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14Jan/160

MendelMax 3 – First 3D Printer

Disclaimer:  I didn't grammer or proof this article.  Any typo's, bad grammer or just flat out hands aren't typing what brain is telling just enjoy the humor value in.  Unless those things bother you at which point you may wish to not read any further more.  (see what I did there?)

Note if you can't see any images in this article then try disabling AdBlock Plus.  Not sure why but on Firefox for me it's blocking my images in my articles.   Only disable it if you want to see the images and aren't, it's not critical to the content of the article.

Full disclosure:  I have nothing at all to do with the company, I don't know any of them of the personally, I don't own stock in their company, I have not been reimbursed in any way.  The only link I have with them is we both reside in the same state, but not the same town or even the same county.   This is my first 3D printer so I only have the internetz to base my comparison opinions on.

MendelMax 3This is the first installment in my experience with the MendelMax 3 3D Printer sold by MakersToolWorks which is a U.S. based company and who seem to be genuinely dedicated to their product and their customers.

What follows is my first several days with the printer which consisted of spending a hour or three each evening putting the parts together.  I tried to bring up any 'gotchas' I ran into during the build with this article.

Some background, recently my desire to try the world of 3D printing overcame my reticence to spend money and thanks to a Google alert I became apprised of a Black Friday sell on a 3D printer I’d had my eyes on.   The MendelMax 3 was the one that popped up in my feed.  It was one of the two candidates I was looking at, the other being the MakerGear M2.

But MakerGear had pulled their kit form and dropping $2K for the ability to print the world's most expensive replacement stove knob (we’ve been missing one for the last 6 years, it’s a long story), well that just wasn’t going to happen.

But then I see MakersToolWorks BF sale and I was able to get the MM3, the deluxe upgrade and 5 spools of filament for a fairly significant savings over the MakerGear M2 and so I had a decision to make.  I pondered and considered and vacillated and finally, literally, a couple of hours before the sale was going to end I dropped my order.  And here are a few small parts of the results of that order...

 

For the “TL;DR” crowd -

The kit I received was impressive overall.  Most of the parts were well organized and packed.   The fit and finish of the plate pieces that MWT produces directly were flawless.   Indeed I only had a small issue with threads on two pieces that they source from another vendor.

The documentation while it’s not going to win a Pulitzer or keep you entertained while you build will get you a completed printer if you take your time, read carefully and look at the pictures on screen instead of just printed out where you can zoom in on them.

The printer is massively sturdy once it’s complete with no flex or play anywhere.   It's built like a brick house, she's my tomahto she's letting it all hang.... Sorry...

The v block and wheels system gives a very smooth feel to the printer.  I had read an troll battle about them on one forum when I was doing my research but the anti-troll had convincing arguments for them and as it turns out it seems like they're were right.

The company appears to be online all the time and available for direct person to person chat and seem genuinely interested in helping people get up and running.  I.E. their ‘tech support’ isn’t farmed out to another country where the support consists of someone reading from script.

If you had any idea how many times in my IT career I’ve beaten my head against my desk while “James” or “Laura” asks me if I’ve tried reseating the power cables or memory or CPU’s when I call in with a dead server.

I can’t really speak to the ‘value’ of the printer as I'm pretty much a newb but it seems to fare very well in comparison to the MakerGear M2 and indeed the Ultimaker and whatever other top tier printers there from what I've researched and seen first hand personally show up on my build plate.   And although it’s only available in kit form you will save money as a result.  But I’m a 3D neophyte so my opinion is worth what you paid for it.   Unless of course you’re on metered bandwidth and just reading this did actually cost you something.

The output from the MM3 is easily as good as anything else I’ve seen pictures of out there and that’s ‘out of the box’ so to speak without any tweaking from me.

Bottom line, if you're in the market for a 3D Printer that’s above entry level and you’re not afraid of diving into a massive box full of parts, and kids it’s a lot of parts, let’s be honest and upfront, then I think the MM3 is certainly worth a look.

And as an added benefit they’re working on a automatic bed leveling system and will be included free at the time this review was posted.

In the gallery below note the inprocess storm trooper in the lower right being built without any supports, brims or rafts and how his arms aren't attached except at tiny little sections on the hands.   How effin' cool is that?

