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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Bits from Bytes Axon 3 (alpha)


It’s a couple of weeks now since BfB released the first alpha version of Axon 3. So, I’ve been doing a bit of printing at home over the half term holiday just to try it out…. I came across a couple of problems and reported them to Andrew (the BfB software developer and an ex student of mine), glad to see the fixes in the second release…. Thanks Andrew!

It must be remembered that this is an alpha release and many features are “missing” such as the ability to change profiles or material/build settings… But even with the standard set up I’m really impressed, and there were a few surprises too!

I was getting towards final part of a print that tapered to a point at the top and I happened to glance up from my PC to see the print head charge off towards the back of the machine…. PANIC!!!… Then it carried on printing…ERRRR?…. Next layer it did the same… And then it dawned on me… AHHHH,…Built in cooling time, like the Skeinforge option/plugin “orbiting” round the object when doing small layers …. NICE! The attached picture show the part straight off the machine,with no cleaning up whatsoever, printing this sort of point in ABS usually results in the point staying a bit jelly like (jello for readers in the US) and the squidgy point gets wobbles around by the hot end and usually ends up distorted. The point on this print is so sharp I’ll have to be careful not to stab myself, certainly worth doing a risk assessment 🙂

In the first alpa release there was a small problem that extruder 3 wouldn’t heat up, it is fixed now so my next experiments must be to try 3 colour prints…. Really easy by the looks of it, now you only have to load a stl file for each colour (no need for the extra “combined” parts file), logic says that the stl files must have the parts in the correct x,y,z relationship to each other (and the origin) but that’s simply a matter of exporting the parts correctly from the CAD software.

Even after a couple of weeks I still can’t get over how fast this version of axon is! And the dimensional accuracy is greatly improved too.

Oh and finally… Reporting bugs to software developers… Don’t forget that when a piece of software is in alpha (or even beta) stages of testing you do need to 1. Remember that not all the features may be present yet (a bug report isn’t the place for nagging and moaning) 2. Send as much detail as possible…PC details (operating system, RAM, etc), printer details (RapMan 3.x/BfB3000/3DTouch and firmware version), the exact nature of the error, what you were doing when the error occurred, materials loaded in your machine and settings that you made… Screen shots are always useful (if you are emailing then you can paste in screenshots, remember that “Prt Scr” captures the whole screen or “Alt Gr” and “Prt Scr” together captures the active window)… Sorry if I’m stating the obvious!

Axon 3 released


A real flurry of activity over the last few days… first my visit to do a presentation for the DfE and then playing with the new release of Axon.

Axon 3 is not yet the full version.. this is an alpha release and has only had limited testing and some of the features are not included yet. But having installed it (and updated the firmware) I have been doing a bit of testing…. and wow!

It is blisteringly fast!!!

The user interface is very familiar to anyone who has used Axon 2 but when it comes to processing stl files to generate g-code to drive a 3D Touch (this release doesn’t work for earlier machines yet) you start to notice some differences…

Speed, As mentioned it is blisteringly fast. it looks like its slicing is done by its own engine and not skeinforge.

Rafts. Much stronger rafts are made to fix objects firmly to the bed

Support. There is the option to print support as points or lines, I haven’t had much time to play with this yet but it looks like the support that is automatically generated is much better- only printing it where necessary.

Print quality. The quality of the test prints I have done so far are superb. As yet there is no materials profile editor, just the ability to select one of 3 different z layer thicknesses, but the standard settings have handled everthing I have thrown at it so far.

Multi material prints. It is now possible to print objects in up to 3 colours (assuming you have a tripple head machine). now there is no need to load a “combined material” file just load the 3 stl files that represent each of the colours/materials.

Nozzle wipes. Ok, probably should be in a report about the firmware, (but the Axon/firmware updates go hand in hand)… this has been very much improved… no more nose dribbles being pulled onto the print… I just have to stop panicing when the heads make multiple moves over the wiper 🙂

Anyway, thats a brief summary, I have probably missed something from the list so I’ll update if I find any more features.

