This Sucks, Too.

I was going to spend today writing the next chapter. I swear. Three consecutive weeks of not updating is not how I wanted this to go. But…

*deep breath*

December 8th was my 21st birthday, and my present this year was a kit to make my own 3D printer. I’ve wanted a 3D printer basically since I first hear about them, but the cost has always seemed too high and it’s never made the top of my list. Until now. My life’s gone digital and open source, so whatever I want, I install with “sudo zypper install thing-I-want”. And prices have come down; you can now find decent kits for just over $500. So I decided to finally give it a shot.

After a lot of research, I went with this RepRap Prusa i3 kit, for $590, plus $60 in filament, $40 shipping, and a $45 power supply (and $2.50 piece of glass). I ordered it on November 29th, and have been eagerly waiting for the end of finals so I could come home and assemble it. This monday, when I finished my last final and came home, I started building it. Most of Monday, all of Tuesday, and most of Wednesday, I did nothing but eat, sleep, and build my printer (it was nice to focus fully on one thing after the hecticness of life in college). Wednesday night, I finished the wiring, and experienced the joy of seeing it spring to life when I plugged it in. I made a video of the initial power-on, for sentimental purposes (and because I figured if it caught on fire, at least I’d have a cool video of $700 going up in flames). When I saw things working okay, I literally jumped for joy. Plan was to calibrate it, and start the first print. Then maybe let it print something else the next day (Thursday, a.k.a. today, or it was when I started this post) as I worked on the week’s chapter.

There was an audible sparking noise when I connected it to my computer via USB to run the calibration.

Aborted the attempt to connect with USB, looked over at the printer in fear… and saw it continuing as if nothing happened.

Unplugged the printer, spent an hour talking to people on the RepRap IRC channel trying to find out what happened. One of them told me it was probably just the grounds of the power supply and USB port connecting to each other, and that if I connected the USB cable before plugging the power supply into the wall, it would be fine. So I tried that.

That’s when I got smoke.


Too late. Ground connectors on the USB ports (computer side and printer side) and cable are now black (Computer USB port is still functional, at least. Will plug potentially-unsafe electronics into old laptop instead of expensive desktop from now on), a component on the Arduino controlling the printer has blown up (picture here), and the Arduino no longer reacts to USB connections in any way.

So basically, I have $200 of electronics (Arduino, shield, stepper drivers, and LCD display), and somewhere in there is a faulty component that caused this whole mess (Theoretically, I might have wired it wrong, but I checked against the wiring diagram numerous times because I knew there was a steep price to carelessness there, so I very much doubt it was bad wiring). If I replace the now-broken Arduino and it turns out that wasn’t the faulty component, I’ll fry the replacement Arduino.

After staying up late last night trying to figure out what the hell happened, I contacted the company that sold me the kit, asking for advice. Couldn’t determine what the faulty component was, so I have to send all the electronics back so they can test it all, find out which part is faulty, and replace that. And the Arduino, since that’s partly fried (turns on, but USB is completely dead). Then they send it back to me, and I hope I don’t run into any more problems.

So instead of writing the next chapter today, I had to deal with this mess.

It’s probably going to take at least a week for me to get the electronics back. And then I’ll need to hope that there are no other issues (e.g. stepper motor, thermistor, hot end heater, or heat bed defective), so I can finally use my printer. Meanwhile, I have $500 of wires, wood, and motors sitting on my desk, taunting me. I know it’ll all get sorted out eventually, and I’ll end up with a working 3D printer, but I only have a month before I’ll need to go back to college and leave the printer behind, so I need to get my prints in now while I have time.

Anyway, I know this is a very long post (longer than most of my chapters), but considering that this is going to be constantly on my mind until things get resolved, I thought I should let you know. As for update plans, I’ll try to put an update out there soon (tomorrow if possible), but if there’s more crap to deal with, or I just can’t focus on writing, then it may take longer.

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5 thoughts on “This Sucks, Too.

  1. theWriter Post author

    Status update: UPS Sucks.

