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Chris Elsworthy Design Blog

AutoMaker 2.01.03 release and TechABS

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog, Design, News, Software Updates | 6 Comments

Hi Robox Users,

We’ve got some new features in AutoMaker to let you know about which are around making results match expectation and warning users when Robox cant continue. We’ve also release a new formula of ABS which is making it the material of choice for me right now.

AutoMaker Improvements

  • SurePrint enhancements
    • Off-bed model checks occur at project load time
    • Prints cannot be started if a model is off-bed
    • PLA is ejected if not required during a print with high bed temperatures
    • Bed temperature is lowered to PLA levels and raft is enabled if PLA and a different material are in use simultaneously
    • Improved post-processor and slicer failure indications

In previous versions the post processor was responsible for checking the sliced model to ensure that head movements were not beyond the ability of Robox, we now check the model before it is sliced to ensure it fits inside the build volume and thus wont generate moves that can’t be performed.

We’ve seen a few Dual Material users printing with PLA and and another materials that need higher temperatures at the same time, this has the potential to cause problems.  If the PLA filament gets too hot before it reaches the head it can jam the system, to overcome this and still allow these two materials to be printed together we’ve introduced some automated systems. Firstly, if the PLA was loaded but not used in the print we simply eject it just before the print to ensure it out of the build environment. If PLA is used for the build alongside another hotter material then AutoMaker now uses the PLA target temperature for both the bed and ambient, to ensure that the model sticks to the bed raft is automatically switched on.

AutoMaker check that the combination of the raft thickness and the models height to ensure it still fits into the build volume.

There are a number of checks that the post process does to the sliced model before allowing the print to start, if the print cant continue we now let the user know why whenever possible. This includes when the print exceeds the build volume due to switching on features like spiral printing and brim.

Without taking away options from users we hope that the above features will enable more prints to be successful and less chance of jamming or damaging your Robox.

Since the last release we noticed a few small issues which have also been addressed in this release;

  • Fixed macro selection issue – DM macro incorrectly selected in some situations when SM head mounted on dual-extruder printer.
  • Settings for Support, Raft, Brim now fit on the screen correctly
  • Bed axes move correctly when AutoMaker is resized
  • Calibration improvement – prevents apparent leak of nozzle when starting nozzle open calibration (only experienced by a minority of customers)
New materials – techABS
I’m very excited about this! ABS is the material of choice for many design engineers, its mechanical properties are well rounded and can have a mirror polish, it accepts a wide range of glues and paints as well as sanding and cutting nicely. Its a bit more difficult to print perfectly and warping and shrinkage have been a cause of pain on may prints. This new formula goes a good way to fix this, it prints at a slightly lower temperature and requires a cooler bed to stick down. A lower shrink rate along with these other properties means that parts print reliably, have good mechanical dimensions and have a beautiful surface finish.

Spiral Printing on Robox

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog, Design, Printables, Software Updates, Stuff and Things | 4 Comments

If you’ve downloaded the latest version of AutoMaker then you may have noticed that we’ve activated Spiral Printing for you to play with. Robox is particularly good at spiral printing as it offers the highest ranges of wall thickness without having to remove and replace the nozzle.

Below is a quick guide on how to best use this new feature.
There are a number of things that you should be aware of when trying this feature.

  1. Only place one object on the bed at any time.
    Because of the nature of spiral printing the flow of material from the nozzles does not stop and start. Placing more than one object on the bed means that the models would be impossible to print in one continuous extrusion.
  2. Ensure that your print has only one continuous island from bottom to top.
    This is for the same reason – multiple islands on any layer means that the flow of material has to stop and start. Spiral printing is designed to avoid this.
  3. Consider how thick you want the base to be
    This is one of the few controls Automaker has for spiral printing, the number of layers you choose and the layer thickness will equate to your base thickness before spiral printing starts. The first layer is always 0.3mm and as a guide I would ensure that this is the minimum filament width to ensure good adhesion to the bed. The sequence layers heights are controlled by, yes you’ve guessed it, ‘layer height’. So for example if you’ve chosen a layer height of 0.2mm and 5 base layers your spiral print with have a 1.1mm thick base. (0.3mm + (4 x 0.2mm))
  4. Think about what wall thickness you want
    After the base of your part is completed the system moves to the spiral printed section, continuously moving up as it orbits the perimeter of your design laying down a single line of filament. The wall thickness is controlled by the perimeter width and because its only going to be done in one pass you may want to increase it and use the larger 0.8mm nozzle to create wall thickness of up to 1.2mm. As a guide I’ve found that the ratio between layer height and wall thickness should be between 2:1 – 5:1, the thicker the wall and the smaller the layer height the more likely overhangs will be printed perfectly.
  5. The part must be solid, not hollowed out with a wall thickness
    Because we are using ‘Solid layers at Bottom’ and perimeter thickness to control the thickness of your part the part needs to be a solid to start with. If you want an inner and outer shell, and don’t mind a hollow centre you can use an idea I had when designing the is thermal mug: add a very thin cut down through the part to make each layer a single perimeter again. On the photo below, you can see that the sequence of printing is outside surface of the bowl -> half the handle -> inside surface of the bowl -> half the handle -> outside surface of the bowl… and so on…Thermal MugSpiral Mug Section Small
    6 . Your design is less than 99mm tall
    Robox has a 100mm Z-build height, but because of the way Cura adds the Z move to every move on the layer sometimes the sliced part will come out slightly above 100mm. The post processor will throw this out as impossible print, so to avoid this scale your part to ensure it is less than 99mm high.

