Forge Tools: 3D Printer

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We’re probably halfway through setting up shop and wanted to start getting into the nitty gritty of our tools and why we chose them. First up, our new 3D printer!

WHAT WE BOUGHT

This is the first generation Flashforge Creator. The ‘forge’ name is entirely coincidence, but a rather happy one. It’s made of wood (which we adore) and offers the usual Makerbot or RepRap style extrusion of PLA or ABS, which I’ll talk about a bit later. The first gen is different from the following generation in that it has two print heads instead of just one – I’m not really sure why since having two heads means you can print two colours in one build (or a support material) but we did notice the second head drags on the printing part a little bit if it’s not calibrated exactly right so it might just be a simplicity effort. We bought it gently used on eBay from a gentleman who talked (in a hand-written letter found in the box) hilariously and endearingly like a pirate. It was packaged in Mr. Clean Magic Erasers instead of bubble wrap and we received a free hot glue gun! All in all, A++ Would Buy Again. More fortunately than that, though, we bought it for less than half of the retail price so it goes to show that you can get cool toys if you’re willing to be patient and do your research.

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This is the beginning of week 3 playing around with it and it’s surprisingly accurate. The material is 1.7mm in diameter and it gets extruded through the 0.4mm nozzle to a print precision of 0.1mm and with a layer thickness between 0.1-0.5mm. We graciously recieved a small mountain of PLA and ABS spools from an industry friend and we’re still sort of figuring out the properties of each. They have a different melting point and so the temperatures we extrude them at need to be adjusted to keep the flow proper – 3D printing is an interesting balance because you need it to be hot enough that it’s melty and flowing through the nozzle but not too hot that it stays liquid very long on contact with the built part. If it’s too hot you’re printing liquid on top of semi-liquid and the whole thing just gets goopy and melted with bad results because there’s no maintained precision. Remember, the printer doesn’t actually know what’s happening with the part, it’s just extruding in the pattern the 3D model tells it to.

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These are the rough pre-calibration prints. Slightly blobbed and goopy on the top there.

WHY WE BOUGHT IT

Originally we were looking at non-extrusion methods, mostly into the UV light + pool of photosensitive resin styles because they had a much finer resolution which makes for a cleaner and smoother finished part. In the end, they’re still cost prohibitive for the hobbyist builder and we wanted to do tutorials with technology that was more widely available and, well, it’s conveniently much cheaper for us too. The grainier prints aren’t too big of a deal for prop making because we’ll likely be sanding or acetoning them smooth and finishing with primers / paints and the like anyway; the printed parts are more of a basic shape creation method to avoid the hand-cut tedium of mass foam or wood detail replication. It’s overall efficient to have a machine make cool shapes and we’re happy to spend a few hundred dollars to avoid the hundreds of hours of doing little detail things by hand. Some people enjoy that of course (and we do generally) but if prop making is a business idea for you, valuing your time at an hourly rate is essential for savvy business decisions about tools and build workflow.

Also, obviously, because it’s awesome and we’ve always wanted one. There was a big $50k machine in our design school lab and I’m pretty sure this table top machine is printing better than it did only a few years later for 1/100th the price. It’s actually crazy how fast this technology is evolving, and will continue to do so in the coming years.

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We discovered that the logo model Brennan made has a really awkward slope to those gear edges – you can see the terracing really defined because the angle of the slope is too flat, there’s not enough space between the height of the layers and the width of each flat surface to make it look smooth as a print. This’ll likely be fixed in either the model shape itself or a pass through the flat sander before painting.


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