11 November 2011

Back from holiday

Hi everyone,
I'm back.  I had a fantastic time away and it was good to see friends I haven't seen for a while.  Boston is a very pretty city and smaller than I was expecting.  Quincy market was great and I recommend anyone going to Boston to visit it.  Beacon hill on a crisp, but warm autumnal morning has a picturesque view of the common and is the location of a monument to the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and Colonel Shaw.  Seeing the monument reminded me of the film Glory, depicting the endevours of the regiment.  There are lots and lots of things to do in Boston.

We did the usual touristy things: visiting the universities, museums and zoo; toured the sights in a DUXW (pronounced Duck) and went for a drive in the Charles river that run through Boston.  I was particularly impressed by the Science Museum.

Halloween was fanscinating - Americans really go all out to celebrate it, closing off roads and having kids street parties.  Students were of course enjoying wine and cheese while handing out candy. All very civilised and much nicer than my experience of Halloween in the UK.  :)

The Stanford online ai-class has been hard and was a mite tricky keep up with while I was away, fortunately our hosts were very understanding.  My results are good so far, but I'm surprised at the quality of delivery of the course, particarly the performance of the supporting IT infrastructure and it's to date lack of reliability.  Chatting to our hosts, it seems the quality of online course delivery in the US is generally very poor.  The expected culture is that you attend classes and be lectured at for umpteen hours.

Who else is doing the free ai-class?  I remember asking on the SumPod forums, but since they are down I have no other means of keeping in touch with other SumPoders(?) taking teh course.  A big shame I think.

I've got to sort out the inevitable backlog of work and stuff that builds up while away, but I'll be continuing my SumPod build as soon as humanly possible (including investigate Andy's [Andy who?] suggestion of using Marlin firmware) while writing up my PhD and family things.

I understand more SumPods are in the wild, more pics at 3D-printer-kit.com (I hope the upgrades for Richard's CNC machine have been successful, but I haven't heard from him) and the packages keep getting better with extras like a list of contents. 

Until then

22 October 2011

Holiday Time!

I'm visiting friends in the states for the next couple of weeks.  So it's highly unlikely I'll be posting anything new on my SumPod build, unless I perfect the ability of being in two places in the same time; in which case I'll be rich enough to get Richard to assemble my SumPod for me.

Back on planet Earth, I'll still be checking my email and blog comments in case I can help with other builds.

Note to potential 'visitors of opportunity' in my absence.  The dogs are staying at home and they prefer their steaks raw. :)

SumPod Guinea Pig

19 October 2011

Hello World! I am SumPod!

Continuing with the build and step by step testing of the SumPods electronics we have the LCD.  This is a generic 16x2 alphanumeric parallel display driven by an industry standard HD44780 compatible driver.  With a funky blue backlight and white text it certainly looks the business.

And it works!  It's nice when things work first time and as intended. :)

16 October 2011

Updated SumPod RAMPS v1.3 Build

The SumPod RAMPS build varies very slightly from the standard RAMPS build, with the addition of the LCD connector.  In this post, I provide updated pictures of the RAMPS board, the ancillary stepper boards and the Arduino Mega.

Here are the pics, first up we have pictures of the two variants of the RAMPS board, one of which you will receive with your SumPod.  They are electrically identical:
Gold pads
Immersion silver pads

I prefer the second board type, with the silver pads, because it has a silver immersion finish; the overlay shows the resistor values and there is a fraction of a millimetre difference in component clearance (or my imagination) of the socket and pin headers at the top right of the board making assembly easier.  Other than that they are identical.

15 October 2011

SumPods Have Landed and Dancing Motors

I spoke with Richard earlier this evening and he confirmed other SumPods had been released into the wild.  This can only be a good thing, with eager owners now (feverishly? God I've got to get out more!) building their new 3D printers and Richard getting the feedback he desires.

Me, I'm still waiting for a print bed part to arrive. I noticed at the beginning of the week when I started assembling the SumPod MDF parts that something was missing.  I'll proceed with the mechanical build when the missing part arrives - it should have turned up two days ago checking with Richard.  Richard isn't the only one suffering from delays - hurry up Royal Mail!  Rather than sit on my hands or write  more of my thesis (God I hate thesis writing and this blog provides some light relief), I soldered up a few more bits of the SumPod and coaxed a few of the stepper motors into life.  The following short video shows my progress.