Robox_spiral_cup_iso

You can download the cup above from this link. robox_spiral_mug.stl

Robox_spiral_lee_hand

Or the Vase with Support engineer Lee’s face on it by clicking the image above. LeeVase_Mk2.stl

Robox ® launches first dual-material 3D printing head

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog, Design, Exhibiting, News, Press Release, Prototype Build | 12 Comments

At last we’re delighted to announce the launch of our dual-material printing head that will allow users to print in two different materials simultaneously for the first time. The new 3D printer head is available for pre-order today to both new and existing customers as an upgrade option.

Loyal customers who pre-ordered the new head months ago will be the first to receive this new technology.

The new 3D printer head retains the same form-factor as the existing Robox head and uses CEL’s proprietary needle-valve system, allowing it to start and stop printing better than any other printer head on the market.

This latest addition to CEL’s market-leading Robox 3D printer means users can print designs that were previously unprintable, as well as creating models using two different colours or even two dissimilar materials.

This also means the Robox can now print a softer scaffold material around a harder material, allowing users to print items with, for example, a small footing or complex designs that would have been previously impossible. Users can therefore print items such as plastic lids with rubber seals, coloured logos, light pipes, flexible watch straps with pins, or axles with bearing surfaces.

Many other printers have lengthy and material wasting processes in place to stop cross infection of materials, but the Robox system shuts off the material flow without the need for wiping, retracting or cooling the heads. The existing nozzle technology prevents ‘ooze’ or ‘stringing’, ensuring speed and quality of the print whether you’re printing in different colours, different materials or both.

The dual-material head uses two completely separate melt chambers and 0.4mm nozzles for optimum balance between speed and accuracy.

Both material reels can be hung on the side of the Robox device, with the addition of a simple adaptor, allowing the printer’s intelligent reel system to still recognise exactly what material it’s working with. This, in combination with the Robox’s closed-feedback loop and dual-pinch wheel extruder system makes sure that each filament is fed to its respective nozzle evenly.

Chris Elsworthy, CEO of CEL, commented: “3D printing has the potential to change the way we design and create products and the launch of our dual-material head means another step change in the complexity of items our users are able to print with Robox.

“We’re really excited to be able to offer this new 3D printer head to our customers and allow them to create new prints they never could have dreamed of 3D printing before! Users will still get all the reliability and quality they have come to expect from a Robox printer, but now with the ability to print in two materials at the same time.”

To hear Chris talk about the dual material head in more detail at this year’s CES show in Las Vegas, watch the video below:

RBX01-DMKitExisting Robox customers can upgrade their printers for £199.00 +P&P.

 

We’ve also launched a new pair of service options for customers wanting to get their Robox printer checked over and upgraded to the latest specification. These options start at £79.00 +P&P for single material printers and £99.00 +P&P for those that purchase the new dual-material head.

Dual material Robox upgrades are close

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog, Design, Materials, News, Prototype Build, Software Updates | 28 Comments

It has been a little while since we last updated you on where we are with the dual material head, but I hope we can be forgiven for the lack of communication – especially as the real reason for this is that the entire CEL team have had their heads down testing the latest prototypes for faults, fact finding, and future proofing.

But we feel an update now is timely, as we are getting so close to being able to launch the new head to market; we really are almost at the end of what feels like a very long development journey.

RBX01-EX_2_EXTRUDERS_side

Software Update

RBX01-EX_2_EXTRUDERSSoftware is the biggest challenge as there really isn’t a good dual material system on the market to use as a template and both the slice engines we currently use aren’t able to deal with dual material prints in a consistent manner. This means we essentially had to start from scratch creating innovative software for this particular hardware development.

