Autotroph FAQ Page

This page is for frequently asked questions about Autotroph and its products.

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing is the process of fabricating physical objects from digital models of that object. It is a bit of a "marketing" term, as nothing is actually printed - it should probably be called 3D fabrication, or 3D manufacturing, but the name has stuck, and now everyone uses it. There are many types of 3D printing, some involving lasers and powdered metal and exotic chemical resins, but the kind of 3D printing that is accessible and normally referred to is called fused filament fabrication (FFF). It works by squeezing out a very thin line of molten plastic in a very precise pattern to build up an object layer by layer. As the molten line of filament is laid down on previous layers, it fuses into those layers. Think of squeezing out toothpaste from a tube or glue from a hot glue gun, only the line of squeezed plastic is about the thickness of a human hair and you get the picture.

How do I use a 3D Printer?

You start with a digital model file of an object you want to create. This file can either be downloaded from websites on the internet like thingiverse.com or yeggi.com or other similar websites (there are well over half million objects out there right now, and this is a very popular way to use a 3D printer) or you can design an object yourself. To design one yourself you would use a CAD (Computer Aided Design) program like the free programs Sketchup or OpenSCAD, or with some commercial CAD software products like AutoCAD, etc. In both cases there are many free tutorials online for you to learn how to create digital models using those tools.

Whether you download the object file, author one yourself with a CAD program, or simply receive one attached to an email from a friend, the result is the model file with an .STL extension. This file you then give to the printer control program, called the host program.

The first thing that needs to be done is to divide (or "slice") the model into a large number of very thin layers that the printer can lay down. This is done with a slicer program that is often imbedded inside the host program. The slicer knows the characteristics of the printer and how you want the object treated while it is being formed. The output of this slicer program (referred to as G-code) is then given to the printer which can be done in one of two ways - it can be fed just a bit at a time so that the computer is in constant communication with the printer while the object is formed, or the slicer output can be copied onto an SD card that is in the printer and the printer can then run independently from a computer's connection. The software in the printer that executes G-code instructions is called the firmware.

What other software do I need?

None - the AUTO1 printer kit comes with all software that you need to print a digital model file in the .STL format. However, the AUTO1 3D printer can also operate with many open source host and firmware distributions. The printer comes with versions of the Repetier Host and Repetier Firmware distributions, and the supplied manual provides directions for calibrating your printer with this software combination and printing objects. However, it can also operate with other host programs, like Pronterface and Cura, and will also work with other open source firmware distributions like Marlin. One of the advantages of the AUTO1 is that you are not locked into one development effort, but can take advantage of new feature of other development paths as they are released. The printer electronics are the venerable RAMPS 1.4 card with a Mega Arduino processor card that is known to support many implementations. The Auto1 distribution also provides a distribution of the Arduino IDE to allow you to compile and load future versions of the firmware.

You might want to purchase other CAD software to do design work, or you might want to purchase other commercial host or slicer programs like Simplify 3D if they provide some feature that you might want to take advantage of at a later time, but the Repetier Host and firmware software that is provided will allow you print a great variety of objects before having to look elsewhere. We document using this software to the point of calibration and getting a good print, but from then on you can stay with it or use whatever other software you choose.

What assembly tools do I need?

The kit provides a set of metric ball end wrenches, as well as a box end wrench and a nut inserter. There is no soldering required. The only tools you need to provide are a digital caliper (these are now available for $15-20) and small Phillips and slotted screwdrivers for tightening screw terminals, a marker, and a sharp utility knife.

What ongoing materials do I need?

The AUTO1 kit provides 1 lb of 1.75mm filament, but you will soon want to try other colors, and take on more ambitious projects. The 1.75mm filament used by the AUTO1 is the most commonly used filament out there, and there are many suppliers. Besides filament, the user manual recommends using some lubrication, adhesion, and threadlocker products that are inexpensive, sparingly used, and readily available.

How can I order one?

Right now, just call (636)336-6150 and place your order with a major credit card. At that time you will be told when shipment can be made. If there is any delay, you will not be charged until the day your order is shipped (+/- 24 hours.) We do not accept purchase orders at this time.

How much will shipping be?

We have gone to much effort to make sure the kit is packaged in a way that should survive the ordeal of shipping. The cost for the packaging is $10. Past that, whatever the actual shipping cost is for your choice of shipment method is added. We normally ship UPS Ground, but we do like to use some method that provides a tracking number. You will be sent an email when your order ships with that information.

What about taxes?

If you are a resident of Missouri, we have no choice but to charge an additional sales tax.

Is there a warranty?

Yes, the parts of the kit are warrantied against faulty workmanship or defects for 90 days from purchase. Parts that have been subjected to abuse, like a dropped machine or mirror or a bent frame are not covered.