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Too Good to be True?

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Anonymous User
Too Good to be True?
June 29, 2007 11:26PM
Hi all,

After reading the thread on 'how many repraps are there?' it seems to me like this isnt catching on like i thought it had. Obviouly the reprap is constantly being improoved and developed further, but is the darwin machine a fully functional one? Ive been poking around the site some and it looks to be the A.R.N.I.E. Has anyone successfully followed the instructions online to create a working darwin yet? Are there enough instructions online to guide one through the completion of a reprap, because in the how to build a darwin section it mentions that the instructions are incomplete, but what eactly is missing and when will it be complete? By incomplete does it mean imperfect or that the item is unable to be contructed to a functional state?

I hope i havent come off too negative, i just want to make sure i'm headed in the right direction before i devote too much of my time and money to this project. From the rrrf.org store blog it sounds like 100s of people are working on making the darwin, or at least trying to buy cheap electronics. It would be very comforting to hear from someone who has finished a machine per the online instructions and is now making things with it.

Hopeful future repraper,
Andrew
Re: Too Good to be True?
June 29, 2007 11:51PM
When I replied to the question about "how many RepRaps are there" I limited the number to the ones that are, more or less, operational, not the number that are under construction. From what Zach has said about how fast the Universal Board PCBs are selling I'd guess that there are a bunch of people tooling up to build either Darwin or some variation on that theme. I'd suspect that there are at least dozens of RepRaps under construction and it may be a lot more than that.

Perhaps Zach could cast a bit of light on how components sales, especially PCB sales are shaping up.
Re: Too Good to be True?
June 29, 2007 11:55PM
Andrew,

"Darwin" right now is a theoretical machine. No one has made one yet because the design specifications for it aren't *quite* done yet. Adrian is currently completing what are (hopefully) the finishing touches on the hardware side, and there are still several tasks on the software to-do list before it can be considered truly releasable (Johnathan M has become the go-to man for the host software, at least). That being said, several people (see the thread "how many repraps are there?") have created RepStraps, machines that are "making things." Adrian has an almost-fully-functional Darwin, and I suspect we'll know almost as soon as he does when that's finished. Forrest of course has his Tommelise, you can refer to his site for more information about that. Zach has a mostly-complete set of darwin parts (I assume it doesn't include pieces for the support extruder, because I don't think said extruder existed when he received his parts) and just in the past few days a couple more people have come out of the woodwork with part sets they printed on university machines.

So in summary, if you're looking for a practically guaranteed machine with almost no bugs ("undocumented features" winking smiley ), it would probably be best to wait a few months at least before attempting to build one of these. However, if you're a dedicated early-adopter, feel like contributing to a world-changing technology, or just plain can't wait to start printing your own objects, I encourage you to dive in and join the fun! (Says the guy sitting on his bottom with no parts in hand...)
Research project nature, and timeline
June 30, 2007 11:39AM
Repeat after me: "This is a research project" :-)

This is going to be a research project for some time. If anything on the Wiki or these forums (or thr RRRF site for that matter) suggests otherwise, please point that out, so we can correct it. I don't think anyone here is into false advertising and over-hyped PR rhetoric -- we're basically a bunch of techies, not a bunch of marketing execs! If something we have said has (unintentionally) mislead you, please accept our apology as a community, please tell us specifically what wording you found misleading, and we'll make any necessary correction and move forward.

On the positive side, Eric M. (for example) went from zero to extruding (not 100% successfully yet at any reasonable speed -- but he's close!) in just two or three weeks, building his "Repstrap" (Lamarck) from a Sherline mill and commercially RP-ed extruder parts. Eric is a smart guy, but he is not a rocket scientist, and he isn't a grey-haired university professor either :-)

So this isn't an impossible dream -- enthusiastic hobbyists with some time and energy can already create low cost RP-machines that "make things". However... "This is a research project"! No Darwin-prototype or Repstrap variant has yet demonstrated self-replication. The goal for that is "sometime in 2008".

If cost is an issue for you, you can get started with the host software for zero cost (given that you already have a suitable PC, and an Internet connection to download the software!). It is quite possible (as I can testify from experience!) to do useful work on the project at the moment with no Reprap hardware whatsoever! You can then build a PowerComms board and a UCB for maybe US$40 or so, and start testing with that. You need the whole thing to "print stuff", of course, but you can definitely get started without buying everything up front.