Already this looks like the best version of Axon so far, BfB/3DS have stuck to keeping the software clean and simple to use. I haven’t found any significant problems yet and as it is further developed and more features are added I’m pretty certain this will be a fantastic piece of slicing software. 

The software can be downloaded from the Support/Technical Resources section of the BfB website

The DfE and 3D printing in STEM

Department for Education: 3D printing in Physics, Maths and D&T.

 Up before 5am and boarding a train to London at the sort of time I would normally be stirring myself to get out of bed… All a bit keen really!… And the sort of thing that I normally have to have a good reason to do. And the good reason was that I was asked to do a presentation about 3D printing in schools for the Department for Education (the DfE is our government body in charge of education here in England). I must say that it was a real honour and privilege to be asked to do this.

 One of the reasons I was asked to do this was because the DfE is setting up a pilot project to look at how 3D printing can be used in STEM subjects… With special emphasis on the mathematics and physics areas.

 If you are a return visitor to my blog then you might realise that I am a D&T teacher at Clevedon School, but I have some experience of developing teaching and learning projects and resources in other subject areas… In fact I’m currently working on some new projects to try out with my own science department very soon (more of this in a later post perhaps)… And that’s why I was asked along to share my previous experiences.

 Anyway I think my presentation kicked off the day ok… Some of the delegates even laughed (or raised a smile) at my feeble jokes (yes I do have a very strange sense of humour) … Quite proud really as presenting in the first slot of the day can be difficult, people need to warm to the atmosphere and are often wondering what they have let themselves in for!

 But I expect you are wondering where the physics and maths fits in with all this and what the pilot project is all about. I suppose in a nutshell it really boils down to the fact that 3D printing has so far really only been in the domain of designers, technologists and engineers. This project is looking to break out of this and involve mathematics and science. And why not? I have exported some cross curricular links before but this project has really got my mind buzzing with the potential uses for this technology in these areas other areas of the curriculum and there should be more to follow in a later blog post about this.

 So, what else happened at the meeting? The other presentation was led by Stuart Douglas from Ripley St Thomas Church of England Academy. Stuart’s school is lucky enough to have some very high end 3D printing equipment and he brought a very different perspective to the project. The delegates were given an opportunity to explore what their first steps will be in introducing this technology to these other STEM subjects and Makerbot gave a demonstration of the equipment that is being made available.

 I have just got home and its now 9:30pm… Feeling pretty exhausted, but it has been a fantastic day. I would just like to say thank you to the DfE for inviting me along to the day, and my school for letting me attend (and also the teachers who covered my lessons during my absence) and of course 3DS/Bits from Bytes for the support they give me (and my school) which has enabled me to have a bit of a head start in “3D printing in schools”.

Oh, and finally, I hope to publish my presentation a bit later… It’s a bit big to upload at the moment so ill have to do a bit of pruning and editing!

EDIT…. here is the powerpoint… it gives an idea of what my presentation was about, but without the verbal content it may not give the whole story.


Download this file


Upgrade for our trusty workhorse 3D printer


I can’t even contemplate how many prints have been done on our trusty workhorse 3D printer in school. Our BfB3000 has done so many prints that I’ve had to flip over the acrylic bed AND replace it a couple of times… So time for an upgrade to the newer black composite bed. I’ve been using one of these for nearly a year on my personal 3D Touch with no problems, they really are superb!

But that’s not the end of the upgrades… After 2 years of constant use the OLED display started acting up and started to display random characters. I had come across this before on our ancient RapMan 3.0 and it is probably due to dodgy connections to the pcb …the atmosphere in my workshop is far from ideal, temperatures fluctuate and it can get a bit damp, not exactly ideal conditions for the electronics. So it’s also time for a screen replacement.

Having received the screen kit from Bits from Bytes it was only a simple matter of removing the old screen, a couple of solder joints and a new front panel for the control box… Pretty easy really! … Just don’t forget the firmware upgrade too!

So, our BfB3000 has a new lease of life and I have the added benefit of a bigger screen (old age does seem to bring diminishing quality of eyesight). I’ll just have to finish the final set up tomorrow (bed levelling and z height) and we’ll be fully up and running again.

So….Looking forwards to another couple of years printing with our trusty BfB printer!

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