For the “I like words” crowd  -

About 10 days after I placed the order I come home to find FedEx tried to deliver a box.   The next day was Saturday so I decide, eh, I’ll just have them hold it at the local fedex office and pick it up since they’re open on Saturday and I didn’t know if they would actually try to deliver it to the house on a Saturday.   So I go online and change the order and tell them to hold it for me.

As I’m waiting on Saturday for the office to open so I can pick it up, the FedEx guy shows up again at my house and drops off a 40lb package for me.  I also got 4 or 5 spools of plastic since they had a bargain going on at the time.  Subtract that 10-12 lbs and the printer was more like 25 lbs I guess plus packaging.

So much for FedEx paying any attention to their customers wishes. Granted it saved me a trip I guess but it doesn’t fill me with confidence they’ll pay any attention to me for the next time.

I haul the box into my office where I have two desks cleared off, custom built and the last coat of tung oil put on it just 24 hours earlier just for this project and I proceed to lay out all the parts.

Unboxing was nothing unusual, everything had been packed into one box but most things were in sub boxes inside the main box.

Looking into each box and bag I didn’t do a parts check against a shipping manifest, primarily because I didn’t have one but in the end I had, I believe everything I was due.

One thing to note during the unboxing is the 5 stepper motors were packed in their own sub box but there was no padding in that box.  As a result the motors, there being only 5 in a box that fit 6 banged around a bit and there was some cosmetic damage on a couple of them.  Nothing worth bitching about but I note it here for your information.  Mechanically they were fine.

Most things were packed well and smartly.  All the nuts and bolts came in two divided tray organizers each with a lid insert labeling everything.  Very nice.   Much better than just bags of things.

Speaking of those nuts and bolts, I did somehow not have enough M5 nuts and M3 washers.   I’m not sure where I went wrong, used them in the wrong places or if I just didn’t get them all or what but a couple of bucks at Ace fixed that issue for me.  I can say I didn’t lose any to the floor.

My company had graciously and unknown to them printed out the entire build doc for me but I must be up front and unless you have a hella good printer, like NSA printing out spy satellite photo good, you will have to use the web pages of the docs on glass in some cases to figure out orientation or colors of wires or whatever by zooming into their higher resolution images.

The documentation is decent but...  while this is my first 3D printer build, I have 30 years of professional IT administration experience and 40 years of hobbies that include things like finding the tank models that had the most parts as a kid up to owning and using a prosumer milling machine, rebuilding a 60’s mustang, making most of our furniture.  Bottom line is I’m not totally a klutz when it comes to putting things together. And I can and do actually RTFM.  If you've never taken apart a wind up alarm clock to see how it works and got it back together again or if putting together anything from IKEA causes you issues then a kit form of a 3D Printer may not be for you.

But eventually, best guess between 20 and 25 hours of not in a hurry double check everything work and having to get a defective board replaced which they did quickly and graciously, I hit the Home button.  Oh shit!  The X axis is going the wrong way.  I dive for the power but not before it hit the end of the frame and the belt starts skipping.  No harm no foul though i get the power killed and I unplug the X stepper, rotate it 180 degrees and plug it back in.   Later on I would end up wiring in an big red slam with your fist to turn off the power on my power strip to cut power to the printer.

So back to homing.  Hey Home Z kind of worked, it's high on purpose, I didn't want it hitting the glass but it worked.   Home Y worked.   Yay!   I follow the steps to level the bed, since it's a 3 point bed it levels IMO easier than a 4 point bed would be.  I say this from decades of working with 3D apps and the difference between a 3 point face and a 4 point face.  Anyway it was fairly easy.

The free to you control software aka the 'slicer and code sender outer' they provide which is customized for their printer starts with a calibration cube by default when you add the printer to the software.  But let's make it harder on them, no funny business some kind of super optimized square shape (<- that's a joke), so I load in an STL that I created in Studio Max and exported that was 20mmx20mmx20mm.  I import and without changing any setting I hit print and see what happens.

Holy crap.   A bunch of 1's and 0's that I made by dragging a cube shape in a 3D application are getting turned into a actual object I can hold in my hands.  I honestly watched the whole 18 minutes it took to print.   I take it out and measure it, I think I mentioned I do machinist stuff as a hobby so I was very curious as to what it would print at.  And to my surprise and a little astonishment that 20mm x 20mm x 20mm cube measured 19.87mm x 19.82mm by 20.21mm  (I still have it).   So at or less than 1% error rate.   And that's without any changes, nothing, just load and hit print.

