So we’ve had this little Fabrikator Mini printer sitting in the ETC Makerspace for a few months and I finally decided it was time for someone to get it set up and run some tests. Initially it was touted as a very simple to use out of the box printer for a very reasonable price. I believe it was in the ball park of $250 Canadian. Perfect for a school who wants to get into 3D printing, but doesn’t have a large budget. The setup video from HobbyKing made everything seem very simple. Unfortunately, I’m running Mac so I can’t tell you if it really is as easy to use on a PC (which most schools would be running), but there were major issues on the mac side. First off, the mac version of the software they recommend, Repetier-Host, does not have the same options for slicers or even the same windows for settings. So when you try and follow the etup settings in the manual, nothing matches up. I tried various settings and combinations of things, but never did get the software to control the printer. I even contacted the company and they replied with very minimal unhelpful suggestions which gave me the feeling they’d never even tried to set this thing up on a mac even though they claim it’s compatible. Boooo.
I finally found a guide to set the printer up using Ultimaker’s Cura and OctoPrint. Although I wasn’t interested in setting up the printer over a network, which is what octoprint does, I was able to use the Cura settings recommended in the tutorial to build a custom printer profile in Cura. The tutorial recommended using an older version of Cura, but I couldn’t get the printer to connect consistently with that. I tried the newest version just to see and was able to connect right away.
Now the issue of calibration. I ran a test print that I downloaded from Thingaverse and the print head moved to the home position once it had heated up. This is where things went very wrong. Unfortunately the Z axis (up and down) was set incorrectly from factory and the hot head pushed down into the plexiglass bed melting a big divot into it. Gah!!!. Cura has no way of manually over-riding the motor controls so I was forced to unplug the printer and force the print head off the bed., but the damage had already been done. A little sanding and we were back in business. I found that there was a switch for the z axis motor that was out of calibration so I adjusted the screw on the bottom of the printer to trigger the switch at a business card’s distance from the bed. This would tell the software that the printhead was “homed” at that distance.
I loaded the model again and set tings in motion. So far so good. I’ve got the first real test printing right now so I’ll give an update once I get the final product, but my initial concern with this budget printer in a school system is that “out-of-the-box” printer is a claim I feel should come with some major caveats.