What excites me about this, aside from the possibilities of robotics and additive manufacturing, is the grass roots nature of the 3D printing community. It reminds me of my early start with home built computers.
A few months ago, I got to play with a MakerBot at a client's office. I was hooked. So, I set out to build myself a "3D Printer Trainer" using whatever parts I had on hand; this is referred to as building a "RepStrap".
I began to build my RepStrap 3D printer from scratch using as few purchased components as possible -- no specific plans or kits, just inspiration from many creative people and designs on the internet. Many of the parts are overkill or the wrong size but the RepStrap concept gives me the freedom to do that. I'm not too concerned about precision or build volume right now. I just want it to move on my command.
Once the hardware is complete, I intend to use it to teach myself the entire 3D printing workflow and tool chain -- from concept to design to configuration to print. Then, when I have some actual experience under my belt -- and more time -- I will take it all apart and start fresh with a new and improved design. I have only had a few hours each week to invest in this project but you can see that it is already starting to take shape.
So far, I have managed once to get the LCD display to operate the menus from both Marlin and Repetier firmware; however, I quickly managed to clobber my Arduino installs so at the moment nothing works. I have had the steppers moving in the right direction but the step rate and speed are all over the place. I plan to finish soldering the last few wires next week and then I'll sit down one night to begin the firmware adventure for real.
My next hurdle, once I have wired up the the LCD display and end stops, will be to choose a firmware (Repetier vs Marlin?) and learn how to configure it for stepper speed/motion and end stops. Then, I can begin to calibrate using a pen and get some experience before I pursue the extruder/hot end aspect of this.
After considerable research, I settled on my best choice for the parts I would need to purchase, including the Azteeg X3 controller, the ViKi LCD display, the Helios heated bed, and boroscillate glass plate. Everything else is from salvaged parts I had on hand.
I haven't decided on a hot end or extruder yet. I'm following the G+ discussion for the all metal hot ends. The ones from E3D-Online or or Trinity Labs look promising - particularly if they can be paired up with a super small Jerrill nozzle. No idea what I will do for an extruder yet but I'm always open for suggestions.
Since I have little time to play and this field is rapidly evolving, I'm not going to even think about buying anything until I can move a pen around XYZ space reliably and I am at least reasonably familiar with the firmware calibration process.
I know I still have much to learn, but I'm taking notes and many photos for a future blog on the experience.