A place where current 3D printer users can document the process of 3D printing.
The printer currently being used in the physics lab Dennis 128 is a MakerBot Replicator 2. The Replicator 2 can print both ABS and PLA filament, and has a build volume of 11.2" L x 6" W x 6.1" H. It also comes equipped with a dual extrusion system to be able to print objects in two colors.
A very user-friendly program to use to communicate with the Replicator 2 is MakerBot's own ReplicatorG, which can be found as a free download here: http://replicat.org/download. There are installation instructions included on that website, as additional downloads are required (Python and some drivers).
3D models can be uploaded and downloaded online through a free website called Thingiverse (http://www.thingiverse.com).
ReplicatorG is the main interface between the 3D model and the printer. Since 3D models are usually .cad, .obj, or .stl files, the printer cannot directly print them. ReplicatorG uses a tool called Skeinforge to take the 3D model as a .stl, and turn it into gcode. Skeinforge slices the model into layers and determines what paths the extruder needs to take for each layer based on the parameters set in ReplicatorG. The resulting file is a .gcode file, which can be printed directly from the computer if connected via USB. To print without connecting a computer via SD card, the .gcode file needs to be converted to a .s3g file, as discussed below.
ReplicatorG will display a 3D interactive preview of the open .stl file. The column on the right offers some options on how to orient the model on the actual build platform. Some of these options include moving, rotating, or scaling the model before it is printed. It has default "snap-to" settings to center the model on the platform, and move it so that its bottom most side (the first layer) is laying just on the surface of the build platform. A model that lies below the build platform will result in an error and will not print correctly, and a model that lies above the platform will print with severe warping, since the first layer of plastic will have nothing to which to adhere.