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…
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.