Jonathan
Re: Too Good to be True?
June 30, 2007 12:39PM
I'm not sure that the majority of what is going on in RepRap these days is so much R&D as just hobbyist tinkering and sorting out documentation. There are a few aspects that qualify as straightforward R&D. Adrian's development of the Mk II extruder, for example, and Simon's development of the token ring control scheme that's been used successfully in both Zaphod, A.R.N.I.E and now Darwin certainly qualify as first-rate R&D. As well, Vik's many hours learning how to print with CAPA and now PLA at room temperatures also qualifies without question.

For most of people here, however, what's happening is the treading of paths that have already been blazed but not yet turned into the sort of all-weather surfaced roads that will get RepRap widely distributed. The wonkiness of software and firmware is being plumbed and documentation is being debugged. Circuitry is being debugged and PCB's are being made less confusing. It's all very necessary development work but there is actually very little "research" in any meaningful sense going on on maybe 95% of RepRap.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/30/2007 12:51PM by Forrest Higgs.
Anonymous User
Re: Too Good to be True?
June 30, 2007 04:27PM
thank you all for your responses.

The reason I posted was because of the conflicting messages i was recieving from the site at different points. While the instructions for creating a reprap seemed to be available, the "Darwin Release Todo" subsection of the page consists of this message: "We're close to being ready, but not quite there. Here is a page with things that are not quite done. Hopefully this will help us get everything organized and ready to rock." There is no link to the mentioned page, and the next section is an overview of the Darwin machine, written in a way that suggests it actually exists. It also mentions that "Instructions and all necessary data are available completely free under the GNU General Public Licence from this website to everyone." suggesting that the instructions are available in full.

With no link on the Todo List section and the next section acting like its ready for you to go make one, i was given the impression that one could, without too much pain, agony, or an engineering degree, contruct a functioning reprap. While i know now that the project is nearly complete, i think some better wording or notes in those areas i mentioned above would eliminate further confusion.

Although there is still some unfinished business on the development side, i am still very anxious to get involved with the darwin community. Some buddies and i plan on, hopefully with the support of the VCU school of engineering, contructing a darwin, or at least as much as we can, and doing what we are capable of to provide feedback to the darwin designers, and possibly some things we stumbled upon ourselves, in order to spread the reprap not only in Richmond, but anywhere we can.

I hope that the page i mentioned could be modified to be a little clearer, and look forward to spending too much time on these forums this summer while i do some 'research' of my own.
Re: Too Good to be True?
June 30, 2007 04:32PM
"I hope that the page i mentioned could be modified to be a little clearer, and look forward to spending too much time on these forums this summer while i do some 'research' of my own."

I'm sure it will be. RepRap is a work in progress. You can slope over to [email protected] and encounter the same situation.

The big thing to keep in mind, though, is that even with a fully functioning RepRap machine there is still a lot of knowhow yet to be developed before printing objects with the Mk II fused deposition modeling extruder at room temperature becomes routine.
Re: Too Good to be True?
June 30, 2007 06:08PM
yup, basically what forrest and jonathan said. i remember reading somewhere that NASA estimated the complexity of a mechanically self-replicating machine as equivalent to that of a Pentium 4 chip. we've been at this for 2 years now, and we've come an amazingly long way (from nothing to where we are now!) however, there is still a lot left to do. please dont let the incompleteness of the project scare you away. we're working on something amazing here and there is alot that has been accomplished already.

the major areas where we are not ready yet are:

* getting the printed parts available for the extruder and darwin. this can be gotten around if you use an off the shelf 3d positioning system + our electronics + our software. the extruder parts can be successfully CNC'ed.

* the software still needs some TLC. there are some rough spots, and the UI could be improved, but it does actually work. its also rather easy to dive into and understand whats going on.

* documentation can always be improved. to paraphrase NYC transit: if you see something, say something. we're also working on migrating to mediawiki so we can open up wiki edit access. hopefully i can get this done soon.

* part kits and supplies. i'm working as hard as i can to get the hard parts supplied. i'm just one guy though and i already have a full time job. i am also trying to build my own darwin, as well as trying to meet a cute girl. if you'd like to send out quote requests to various companies for say darwin parts, or getting extruder parts machined, or whatever, please do so! i would be very grateful for your help.

