Fail Blog

Well it’s been an exciting week @ the Douglas College Library. We got to showcase the Makerbot Replicator 3D Desktop printer. The experience as a whole was exciting, but not without some ‘technical difficulties.’ This post is not so much about our successful 3D prints, but our failures. As they say: one of the best ways to learn!

Our patrons have shown a keen interest, in the short while we’ve had the MakerBot Replicator 3D Desktop printer on display in the library. Most people’s first reaction is surprise and curiosity. I overheard one student exclaim, “No way, is that a 3D printer?!?” The onlookers really enjoy and marvel at the 3D printing process and they have lots of questions. We also encourage them to pick up the 3D models and interact with them (ie. attach the nut to the threaded bolt or try on the stretchy bracelet – yes, it’s stretchy!) We’ve even had other 3D hobbyists share their own experiences and knowledge of 3D printing, which really exemplifies the whole ‘maker’ phenomenon: to share, create and learn. The excitement is infectious.

At first, we were able to print a few 3D “things” without many problems whatsoever. But soon we noticed the rafts — the base which prints first to ensure an accurate 3d print — were printing inconsistently, sometimes they looked great, while other times not so much. Here are some examples of the good rafts (left) vs. not so good ones (right):

Good rafts       Fail rafts

We ran into all kinds of issues: homing errors, filament jams, ‘sparse’ inconsistent rafts and prints where the filament would catch on the extruder and start wrapping around in a big clump — one of my colleagues coined the term “bird nesting” as that’s a good description of what it looks like. I think we’ve just about covered every error or issue that could come up with our 3D printer #learning

Here are some comparison shots of our original attempts printing ‘Mr Jaws’ with the natural colour filament and with the new green filament. What a difference! While the green one is not perfect it’s a huge improvement.

       Mr Jaws detail

We got lots of experience troubleshooting our 3D printer: levelling the build plate, unloading and reloading the filament due to filament jam errors — many times — shutting down and restarting the machine, moving it to a different location and changing the filament. Each time, the troubleshooting seemed to fix the printer and we’d produce a pretty amazing 3D print. But alas the 3D printing would fail yet again. This time we tried loading the new green filament, it seemed to do the trick – voila ‘Mr Jaws’ in green and he looked pretty sharp! However, before we could print another ‘thing’ we got another jam, but this time it was one that wouldn’t clear. We tried more troubleshooting to no avail. The filament would no longer extrude! This is where my good friend google came in handy. Hours later….

The bad news: diagnosis – the Makerbot 3D printer Smart Extruder clogged and there’s no simple way to fix it without voiding the warranty.

The good news: A phone call to MakerBot Support and a new Smart Extruder is on it’s way.

So that’s where we’re at. We’ll just have to wait patiently — which is a tough thing to do, when you get to explore a ‘new’ technology that’s as fun and amazing as this!