Tuesday, 12 April 2016

HPL MakerSpace

I think the library here is terrific. It just became even more terrific with the opening of their new maker space at the central branch, The Circuit 4.0, as it’s properly called. It’s been in the works for a while, and I was there bright and early last Monday morning when it opened. First person signed up, first paying customer. Very exciting!
The main room showing some of the 3D and large format printers.
In one of the side rooms is a green room for shooting videos and product shots. (As someone who creates products, but hasn’t got a good setup for photographing them, I’m excited about that part.)
In another room is a sound recording studio, complete with a selection of instruments. (I took my 12 year old, multi-instrumentalist nephew here and he’s really excited about this part.)
In another side room are Mac workstations. Meant for video, sound and photo editing, graphic design, CAD, animation, etc. There are also scanners, a few Wacom tablets, and the means to digitize VHS and cassette tapes. I’m particularly excited about this part.

Currently I’ve been using them to learn 123D Design. Working my way through “A Beginner’s Guide To 3D Printing: 14 Simple Toy Designs to Get You Started” by Mike Rigsby. (He also covers SketchUp in it.) Very rudimentary stuff, nothing I would actually want to print, but good to learn the tools and commands. They also have Blender installed, but since it’s also meant for 3D animation - a bit of a different beast than the CAD it can also do - it’s not a really intuitive program at first blush. 123D Design is simpler with a lot less frills. A bit less intimidating. With my library card I also have access to Lynda.com tutorials, including one for Blender. Which I will tackle at some point, but I just want to wrap my brain around one piece of software right now.

There are several printers that fall into the large format 2D category. At the time of writing they’re not fully functional yet, but before too long they will be.

Epson SureColor T3270. A 24" wide, up to 2880 x 1440 dpi, up to 5 colour printer, with the capacity to do screen printing. It can also do up to 600 dpi colour scanning. The last two features in particular I’m excited about.
Roland Camm1 GS24. A plotter that can cut a variety of substrates between 50 and 700 mm wide.
Roland VersaStudio SignMakerBN-20. A 20" wide, 1440 dpi, four, maybe five colour, inkjet printer / cutter that can also print transfers for T-shirts.

All these machines I’m very excited about.

Janome MC500E. Might look like a sewing machine, but it’s specifically an embroidery machine. It can do an area 7.9" x 11" at a speed of 400-860 stitches per minute, and theoretically however many colours you want to program and load. There is also a sizeable screen allowing for a lot of editing. Another machine I excitedly look forward to using.

Makerbot Digitizer. A 3D scanner that can handle objects 20 cm in diameter and 20 cm high, and at a dimensional accuracy of 2 mm. Super excited about this.

Yeah, and Lego Mindstorms too. How exciting is that?

So, on to the 3D printers.

First one is the Ord Solutions RoVa3D. Which I can’t say very much about at this point because I haven’t used it yet. It’s similar in quality to the MakerBots, (it’s extruded PLA like the MBs) but it allows for multiple colours to be printed simultaneously.