* gaining know-how and practical experience with actually printing. once we are able to print parts practically, then RepRap will have officially arrived. if you get involved now, you may be the next person to make the blog "First $foo printed!" you'll be famous!
Anonymous User
Re: Too Good to be True?
June 30, 2007 07:24PM
I thought I would add my story in here so that the project developers can gain an understanding of the experiences of an essentially unskilled end user (I am no expert in programming or electronics, but I know enough to be able to follow directions), and end users can get an idea of what state the project is currently in.

I stumbled across the RepRap project several months ago, and I was instantly fascinated by the idea. Being able to simply draw an object on the PC and have a machine print it out for me without huge expense, and without having to tell the machine exactly what I want it to do at each step really appeals to me. After reading every single page on the RepRap.org site, the forums, the main blog, and the builder's blog, I decided that I wanted to build one, and from what I saw I had a good chance of success.

Since no one is currently making the parts available, and I do not have access to an FDM machine, I looked at costs for having a commercial rapid prototyping company make all of the parts. That cost was far too high, but the cost for having them create just the parts for the extruder was within my budget. AFter discussing it on the reprap IRC channel, I dug out my Sherline mill from the garage, and looked into what it would cost to convert it to CNC and purchase the RepRap control boards so that I could control it with the RepRap software. I estimated the costs to be within my budget, and I estimated my skillset to be at least close to adequate (I know some basic electronics, a very little bit of programming, I know which end of a tool goes where, and I can follow directions), so I went ahead and ordered all the parts.

When I ordered the control boards, the new 1.2 version of the PCBs was available, so I purchased those, but the BOMs for those boards were not complete yet. Luckily, the parts were essentially the same as the previous version of boards (except the connectors), so I was able to get the parts together and order them. Once all the parts came in, I started assembly. At this point, the construction pages for the 1.2 boards were still being created, so I had to figure out the assembly order and parts placement partially from the 1.1 pics, and partially from the silkscreen on the PCBs. As I was soldering things together, I kept switching pages back and forth to look at various things, and the pages were being edited, created, and changed as I was assembling! Sometimes I would see the picture I needed, sometimes not, and I would have to cross-reference the 1.1 and 1.2 construction pages to look for the differences, and then the page I was looking at a minute ago would disappear, then a picture would no longer be there, a test procedure would be incomplete, etc. It was rather frustrating, but I was able to figure things out for the most part (now that the instructions ae complete and stable, it's a lot easier to follow them).

Once I got the boards complete, I tried attaching a stepper motor and seeing if I could get it to turn. I unfortunately had some issues with the software install (mostly due to my own mistakes), but with help from Jonathan, I was able to talk to my boards correctly, and tried the stepper exerciser test. I would get a flashing light on the stepper controller, and a hum from the motor, but no turning. After some frustration and discussion with Joost on IRC (who was having the same problem), we figured out that it was due to the torque setting in the RepRap software being set to 50% (I think someone should change that default to %75 or so to guarantee that a motor moves on first test). After confirming that the motor moves, and getting advice from the forums (thanks nophead!) on how to connect my non-standard Sherline motors to the control boards, I was able to assemble everything and get things to move in a meaningful manner.

After dealing with some nasty communications problems (that appear to have been primarily due to my own mistakes), I was able to spend the next week or so tweaking the settings and fiddling with it to get my RepStrap to put plastic on the table in an organized manner. Unfortunately, a number of the preferences and buttons in the software are not adequately (or in some cases at all) documented, and some of the connections between the boards have to be guessed at (last time I checked, there is no info on how to connect the stepper sync lines in the construction pages), so it takes a lot of trial and error to get things going correctly. The forums and IRC channel are great resources for troubleshooting and tweaking, but unfortunately there are only a few people who REALLY know what is going on in the software and hardware, so unless you can slog through the code yourself and understand it, all you can do when you have a question is ask around, and sometimes you get an answer immediately, sometimes a few days later or not at all.

