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MakerGear M2 Project

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Posted on November 8, 2014:

       Hello again folks!!! Several weeks back I was at my good friend Andreas Blasers’ house when I had noticed a peculiar looking machine in his shop. It was shaped like a cube and had several stepper motors mounted on it which really peaked my interest. He explained that it was a 3D printer and that it was very useful for prototyping plastic parts. He then offered a demonstration of the machine and that is when “it all started” ;O>
       Andreas loaded a spool of gray plastic filament onto a rack he ingeniously designed and then heated up the machine’s “build plate” onto which the 3D model would be built. He then loaded a 3D model file into a computer and issued the command to start printing. Within seconds the machine sprang into life and started positioning the extruder head in place for the first layer of plastic. The machine then started to extrude a tiny bead of precisely placed plastic in a beautifully choreographed pattern on the build plate.
       The motion of the extruder was hypnotizing as it outlined the shape of the model while the stepper motors emitted a musical symphony that seemed to fit the moment. I was glued to my seat as a familiar form started to take shape. Within an hour I was looking at a turbo compressor wheel (seen below) that was just binary code in a computer minutes earlier. Needless to say my noodle was fried and I couldn’t stop thinking about the endless possibilities for this technology.

       Over the past few years I had seen several articles about 3D printing and the technology of “additive manufacturing”. At the time it had not occurred to me how useful this process could be although it became clear after Andreas’ demonstration that this technology will inevitably be a part of our future. Needless to say the seed of inspiration had been planted in my mind!!! I had to find out more about 3D printing and how I could possibly use a printer to make my own ideas come to life ;O)
       After returning home from my visit I poured over the internet to find out what I could about 3D printing and discovered that it has been around for a lot longer than I thought. Apparently the concept of “rapid prototyping” was developed in the 1980’s as a way of making physical representations of 3D computer models. These plastic prototypes could be used to physically test and develop mechanical designs in a quick and efficient manner without the need to have a model cut from a solid block of material with machine tools.
       At the time, 3D printing was accomplished with a process called “steriolithography” in which a UV laser system is used to selectively cure a photopolymer liquid in successive layers.  A few years later a process called “Fused Deposition Modeling” or FDM was developed. In this process a plastic filament is heated and extruded through a nozzle over a flat build surface called a build platform. The FDM nozzle is positioned by a motorized Computer Numerical Control (CNC) system which moves the nozzle in a predetermined path over the build plate to lay down successive layers of plastic. Each layer is fused to to the one beneath it to create 3D objects of various dimensions.
       The FDM process (sometimes called “Fused Filament Fabrication” or FFF) is the most common 3D printing process used among hobby and DIY communities for printing 3D models. This is because it is the most economical and accessible form of 3D printing available today. Not only is FDM popular among hobbyists it is becoming an accepted way of manufacturing limited production runs of commercial products including iPhone cases and “pinhole” film cameras. The possibilities are endless with FDM printing.
       Ten years ago this technology was mostly used for commercial prototyping. At that time the equipment used for such prototypes was expensive and out of reach from the average hobby/DIY enthusiast. That has mostly changed due to the development of projects like the
RepRap 3D printer series and other open source projects. These printer designs use low cost accessible parts and open source software to create 3D printing machines for the “masses”. Now folks can use 3D printing to make everything from artwork to simple machines in the convenience of their own homes.
       Now you’re probably saying it’s too good to be true and that is somewhat correct. You cant just print a working laptop or a food processor. There are current limitations to the complexity, structure and strength of FDM printed items. Regardless of these limitations there are people doing amazing things with 3D printing that are guaranteeing a future for this growing technology. After seeing my friend’s 3D printer in action I am compelled to be part of this growing community of “makers” and so my hunt for a 3D printer ensued!!!
       Below is a picture of my friend Andreas’ 3D printer setup...

       I started my printer search by looking at what was currently available on the market using a comparison guide posted on 3ders.org. The list showed FDM/FFF printer kits and assembled machines from $300 to $30,000. The specifications were all over the board however I knew that I wanted to print with “ABS” (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) filament and that I wanted a build volume of at least 200 x 200 x 200mm. This lead me to about 20 machines that fit the bill however I needed a way to narrow that list down even more.
       I decided to start looking into machine rigidity, resolution and dependability and that narrowed down list to only a few. My final decision was made when I discovered the
MakerGear M2 and the great reviews it got. The reviews of the machine’s performance and the company’s customer service were so high that they were almost unbelievable. It wouldn’t be long before I would find out just how great the MakerGear M2 really was.....

       It was only a few days after I had seen my friends printer that I had ordered my MakerGear M2 kit and due to the high demand for the machine it would take two weeks to see it on my doorstep. It goes without saying I was pretty excited to get the machine when it finally showed up and cleared my schedule for the next few days to put the kit together.

       The M2 is sold as a assembled machine as well as a kit. I decided to build the kit as I really enjoy building things. The kit is also $300 cheaper than the assembled machine which is a real bargain considering how easy it is to assemble.

       The machine was extremely well packed in a sturdy cardboard box. Upon opening the box I was greeted by a instruction memo from Rick Pollack, the founder of MakerGear.

       I was super excited to see all of the “jiblets” of my new machine as I exposed them from the peanut packing.

       I was extremely happy to see everything in one piece and considering the care that was taken to pack this machine it was no surprise. So far so good ;0)

       Included in my documentation was an invoice with a hand written thank you message. Also included was a decal and a piece of candy. They had me at candy ;0)

       I started to sort out the groups of parts so I could start checking the parts list against what I had received. I was sort of surprised to see a bulk of the machine already assembled. I was assuming that there would be more work involved for a $300 discount...