I'd already hit up Thingiverse for some stuff and within a few days, by the way 3d printing is kind of slow, I had cable chains, fan mounts, filament guides, light sabres (multiple), batmen, enterprises, phone holders, torture tests, 3d benchy the tugboat, calibration cubes scattered everywhere as I slowly learned what not to do, figuring out what bed coating worked and trying to figure out why it worked one time but not another time and failing, but the printer just kept on printing in spite of me being the occasional dumbass.

The quality of the prints continues to amaze me as well as the entire 3D printing process itself.  Reading forums about how people were constantly trying to fix 'whiskers', 'ooze', 'boogers', 'z artifacting' with their particular brand of 3d printers I just assumed it was everyone.   But 4lbs of plastic later and I've not had any of that to deal with the MendelMax 3.

That I can create objects on my work system, export them as basically a text file that depicts 3d space in a 2d way then have them slowly but surely appear as if by magic in front of my eyes.

And the giggle factor of creating a virtual army of storm troopers to stand behind a orange red low poly darth vadar  as a gift for a SW fanatic and each one costs roughly 50 cents to make and have him tell me how cool it is.  Or handing out light sabres as gifts and having people tell you how cool it is.

I'll be honest the entire printing process can be mesmerizing, watching a shape slowly appear while you watch.  And by slowly did I mention 3d printing is slow?

Is a 3D printer for everyone?  No, not right now.  It's not plug and play, not even the store bought ones.  It's getting there and it's far better than it was even 2 years ago based on prints I've seen from that time frame.

But if you are at all mechanical in nature, and not in the lovely femmebot kind of way, and you still have a bit of that inner child in you then a 3D Printer may be something that would appeal.  And you can make money from them.  You won't quit your day job but I can easily see, and actually know someone, making enough money to pay for your printer and your materials so basically the printer becomes a freebie to you.   Whether it's printing out cool things like 3d parts for board games (check the legality of that or just don't get caught doing it) or accessories for games or just an endless supply of tchotchkes there is potential for income out there.

The Build -

With that said there were a couple of places in the instructions where I had to sit back and ponder things for a bit and some things that might make it easier for you if you do venture down this path.

NOTE:  IF AT ANY STEP YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS OR JUST WANT TO HANG OUT JOIN THE IRC CHANNEL FROM THEIR WEBSITE.  Flint, Micro, Roy, Maxbots are always happy to help and I’ve rarely gone on there that there’s not at least 2 of them active.  And I’m talking like on a Sunday evening before Christmas kind of always on there.  If you ask about quality of prints, be prepared to provide pictures.  They can tell a LOT by looking at your output.

So let’s go through the docs and I can point out where I ran into problems -

Up front when you can’t find a specific part mentioned, look through ALL the boxes.  Some things you’ll find in weird places. Once I came real close to calling them after being unable to find a couple of parts but as it turns out they were in one of the electronics boxes.   So just keep looking and you’ll likely find everything.

Base Frame Assembly - Nothing to report, pretty simple build.   I will say having a set of engineers square is handy to have if you really want things square.

Y Axis Assembly - This required better reading skills than I gave it at first glance.  They say use two washers, so of course after I got it half put together that finally registered and I had to undo the screws I’d put in and put them back with 2 washers.   Tip:  The second smallest hex wrench works well as a spacer for the front stiffer bar which for some reason has to be not touching the front plate.  Well they do give a reason, to avoid rattling noises.  Which makes sense because unlike the back stiffener bar it’s not secured to the plate.   My best guess is for cosmetic reasons to avoid bolts sticking through right above the logo.   I was tempted to mill in a couple of extra holes to attach it but decided to play it straight.

They use an old picture of the stepper motor to show the completed stepper build which for me was a little misleading at first because that image shows the same bolts and stuff that you put in the extrusion, you don’t actually attach them to the stepper mounting block like shown in the image.    I can see why they put that image, so you know what the final assembly looks like without the extrusion bar in the way but still I cocked my head a bit and “What?” for a moment.

There’s also no guideline on how far down the shaft the stepper gear is supposed to be on the shaft.  You figure it out later but I don’t like guessing during a build.