It may not seem much, but to me it's significant, the equivalent of getting a LED to flash at the right frequency on a newly designed board.  It proves the software toolchain and hardware are working.  For the SumPod it means I've correctly soldered the RAMPS board; downloaded the complete Sprinter firmware from GitHub, modified it to work with the RAMPS hardware and uploaded it to the Arduino Mega 1280 board; soldered up the steppers correctly and got ReplicatorG working.  Phew!

14 October 2011

Investigating 3mm Filament for the SumPod

I'm thinking of sourcing the parts (initially just the tubing) to use 3mm filament with the SumPod.  The trouble was, I didn't know the exact dimensions of 3mm filament.  Checking the wikis and reading through various blogs, I was none the wiser of the elusive dimension (or my search skills have abandoned me) and hence the required tube size.  Was the filament less than 3mm in diameter?  If so I could use a metric 3mm PTFE tube or was it actually 3mm, and require an imperial 3/16" (3.2mm) inside diameter tube?

Not getting anywhere fast I decided to buy some.  Specifically some PLA filament from Fabadashary.co.uk (no affiliation).

12 October 2011

SumPod Unit Visit

I have visited the unit where Richard builds the SumPod; it's real and bigger than it looks in the pictures.  I was asked nicely and agreed not to take photos inside the unit, until he is happy with it's condition.  Nevertheless, Richard is happy to accept visitors, as per his email:


Kits are being finished off but unfortunately due to cutting parts off-site and at night I am not able to finish these until I return back to base. I still think even given this I should have sent all first campaign within the next few days and that some of the second should be ready and hopefully sent at the end of the week. There is a long list of jobs but I am getting through them.
These problems would not exist when the cnc machine I bought is fixed as I can do all hand finishing and other jobs whilst parts are cutting,
To allay any fears and for those willing to travel, the postcode of my unit is ########, ######. Its not much to look at as this was phase two but you can see the setup is real and I can show you the problems with the cnc machine. My phone number is ############ but when at the unit I am only reachable by mobile, ########### which is quite flaky. I am willing to call anyone in person, please just email me a best time. Please allow for time difference although I am up most hours.
I am truly sorry for the delays.
Please email (or call) me if you would like to visit and I can call and arrange a time.
Lastly the site will be fully functional soon with extra content.
This email was sent on the 10th October.  I have redacted his personal details for publication on the wider web. I think Richard didn't appreciate the quantity of work he was taking on and suffered unforeseeable delays due to faulty equipment (specifically the brand new CNC router).

That's all for now folks
SumPod Guinea Pig

Is the SumPod forum in lock down?

It appears so and there is no longer a tabbed link to the forum from the main page.  Still it's an improvement on not no access whatsoever to the SumPod website.

I've been in touch with Richard and it's appears all users are affected, but it will be fixed soon - hopefully such a fix will not delay the dispatch of SumPods.  The forum is a facility allowing easy communication of ideas and hopes of people interested in the SumPod.  I hope it is fixed soon.

SumPod Guinea Pig

11 October 2011

Alone3 and SumPod Painting Part 2

Regardless of this success, I have yet to published any pictures from my SumPod painting sessions.  This post remedies this situation and I say sessions, because of the interruptions, some of which you can hopefully avoid with advice from my previous post:  Paint, Paint, Glorious Paint!

My primer of choice for intricate parts is Plasti-kote Primer Super, it's a solvent based primer that sticks to pretty much everything; multiple coats (including sanding) are possible in a matter of hours, with a touch dry time of twenty to thirty minutes.  Product details are available here.

It was not made clear in my previous post, that a solvent based primer should be used to minimise swelling of the MDF.  My thanks to Freyr for highlighting this important point in the comments.  The Safety Data Sheet for the Plastikote Super Primer is here.

Having read the comments on my previous post and the deterioration of weather here in the UK, I am revising my advice to use spray paint, unless you are lucky enough to live in a warmer and drier climate or have the facility to use spray paint indoors, then use a paint brush to apply primer.  Speaking to Richard (Mr SumPod), all of his demonstration units were painted using a paintbrush.

The following pictures were taken of prep during the last day or so of nice weather, that was the last of the British summer.

SumPod and newspaper ground protection bask in the British Sun
First picture of the 'exploded' SumPod as clouds gather
Main body, inside of left hand panel (upside down)
Main body, top of base
Main body, inside of back panel (upside down)
Main body, inside of right panel, with PCB cutting bed above
Main body top

Main body inside of front
 The LCD mounting space is clearly visible in the middle of the screen.

I will amend this post later with additional images from my other camera.

