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Softare/Firmware advice for complet novice

Posted: Thu Feb 22, 2018 8:16 pm
by Mozella
I’m a complete novice when it comes to 3D printers and although I wouldn’t call myself a computer Guru, I do remember starting with a stack of punch cards, if anyone remembers them. And I’ve done a lot of CAD drawing and fabrication over the years but not on a professional level.

I ordered my Tevo Black Widow during the Chinese New Year which is just about to end. Apparently, the entire country shuts down for a few weeks. That wait gave me some extra time to research various hardware mods and dip my toe into some of the necessary software.
At the moment I feel comfortable with 123D Design and I’ve already drawn a couple of parts which I think are ready to print. Many years of using AutoCAD gave me a nice foundation. I’ll spend no more time in this area until I get my printer going and gain some experience. I think I have less than two weeks before delivery.

The mechanical part of the build doesn’t concern me since I’ve been doing similar projects for a long time.

But it’s the software with which I think I need some guidance. I hate to waste time learning about something which is outdated or which is not applicable, or which I will quickly outgrow. In other words, I’d like to start off on the right foot.

What comes next once I have a finished 3D model, as I understand it, is sending the file to some sort of slicer and I see there are several. For hobby use it seems like Cura is a popular one. Comments, good, bad, too simple or limited in some other way?
From there I think the next step is to send the file to the printer and I believe I’m correct in saying the Black Widow uses Marlin firmware. It seems as though Marlin is well supported and by spending some time on YouTube I suspect I’ll be able to update it and set the firmware up properly. Am I being overly optimistic?

Am I correct to say that it is the Marlin firmware which actually controls the printing process?
Is there an alternative piece of firmware I should consider for the Black Widow?

I plan on getting involved in OctoPrint in conjunction with an OctoPi board and medium sized touch screen. I think it is wise for me to start without OctoPrint/OctoPi and after I gain some experience, then make the upgrade.

Am I correct to say OctoPi is a reasonable way to integrate things like a camera? Exactly where does the OctoPrint fall in the production process. My understanding is that it integrates with Cura. But does it replace Marlin during the printing process or does it work with the Black Widow
Firmware? Are OctoPrint and OctoPi a piece of software and hardware which work only together, or do they have functionality on their own?

As you can see from my questions, I’m guy “who doesn’t know enough to know what he doesn’t know”.

Any guidance would be helpful, especially if I’m way off base in my understanding how these various pieces of software work together or separately.

Re: Softare/Firmware advice for complet novice

Posted: Tue Feb 27, 2018 5:20 am
by Stefan
Hi Mozella,

I waited a couple of days to respond because I hoped that someone with more experience might answer your post; I can help you with some of your questions. A slicer takes a 3d file format (such as .stl) and converts it to G-code. G-code is the instruction set that the printer understands and uses to fabricate items. So, yes, a slicer is a necessary program in the process. Cura is a reliable, free slicer that can be tuned for most printers. Another free option is the Prusa edition of Slic3r. Before you spend money on another program, learn on a free one. The money you save may be better spent on printer upgrades.

Marlin is open-source firmware used in many Rep-Rap based printers. It has been around for a number of years, is well documented, and is routinely updated. The firmware is what interprets the G-code and converts it to commands specific to the components of your printer (namely the steppers, hotend, bed, etc.) Some printer manufacturers use proprietary firmware. I believe Tevo is one of them, but I also suspect you may be able to change the firmware if you desire. Many kits come with preloaded firmware and may not even require an update.

Octoprint is beyond the scope of my knowledge. What I can tell you is that it is an additional layer above the firmware, that controls higher level functions such as distributing tasks to multiple printers, using cameras, etc.

I'd focus on the basics of printing. The internet has a tremendous amount of basic settings for your machine. Pick one or two and then spend your energies on learning your machine. Once you have mastered that first layer of every print then start tweaking.

Hope this helps!

Re: Softare/Firmware advice for complet novice

Posted: Tue Feb 27, 2018 9:59 am
by Mozella
Yes, it does help. Since I made my post, I've been doing more reading and I think I'll be fine with the Marlin firmware provided by TEVO along with Cura as a starting point. And, perhaps that will carry me a long way into the future. I just didn't want to start out with something which I would quickly outgrow. I also didn't want to start down a long learning path only to find out that I should have started with a better slicer and/or a completely different flavor of printer firmware.

My Raspberry Pi plan is to get it running with a camera completely apart from my 3d printer project and use it as a spy camera to find out which one of my two Lab puppies feels compelled to eat the kitchen walls in the middle of the night.

Then, just as you advise, I'll be concentrating on getting comfortable with printing and learning the way Cura/Marlin works with my first printer. Only after I can produce something worthwhile will I try to figure out how Octoprint works.