       The powder coated stainless steel frame of the M2 was pre-assembled with the linear slide rails mounted and the matched ball bearing carriages loaded and installed.

       The Z-axis motor and integral four-start square thread lead screw was also installed into the frame as seen below. You will notice the CNC machined black anodized aluminum tooling plate used on the “Y” axis (also the “X” axis above). This type of tooling plate is cast and then thermally relieved of stress before machining to exact tolerances. This produces very strong and straight parts which are needed for precise prints.
       There was a lot of thought put into the design of this machine and they spared no expense to make the very best product they could.

       Earlier versions of the MakerGear M2 were bare stainless steel which wasn’t as attractive as the black powder coat and anodized finish of this machine. Stainless steel is great for resisting rust although in this case there is no need for it when you have a protective paint surface. Oddly enough the 10mm linear bearing shafts installed into the frame appear to be case hardened steel (1566) which does rust so care must be taken to keep these covered with oil or grease to prevent rust.
       One could replace the 10mm shafts with chrome plated or stainless steel ones however the linear shafts provided are more resilient against wear than the aforementioned shafts (chrome can flake off and stainless is not as hard as 1566 steel). This fact may be why MakerGear chose the case hardened bare steel shafts for this machine. I plan to keep the factory shafts and just make sure they are covered with a light grease so they can’t rust.
       The ball bearing guide rails on the X and Y axis appear to be 440 stainless so they shouldn’t need any extra attention...

       The MakerGear M2 has a generous 6-month warranty on parts which really tops this kit off nicely especially because it is a kit. Not everyone will assemble the kit the same and it is a bold warranty considering the variables. It is also has a “Made in the USA” sticker on the back of the machine which always is a good thing to see. The MakerGear M2 is assembled and packaged in Beachwood Ohio (although a lot of the individual parts are imported which is to be expected these days).

       At this point I decided to go through the entire parts checklist to see if everything was included in the shipment. Luckily everything was neatly bagged and labeled, just how I like things ;0)

       A majority of the hardware is stainless steel which is a nice touch...

       There was a good effort to organize the hardware into groups for faster location. My wife looked at this picture below and asked why I had written “my washer”, “my nut” and “my bolts” on the bags. I explained that it was “M4” over which we had a good laugh ;0}

       I went through each bag and counted the hardware making note of how many were included on the checklist. Most of the bags had spares which is really generous of MakerGear. I’m not sure if the assembled machine comes with the extra hardware but it’s a real incentive to build the kit if that’s not the case. You really get a lot of extra screws and washers.
       Another funny thing is that most of the labeled bags have an “M2” on them which is a metric hardware size (seen below). I know they were indicating the printer model type but it caused me to grab the wrong bag during the build while looking for M2 metric hardware ;o)

       The kit included a bag of “PLA” (Poly Lactic Acid) plastic printed parts (seen below) that are used for certain parts of the M2. Printed parts are also used on other printers like the RepRap (Replicating Rapid Prototyper) series machines which were originally designed to be able to reproduce themselves by printing a majority of it’s own parts. I guess it makes sense using parts made by the same type of machine. This is much like the early vertical mills and lathes that were used to make more mills and lathes.

       The next bag of parts I inventoried included two drive belts, two GT2 18-Tooth pulleys and a set of idler pulley bearings to control the X and Y axis. Also included was a set of springs for the build platform leveling mechanism.

       The next bag included a pre-assembled extruder head, cooling fans and Heated Build Platform (HBP) mounting pads...

       Next was the build plate “spider” bracket that supports the HBP assembly. This part was also made from the cast aluminum tooling plate mentioned earlier.

       The next bag concealed the stepper motors for the X and Y axis as well as the extruder assembly.

       The next bag of goodies revealed a set or pre-wired harnesses that appear to have all of the connectors pre-installed. Looks like I won’t get to solder anything on this kit :0/

       The next item I uncovered was the heated build platform (or plate) which appears to be made from an aircraft grade piece of aluminum sheeting. An attractive “MakerGear M2” badge has been etched into the plate which is a nice touch.

       A silicone rubber encased heating element (shown below) is glued to the bottom of the plate allowing it to reach 110° C (230° F) which is hot enough to boil water!

       The next item to inspect is the switched-mode DC power supply. This 24 volt power supply is capable of producing 18.8 amps of DC current (450 watts) which is plenty of power for future upgrades such as dual extruder motors and such. The only bummer that I notice is that there is no power switch to the unit forcing the user to unplug the power supply each time you are done with the unit :o/ I will probably change that right away by adding a switch...

       The next group of parts to go through contains the printer’s controller hardware. This includes the RAMBo motherboard (RepRap Arduino-compatible Mother Board) and a laser cut plastic enclosure to protect it.

       The Ultimachine (revision 1.3L) RAMBo controller board provided with the MakerGear M2 is a self contained controller that has five integral A4982 microstepping drivers built into the board. Each driver is capable of delivering 2 amps of power to each of the four stepper motors used on the machine. That’s more than enough power to run the M2 even at elevated speeds. The RAMBo board is also capable of powering two separate extrusion heaters and stepper motors which will allow for future upgrades.

       The next group of goodies includes some zip-ties, binder clips, poly tubing, “sticky-back” mounts and polyimide (Kapton) tape for printing.

       The kit includes a set of Allen wrenches, tweezers and some white lithium grease for lubrication. Not all of the tools needed for printing but a good start.

       The last thing to check off the list is the included 1.75mm PLA printing filament which is vacuum sealed to keep out the moisture. Unfortunately both PLA and ABS filaments can absorb water which can dramatically effect print quality so an effort must be made to store filament in a dry environment.

       At this point all of the parts have been checked off the list. I can now dive into the kit and see how it goes.

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