Saturday, April 12, 2014

Final Project - A Maker Name Badge

In the early planning stages of my final project, I wanted something that was "a walking" billboard promoting the maker spirit.  My original thoughts was that it would be some type of e-textile project that would become part of my book bag which I have with me most places. I spent a lot of time playing with this idea as I  picked up supplies at Michael's and Walmart. When my  Lilypad e-textiles components that I ordered from Sparkfun arrived,  I was able to easily get my computer sending schemes to the Lilypad components and  start creating circuits using craft materials, conductive thread and various Lilypad components.
The Sparkfun website is filled with tutorials that might be helpful.  For getting started with LilyPad e-textiles, I would suggest  the following series.

Eventually I decided I wanted to integrate 3D printing with the e-textile components in a way that would start conversations about making.  Although the book bag idea seemed fun,  the design wasn't jumping out at me. -Then while cleaning out the bus one day, I found some name badges from recent conferences, and it  occurred to me that conference name badges are meant to provide just enough information about you to start a conversation - so why not find a way to add some maker elements to a badge holder.  Although I had lots of different components, most of which were overkill  for this project,
 I settled on augmenting the battery powered basic circuit with a LilyPad Twinkle board.  This  board actually has an ATtiny microcontroller which is programmed to make LED's you attach blink like fireflys.  Although there was no need for programming for this project, I did find lots of advanced user tips for those who wanted to tackle programming the board.  The built in firefly effect was going to work just fine for my project (attention getting in a subtle way).

What seemed like a quick and easy project ended up taking much more time than expected due to my lack of modeling ability and unexpected challenges of working with fine wire.  I found a model  on Thingverse that would work if I could create a cutout in the middle for the LED.  After struggling to get the extrusion working with 123Design,  I resorted back to TinkerCad  and was able to get the right size hole after only 2 prints.   (The digital callipers came in very handy and I was tickled to use my newly assembled printer.)

Wire management endedup being my biggest obstacles. The fine wire I used was conductive enough but had to be pulled tight to complete the circuit and become much more tangled and harder to manage than I had expected.  But after multiple takes and some reinforcement with the glue gun,  I now have a fairly solid name badge holder than can start conversations about 3D printing, circuits, and maker empowerment. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

From Build to Print

Totally excited from completing the last step of my Printrbt 3D printer build,  I was eager to move to to actually printing something.

My experience so far was sending designs off for others to to print at places like Shapeways  or Sculpteo or finding someone else who has a printer for hire through xyzmake.  I have seen plenty of 3D printers at conferences and even had the privilege of being at Swanton Elementary School when the day they unpacked and tested their first 3D printer. My research lead me to understand that there was a lot of "adjusting" and "tweaking" necessary to end up with quality prints.  So I was a bit nervous about the next steps.

Step 67 ended rather humorously and then sent me to a the next  Getting Started Guide which suggested I download Repetier software and proceeded to offer screenshots of how to configure the software for your first print.  Replicating each setting in the 5 pages of screenshots gave me a tour of the software, but also made me very aware of how much more there was to learn.  A slight thrill came over me as the x, y, and z axis all moved when performing the initial test as directed in the guide.  The temperature graph showed that the extruder was heating up on command.   (smiling)

I fed through some black filament (included in the kit) and then pressed the SLICE button as directed.  With all the talk about "slicing"  that I've heard,  it seemed a little anti-climatic that it took literally 2 seconds.  The CONNECT button responded positively which mean I could talk to the printer.  I hit the SET Temperature and watched the temperature curve quickly reach 195 degrees.  Next step "RUN" to start your PRINT!

THIS DID NOT SEEM RIGHT! Seemed there had to be more than this.  What about the print head?  Where should it start?  Surely there must be some directions about calibration somewhere.  I reread the guide and found none.  A sense of anxiety came over me.  What was I thinking "trying such a project" in a 'bus' parked out in the middle of Texas.  It's not like I could drag it into the local "genius" bar and ask for help.  It was getting late and I didn't want to go to bed feeling anxious,  so I decided to "go for it"  and hit RUN as instructed.  Yeah-  filament started to squirt out! Boo - none of it stuck to the print bed and instead globbed up around the tip of the extruder.  What to do?  There were no instructions on what to do if that happened.. but looking around the software I found a "KILL JOB"  button!  Phew!  The printer stopped!  Exhausted by the long day of building filled with 'creative tension' of so much new learning, I decided that I could head to bed knowing that the day had been a success!  The printer worked!  And  filament was coming out!  And my hunch that their was a missing piece to these instructions was spot on!  Tomorrow I would tackle that step!