Bed Assembly Plate - Nothing to report, goes together easy enough, no brain farts.  They stress not to cut the drive belt here, it would be discussed later.  Guess what?  It’s not discussed later that I found.   I trimmed them a bit, leaving about 2” of belt free just on a WTH it doesn’t hurt I guess.  Later I trimmed them a bit more.  You want enough to have something to pull them tight with as they will loosen up a smidge after several hours of printing.

X Axis Assembly - I did get the braces that required grinding down a nub on each one.   A few seconds on a bench grinder took care of that.   If you’re using a file you’ll be at it a bit longer.   This step is outlined in the build manual.

The idler bearing plate shows in one line drawing illustration being faced one way, but in the actual picture it faces another way.  I went with the picture.  This is also another place where I had to go back to the web and look at a couple of pictures zoomed in just to make sure I was understanding what they were saying.

There’s another big ol’ red DO NOT TRIM warning on the X axis belt.   But I’ll be darned if I can find out at what stage I’m officially supposed to trim them. As with the other belt after I had everything printing I went back and trimmed them leaving enough to get fingers on if you need it although the X axis is tightened by moving a pulley that’s mounted to the rail such that it can slide back and forth.

Z Axis Assembly - This is where I had my first real problem.  Up until now everything parts wise has been stellar and without flaw.   But for my kit the two Z axis uprights were not tapped deeply enough to get the screws in them far enough to secure the top plate.   No I wasn’t looking at the wrong end.  As a hobby machinist though I had the right tap, an M5 if memory serves, and was able to extend the threads to work, so this delayed my build all of about 10 minutes to get my tap set out and tap all four holes.  But someone without a m5 tap would have been stuck or worst case tried to Bubba it and force the bolts down and stripped out the threads completely.

There’s no real guidelines in the documents on getting the lead screws correctly aligned with everything so best guess is just eyeball it if you don’t have the appropriate squares or calipers to give you plumb.   It’s not super critical that they’re vertical to the 4th digit.   I did have to run my lead screws through the lead nuts several times to work them, this step is mentioned in the docs and isn’t unexpected.   I also put some lube on the threads even though delrin is technically self lubricating.

Controller Hatch Assembly - Pretty simple although I have black plastic bits not the translucent ones show in the pictures.

Electronics 1 - Pretty straight forward if you can wire a lamp the right way.   I would strongly advise wiring the power for the LEDs for the logos now while you have the PSU handy.  Way later on in the document when they get to that part they advise “you can remove the side plates and Y axis bed to make this easier” when if they told you to do it now it would have been WAY easier.   Getting that Y Axis perfectly, not just close enough, aligned is easier said than done and I was loathe to take it out and put it back.   As it turns out just remove the 4 screws from the bottom that hold the two supports that hold the PSU in place is far easier than remove the side plates and Y Axis.   But really just wire the power for the LED’s now.

Extruder Assembly - You pretty much have to watch the video linked in the manual to put this together.  You will need the parts from the Extruder Fix It pack to actually build it.   In the Fix It patch is a small tube of thermal compound, it’s not mentioned anywhere but from my years of building computers I put a dab in the hole the thermistor goes into figuring it would help transfer the heat and give better readings.  It doesn’t seem to have caused a problem although I don’t know that it was necessary.

A couple of parts of the extruder are 3D printed, on my particular sample my spring wasn’t really attached on the bottom side so I added a small bolt there to keep it from slipping out.   I think there’s supposed to be a printed nub there, on mine it was very small, looked like a printing artifact to be honest and wouldn’t keep the spring in place if that’s what it was designed to do.

Other than that it wasn’t a hard step but you do have to read carefully and watch the video once or twice.

Here’s a minor gripe of mine, they don’t include the fan mounts.  I’m sure they’re easy enough to print for the consumer and make a good first project but honestly there’s no great way to attach the fans IMO without them.  I just had them  dangling off zip ties.  It’s one area where I wish they’d of provide those so you could actually ‘finish’ your extruder/x axis assembly at this point.

End Stop installation - These were pretty easy although I ended up splicing in about 8” more wire for my X Stop so it would wire manage cleaner.   The length I received with the X axis all tx asix for teh same reasons, cleaner wire runs. he way up to the top of the Z wasn’t long enough to make it to the rambo if it was in a cable chain.  I actually extended a few of the wires for cleaner wire runs.

