Thanks to a combination of poor time management on my part and digging up an absolutely crucial road at rush our on the part of Hull Council I wasn't able to get to the MeetUp at C4DI tonight. But when I did get home I thought I'd fire up the iBox nano printer that arrived last week.
The printer was a Kickstarter project. I've had pretty good success with Kickstarter. I've only had one Kickstarter project come seriously unstuck - I'm looking at you Agent watch. The iBox project promised a light powered high resolution printer for less than 300 dollars and was too tempting to pass up. So I backed it a while ago (I think it was November) and then waited.
The device was a bit late arriving, but I don't mind too much about that. Lots of people get very upset when these projects have delays, but I'm happy to give them time to get it right. As long as something turns up at the end. I'm still looking at you Agent watch....
The iBox is powered by a Raspberry Pi and uses a WiFi adapter to connect to your network. You set up prints on your PC via a web interface that works really well. There are a few buttons on the machine and some lights to tell you what it is doing.
So I carefully filled the vat with resin, rubbed the build plate with some sandpaper to make it nice and rough so that the print would adhere to it, lowered the plate into the resin and set it off.
My first print failed. All I got was a little lump of goo on the bottom of the vat. Oh well. I've got quite good at consistent printing with Una my Ultimaker, but I remember how much fiddling it took to get to where I am now.
It turns out that, just as with Una, the key to successful printing is the print height. When Una squirts molten filament at the build plate it is crucial that the very first layer is just the right height for the filament to stick to the plate and provide the starting point for the print. With my iBox printer, which doesn't have a name yet by the way, the crucial thing is the distance of the build plate from the bottom of the glass dish, or vat, which holds the liquid resin.
The idea is that the build plate is a tiny distance from a sheet of teflon tape stuck on the bottom of the vat. The UV light makes some of the liquid resin in this gap turn solid. Then the printer pulls the build plate upwards, taking this layer of solid resin with it. Only on my first print the solid bit stuck to the bottom of the vat instead, hence the mis-shapen lump that was produced. So I re-adjusted the build plate and tried again.
The printer does look great while it prints, like some kind of illuminated mini-tower block. It is completely silent and runs off a standard Raspberry Pi power supply. I'd be quite happy to leave it printing to itself, although you do need to come back and top up the vat with resin if you are printing something tall.
This time it worked fine, and I got a tiny iBox logo stuck to the build plate. The output is pleasingly solid, although they say you should leave it in the sun or under a UV light to completely cure the resin.
So I thought I'd go for broke and tried to print a tiny bunny. This was a disaster I'm afraid, with another lump of goo forming in the wrong place. However, I'm pleased to have made something.
I'm not sure if I'm going to be OK with this liquid resin stuff. Everywhere you see dire warnings about the danger of the liquid touching your skin. I've got some disposable gloves on order but I spent big chunks of the evening fretting about the resin escaping and simultaneously burning a path to the centre of the earth (it's supposed to be corrosive) and poisoning me.
I guess I might get used to it. It's totally different technology from printing with Una providing a new set of problems to deal with. I feel like a heart surgeon who is not very good at it and has switched to brain surgery in the hope that might be easier. I'm impressed with the iBox machine though. It really does work as advertised. I can now think about producing tiny components. If I can get over the fear of the resin.
If you are after a good, cheap 3D printer I think I'd still advise you to go for a conventional, filament powered, one like Una. There are some quite nice devices out there in kit form. Take a look at the nFire device on Kickstarter too. But if you fancy pushing the frontiers a bit and you want small, higher quality, prints then iBox is worth a look.