I started with the main body because this will have the most exposure to grubby fingers and 'stuff'.  After the first coat coverage is like this:

I'm paid a visit by Folly the thirteen year old fox terrier bitch, wondering what the hell I'm doing and not paying her attention.  Dogs can be sooo helpful.

Ideally the undercoat should consist of several thin layers of primer to provide the best base for the top coat.  Here yo can see the coverage of two (or three I can't remember) coats of spray primer.

Because the main body is held together by interference joints, moving it has caused this corner joint to loosen. Try to avoid getting and paint into these joints because it will make the joint even tighter and may create an unsightly gap.
A corner on the main body starts to separate
Z axis linear bearing mounts

It is clear how the routed surface of the MDF has soaked up the paint, compared to it 'normal' surface.  Speaking to Richard the soaking in is less of a problem with thicker brush applied primer.

My intention was to slowly build up the number of coats of primer.  Each subsequent layer is absorbed less and less buffered by the previous coat.  Following are pictures of later coats as painting and sanding progress:

Like it or not, the dual feeder backplate is not reversible

The first coat of gloss goes on as the night draws in.

The second and final coat of gloss will be applied tomorrow by brush as the weather here is currently less than conducive to painting outdoors.  Of the different finish options I've selected the slightly more difficult to apply liquid gloss - the finish should be fantastic!

Until then SumPod Guinea Pig signing off 

Alone3 and SumPod Painting Part 1

I've split this post into two parts and they each deserve the space.

The build up of work to last weekend was well worth it.  Alone3, the third in a series of 24 hour time-in scifi LARP events was an unqualified success.  Although hard work for the crew, particularly the Monsters, whose roles varied from playing terrorists to aliens, it was a lot of fun to run and the player feedback has been positive.  The Monster crew have my thanks and appreciation for their efforts, and also to those who turned up to bolster the Monster Team for the event's finale, in the early hours of Sunday morning.  Wookie's costuming and prosthetics were up to his usual high standard and everything went without a hitch, at least as far as the players were concerned. :)
For anyone interested I will post links when pictures of the event are available online.  The first.

Here are a couple of initial shots (all rights of the relevant owner are reserved).  The first few shots were taken through the tinted masks worn by the players.

The Base Manager has an unconventional  management style
I need sleep
A squad of marines
An alien snacks on a careless marine

Three aliens wait in ambush

The players made good headway against the 'local inhabitants' while investigating the silence of the previous marine base garrison.  
A lovely shot of the Queen.  She is a magnificent 15 feet tall when rearing up...
With a dozen robots making a appearances early on and joining the final gunfight, (due to players choices) only a few lucky players managed to escape.  At least they had a chance to escape - the base manager had no such luck having been recently executed as a traitor.  Cleaning the fake blood from the ceiling was fun...
One of a dozen robots.
The led chaser eye significantly hampered visibility, but looked great from the outside!
That's enough Alone3 goodness for now.  Alone4 to 8 are already in the planning.  <evil snigger>

05 October 2011

Paint, Paint, Glorious Paint!

The SumPod is painted.  Pictures will be posted later.  For the intended colour scheme of brilliant white, it was necessary to use a lot or primer.  A total of five coats over three days.  I recommend that everyone get fast drying primer and plenty of it, because you never know when it's going to rain, get windy, the light vanishes quicker than expected, you run out of paint or the inevitable and unforeseeable demands from family.  Save yourself the hassle, learn from my mistakes and avoid the pain in the posterior that is carrying wet painted parts through the house and the associated complaints about the smell.

As for specific quantities of paint, I was amazed at how much the edges of MDF sucked up paint - it just vanishes.  I used over a litre of primer, far more than I had originally anticipated.   Understandably I knew that a white colour scheme would require the thickest of bases to obliterate the colour of the MDF, but with no previous experience of spray painting MDF, I was surprised and ran out of paint on more than one occasion.  A darker colour would obviously require fewer coats, so you may only need two spray cans for your SumPod.

Get some sand or glass paper, three or four sheets should be enough.  I used coarser grit than the recommended 220, but even 120 grit provides a smooth if slightly scored finish between coats.  The trickiest part was smoothing the curves of the main body as the glasspaper had a tendancy to remove the paint from these surfaces first.  This was compounded by the amazing paint sucking abilities of MDF and goes some way to explaining why my SumPod required so many base coats.