As it stands right now, my RepStrap (named Lamarck) is able to print lines parallel to the X or Y axis for an object quite nicely, but angled lines are causing problems. From what I can tell, this can easily be caused by me not connecting things correctly due to lack of documentation (sync lines!), hardware failure (I kinda doubt this, but it's possible), the settings for my machine in the software putting it into untested territory and displaying a new bug, or something odd I need to do to compensate for my non-standard hardware. From what I can tell, if it was a Darwin machine, I could tweak the settings in a way to get it to work.

From all of the experience I have, I am confident that if you were able to get an FDM machine to make all of the Darwin parts, ordered all of the correct non-RP parts, and assembled them exactly as the current instructions describe, you will end up with a computer-controlled machine that will deposit melted plastic in an organized manner. To get it to print what you expect correctly, you will likely need at least a little bit of help from the forums to get the settings tweaked right, or problems resolved, but you should be able to at least print out small parts of a few layers that represent your object file fairly accurately. I am not sure if Darwin in its current state will be able to print larger objects, or as well as a commercial FDM, but it should at least be able to make pretty darn good parts.

In summary, this is how I feel about the current state of the project: The parts appear to be able to extrude useful small objects, though they may or may not have some minor innaccuracies. The software is now much easier to install and does what it is supposed to do under perfect conditions, but has a few bugs and missing features and/or protections against user error, and has little to no documentation (what the heck does the 'calibrate' button do in the stepper exerciser?). Troubleshooting procedures are still being developed, but with help from the construction page troubleshooting techniques, forum postings, and IRC channel, most problems can generally be solved within a few days. Basically, I see parts of the project as being complete but in need of testing and tweaking, and other parts in need of completion but mostly working. In a few months, it should be to a definite Beta stage - everything pretty much done, but not tweaked to perfection.

If you have decent tinkering ability and are willing to go through some frustrating issues at times, you can create a machine that will extrude *something* at the very least with what is available now. If you have programming and/or electronics skills, you'll probably have an easier time. If you prefer to just be able to connect things up, flip a switch, and have it all work, I would suggest waiting at least six months or so.

OK, enough rambling... Time to get back to beating my head against a wall with Lamarck. smiling smiley
Anonymous User
Re: Too Good to be True?
July 01, 2007 12:22AM
Thank you eric, that was a very informative post. I am planning on working on this with my FIRST Robotics team, so between us we have some noteworthy programing and electronics skills. We also *might* have access to some of VCUs professional 3D printers. And we definitely are up for an adventure, so this should be fun.
Minor Wiki edit made (was: Re: Too Good to be True?)
July 01, 2007 05:58PM
BurkeyTurkey Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> While the instructions for
> creating a reprap seemed to be available, the
> "Darwin Release Todo" subsection of the page
> consists of this message: "We're close to being
> ready, but not quite there. Here is a page with
> things that are not quite done. Hopefully this
> will help us get everything organized and ready to
> rock." There is no link to the mentioned page,

The title "Darwin Release Todo" is a link to the Darwin Todo page :-)

In case others fail to notice this, as you apparently did, I just made the word "Here" in the phrase "Here is a page" also link to the said Todo page.

That DarwinToDo page isn't everything one might wish for, but it really does exist, honest :-) See [www.reprap.org] .

I'd like to update the DarwinTodo page based on a useful fairly recent post on the reprap team mailing list... I need Adrian's OK to make that public of course.

> and the next section is an overview of the Darwin
> machine, written in a way that suggests it actually exists.

It does exist. The question is whether it *works* well enough to replicate, not whether it exists. I think we're very close to the point where the one big remaining "missing" piece for that technically is the support for the second extruder, which is needed to build some of the RepRap Darwin parts; Adrian is currently at work on this area of the project. After that, it's down to making the whole "tweak and calibrate" process more manageable (hopefully *much* more manageable!), and then documenting/packaging/testing/bug fixes, from what I can see.

> It also mentions that
> "Instructions and all necessary data are available
> completely free under the GNU General Public
> Licence from this website to everyone." suggesting
> that the instructions are available in full.

They are indeed available in full. They may have mistakes or inaccuracies or even internal contradictions still lurking in them, but they are indeed available :-)

Instructions for creating and testing a single-extruder RepRap Darwin are essentially complete at this point. Additions for the second extruder will be needed once we have one to document, of course.

> ... i think some better wording or notes in those areas
> i mentioned above would eliminate further confusion.