Before we get deep into the dual material system progress it’s worth mentioning what we’ve done to the software in preparation for this momentous task.

For the release of AutoMaker 1.02 we spent a good amount of time restructuring and developing the post processor.  We gained a much better understanding of where and how to open and close the needle valves, how to integrate the material the needle ejected into the model and how this is going to affect dual material printing.

For the upcoming version of AutoMaker we’ve actually recoded the post processor from scratch, our new level of understanding was restricted by our previous work. This updated thinking has gone into the current version of AutoMaker and is the backbone of dual-material capable AutoMaker version 2.

 

Right back to dual material and where we are now….

There are a lot of new requirements needed to take a multitude of models and turn them into a multi material print. We wanted the ability to take a 3D model, break it into individual parts and Dual Material AutoMakerallow the user to easily select which part was going to be assigned to which material.

Because most models which require multiple materials will need two or more separate parts, we wanted to add Group/Ungroup and model splitting. The Group/Ungroup and model splitting all have to be combined with the original transform functions so that we keep the parts’ relative position.

Dual Material AutoMaker bAfter we started to look closely at the model files  AutoMaker was expected to handle we found a very high percentage had imperfections – not normally a problem as the slice engines do some simple repair work – but a bigger problem if you’re trying to bisect the data and then add back in the missing vertexes, polylines and faces. We’ve not fully finished this aspect of the software and currently only warn users of the imperfection in the models that may cause problems later.

We now have a software tool that allows us to perform all of the above functions and it’s helping us finish the development of all the hardware.

The development of the software will continue up to and beyond the date you receive your new hardware, but for the first version of AutoMaker which is capable of doing dual material prints we have tried to keep the functionality to a minimum so that we can ensure stability.

 

RBX01-R2_adding_reel

Hardware Update

After a few false starts we’ve now got working dual material heads and an innovative second reel holder complete with reader. We are also taking a very close look at the management of the Bowden tubes and cables between the x-carriage and chassis.

RBX01-R2_LOADING_REEL

We were worried that the differing flexibility in filaments would affect the homing accuracy and thus distort the mapping of the bed giving poor first layers. We’ve made a fancy new cable chain to take the data and power cable and slightly constrained the Bowden tubes which now both reference the X-rails rather than the carriage.. (sorry if this is too geeky), basically we have more stuff to help improve probing and tidiness.

Another thing that only the people in the know would notice is that we have added a USB socket into the build chamber. It’s been there from the beginning – hidden away in the centre of the reel – but we’ve never got round to exposing it. We thought as we were designing a new PCB for the dual reel holder we would add the missing plug so you can start playing with it too.

The needle valve system has been extremely important in the quality of printing that Robox can achieve when talking about single material prints, removing all the stringing from one island to the next. When you use this innovative system with a dual material head it starts to become even more impressive.

All the dual material prints we’ve seen from other manufacturers have to include some sort of wipe tower, ooze screen, long cool down / heat up period, or purge sequence. None of this is necessary if your print head can stop the flow of material at its nozzle tip like the Robox can. Our very first print from the new system was one of the best we’ve seen. So now we’ve worked out how the system works, we’ve got working samples, and we are producing great print results.RBX01-DM_2HEADS_1OPEN

The final step is to ensure that all materials will flow through the new hardware smoothly, tidy-up the interface and test, test, test… I can’t tell you how big a chunk of work this last section is. We need to try every single combination of user input and output and not just once, on one machine. This needs hundreds of times on many printers by many different people to ensure that all the logic we’ve put into the software and hardware doesn’t crumble when given to a user who hasn’t been involved in the development.  With this in mind we’re now at the stage where we’re asking some of our customers who have placed pre-orders to beta test the first batch of hardware from the final production line.

So all in all, we’re really, really close.  If it sounds like we’re no further forward than last time – bearing in mind we finished our last update by saying we were “testing, testing, testing” – please be assured we are.  But after testing comes tweaking, and then more testing!

RBX01-DM_side_&USB_internal

RBX01-R2

So the final date is……???

We can’t say for sure, at the moment things are looking great and we hope to be able to launch the dual material head end of November, as per our last post.  If not then, early December.  But to reiterate the sentiments we made last time, we will only release the head if we’re confident it’s going to produce excellent results for everyone.

 

And lastly….

THANK YOU once again for your unwavering support, stick with us, as in just a couple of months the Robox 3D printer will make its mark as something completely different from anything else out there on the market – and we want you there with us to enjoy the ride.

