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T-slot CNC table hold downs

 

Holding things down on a CNC can be the most frustrating part of the entire process.  Luckily for us our main machine has a vacuum table and we use window sealant foam for the back of the wood.  This works amazingly well for parts that are not cut through.  We have had to get creative for parts that need cutting all the way through.  Our large machine has an MDF table that has T-Slots cut into it and it requires hold downs.  I have seen all sorts of solutions for this, but few solved my main concern of wanting to carve on the entire board unhindered by the hold downs.

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Post-Processing your Solidworks files for the 3D printer (Cura)

I wanted to create a resource for you to use with Solidworks and our Ultimaker2 printer.  These are the steps needed to prepare your file for printing.  This is also called post-processing

This is not about creating printable designs, but rather the steps needed to move your design to the printer.  This also does not cover how to make your part in Solidworks.  Lastly, this does not discuss how to operate the 3D printer.

1. First is the creation of your part in Solidworks.  This is on you, but you do need to know the parameters of the printer.  Our printer (Ultimaker2) is capable of printing roughly a 9 inch cube.  We have printed some large things, but haven’t maxed out the size yet.  The other major thing to remember when making your part is your units.  Make sure you are measuring and designing in the same units.  This is probably the biggest mistake we have.  For example, you measure a clearance to 1.245 inches and you put 1.245 into Solidworks, but the Solidworks is setup in mm.  Double check that you are working in the units you are designing in.

2. Next, save your part as an .stl file.  When you go to save your part, there is a drop down menu that gives you many options for saving your file.  This is similar to exporting, but Soliworks uses the save as the export.  Make sure you name your file something you will remember and in a location you will find.  I use my initials and description of the part.  Ex. MJKBracket.stl

3. Open the Cura software.  This is the graphical workspace of the 3D printer.  This allows you to rotate, and plan multiple parts for printing.  Click on file, import design and then locate your .stl part.  Your part will magically appear in the build space.  each of the grid squares on the build platform are 1cm, so you can get a rough idea of the size of the part.  I generally use this to double check that you built in the correct units (see step 1).  If you designed it wrong, Cura can scale your parts, but I will probably send you back to Solidworks to fix the part.  Cura is not a software for fixing things, but rather preparing things.

4. Prepare the build platform.  Make sure your part is orientated in the most printable way.  Also, make sure it is laying flat on the platform (there is a button for this).  If you are printing multiple parts, arrange them and decide if you want to print all-at-once or one-at-a-time.  We have found that the quality increases with one-at-a-time, but you loose a lot of build space.

5.  Prepare the feeds and speeds.  I am happy to work with you on feeds and speeds for specific needs, but Cura’s built in 4 options have not let us down.  Fast, Normal, High, and UltiQuality.  95% of our prints have been on normal speed and we have not had a quality issue.  If you are still prototyping and need it quick, Fast has been really nice as well.

6.  Saving your print.  You will need one of the SD cards and put into the computer.  If that is the only portable drive plugged into the computer, Cura automatically saves to it.  If you also have a USB drive in the computer, you will need to choose the SD card. This save is technically the Post-Processing that takes your graphical display and coverts it into the required G-Code.

7. Now that your file is on the SD card, you are ready for printing!  Good luck and may the nozzle not get clogged:)