......  next day

The first step was getting the blog of filament off the print head. Thankfully it came off easy enough. I did lots of poking around the Internet looking for answers.  Armed with just enough knowledge to enter some key words into Google Search,  I skimmed resource after resource picking up new terminology each time.  RichRap's blog post on slicer offered lots of pointers, but felt a little over my head for this stage in the game.  But I saved them for a later time when I have more experience and am ready to tackle the granular advice offered by Rich.

Just as the "I'm not smart enough for this" anxiety started to rise I discovered JOSH!  
OMG!  Josh Marinacci not only had the same 3D printer and model that I had,  but he knew how to write great documentation that helped me regain confidence that I could do this and my brain stopped sending me "I'm not smart enough messages"  and started to send more rational messages like "I have an experience gap that makes it hard for me to do this" and Josh is about to help me bridge that gap!  And the fact that his blog started with tales of his recent adventures at SxSw made me trust him immediately.  For all I know, we might have been sitting in the same sessions at SxSw. The fact that he added pictures of at least 5 "less than perfect" prints before getting a successful print also helped manage my expectation and prepare me for the fact that I might still get a globby mess.

I followed his advice step by step, starting with adding blue painters tape to the print bed. When there were discrepancies in the Prntrbot documentation and his directions (i.e. 4800 for feedrate vs 500) I chose to follow his specs.  Moved the extruder so the X and Y axis  appeared to be front and left, and brought the z axis motor so that a sheet of paper slid through with a little friction.  Then we calibrated the extruder feed rate by marking off some filament and sending 10 mm at a time through the printer.  The extruder feed didn't even need adjusting,  but it was good to see that Josh offered all the "math" necessary to make the adjustment should we need them. (I'm keeping those formulas handy).

Took a deep breath, hit the software HOME button on x, y, and z  - crossed my fingers and HIT RUN!  First relief and soon glee came over me as layer after layer stuck to the bed and built up a 5mm calibration cube!  And best of all - it didn't look like a glob - it actually looked like a pretty decent print.  I was high as a kite for the rest of the day! I was able to happily tuck the printer away as it was time to move bus again and we had  3 days of driving head as we left from Texas to Oklahoma City and then to St. Louis.

Here is the short video peak at my first print.

More maker adventures to come! 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Assembling my own 3D printer

In search for the right 3D printer for my needs and for schools I might work with has been an eye opening journey.  At first all eyes pointed to the Makerbot Replicator 2, but as I have been meeting more 'makers' I'm finding lots of different possibilities including the Lulzbot,  the 3D Cube and new models from Printrbot.

Although the 'extreme' maker would MAKE their own 3D printer, program their own arduino board to operate motors and extruders and laser cut or 3D print the parts,  I wasn't quite ready for that journey.  However I felt confident enough to order a KIT and do my own assembly. Although I didn't feel the Printrbot Simple would be the right kit for a classroom environment, the company's reputation was sound enough for me to give the build of their low cost model a try.

The package arrived the other day and I could not wait to dive in.  It was a great feeling to open the box of parts and find that a degree of comfort with the parts included.  I could  envision the machine that had laser cut the wooden pieces; I immediately recognized the arduino board, and was not afraid of the colored wires and end stops, motors, and wire tires.  The combined documentation (in the box and online supplement) was very thorough. I especially liked the way that the online documentation broke down the steps by steps with 3 visuals for each of the 67 steps.  Also helpful was the way each step linked to user comments as they completed the steps. (I always read those, figuring I could benefit from other's questions and feedback).   I used my Nexus 7 to document my own work.   Here are the first 2 days of the build.