RBX01-DM_internal_&cablechain

Oh you want a picture of a dual material print? Well….here is a sample of what we have to come.

dualmaterialprint_spiral_cone

unLimited Edition element14 Pi 2 Case

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog, Stuff and Things | No Comments

We were asked by element14 to design a case to fit the new Raspberry Pi 2

The images below show the case, it was printed in 2 halves, we paused our Robox and changed filament colour part way through each print to create this great effect.

 

RPI_case_Robox_element14_0.3_backRPI_case_Robox_element14_0.3_front RPI_case_Robox_element14_0.3_CU

.stl files can be downloaded below, we would love to see your prints in the forum here

Robox-Element14_pie_case_lower

Robox-Element14_pie_case_upper

Discussions on the element14 community site:

http://www.element14.com/community/docs/DOC-74908/l/3d-print-this-limited-edition-pi-2-case

Is Bigger Really Better?

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog, News | 10 Comments

I hope to think so when it comes to engineers, as I’m 6’8″ tall!

But when it comes to 3D printers’ size really isn’t everything.

There are now two common selling points for those wanting to flog 3D printers – size / build volume and layer height.

And customers tend to assume they want the biggest unit possible, but want to print with the smallest layers possible, so let’s address these points below.

 

Build volume – The bigger the better?

After a pleasurable chat with one of our like-minded customers earlier this week we agreed on a number of misnomers, and they phrased one of them very concisely; “When shopping for a 3D printer customers often look for a spec. that will actually only fulfil 2% of their requirements, not the 98%”

I found this statement to ring very true, and build volume is a great example. Customers might occasionally want to print a large object that really does require a huge build volume, but 98% of the time the part they are printing will fit on a normal bed.

If you walk around the house and think of all the things you would probably want to print with your 3D printer – such as coat hooks, key fobs, door handles, light pulls, shelving brackets etc – you could probably fit each object in the palm of your hand, in which case, why do you need a build platform which is any bigger?

And yet still the natural first thought is to shop for a beast of a machine that is more expensive, ugly and domineering. Chances are the machine won’t fit on the desk, in the home or even at work, and 98% of the time won’t be used to it full advantage because there’s no need for such a huge space to print.

I’m not criticising as I’ve done it myself. After building my first 3D printer the next thing I did was build a much bigger one. And guess what? The big printer ended up printing parts that would have fitted on the first machine but just took longer to do and occupied more space in the office.

So to conclude, everyone might think they want a big one, they actually probably only need a small one!

Buddha_50mu_pencil_cu_2000

 

 

 

 

 

 

Layer height – The smaller the better?

Marketing numbers, the driving force for many product design briefs, are used to sell printers and grab the customers’ attention, and we are as guilty of this as the next 3D printing specialist. We quote a minimum layer height of 20microns and we are not lying!

In contrast to build volume, in the case of microns, the common misconception is that the smaller the micron the better.

But would you ever want to print using a 20micron layer height? Maybe, but it’s not the first thing to consider when starting a FFF print job.

The obvious payoff is time, if you have a few days to spare and don’t need the printer for other jobs you can get amazing results by opting for a 20micron print. But whereas it will take double the time to produce a 20micron print over a 40, the quality won’t be twice as good.

In fact, below 50microns the improvements in quality are difficult to justify and I don’t know anyone who has enough time on their hands to be patient and wait to see the results.

Tying up your printer for hours on end is not the only sacrifice with low layer heights. Design and testing is an interactive process; print three or four items in the time it takes to do one and you will find that everyone you print is tweaked from the last and you end up with a better designed part over the same period of time – this is one of the real advantages with a desktop 3D printer.

When selecting a 3D printer I would look for range as well as minimum layer height. ‘Draft’ is more often used than ‘fine’ in our office when selecting a print profile and starting a print; we might print a part five times before we are happy with the design and only the last time do we select ‘fine’ quality. Because of the twin nozzle system the Robox can print from 20 – 700micron layers, which we believe is an industry best (small boast there!)

 

In summary 3D printing is about gaining the ability to manufacture parts to your requirements on your desktop.

Most people don’t yet have this ability and it’s what 3D printing can do for you. Think about what you’re really going to make and where you would like to use your printer and select a product that fits that brief. For 99% of people, including me, ease of use, reliability and having something close to hand are the top 3 requirements, while print quality, features, future proof design and compactness follow closely behind.

We design products that we want personally, of course we have to sell them and play the same game as every other retailer or design house, but most of our design briefs are driven by personal desire. As with everyone we like to think that our requirements are not uncommon and so far feedback seems to support this.

