3D printing has long been on the Boswyck Farms radar as a tool for advancing hydroponics. This year, the dream was fulfilled. Early in February, our very own pre-assembled Printrbot PLUS arrived and it has been chugging along ever since.
While technology for additive manufacturing (creating by adding material rather than removing it) has been around since the 80’s, ‘affordable’ 3D printers were not really available for commercial or home use until very recently. With increased interest in DIY projects and the advent of the Maker Movement, pressure has been on to get 3D printers into more hands, to help explore the realm of possibilities that this tech could offer.
For us, 3D printing was a way to start prototyping hydroponic parts that were not only improvements upon what was available on the market, but parts we needed -hydroponic or otherwise- that simply did not exist (yet):
NFT Rail Clips
You can see an evolution in the design of the clips, starting at the bottom left.
(It’s still a work in progress.)
Power Strip Mounting Brackets
Joints for PVC Polyhedrons
The Strange Sheep Menagerie
This first sheep will be a business card holder.
You may notice that some of the sheep above have not yet reached their final form. For all of the success we have had with our Printrbot, it would be unfair to gloss over the trial and error process of finding the best settings for a complete print. 3D prints can take hours to finish, depending on the complexity and size of the design, and it can be frustrating to find out that a print failed after waiting so long for it to finish. Patience is of upmost importance.
One common problem is failing to get a print to stick to the heated print bed at the start of a print. We’ve found that hairspray and/or painter’s tape can help with adhesion. Luckily, you can tell within a layer or two of printing if this is going to be a problem and cancel the print before it goes much farther.
More frustrating is having a print dislodge midway to being finished, but not see it happen until after the printing is done. Maybe the workstation moved or perhaps the print was tall enough to sway with the motion of the extruder as it moved around the print area. What ever the cause may be, you may come back to a print that is more spaghetti than actual object.
Intricate prints are more susceptible to this problem, as there is less support for the design the higher it prints. The recommended printing software (we are using Repetier Host with Slic3r) will print auxiliary structure to support upcoming layers that can be removed once completed, but it consists of thin fibers of plastic that can get loose or catch on the extruder as it moves around. Again, it is a matter of trial and error, a work in progress.
This completed polyhedron is the same design as the previous photo. (Support structure success!)
While perfect printing every time is still a goal to strive for, we’ve got some bigger plans for experimenting with new materials and parts. We want to get creative with multicolor prints and start testing out nylon. (The prints above are all ABS and PLA plastics.) A new aluminum extruder head is also in the works, which should improve the quality (smoothness and precision) of our prints.
We’ll be sharing more of our 3D works as we go!