, the restart pins are permanently jumpered on the Techzone board.

I have been off work this week with another bout of illness so this is all I have been able to do. I am hoping for better now that I am on my feet again.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Green Lights!

Well, i finished wiring the Mendel this weekend. I only hooked up one of the stepper drivers and disconnected the extruder board just in case. Then I plugged in the USB cable and ..... Green Light! The main board LED lit up just fine. Since I was feeling foolishly overconfident I also plugged in the 12v source for the stepper and got a green light on that board as well. Unfortunately that is as far as I got.

The green light on the stepper board faded out over about 5 to 10 seconds. When I disconnect and reconnect the power I get the same reaction - first a bright LED which fades quickly to nothing. I have no idea what is happening there.

The Main board, on the other hand, is a different problem. There didn't seem to be any communication between it and my laptop so I went back and re-read a lot of the Techzone information. It turns out that the firmware loaded prior to shipping is for the Makerbot so i will have to load up the Reprap firmware before I can go any farther. Given my limited tech savvy that is harder than it sounds but I am working on it. I have the Arduino IDE and Sanguino extensions downloaded and tonight I will try to figure out how to get the firmware loaded.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Some Thoughts on the future

Since my project is nearing completion I have begun to consider where I will take it from here. I quickly came up with the following list of projects that I would like to work on. They are not in order of priority and some may get dropped completely later but they are the ones that are spinning around in my head currently

Tentative list of Projects using the Reprap – Things that would utilize parts printed on the Mendel.

  1. Build a powder style printer. A modified version of the Mendel Y-axis hardware could be used to move a re purposed inkjet printer carriage. The X-axis hardware from the printer would be used as-is. Utilizing the existing steel bar/skate bearings/printed parts design would save time and make it easier for others to replicate it. The bins for the Z-axis would have to be designed from scratch but the electronics could be as straightforward as an Arduino and a set of Pololu drivers.

  2. Print spare parts for the Reprap. This is a no-brainer and should be the first set of parts printed by any reprap owner.

  3. Print a Prusa Mendel for Dissidence. He has been an inspiration and a good sounding board for ideas. He deserves a Mendel and will also provide a good backup for me in case I break a part and don’t have a replacement on hand.

  4. Build a Prusa Mendel to donate to my daughter’s school. I would like to help raise awareness of the amateur rapid prototyping movement. They have great mechanical and woodworking shops at the high school and I’m sure they could make great use of one of these machines. They already have a large CNC router table so the instructors are relatively familiar with the basic principles involved. Actually, depending on performance, I might keep the Prusa and donate my original Mendel.

  5. Make a set of adapters for the relays in my Jaguar. I am replacing the belt driven fan in my Jaguar XJS with a set of electrical fans. This requires me to add two new relays to the wiring. Unfortunately the relays that come with the kit do not match the mounting brackets in the car. I would like to print a set of adapters that clip onto the mounting bracket in the car with one side and onto the relays with the other. These will probably have to be made in ABS since the Jaguar V12 engine produces a great deal of heat.

  6. Build something large. I’m not exactly sure what this would be but I would like to produce something to really demonstrate the capabilities of the Reprap and that would mean pushing the boundaries of what it can do. I was speculating on creating something out of parts that would each be almost the maximum size of the build area. When assembled it would be very big. This might require an enclosure around the Reprap in order to prevent warping and definitely needs a heated bed before I would even consider it.

  7. Model car. I would like to produce something to show my friends at Jagnuts, the car club that I belong to. I was thinking of creating a scale model e-type Jag. There are a number of 3d models of them available that I could use as a starting point. I would print it as several parts that could be painted and then assembled.

  8. HO scale buildings for my model railroad. I think that creating one-off plastic items for hobbies is one of the best uses for these machines. I can create flat wall and roof sections, doors, windows, chimneys, steps and a host of other parts that can be assembled later into buildings that are unique to my layout or even copy buildings in my city. It will depend on how much post-printing cleanup and sanding is required to produce a good looking final product.

  9. Organette or busker organ. This would be a big project and would require some significant design work prior to building anything. I have long been a fan of mechanical music machines, the ones that play a punched paper roll. They disappeared in the early part of the last century when the gramophone rendered them obsolete but they are fascinating machines and there are hundreds of different types. I have plans for a number of machines ranging from a small “monkey organ” to a large Wurlitzer band organ that I could use as a starting point. It would be nice to create something that actually plays music and then turn the plans loose on Thingiverse.

    Related projects - These do not necessarily require the Mendel to build, but they provide additional capabilities to the workshop

  1. Enclosure – A simple enclosed box for the Mendel allows for containment of toxic fumes (they would be vented outdoors) as well as maintaining a heated environment to prevent warping of larger pieces. This is one of the simplest additions to build and might be one of the first projects that I undertake, just for the sake of my health.

  2. Heated build platform – This is also a high priority project. Heated platforms help to prevent warping of parts. They greatly increase build quality and reduce waste due to scrapped parts. I have already ordered the heater pad, thermistor and PID controller for this project. I will use a flat aluminium plate for the bed which I will source locally.

  3. 3D Scanner. An excellent, self contained, laser scanner using laser pointers was described in Make Magazine. Everyone with a Reprap should have some kind of 3d scanner to allow them to create 3d models of existing items without having to manually model them from scratch.

  4. Powder printer - Mentioned above. I think that this machine will provide an excellent complement to the capabilities of the Mendel. It can be used to create parts in clay, ceramic, glass, plaster and some other materials. My reading indicates that the DIY versions lack the precision of the Mendel but the powder bed provides support for overhangs which allows production of parts that are currently impossible on the Reprap. With an 8.5” X 14” build area and at least 12” to 14" depth in the build bin it can also create parts that are much larger than the current Mendel build area.

  5. Kiln – A lot of the materials used by the powder printer require firing before they can be used. This applies especially to the Clay and Glass materials. There are a number of sets of open source plans out there in Internet Land so it would be a case of picking one and building it.

These are only a few ideas off the top of my head. The more I think the more stuff comes to mind. It is going to be a very interesting year.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Close to The Finish Line!

I have been making progress but not as fast as I would like. It seems that I can only squeeze a half hour at a time to work on the Mendel so everything just creeps along. At least it is still moving forward and no new problems have arisen.

I have managed to fabricate an electronics mount out of fibreboard and mounted it to the machine. Sorry for the fuzzy picture. All of the boards are installed and I have made up all three cables for the stepper driver boards. One advantage of this side mount design is that the cables are much shorter. I hope to get the rest of the wiring done tonight so I can see at least one of the axis move under it's own power. Very exiting.

I made a small mount for the 12v power socket out of a small bit of U shaped aluminum extrusion. It works fine and is very solid. I plan on mounting the USB board on top of it with a piece of double sided foam tape so that problem is also solved.

I have fabricated new opto flags out of heavier aluminum from my scrap box and my new Z-axis belt arrived. It fit perfectly and is now installed so I have all three axis moving OK by hand. I also installed the bed so the mechanical build is complete. As a side note, my friend Mike from Method to his Madness suggested simply doubling up the layers of pop can aluminum to get the needed stiffness for the flags. I never seem to think of these simple solutions to my problems so it is always good to have another set of eyes looking at things.

Mike and I have been discussing getting a set of Mendel parts printed for him when I get this thing operational. I have a roll of PLA so I could even print the bushings for a Prussa. We'll have to see how long it takes to get the calibration right but it would definitely be in my interest to have another working printer in the neighborhood in case of problems.

I am already compiling a list of things that I want to try once I get it running. I will write up a post on various projects I am considering so I can get some feedback.