3D Printer build – it’s a lot harder than you think…

Anyone thinking about building a 3D printer from scratch should come to their senses quickly and just buy a ready-built printer or a high-quality kit. The prices are falling like a heavy rain and you can get a high quality printer for the same money, and less frustration, than building one will accomplish.

The problem is in the general design of the current crop of “open source” 3D printers.  There are just too many nuts, bolts, wires, haphazard software settings, firmware settings, mix-matched hardware and electronics issues to make it a user friendly experience.

First off, the motors.  Most people wanting to build a printer will rush to Ebay and buy the cheapest lot of 5 NEMA 17 sized motors.  These are the same people who don’t even know what NEMA 17 means.  Here’s a hint:  It is a form factor, not an electrical specification.  This means that NEMA 17 specifies the physical form of the motor’s case.  It does not dictate anything about the electrical current requirements, stepping angle, steps per revolution, etc.  All of these are “parameters” that affect the overall system, and they must be “plugged into” the software that runs on the controller board (aka firmware).


The same situation applies to heating elements, hot ends (the part the hot plastic comes out), temperature sensors, fans, end-stops (the little switches that tell the controller that your motor has moved the carriage into the 0 position).

Each and everyone of these are elements that must be hard coded into the device firmware.  There is no user-friendly machine-mounted menu option for these parameters.  In fact, depending on your other choices, you might not get an LCD screen at all (which is where the machine-mounted menu system is displayed).

I’m building this printer as a means to and end.  I need to experience it the “hard way” sothat I can design the “easy way”..

Here are some of my observations so far:

  • Nuts, Bolts, Screws – there are too many.
  • Settings buried in firmware – they should be easily accessible via software.
  • Wires – need to manage the vast pile of wires.  This means better end to end connectivity.  Perhaps using 4, 6 and 8 wire RJ-45 style connectors would make this a lot nicer to build.
  • There should be a “setup wizard” software that guides you through configuring the firmware for the first time. It should auto-detect that the printer has not been configured and guide the user through the process.  This could be a desktop application or available in the printer’s LCD controller (but not all have LCDs…)



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