Sunday, January 31, 2021

A New Toy for Christmas Or When An AnyCubic Mega Zero Shows Up

The mystery box

I feel that every kid at Christmas time should have Santa deliver that one special toy that they have been dreaming about all year. 

To be honest I think the definition of what constitutes being a kid needs to be more broadly defined.  I mean, just because you now old enough to shave, vote, or hold a mortgage, why should you condemn yourself to a lifetime of gaudy ties and tube socks for Christmas?

To reaffirm my "kid" status, I was pining for a special toy this Christmas, trying my best to be good (with varying amounts of success) so that Santa could grant me my wish. 

While I do recognize that Santa does have some age limit rules around delivering presents. I did get a generous amount of Amazon gift cards and just plain old cash that allowed me to act as my own Santa Claus. For a while, I was really looking at getting a 3D printer, mainly to design and prototype any custom parts that I may want for my projects. 

For the longest time whenever I priced the cost of a 3D printer, I noticed that I could also buy a reasonably serviceable used car for the same amount of money as a printer. Sadly I just didn't have that kind of funny money sitting around.  So I just sat back, reading articles and watching videos on the amazing stuff being made with 3D printers, and imagined that it would be a very long time before I  
could join in the fun. 

This all changed early last year when my son bought two 3D printers, both for less than $500. The first printer was an extruder type that did a pretty reasonable job of printing, but he quickly went to a resin printer that allowed him to print highly detailed items. 

While I now had two 3D printers in the house, I still couldn't get my hands on them, since well, my son was using them. 

But it was a wake-up call for me that 3D printers were now getting really affordable.

So, now that I was armed with my stash of  Christmas money and gift cards. I pulled up Amazon and went shopping. 

As I mentioned earlier, my basic need is to have something that I could use to prototype parts for my projects as cheaply and quickly as possible. Because of this, I just need a good basic 3D printer. With that in mind, I focussed on getting an extruder printer since they seemed to provide the best features to price ratio that I was wanting   

After doing some research I did find some printers that were in the $200 -  $300 range. While some were pretty iffy in the quality category, based on the online reviews, there was also quite a number that had very good reviews. 

After winnowing down the list, I settled on the Mega Zero that was made by AnyCubic. The main reason for selecting this particular model was that it had a pretty good model size capacity for the price. and was also able to print using some materials, including wood. 

The only downside with this printer, which I found out later, was this printer did not have a heated bed, which helps to keep the item you are making it stick to the bed while it's being printed (very important - if your model moved around, you end up with a very odd-looking piece of plastic at the end of your print).  Thankfully, there are ways to work around that.

So, I pressed the Buy Now button, and literally the next day a box landed on my front door. 

Opening up the box revealed an assortment of parts all safely secured in the box with a liberal amount of styrofoam, Pulling the pieces out of the box I was actually pretty impressed with the overall quality of the parts, with the bed and structural components of the printer made from solid aluminum. 

It also seemed that a fair bit of assembly was already done for me at the factory, particularly with the base and print bed for the printer and the extruder assembly.  This is a bit of a welcome change when compared to my laser engraver and CNC router, which were literally a box of parts when I first got them. 

A peek inside the box
Preassembled base

Likewise, the printer also came with a set of tools not only to be used to assemble the printer but also included tools that could also be used to do basic maintenance like changing the extruder nozzle and included a snipping tool for removing excess plastic from your printed item and a metal scraper for removing the model from the bed when you're done printing. 

While some of the included tools did look a bit cheap, particularly the nozzle wrenches. some of the tools, like the snips and the scraper, looked to be of pretty good quality. 

Included tools

Another nice touch was that all the fasteners that I needed to assemble the printer were packaged up and marked for each step. Basically, all I needed to do was find the bag that was marked for the step in the instructions.  This is a lot better than my previous experiences where all the fasteners were typically in one big bag and it was sometimes a bit of a guessing game as to whether I had the corrected bolt when I was attaching a part.  

A bag of parts for each step

All this made for all a very smooth assembly process and I was able to get things put together without any trouble. 

Assembling the frame
Attaching stepper motor
Attaching stepper motor
Extruder bar
Attaching limit switch
Line feeder
Main assembly complete
Line reel holder
Control box

Once everything was hooked up, it was time to try it out. 

The printer has the option to be controlled directly from a computer or it can print offline by reading a micro SD memory card, which is also included with the printer. 

The SD card that came with the printer did have a sample model that you can use as a test print, however, I really wanted to dive right in and print something that I could actually use. 

Back when I was still pining for a printer, I would sometimes check out some online communities of people that have created their own 3D printer models and posted them up to these communities for sharing. A lot of these communities are free to join and have pretty easy to learn editing tools to create and modify your own models. 

One community that I like is Tinkercad and it was there that I found the perfect item to test my printer with - a trailer hitch cover for the back of my pickup truck.  


While Tinercad is a very powerful tool, it still won't directly talk to my printer. Similar to my CNC router and my laser engraver, my printer takes its instructions via scripts that are written in the GCODE language. For some reason Tinkercad can't create GCODE programs, so an intermediate step is needed. 

On the SD card that I got with the printer was a copy of Ultramaker Cura, an application that will read in an image file and create the needed GCODE. Going back to Tinkercad, I noticed that I could export my trailer hitch cover as a GL Transmission Format file, which I noticed could be read in by Cura. 

With that, I exported my Tinkercad file, cranked up Cura, and read the file in. 

On the Cura screen, I could see a representation of my hitch cover. The nice thing about Cura is that you can specify what printer you are using, which allows Cura to tailor the resulting GCODE program for your printer. 

Likewise, you can use Cura to set such parameters as extruder temperature, but more importantly, Cura can set up support structures for your model.

Cura screen

The main thing about 3D printing is that you need to have something solid underneath what you're printing. The issue comes when you are printing a part that is above the base plate and does not have another layer of plastic underneath it - basically, your printer above thin air, which of course just creates a stringy mess of plastic around your model. 

Cura will create supporting structures out of plastic to make sure that your model has the proper support. 

It does make your model look a little weird while it's being printed and you will need to remove some extra plastic, but it will make sure your model comes out correctly. 

Supports mapped out

Once I had the support structures defined and the model set up the way I wanted for the printer, I created the GCODE program on the SD card, popped the card into the printer, and commanded it to start printing. 

Printing the hitch

It does take a few hours, but I did find it fascinating to watch. 


It kinda looked more like some sort of Sci-Fi movie prop than a trailer hitch cover, to be honest. 

Not really a hitch cover

Eventually, it was done and it was time to remove it from its cocoon. 

Done printing

Using the snips that came with the printer I trimmed away the supporting plastic, reveling my hitch cover 

Cutting off the supports

One trailer hitch cover

Of course, it was a perfect fit. 

Looks good

So I found it more or less easy to get rolling in 3D printing and I am currently working on prototyping parts for my bicycle project. 

While I am experiencing some issues in having my models adhering to the base plate, which has created some wonky looking parts, which is partly because of the printer not having a heated base plate, but I have found a few solutions online that I am trying out, 

I have found the printer the perfect tool to prototype something and I have been using it to print a prototype part, and use it to print any additional refinements to that part. 

I don't know what I did without it. 

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