So I mentioned G codes and/or ReplicatorG a couple of times lately, which might have constituted a Hint.
I'd been pondering 3D printers, of the FDM persuasion, for at least two years now. Early this year, I'd come to the conclusion that there was a legitimate business case to be made for having one, and the now-discontinued Makerbot Replicator, dual extruder variant, was probably about right, and its $1200 Chinese knockoff, the FlashForge Creator, was probably the thing to get, especially given the reviews it was getting on Amazon.
Come Monday, finding the business case still there and my finances not totally depleted by taxes and car repairs, I decided it was time to buy... though, in the meantime, FlashForge had come out with a new model, the Creator X, which is basically the same thing in a metal-frame enclosure with plastic panels, instead of plywood. The price on the original Creator had dropped a little, while the Creator X was at $1300... only, on Monday, it was $1156. Okaaaay, then!
Just after the shipping notice arrived, there came a message from FlashForge tech support, with a PDF of the instruction booklet and a request that I RTFM before unpacking the product. And so I skimmed through it, and noted some important little details, and printed a copy to have handy for when it arrived.
The box showed up on my doorstep just after lunch today (being Wednesday, as promised). Covered with Chinese shipping labels, and showing signs of rough handling, but with nothing rattling. On opening, I found no signs of damage beyond the outer box.
At this point, I noted a deficiency in the unpacking instructions: they failed to address the issue of cat removal. Huckleberry thought this looked like Fun.
The printer having been extracted from its somewhat-damaged outer box by its convenient handles, I proceeded to remove the assorted packing stuff, extricate the spools of filament (white Antilock Braking System, blue People's Liberation Army), install the extruders, install the spool holders, install the filament guide tubes, and that stuff.
Unpacking and setup took an hour or so; woulda been quicker if I had a bigger & less cluttered work area and no cats. There were a couple of bobbles in the instructions, but nothing I couldn't figure out quickly. Would have been fun to make an unboxing video, given a larger work area but including the cats.
A test: the "20mm calibration cube" (20x20x10mm). Came out 20.06 x 20.07 x 10.5mm, but I think the bottom 0.5mm is part of the raft and meant to be discarded. Finish is not too shabby; it's got some texture to it, and was obviously built up out of filament, but it's good enough for functional purposes, and I presume a bit of sandpaper and maybe a coat of paint would make it dog-&-pony-show-ready. The machine says it took 20 minutes; I don't know if that includes warmup time. Had I some black filament handy, I might do a 1x4x9 test monolith, Just Because.
Only technical issue encountered so far: the first couple of times it looked for the home position, the right-hand limit switch didn't seem to do its thing, resulting in many seconds of alarming noise and vibration. I jiggled the connector, which didn't feel loose, and the next home operation went OK. I think I need to inspect the switch/board/cable.
Oh, and a limitation: the build volume isn't big enough for Huckleberry. A more standard-sized cat might fit. I think I may want to add a front door to this thing, if only to protect it, and the noses of inquisitive felines, from each other. Also, it'll need a dust cover.
Now to generate the build file for a somewhat larger and more complex object, for an actual revenue project. It's something I would ordinarily machine out of randomly-acquired plastic stock, but if it'll 3D print, that'll save me an hour or so of machine-shop time per, and the client... um... the cost of my time. Did I think there was a good business case here? Well, I can use that time to do other billable work, while the machine whirs away all by itself.
The rather complex shape for Real Business took 38 minutes of unattended buzz-click-whir. Finish on sides is quite passable, even on the sloped bits. Finish on top (which has some odd curvature to it) definitely shows the layering, but is usable. Finish on the bottom is a bit more problematic; I'm not getting a clean transition from raft/support to actual item. I'm assuming this is a function of the way ReplicatorG structured it, and not of the hardware. Also, the item doesn't quite fit the other piece, but that's because I left an important cutout out of the design. Have to add that, and reprint, perhaps with revised settings.
I have a feeling I may end up tinkering a bit with the ReplicatorG source code. Really, I shouldn't have to go into the G-code and edit the platform temperature.
Also, I gotta figure out how to put multiple parts in one job, given that most of the things I'll be making take up only a tiny fraction of the platform, and putting a bunch of them in one job to be run unattended seems a better use of my time than running one after another.
It's probably time to put a computer out in the garage, with WiFi, instead of running back & forth with an SD card. A RasPi or BeagleBone ought to do the trick. Or an old laptop with Ubuntu installed, for that matter. No UI hardware needed; just ssh in from my workstation and run ReplicatorG from there. (Though: I can see local control being Very Useful in some situations, and the front-panel controls might not quite be enough.)
Nothing wrong with the right-hand limit switch. Way I assembled the thing, the wiring harness for the extruders was flopping to the right... and getting pinched between the carriage and something on the right side, so the carriage really was never reaching home.