I agree. Done, I hope. If you think making "Here" into a link is insufficient, please do suggest further changes that you would like to see to the wording of that paragraph or page.

Thanks,

Jonathan
Anonymous User
Re: Too Good to be True?
July 01, 2007 06:26PM
I think the issue with apparently missing page links is that a large number of the title bars for some of the sections are links to the page, and some are not. If you're not used to this, and don't happen to mouse over the title and notice it's a link, you may get confused. I'm not sure if this is something that can be readily changed, or should be changed, but a good example of this is at [reprap.org] - if you just load the page and look at it, the top several sections appear to have no linked pages, but if you mouse over the page, you can see the cursor change over the links. If someone has a different browser setup, or different web experience, it may be non-obvious. I don't know if it would be worth it, but perhaps going through all of the link titles and adding '(Link)' to them may make it more obvious.

Just my 0.00000002 cents smiling smiley
How visible are our links?
July 01, 2007 06:56PM
OK. I hadn't noticed this issue at all.

For me, links in the text are blue, and so are titles which happen to also be links. Normal title text is brown. Normal text is black. There is no need to mouseover anything to see this. This is how I see the Wiki pages under both Linux and Windows, using Firefox. I just checked, and this is also how it looks in IE7 under Windows XP Home.

Even in Lynx, text that is a link (title or not) is blue, titles that are not links seem to be just plain old black; the distinction between link and non-link is still there. Even if I ran Lynx on a monochropme terminal, I think the links would still be different in some way (bold or underline) from normal text.

What browser/OS combinations do not show the RepRap Wiki titles which are links differently from the titles which are not links? It might be easier to adjust our css stylesheet to ensure the distinction is visible to all, than to find every occurrence of a link which is a title and edit each one by hand.

Jonathan
Re: How visible are our links?
July 01, 2007 07:08PM
@Johnathan

I suspect that the issue has to do with the fact that even though the distinction between titles that are links and titles that are not links exists, it is not documented or necessarily obvious. I'm with you in that the links in some titles were fairly evident given the context, but I can understand how to some they might not be. On many sites "Blue" doesn't always mean "link," and it's possible for people to assume that the style chosen for titles is blue, or more likely simply not think about it at all. I never did, before reading this thread. Of course once the distinction has been explained it is trivial to see the difference, but not everyone can be expected to already know what to look for. Perhaps making the linked titles underlined as well as blue would help, but then again, maybe that would throw the whole design mojo off.

Kyle
Anonymous User
Re: Too Good to be True?
July 01, 2007 07:52PM
I've made the same mistake many times. Yesterday I was looking at the DocumentationMain page looking for the SNAP address assignments. I saw the "RepRap modules" heading and instinctively clicked on the link below it, which happened to be a link back to the main "RepRap" definition page. Took me a few seconds to figure out what happened and realize that I needed to click on the heading instead. Maybe the change to mediawiki will get rid of this problem. The "Jump" box in the upper-right has some surprising behavior too if you try to use it as a search box.
Re: Too Good to be True?
July 01, 2007 08:33PM
yeah, i'd *really* like to see a switch to mediawiki within the next few weeks. hopefully jonathan can figure out where i went wrong. i'm a PHP guy with limited perl experience. Luckily mediawiki is PHP based... yay!
Re: Too Good to be True?
July 02, 2007 04:37AM
This has confused me as well. I think the problem is that you don't expect a heading to be a link as well. It's not normal web practice.


[www.hydraraptor.blogspot.com]
Titles that are links too
July 02, 2007 04:49PM
We're looking at something like:

(1) Recover MySQL <=> PHP communication on Zach's server (I broke it, ouch!)
(2) Get a copy of the current twiki-based RepRap Wiki up and running over there
(3) Set up MediaWiki on that server
(4) Attempt a twiki to MediaWiki conversion

Whether that will change a style issue of using headings as links or not is unknown. I suspect not.

Making the headings that are links appear underlined (as well as blue) sounds a simple way to add some additional clarity in the meantime, since "blue underlined text is a link you can click on" is a very very common web browser display formatting practice, one that has existed since (I think) the days of Mosaic. Once we have the (t)wiki over on Zach's server to play with, I'll give that a shot.

Jonathan
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