    This morning, my mom sent the electronics back to Maker Farm through UPS. The UPS Store told her the estimated delivery date was Tuesday. But it turns out, they meant Tuesday, December 30th.

    USPS Priority Mail would have delivered the package by Monday (December 22nd, the next Monday that will occur and thus properly known simply as “Monday”) for around the same price. So apparently UPS sucks.

    Anyway, looks like I won’t get my parts back until January.


  2. malcolm macVean

    My birthday is on Monday, the 29th. Hope everything works out for you with the 3D printer. Try to have a nice December. I got out of school earlier today.

  3. Rich Knack

    Could be worse. My Melzi board is coming on a slow boat from China and may not be here until the 11th of January. I can rebuild the J-head (the nozzle, at least, is intact), but the manufacturer still has to make some more of the PEEK barrels. Have fun with your new printer! 😉

    1. theWriter Post author

      Ooph. Yeah, that’s pretty bad. But coming from China on a boat, slowness is to be expected. UPS is using trucks for mine, and it say 5 days in transit, which means the other 6 days, it just sits around somewhere going nowhere.

      Did your parts fry right away, though, or did you get to make some prints first? I never even got to start calibration on mine, which means it’s entirely possible that I may have more broken parts that will need to be fixed. I really wish I could have at least done a test print so I’d know there aren’t any other problems.

      Also, I’m frickin’ amazed that I’d actually have a reader who’s not only built a RepRap, but has done so recently, and had their controller break. Makes me wonder how many people are actually reading MW:ADC. I have Google Analytics set up, but that really only tells me how many visitors I get, not how many readers I have. That remains an eternal mystery, it seems. But it’s looking like I have more readers than I thought I did, which is nice.

      Anyway, hopefully we’ll both get our replacement parts soon, and then not have any more problems for the next year or so.

      1. Rich Knack

        Oh, mine printed for a good while before it went bad. In fact, one of the first things I printed was a clip-on cover for my mom’s smart-phone. My problem started when I switched hotends. I started with a Chinese-made J-head that required some modification before it would fit onto my extruder block (a Wade’s geared extruder tweaked for use with the Mendel90). It printed okay, but the nozzle/heater block was too big for the Mendel90 fan duct, and caused the duct to burn and melt where the hotend goes through. Don’t need the duct to print ABS, but I need it if I want to print PLA. So, I bought a “real” made-in-the-USA J-head (Mk V-BV), which had a resistor instead of a heater cartridge, but that would fit through the fan duct. It worked fine for a while, but a few weeks ago I was printing a spare extruder parts set (I want to make a complete spare parts set for my Mendel90, including some PLA bushings that can be used as a substitute for the LM10UU bearings if necessary). The printer was going in my bedroom, and I was in the living room with my mom, when my mom’s sensitive nose detected hot plastic. I thought at first she was smelling the normal smell of hot ABS being printed, but then **I** smelled it. When I went to check it out, the machine was stalled out and the nozzle was sitting in a puddle of charred ABS. When I unwrapped the silicone tape from the end of the nozzle, the PEEK barrel of the hotend was melted – and it has a MUCH higher melting point than ABS. When I re-booted the printer and substituted the Chinese J-head, the temperature monitor for the hotend told me that, even turned off, the hotend was at 78 degrees centigrade while the heated bed was 21 degrees (room temperature). I turned on the hotend thinking I would make a quick function check and the temp shot up so fast that the Chinese J-head melted, while the monitored temp only read 98 degrees. I don’t know if the thermistor went bad in the “real” J-head and took out the part of the Melzi that interprets the signal from the thermistor, or if the board went bad first. Either way, bad board and two melted hot-ends. So, I have a new Melzi on order from a different manufacturer (less than $40, but as I said it’s shipping slowly – pretty typical), and I need to either get a complete new hotend, or find the parts to rebuild my “real” J-head, since the nozzle, set-screw, and PTFE liner are still intact.

        I feel your pain, man, but don’t let it get you down. At least if you build your own, you can fix it yourself as well! Check out the forums at – they’re a great community of folks who have helped me out on more than one occasion.


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