It’s winter time everyone, and that must mean that it’s time for Randy to break things and perhaps put them back together. Or perhaps not, only time will tell, friends.

Anyhow, from my friends at Chimera Maker Space I was handed a not-exactly-functioning Bits From Bytes BFB3000 3D printer that was, in the words of Executive Director Dana Woodman, “about to be shitcanned” (NOTE: those were probably not his precise words). My mission, if I chose to accept it was to “make it work.”

Of course, I took this to mean I had unlimited budget and resources. And by that, I mean that whatever I felt like spending on it out of my own pocket to get it running was probably what it would take.

But first…

Having just emerged a short while ago from my torture chamber/garden of earthly delights/workshop, I have to say a couple of things about Bits From Bytes, a UK company that made 3D printers and was acquired by 3D Systems (NYSE DDD) in 2010, which then used their technology to further their vendor lock and closed source series of 3D printers for people who are interested primarily in paying a lot of money for a 3D printer solution.

Well, having taken apart their supposed flagship printer (albeit from a few years ago), I can tell you without a doubt that Bits From Bytes were marginally capable of producing something that looks sexy but which doesn’t hold up to engineering scrutiny.

Now, I’m the first to admit that I’m the worst sort of critic when it comes to this stuff. I don’t produce a bunch of product and put it out there for people to fork money over to me, regardless of quality. But man, disassembling this printer was a maddening process of facepalming from one step to the next.

Case in point, let’s talk about their circuit board.

BFB3000 Control Board that vexed me so

No amount of artfully composed photography by the author will make this an engineering success.

Yeah, there you are, you little turd blossom. Note that there are very few meaningful connectors on this board. That’s because they soldered every damn wire onto this thing. The umbilical was impossibly complicated and it was only made worse by having no plugs to yank off of this board. So I cut the wires, no mercy, no quarter.

And – get this – the stepper motors have plugs. Every one of them do. Nice JST plugs.

BFB3000 Stepper Motors Have Plugs!

Proof of irony in the universe.

There is irony in this world, folks. There’s the proof.

They then wrote their own firmware and tweaked the G-Code to make their own file format (.BFB), which speaks to their vendor lock mentality. These guys even made their own filament rolls so that they could mark them up further past the already overpriced nature of 3D printing filament. The Cube printer is infamous for their use of proprietary filament cartridges that offer features you don’t need if you just check your printer while it’s printing.

But that’s not all…

Add to that, the heated bed for this printer is controlled by an outboard PID controller, and uses AC mains conductors to heat the bed itself.

Why is that a problem? Well, it’s not a problem per se, except that there are well-established (by which I mean the open source/open hardware 3D printing community) best practices that these yahoos would’ve followed that would’ve made this easier to work out.

Not just that, but the choice to dissociate the heating bed from overall control (i.e. having it in its own control loop with the separate PID controller) just smacks of short-cutting the problem. Like they couldn’t figure out how to do a PID control loop on the PIC32MX440F that they use for this control board. Dislike.

The inside of the outboard PID control for the heated bed. A tidy bundle of brown wires. Good luck figuring it out.

So, which brown wire does what? I will wait patiently whiPerhaps the final nail in the coffin so to speak was seeing the inside job on that PID controller box. The Auber Instruments SYL-2342 was not the problem, but the wiring job, that was singularly frustrating. As in, “what the hell do I do with this?” So I cut almost all of it. No mercy. No quarter.

Turns out, the bed wires and thermocouple wires are bundled with another pair of wires, which end up going to a cutoff switch (the sophisticated “press the button to turn off the heater” solution — part of the reason having the main control board in on the heated bed control is a good thing, period).

The way forward

RAMPS ALL THE 3D PRINTERSOkay, so here’s the plan. I’m going to turn this into a RAMPS or RAMBO style printer. RAMBO looks good, because it’s compatible with the Lulzbot TAZ printers that Chimera has already, so re-integrating this printer into that stack could be a possibility. However, I’m just a teeny bit more familiar with RAMPS, and I’m either going to do it with an Arduino Due (using the Atmel SAM3X8E ARM) and RAMPS-FD or go Beaglebone Black on this thing and use CRAMPS. I have both a Due and a BBB, so realistically it’s a question of which board is easier to get or make.

Wish me luck.