My amazing partner/coach/friend/husband was great support and lent me his tools and  showed me all these little tricks (i.e. working with zip ties and hex nuts, cable management, etc) while demonstrating  extreme self-discipline by letting me fumble through some awkward moments with tools I've never used before.  (And yes, I did let him play with a few of the steps, but only after I experienced it myself first).  The build did require a trip to Home Depot to pick up a few tools we were lacking including a micro cutter, more exacto blades,  tinier Allen Wrench, and thread blue).   As the assembly started to take shape,  my motivation to make it to the end increased and we spent a LONG day at it on Saturday and finished the build!  Yeah!

I had to laugh at the last step when I read the following
Step 67
Simple build finished. Great job! You're not quite done though. There are a couple more steps on your journey to 3D printing glory. ...I know, it is sort of like beating a level in Mario Bros, when the bad guy runs off with the Princess again.
See the Getting Started Guide for info on software settings and other tips.

Because that was exactly what I felt as I discovered that I had NEW software to learn and didn't have a clue how to  calibrate the x, y, z, motors and extruder -- all steps which ARE NOT in the Getting Started Guide!    Ask me how I know!  --- (perhaps by the glob of filament stuck on the extruder, instead of stuck to the print bed, where it should be.... KILL Print Job... Stay tuned for more learning)

But boy am I EXCITED  that we have a working 3D printer in our bus - and I assembled it - with a little help from my friend,  coach,  partner, travel companion, husband -  Thanks, Craig.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Exploring Circuits

Completing the 15 circuits in the Arduino Inventor kit earlier this semester was the perfect entry point for me to learn more about programmable circuits.  There was just enough documentation to support my progress through each of these circuit exercises, but not so much that I felt like I was just walking through the steps.  I had just enough background in programming (which is not much) to start to tweak the code and remix and mashup some of the circuit examples.   However, I kept thinking that this would not be the correct entry point for someone who has had NO background in programming.  So even though the Arduino provides a HIGH CEILING environment for creating,  I don't feel it was low threshold enough for most learners to easy start creating. 

My past experience with Pico Crickets has allowed me to see the type of learning that happens when you have LOTS of arts and craft materials,  Legos,  Sensors, and a low threshold programming environment.  Since PicoCrickets have been retired,  I embarked on a mission to find many different "on ramps" to the world of programmable circuits for different types of learners. 

After seeing some of the products showcased at the Sparkfun table at SxSw I placed an order for a Makey Makey and lots of LillyPad (eTextile) components. It was hard to know which components would be the easiest to start with, so I ordered a variety of different pieces.  My 'mentor' (also my husband)   suggested that I figured out what I wanted to create so I could select the 'right' pieces,  but it's hard to know what you CAN make until you have had a chance at some open play with the tools to see what's possible. 

Several hundred dollars later,  a package from Sparkfun arrived that contained  Lilypad circuits, LED's, and all types of conductive materials (thread, paint, fabric, tape, etc) 

My mind started to imagine all types of possibilities with the components I had ordered.  I wandered through the craft section at Walmart and the Michael's store with a very different lens.   After picking up a few hundred dollars worth of materials and/or inspiration,  I was eager to start playing.

A brief visit to Michael's 

Inspiration from Walmart

While I was drawing ideas for what might become an adhesive walking advertisement for Creating and Making - somehow adhered temporarily or permanently on my book bag,  FED EX delivered another package I had ordered from Little Bits.  In the box were  two Little Bit kits to explore circuits that seemed to have the potential to introduce our youngest learner to the Internet of Things.  Very much inspired by  Little Bit creator, Ayah Bdeir, whose workshop I attended at  SxSw,  I ordered the Premium Kit and the Korg Synth Kit.

If you are not familiar with Little Bits, the best way to learn about Little Bits is from the creator -Ayah Bdier, herself.

Since I was flying back to Vermont this week for 3 professional development events and to spend time with grandchildren,  I had all these packages delivered at my grandson's home.  Watching what happens when packages like these show up at the home of an 8 year old and 2 year old brought lots of new insights (which I will share in another blog post).  But needless to say - my  "planning week"  for my Final Project was spent  exploring lots of possibilities,  and using the eraser end of my pencil as I tried out different ideas on paper and in my head.