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LeapFrog Creatr Front
Deepak was the lucky recipent of the first dual-extrusion Creatr
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LeapFrog Creatr Internals
How long will it stay in this condition?!
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Deepak Mehta (@deeeep)
Your smiling author, Deepak!
In the last year I have made big steps into the 3d printing world, assisted by my son's enthusiasm for the technology. My first purchase was the Makerbot Cupcake, which was sold in honour of Father's Day. Delivered in July, I could not wait for my son to return from vacation and to make the whole thing piece by piece... It was a very interesting experience and helped me understand the underlying principles thoroughly. The Cupcake was great fun, it let me dabble into the world of 3D printing, but soon we came across limitations: the first was the fact that the build volume was limited (my son's ambition to start printing his own glasses and never having to buy uncool glasses again was greatly limited by a 10 x 10x 10 cm build volume) and the second was the reliability (the Cupcake has the tendency to desire a machine-wide overhaul, just when you did not want to spend a whole day tinkering, but just a few minutes printing).
These limitations convinced me to start looking for the next printer. Research was made and a short list was created. The four major factors were community support, build volume, multiple extruder support and print quality. Based on these four factors, I ended up deciding for the Leapfrog Creatr (dual extrusion). More on the details of this decision can be found on my personal blog post. The main shift from the Cupcake purchase decision was the decision to buy a printer and not necessarily a kit, since the technology has matured enough to no longer need to have to know the underpinnings in detail to print.
Having placed the order for the Leapfrog Creatr as one of the first, I was able to enjoy the delivery of the very first dual extruder model of the Creatr. It now sits nicely under my desk, where my Hewlett Packard ColorLaserJet 2500N used to sit (about the same size: 50 x 60 x 50 cm (W x D x H). The size of the printer is overwhelming, make sure there is a big place to settle it! But that has mainly to do with the fact that the build platform is also accordingly huge. The leapfrog Creatr allows you to print objects of 25 x 27 x 30 cm (slightly less on X-axis with the dual extruders).
The printer is based on a RepRap Marlin using RAMPS 1.4, but the printer is engineered from the ground up and the quality of the parts is without compromise (subject to availability). All the parts are machined in aluminium and the case is also very solid and nicely masks the electronics. The printer is driven by Slic3r and Pronterface (which exists in Windows, Linux and Apple flavours). Leapfrog supplies a set of slic3r config files based on the machine shipped to you, so that you can start without the need to tweak — you can tweak as you want, but the default settings will work. Everything is nicely detailed on the website, from unpacking to installing the software and loading the filament (although the filament loading system has changed after the video was posted: an update is in works).
After installing the printer and the software (only to find that my old iMac 10.5.8 does not support slic3r 0.8.4 and the config file for Leapfrog does not support 0.7.2), I started with my first issues: the filament loading on the video was through a tube coming out on the side of the base plate. But meanwhile Leapfrog fine-tuned the filament loading system to small holes in the back electronics plate, which through a tube feed to the extruder stepper motors. Left for the left extruder and Right for the right extruder, provided you have a dual extruder version. My first email to Leapfrog: "Aaargh the filament tubes have fallen into the backplate, how to fix it?", Phonecall in 10 minutes, check for the holes in the backplate... Score +1.
Next thing I noticed was that the Z-axis homing sensor had lost its metal clip and so the Z-axis did not home to 0. This was tweaked by manually setting the Z-axis and adjusting the Gcode in slic3r config to only home X&Y and Home Z using G92. The clip must have gotten lost during transportation... Searched the box, but no clip. Score +0.5, Mailed Leapfrog, they called to say that they will send replacement clip on Monday (it was Friday night) and that the next batch of Leapfrogs will have Z-axis homing using induction based sensors: they'll figure out how to replace that in mine and send me the parts. Score +1.5.
The first batch of prints were frustrating: homing the Z-axis manually was an art, only to find out that the build platform was not balanced. Balancing is still pending, due to lack of proper tools, but crudely balanced using a CD and measuring the gap between the head and the platform... A better way was worked out with Leapfrog: instead of M4 nuts and imbus heads, a plastic screwable head would make adjusting the platform easier: I had a tough time holding the nut with pliers and screwing the imbus with a screwdriver all the way at the back of the platform...
