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  • 3D Printer

    Our FTC Team is looking for a 3D printer does anyone have a recommendation for which 3D printer works best with the SOLIDWORKS CAD software.

  • #2
    I am also interested in other opinions about which 3D printer would be a good fit for FTC. There are many choices and leveraging other experience (good and bad) would be helpful

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    • #3
      For 3D printing there’s a fairly wide range, but my first question would be to ask what your budget would be? $300? $500? $1000? Each of these ranges can add significant improvements and less “tinkering” required. That said, there are great options in the sub $500 range, some even near $250. So let me address some of the selection criteria.
      1. You want an FDM (aka FFF) filament printer. These will provide a low supplies cost with “regular” filament running about $20/kg spool. Don’t look at resin printers.
      2. You want a printer with a heated bed. While you can print PLA without a heated bed, even it works better warm. Stronger filaments such as ABS and PETG require a heated bed.
      3. Ideally you have an all-metal hot end. Frequently these are E3D v6 clones (not v6 “lite” ) on the cheaper printers. While not critical, you’ll end up with fewer issues compared to those where the Teflon liner can start to creep. Note that having a plastic tube connected to the extruder (such as a Bowden setup) does NOT indicate what’s inside the hot end, so double check.
      4. Your mainstream filaments are likely to be PLA (very easy to print but can be brittle if the part is likely to be a “contact” part) or ABS/PETG. Of these last two I’d recommend PETG as it warps far less, has less odor and is about as strong. ABS is very tough when printed correctly, or a horrible mess if not. Note there are lots of specialty filaments that are far more expensive. Save those for later once the team is working well with PLA and PETG. Note filament comes in two sizes, 1.75mm and 3mm (sometimes specified as 2.85mm). Stick with 1.75mm as that’s most of what you’ll find. There are use cases where 3mm makes sense, but this isn’t really one of them.
      5. Size. Consider the parts you want to print. I’d say most parts are less than 6” (150mm) long. Sensor mounts, gears, pulleys, etc are all great uses. Longer/larger prints happen, so having a bed of 230+mm is nicer, but over 300mm is probably not going to be all that necessary (and can complicate alignment). Don’t forget that you can print on the diagonal, so a 230mm bed could do 320mm on the diagonal (although less wide into the corner).
      6. CAD support. ANY 3D cad system will be able to generate the STL file needed, from TinkerCAD to Solidworks. We use Fusion 360 (free for FTC) mostly but a few kids know Inventor (from school) and we’ve also used TinkerCAD when we need something quick.
      7. Printbed. No mater what you get, you can (IMHO) improve your experience by printing on glass. It just works. You can get a premade sheet of borosilicate glass from Amazon for most printer sizes fairly cheaply and set it on top of your existing bed surface (you’ll have to adjust your print height and it won’t work with an inductive sensor if so equipped). Some also just use window glass with great success. I’m using a sheet of tempered glass. Use that and some regular elmers glue stick and you’ll have very few issues.
      Workflow. Those new to 3D printing should understand the workflow.
      1. First, make the model. That can be in Fusion, TinkerCAD, SketchUp, etc. From this, export your model as an STL file. The CAD system doesn’t need to know anything about your printer.
        1. Note when designing your model, consider (and avoid if possible) any support your model might need when printing. You can’t print in air so sometimes supports are needed.
      2. Next, you’ll load the STL file into your slicer. This software is what converts the 3D volume given in the STL file and “slices” it into printable layers. There are plenty of free options and a few paid ones. Just stick with the free ones. It needs to know everything about your printer, filament info, temperatures, feed rates, etc (most of this is just configured the first time and you’ll be fine). The slicer then outputs a file suitable for your printer. Most of these output a gcode file which will be used by your printer.
      3. Once you have your gcode file, you need to load it to the printer. This can be done directly (via USB, often directly from the slicer itself), via an SD card, or wirelessly (WiFi). You can also use something like OctoPrint, but that’s beyond the scope of this short guide.
      4. Print.
      Wait your asking. That’s all well and good. But what printer should I buy? On the low end I’m hearing good things about the Ender 3 series, Creality CR-10 series, and Anet A8. For a bit more, the Evnovo (Artillery) Sidewinder X1 seems to be getting great reviews. Going higher you can look at more automatic units like from Prusa (which has a new highly anticipated one coming out shortly).
      I’d look at some reviews from the following YouTube channels. All three do very good and complete reviews. There are other reviewers as well, these are just some I watch frequently. Feel free to ask more questions. Its definitely a very useful and worthwhile tool for FTC.
      Makers Muse: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheMakersMuse/videos
      ThomasSanladerer: https://www.youtube.com/user/ThomasSanladerer/videos
      3D Printing Nerd: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_7...h1MewlQ/videos


      Technical Coach, Newton Busters FTC 10138, FLL 3077
      Chicago 'burbs, IL

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      • #4
        Thank you for the information. The world of 3D printing has exploded and just like any new technology, selecting a direction can be a daunting prospect - and an expensive one - if not carefully considered.

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        • #5
          Agreed. At this point pick an amount that the team can afford. You don't need to go overboard. The great thing is FTC needs functional parts, not necessarily pretty ones. So issues with ringing (slight "echoes" of features in the surface texture) and other visual artifacts don't matter as much as dimensional accuracy and strength. Many people modify and upgrade their 3D printer for added functionality, something that should be right in line with FTC skills. So a printer with a good community and a good source of compatible aftermarket parts (we purchase spares from AliExpress to keep on hand, why spend an hour cleaning a stuck nozzle if they are only 10-20 cents).
          Technical Coach, Newton Busters FTC 10138, FLL 3077
          Chicago 'burbs, IL

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          • #6
            I have a question regarding the 3D printed team numbers. Can a team add a name in the print with the numbers?

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            • #7
              Originally posted by FTC12563 View Post
              I have a question regarding the 3D printed team numbers. Can a team add a name in the print with the numbers?
              If you are talking about modifying the numbers themselves to include a name (or other stylistic modifications to the number font) then I would post the question to the Game Questions section of the forum. Only they can give you an official ruling.
              Technical Coach, Newton Busters FTC 10138, FLL 3077
              Chicago 'burbs, IL

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              • #8
                Our team has access to a da Vinci Pro. It uses PLA or ABS filament, and has a heated printbed. We are using it to make our capstone, with Tinkercad as the software.

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