FormLabs Form 1+. This is a resin stereolithography (SLA) printer. It can print objects 125 mm (4.9") L × 125 mm (4.9") W × 165 mm (6.5") H in size, and at resolutions of 25 μm (0.001"), 50 μm (0.002"), 100 μm (0.004"), or 200 μm (0.008"). The cost to use this machine is 30¢ a gram.
Not as many colour options as some other types of 3D printers, but there is a clear, flexible and also castable resin, in addition to standard and tough resin.
The very straightforward info screen. What the job is, how long till it’s done, and how many layers to go. And the button to turn it on and off.
One thing that is interesting about this machine is that it prints upside down. The bed is at the top, and the object hangs from it. One of the downsides of this is that you can’t gauge what’s happening until it’s almost done. I printed one item that ended up being 4 times larger than I anticipated, but didn’t realize it till it was too late. With the MakerBot Replicator, if something is too large or small, you can determine that almost immediately and cancel the job. I suppose I’ll be able to gauge that from the amount of time a job takes and from the volume of resin. But being completely new to this, little missteps like this I take in stride. 
Two views of the resin bath.
Two jobs in their PreForm software, I suppose the equivalent of RIP software for a 2D printer. So far it has been a very intuitive software to use. One of the things that is so different about this machine / mode of printing is that it requires supports. If it was printed on a bed, not fighting against gravity, this wouldn’t be necessary. The software does it for you automatically, but you do have a level of control.
An example of something I had printed, a handcuff key. It demonstrates the supports generated to allow for printing. It could be counted as something of a disadvantage to this system: the amount of post processing involved. I don’t mind finicky detail work like this, but I can see how it could be a problem for some. And if there are delicate pieces, removing the stems and flash might damage them. They also leave behind little marks that can be felt and seen. Yes, you can very carefully scratch or sand them away, but there will still be evidence. There are times when this will not matter at all, but for other applications, it might well count as a negative. Horses for courses. And another problem with those stems is that I’ve printed things with threading. Trying to remove it from inside that threading? Oooy...not so exciting.
I used the small knife on my SAK to remove this one. It worked, but I think the potential for damage (to the object and wielder) is greater with this approach. I’ve used the SAK scissors as well. Which worked much better. But I think some very fine jewellers wire snips might be the best tool to use.
While it is finicky to remove the supports, the quality of what emerges from the FormLab is superior. (The printing also takes considerably longer on this printer as well.)
A 13 sided die I had printed. Or a triskaidekagon. Much bigger than I had thought it would be. It’s all a learning experience.
A bass clef guitar pick for my bass guitar playing nephew. It’s not structurally sound enough to be functional, but it could work as jewelry.
A book holder open thingy. This thing is solid. Feels like ABS and whatever the hard plastic is that’s used in a Nalgene bottle.
Handcuff keys. Even something that small will take an hour or more to print.
An example of a key off the Replicator (left), and one from the Form 1+ (right), showing the difference in quality. I’ve taken a file to the black one in an effort to smooth it out a bit.
Octopus. They’re exciting too.
Two different tubes. Again, nothing at all flimsy about these. The top one, had part of the threading collapse during the printing. The Form 1+ can and does sometimes misprint.

I’ve been most excited so far about this machine.

MakerBot Replicator. Probably the 3D printer that has gained the most traction, certainly for the home market. It can print objects 25.2 cm (9.9") L x 19.9 cm (7.8") W x 15.0 (5.9") H in size and with a volume of 7,522 cubic cm (456 cubic inches). The cost to use this machine is 10¢ a gram.
Starting to print a thread holder.
And well into the process.

Some other examples of objects printed on it.
Compare the quality of this with the other guitar pick I printed, above.
The quality of much of what emerges from this printer isn’t nearly what emerges from the FormLabs Form 1+. It can be seen best on the guitar pick above. The striations or lines are much coarser, and there are areas not sufficiently filled in. I guess it’s like printing 2D - the difference between an inkjet proof and a final dye sublimation print. If I was creating something and needed to gauge how it was proceeding, determine size, etc., this would be fine. For a final product, I would use a different printer.

I haven’t been as excited about the Replicator, but it is still exciting in its own right.

So far, I’ve been super excited with the opportunities afforded. The staff have been fantastic. I can only imagine this has been like drinking from a fire hose for them. Mastering the intricacies of just one of these procedures and its accompanying hardware and software would be challenging. A whole bunch of new machines and software and processes? I imagine there will be a few hiccups. As an early adopter I’ve helped discover a few of those hiccups. And I don’t mind in the slightest. Several of them have half-jokingly referred to me as their beta tester.

The means of paying is another issue that likely needs to be ironed out. With printing to paper, you can throw some money on your account, and each time you print something, it deducts the amount from your account automatically. Easy. Here, you either have to pay via Interac (kind of silly when the fee will be more than the actual price), or get a receipt, go to the main floor and pay with cash. Since all this is new even to the people there, it’s not so straightforward a procedure. Just another bump in the road that I’m sure will smooth out in time. But the same system used for paying for printing to paper, would be ideal. Because this part of it hasn’t been very exciting.

But all in all, yes, you guessed it – very exciting stuff.

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