I think the use of spray paint compared to applying the paint with a brush or roller helps improve the surface finish.  That's not to say brushing on the primer would not provide as good a finish, because it is only an undercoat, but I found that spray paint was very easy to use, provides good coverage, makes painting difficult to reach and complex areas (there are quite a few) pretty painless.  Overall I think the extra expense for the speed and ease of use to be worth the extra money.

I'll let you know when I finish the final coat (yes, I ran out of paint, again) if the coarser grit produces a smooth enough finish.  After all I don't need the SumPod to have the glass like finish of a coffin, it's a 3D printer.  The finish should look nice and the paint will afford the SumPod a degree of protection from grubby finger prints (perhaps white wasn't the best choice of colour), oil, splashes of stuff, moisture, small children and that most caustic of substances baby drool.

Until later SumPod Guinea Pig signing off.

03 October 2011

SumPod Colour Schemes

While bashing away at the keyboard workface, it occurred to me that with the SumPod website currently under maintenance, anyone not aware of Freyzor's SumPod colour scheme taster should give it a try.  The GIMP file can be found at: How to paint my SumPod.

I'm going for brilliant white, with a lacquer finish and an internal light.  Nothing should detract from the magic of the print process and the light will come in mighty useful to see exactly where things have gone with a print, because they will at some point!  I didn't manage a brilliant white with the overlays, but this is my attempt.

SumPod site under maintenance

Site under maintenance

How am I supposed to get my SumPod forum fix now?  It was down last night and it's still down now.  I can only assume the assembly instructions are being uploaded, in time for the delivery of the first few lucky SumPod owners.  Me I'm just flying blind and relying on my 'natural engineering tendancies', ho hum.  There's good reason for this blog's tile, I am the SumPod Guinea Pig (and loving it).

Nevertheless news of this blog needs to get out.  How else will people know where to order their free samples of stackable headers from Samtec in time for their SumPod builds?

Patience is a virtue I'm told.  I'm told many things, not all of them are correct or turn out to be true.
SumPod Pig signing off.

SumPod PSU and Steppers

As promised here are pictures and details of the PSU supplied with the SumPod.  A universal input with a rated output of 12VDC@5A.

The PSU has a standard IEC connection for the mains input and notably the SumPod does not come with a power lead.  I asked Richard why and he feels and I agree with him, in hindsight, that since SumPods are being distributed throughout the world and this type of lead is cheaply and readily available locally.  It's just not worth trying to stock all the different types and the IEC connector is universal.
Yay for common sense, however be aware that you will need one!

The business end of the PSU.  I suspect I will be building the PSU to to the base of the SumPod and have a IEC connection on the back of the SumPod.  I dislike having extra PSUs trailing about; I already have enough wiring clutter without adding to it.  Doing so will remove the reliance upon a DC jack to carry 5A, snipping off the end and wiring directly to the RAMPS board (if the IEC socket has a switch) or the supplied switch.

A single model of stepper motor is used by the SumPod.  The SY42STH47-1684A, a hybrid stepper motor with 1.8 degrees-per-step and a high holding torque of 4.4 Kg-cm (43.15N-cm), supplied by Zapp Automation.

With very long leads!  Far more than I was reasonably expecting considering the size of the SumPod.

That's it for now, 
SumPod Guinea Pig signing off.

02 October 2011

More SumPod Pictures

Hi all!

I preparation for painting the SumPod I have taken many more pictures.  Some of which are below and the rest can be found through this link.

Another shot of the main parts with the feeder (the correct name for the back assembly) in two.

Keep the nuts and bolts from the feeder safe, because I don't think there are spares in the kit.

The main body.

Left side




Top looking in toward the back panel
The joints on the main body are tight, which is good but require a little sanding work to provide a suitable base for a great painted finish.

Virtually all of the rounded edges are a little rough and take no more than a few strokes with some fine glass paper to smooth.

Z Axis Stepper Fixing

Another picture of the joints of the main body.  I'm wearing gloves because unusually for the UK in October it's a stifling 29°C with no breeze and I don't want to get sweat and grease on the the MDF.  Not that I suffer from this, I normally smell of roses.  :)
It maybe a good idea anyway, depending on your climate because MDF has a tendancy to suck up moisture and oils (and paint) like a sponge particularly on the edges .  Removing these stains requires more sanding  to remove (unneccesary work) so the paint can adhere properly.

I had a visitor while I was working and thought it a shame not to include this picture of Murphy, the smooth haired fox terrier.
Hello Murphy!

That's pretty much it of for the moment, the next post will have info on the PSU.

SumPod Guinea Pig signing off.