Bed Heater and Glass Installation - Pretty simple to do although my rear glass mount doesn’t fit quite as nice as I’d like against the curved edge of the Y Axis bed.  Minor complaint that the majority of people would never notice.

Electronics 2 -  This is where the meat and potatoes of the build start and where you can run into problems.   Almost ALL of the pictures of the rambo are upside down compared to how you will be working on them so it’s VERY critical that you pay attention to that bit.   There are also no 100% wired shots of the Rambo that I could find.

I found it useful to just turn my manual upside down during most of this part so the pictures and the board matched.

USB and Testing - And here’s where I hit a showstopper.   Let me upfront say that MTW didn’t screw around with me and got me a new Rambo out ASAP.    So with that out the way my particular Rambo wouldn’t take a program.  Everything checks out, power is there, lights are there but when I try to submit a program it just pings it 6 times then times out.   If you google the error and this particular board there are a fair number of threads on it with this issue going back to 2013 maybe 2012.

What I tested - 3 different systems, all different OS’s, 3 different USB cables, luckily the USB cables that manage my UPS’s are these old school type so I had that option.  Rambo was being recognized correctly, right driver, OS’s were seeing it.   All the right settings, processor, board type, com port were selected on each system. I checked the power and fuses with a multimeter (after spending half an hour looking for it, it was in the shed where I’d been working on a solar project a couple of months ago) and those were all good.   One of the systems I used had nothing but USB 2 ports, one had a mix and one was only USB 3.  No difference in any port.   Once I’d go over that with the guys on their IRC chat they emailed me a return label to send it back FedEx and they were going to ship me a new one as soon as they got shipping notification.  It’s hard to ask more of a company than that.

Note the board didn’t work for them either so it wasn’t me. 😛  They even pre-programmed the one they shipped just to make sure there wouldn’t be any further issue.

Deck Side Plates - These went on easy enough. If you’ve made this far in the build then screwing in another 8 bolts isn’t going to break you.

Spool Mount and Filament Guide - The Spool Mount is just a big ol’ bolt and you’ll have to wait to get printing to get the guide.  Small part and it’ll go aways to getting you dialed in I guess.   There are several spool insert options on Thingiverse and I recommend printing a couple out, not super critical though, I ran my first spool with no issues stock.

Wire Management - Even with the Deluxe kit you still have to print a few parts for the wire management if you want to use cable chain.   That had me scratching my head, I’d mistakenly gotten the impression all the cable management was included with the Deluxe in spite of it saying right there on the web page that you’d still have to print out part of it.   I spent a few moments trying to figure out how to make this 1 meter of cable chain make any sense in terms of wire management by itself.   Additionally if you get the injection molded cable chain that’s part of the deluxe kit, the actual connector to attach it is in the MiniMax downloads.  I just printed out all the chains so it would all color match.

LED Indicator Assembly - Getting the power wired after everything was put together was a bit of a pain and I strongly recommend you pull your power for the LED”s during the Electronics 1 stage but it’s not rocket science.   I mounted the diffuser and LED’s on the front lower base plate using the simple expedient of tape not wanting to epoxy them which I have plenty of.   On the upper diffuser I used bolts to mount the front diffuser and used the second diffuser included to mount the led’s a little further back to avoid hot spots.  Nice that they give you double diffusers so you can take that option if you want.

GLCD - Since I ordered the deluxe kit I got the GLCD kit so I can have print jobs without having to have a computer plugged in.  I do plan on putting OctoPrint on a pi but having controls directly on the printer is something I wanted.   My kit doesn’t quite match the docs, the way the keyed connectors are on the ribbon cable is backwards from the pictures in the docs.  But insanely enough on a Saturday morning before Christmas there were company folks active in their IRC channel and we just confirmed I’d just put mine together backwards.   With my GLCD I also got a laser cut plexi type case for the GLCD.  One of my parts wasn’t fully cut which left me with one of those head scratch moments then I realized it was just missing part of a notch and a few moments with a file fixed that.

For what it’s worth I honestly haven’t used the GLCD other than to play around with it for a few minutes.  I have an old desktop that I can dedicate to the printer and have just been using that.

I'll post my after a few weeks article in the next few days to give a longer look at the printer.  I wrote most of this after getting the printer built but unable to program the Rambo so I had time on my hands.

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