MakerBot Quickstart

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This page provides information for using the MakerBot of lvl1, "Veruca Gloop," for the first time. If you need more advanced help, see MakerBot Troubleshooting.

Step 1: Software

The MakerBot prints using instructions from your computer. ReplicatorG is the software specifically designed to work with MakerBots. Get ReplicatorG here.

Using ReplicatorG

ReplicatorG uses STL (stereolithography) files as models for printing in three dimensions. These STL files come from most major 3D CAD programs. Once you have your STL file, open it in ReplicatorG with File > Open.

Your model should appear somewhere in the cube outlined on the screen. This 10cm cube represents the boundaries of the MakerBot's build area (the MakerBot cannot print anything larger than 10cm cubed). If your model is not sitting on the build platform, choose Move > Put on Platform. You may need to use Rotate to align your model correctly. You can also scale your model by choosing Scale.

For best results, orient your model such that the widest part is on the platform. The MakerBot builds using extruded plastic, so it cannot build over large open spaces. Important: Make sure your model does not go below the build platform at any point. The MakerBot will try to build inside the platform by jamming the print head into it, potentially ruining both. When you have your model lined up, it's time to generate a toolpath.

Gcode and Toolpaths

The toolpath is a set of literal instructions that guide the MakerBot in each step of construction. ReplicatorG automatically uses a plugin called Skeinforge to generate toolpaths (in a language called "Gcode" from your model files. While your model is a pure theoretical representation of an object, the Gcode is different for every MakerBot. Every MakerBot has its quirks, and the Gcode should account for these.

Skeinforge uses groups of settings in "profiles" to manage different build styles. Veruca runs best on a custom profile, which you should download from the Veruca Gloop page. See the instructions on that page to guide you through adding the profile to your computer.

Once you have Veruca's optimized profile, click "Generate Gcode" and select this profile to prepare your model for printing. The toolpath generation step is computationally intensive and may take a while, depending on the size and complexity of your model.

A new tab should appear above the model viewing window, called "Gcode." You can look in this tab at the Gcode that will print your model (it should look like a huge plain text file). To ensure uninterrupted printing, you should use "Build to File" and save your build to the MakerBot SD card. Remove the SD card from Veruca's motherboard (on the side of her case) and put it into an SD card reader. There should be a reader on the table or in the drawer. Click the Build to File icon in the toolbar and choose a model name on the "LVL1MKBOT" SD card. ReplicatorG should write quickly to the card, and when the write is complete you can replace the SD card into the MakerBot.

Your Gcode now ready! Read on...

Step 2: Hardware

At this point you're ready to interface (read: wrestle) with the MakerBot hardware. This step can be time-consuming and frustrating, but don't be discouraged!

Connect the Bot

First, turn the MakerBot on. The power supply (on the back, at the bottom) has a black power switch; and the 'Bot itself has another, on the motherboard. When both are on and the whole thing is plugged in, you should see small green LEDs light up on the circuits.

Now you need to connect the MakerBot to ReplicatorG. Plug the black USB cable into your computer and, in ReplicatorG, choose Machine > Driver > "Cupcake CNC w/ heated build platform." If the software says the machine is disconnected, click "Connect machine" (the plugging-in icon in the top right). RepG should say the machine is connected.

If the machine still can't connect, you may need to try another serial port, under Machine > Serial Port > [something]. On a Mac or under Linux, [something] will look like /dev/cu.usbFFKIJ8. Under Windows, it might be COM1, COM2, etc.

When the machine's on, connected, and the software sees it, read on.

Prepare the Bot

The MakerBot is an open-loop system, which means it has no sensors to inform it about motor positions. It relies on the human users to position its build platform and print head at the origin, the position from which it will print. It also resets to room temperature after use.

Set Temperatures

Open the Control Panel by clicking the directional-arrows icon. On the left you'll see motor controls for the platform, and on the right various settings for the extruder and temperatures. Set the "Extruder Target Temperature" to 220 C. Set the "Platform Target Temperature" to 100 C. The heater relays should make audible clicking sounds as the machine heats correctly. To speed warmup and improve print quality, turn on the heat lamp and shine it on the build platform. If something doesn't begin heating properly, see MakerBot Troubleshooting.

Once hot, the MakerBot may drool plastic from the extruder. This is normal; use some tweezers to keep plastic from pooling in the build area.

Your model file is in the SD card, and the MakerBot is heated to build temperature. All that remains is to zero the build platform and begin the build.

Zero the Platform

In the Control Panel, click "Disable" under "Stepper Motor Controls." Center the build platform under the print head by hand (be careful not to burn your hands on the top surface of the platform), and place a piece of scrap paper on the platform. This will be a clearance guide for the print head. Using the Z-Axis Crank on the top of the Bot, lower the extruder until the tip touches the paper on the build platform.

The head should be close enough to touch the paper, but you should also be able to slide the paper out without ripping it. If the head is too close, it will tear the tape on the platform. If it is too far, the plastic won't stick. The head should provide smooth resistance to removing the paper, but not too much.

Back in RepG, click "Build from SD Card" (The card pointing to a kidney-bean outline) and remove the paper as the extruder raises off the platform. Take a moment to find the "Stop"button in the toolbar, in case something should go wrong. The machine will sit for a moment, adjusting its temperature to that specified by your tooltip file. It will then clear the cold plastic from the extruder by extruding several inches of it, which you will have to remove with tweezers. The machine will then begin the build!

Tip: Hold the plastic with the tweezers as the extruder descends to the platform, and jerk the plastic away at the last second before the head touches the platform.

WATCH the Build

This step is very important. Especially the first time you print something, you need to keep an eye on the MakerBot. Perhaps the most crucial and error-prone phase is the first layer (or first few layers) of the print. The extruder head will descend very close to the platform and the first plastic layer should stick solidly and look very flat and squished. If the first layer doesn't stick (a common problem), stop the build and prepare the machine again.

If the print head cuts into the tape over the platform, stop the build and raise the extruder out of the way. See MakerBot Troubleshooting.

The Bot uses plastic slowly, but it will likely need more before finishing your build. For now, you will have to manually unroll more ABS from the reel on the table, to ensure the machine always has some easily available.

Step 3: Cleanup

If your object printed successfully, hallelujah! If not, don't give up. See MakerBot Troubleshooting.

The MakerBot leaves filaments of plastic in open spaces where the print head must jump. These are accidental and you can cut them out with a sharp knife. You may want to trim any extraneous buildup form the top of the model, where the head sits when the build is done. You may also want to trim around the base of the model, where the first layers might have played out a bit.

When you are done printing, clean any dangling plastic from the extruder (which should be raised off the platform), and turn the Bot off. Unplug the USB cable. Congrats, you just printed in 3D!