The next hurdle was that the filament entering the backplate hole was pressing against electronics behind the backplate and that pressure made the filament snap regularly. The snapped filament would load till the end and once the filament was behind the feeder motor: problem! feeding a new filament would not line up with the small bit of filament behind the feeder and would skip the hole. The tinkerer in me was already looking at how to dismantle the extruder head and removing the filament. But before I make major waves, I thought, let me send an email on Saturday night and see... Again I got two calls from Leapfrog on a Saturday night (these guys are not 40 years old and married with no social life on Saturday, but still willing to call! Score +3.5) and a simple screw moved the feeder head out of place to reveal the feeding hole for the extruder and removing the last bit was a breeze!. Score +4.5 ... You do not need to make any drastic moves with the printer, everything is fixable with simple non-technical gestures.
The breaking filament problem I have solved right now by moving the backplate slightly higher, so that the filament feeding tube moves above the electronics Score +4.0. I am sure that M&M (Martijn and Maarten of Leapfrog) will solve this also in the next batch. Another great advantage of the Leapfrog was the fact that it accepts standard 1.75mm filament in standard spools, so you can buy your filament from anywhere: no cartridge lock-ins. And the spools stay in the printer nicely at the bottom, so everything is nicely packed in the case. Score +5.0.. In the meantime, I had finally taken the courage to screw out the backplate and see how the machine was put together behind the scenes and there I found the lost Z-axis homing sensor clip... Yay!
After these fixes, I have been able to make some small prints in high quality and with great ease. The printer works fast in 0.30 mm Z-height and works with amazing details in 0.2 mm Z-height. The brim function in slic3r is great to make sure that ABS warp does not loosen the prints from the print surface. The only thing that still needs fixing and is not something that I can do at the moment is the fact that due to a wire, that came lose during transport, the feeder motor for the second extruder only goes in reverse. Leapfrog is looking into the issue and are working out a plan on how to fix this. I am pretty confident that they will find a way to do so. Dual extrusion is something that is not high on my list of priorities right now, but I took it to future-proof the printer and not only do multi-colour prints (which slic3r does not support yet), but also do multi-material prints to print support structures in PVA or PLA and dissolve them (which I am dying to try out with some of Dizingof's creations). Score +4.5
I am convinced that the next batch of Leapfrogs will solve a lot of the issues that I faced at first and also some suggestions on packaging and unpacking guides will make the user experience better. If you are technically able, then the Leapfrog Creatr is ready for you and the build quality and component quality is great value for money. If you are looking for an experience where you can print without even having a screwdriver at home, I would wait 1-2 months, till the first batches of issues are cleared and the machine is perfected or wait and buy the top-end Leapfrog Xeed which has an Android touch interface and will not just accept gcode, but will accept STL files and generate the gcode in-printer.
What Leapfrog still lacks in community, it makes up for at the moment by driven owners who are willing to help. Once the install base of the leapfrog increases, I hope that Leapfrog will offer a space for users to interact and off-load some of the support needs from the Leapfrog team onto the community. At the moment the Leapfrog team is making a lot of effort to document every step of the process for the users and make trouble-shooting easy. An email to Martijn and Maarten often helps and their answer is always very satisfying. Also they are planning to have a community board up in a few weeks for better interaction amongst owners.
Most of the primary issues I faced were due to things moving out of place during transportation, these printers are delicate beasts and I know that moving my Cupcake around always meant a 30 minute worship of the device to make sure that all the screws and bolts and nuts were tight — but not too tight — and then came the final prayer to the Makers and turning it on... this has not changed a lot, but the Leapfrog is a lot less portable than the Cupcake and hence the worship process only needs to happen once when you get the machine and unpack it. And the Makers are approachable by email prayers and the karma settlement is near instantaneous!
Annex 1: Just finished writing all this and got an email from Leapfrog that they have shipped a special box of goodies, which will include 2 extruder heads of 0.25mm (the same that will go into the Xeed) and some more parts to upgrade my Leapfrog... That is just the most perfect birthday gift ;-)
More details on the Leapfrog offerings on http://www.lpfrg.com/category/3d-printers/
Also follow then on http://twitter.com/leapfrog_3d
You can also follow my further musings on the Leapfrog on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/deeeep