Kickstarter Training Day

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog, Kickstarter, News | One Comment

Friday (26th August) was a special day for us here at CEL, as a few of us had the privilege of meeting with the select people from our Kickstarter campaign who bid on the ‘Robox® 3D Printing Starter Pack’, which included a visit to meet us in Bristol, UK and the opportunity to own an early Limited Edition Robox® in the Kickstarter colours, as well as a day’s training. Oh, and lunch as well.

Excitingly the day went pretty much to plan, with only one slight change in the lead up to the event as we realised that with an office and warehouse move, perhaps a visit to HQ wasn’t the brightest of ideas. So a quick change of venue later, and we found ourselves in a dust-free, rubbish-free, clean and tidy office just around the corner.

Our backers brought their own laptop computers with them, and much of the day was spent unpacking the brand new Rob units – the only ones in the world with limited edition plaques – installing the software and testing the prints. Happily, all of the Robox units worked well and it was amazing to actually see the reactions of people as they got to grips with the new technology. The fact they were printing pretty quickly after discarding the packaging was very reassuring.

c1

c2

It was also really great to spend the day with some like-minded people…. These are the guys who understand or love 3D printing so much they’ve waited patiently for the best part of a year to receive the unit they truly believe will be the difference within the 3D printing industry.

But contrary to our expectations, a real mix of people attended the day – it wasn’t just geeky tech-types who know everything about additive manufacturing; normal people attended too! We were pleased to meet home users, retailers, engineers, and even children – all of whom managed to get their machines up and running quickly despite having no previous experience. Our aim with the Robox project has always been to make 3D printing accessible to everyone, and the training day proved this is really possible.

We all got a real buzz from the day, and are now making plans to run similar training days in the future, so watch this space!

 

Spit, Polish and Elbow Grease

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog | 3 Comments

We are moving forward on production now and the teams’ focus is moving from mechanical improvement to software features and all the systems we need in place before the general public can buy, register and use their Robox.  For long time we’ve tried to blinker ourselves and only work towards a stable mechanical and electronic platform to set a good foundation for the Robox system, but we are now in a position to start looking at the new features, and print quality improvements.

Chris White has been beavering away at the user manual, safety information guide, quick start guide and warranty registration. The links on this download page will go live soon.

jennerupsidedown
Any surface to the bed in just 2 clicks!

Tony has been working on a feature we are all very excited about; the ability to place any face of the model down on the bed with only two clicks. We have had a version of this working before in the office but Tony’s eye for detail has ironed out most of the final bugs and we hope to include this on the next release of AutoMaker.

Chris E and Ian have been focused on improving print quality and are experimenting with and implementing new ways of closing the needle valves without leaving imperfections on the surface of the printed model. We say Chris E has been working, but he’s mostly been playing with Ian’s new code then telling Ian what is wrong and what is right, Ian’s been doing most of the work!  But the good news is we’ve found and removed a few bugs in the process and are starting to dramatically improve print quality. These software changes will be passed internally to our test guys so we can bullet proof them and generate the new print profiles to take full advantage.

Peter is busy still in the forums and support portal talking to our BETA team, helping them where needed and gathering all the user information that’s feeding back into the development of Robox.
myminifactory_oxfam
My Mini Factory

IMakr are interested in stocking our product and we’ve had a few interesting discussions, but one of the cool things that’s come out of these conversations is the idea that we will integrate their online model parts library MyMiniFactory with AutoMaker. All the models on this site are tested and confirmed to be 3D printable!

The MOST common question we get asked by people who haven’t yet considered 3D Printing to be part of their future is:

“All very nice, but what would I print?”

Well we can easily answer that now, with a library of interesting and useful parts at their finger tips everyone can more easily see how this new technology will be part of the future.
Currys-&-PC-World3

A leading high street retail group has also started talks with us and we are planning to get a Robox demo into their key stores. One day we envisage Robox being sold in place of all those 2D printers, doing all the jobs they did and so much more. This retail group are fighting the fact that a lot of us go online to buy our tech so to draw people back to their stores they are introducing a selection of bleeding edge tech to demo to the public. This fits perfectly with Robox as 3D printing is an amazing process to watch, and no one displays the process better than we do.
MAPSLICE

Selling Robox to business users will be much easier than the large but very new retail market for 3D printers. There are a few very large industry supply groups servicing the UK and Europe, we have a very exciting contract in place with probably THE BIGGEST of all. Schools, design offices spare parts suppliers, table-top gaming shops and any business which deals with physical objects anywhere between idea and reality will want one of our printers and we are well on the way to having easy and familiar channels to get Robox where it is needed.