3D Printing – A brief review of Phrozen Sonic Mini 4K and Sonic Mighty 4K

A while back I received a discount on a Phrozen Sonic Mini 4K resin printer. Since I was considering starting a small business selling printed things, I figured the extra throughput might be worthwhile. I also figured it would a good opportunity to test 4K printing and one of the more well-known printer brands. Now, when I say discount, I paid $350 for the printer and a bottle of resin. Considering there’s an identical bundle on Amazon for $430, I guess I saved about $80.

This is the printer in question, with the cover taken off. It’s pretty standard, all things considered. The bed leveling system is pretty quick and easy, using those four bolts on the side. It seems a little more secure than the single set screw my other printer had. I’m also less concerned about resin getting into the upper section and causing problems. Four bolts clamping down on a plate is going to tolerate taking a bath much more than a ball and socket joint. I still actively try not to do that, as I’d risk overflowing the vat, but I like the mechanical simplicity.

It’s also easier to home out and level. Loosen the screws, put a piece of paper on the LCD, tell it to home out, hold down and tighten, check the paper. My other printer had to be manually driven down 0.1mm at a time, which leaves a lot more room for error and was rather time consuming by comparison.

Where printing itself is concerned, I had overlooked the fact that the display is a mono as opposed to an RGB. I can only assume that the mono display allows more UV through or otherwise interferes less than RGB, because it cures at least twice as fast as my other printer. Running about 2.75s/layer instead of 6s. They also (allegedly) last longer than the RGB displays.

Where the 4K nature is concerned, I personally have a hard time telling any real difference. I’m sure it’s there, but to the naked eye on something as small as a miniature, it didn’t seem to matter. It’s probably more noticeable on the Mighty 4K, as the DPI would be markedly lower due to the larger screen area, but we’ll get to that later on.

One thing that I do dislike about the Phrozen Sonic Mini is the single rail in the back. With that narrow single rail right behind the screw drive, there can be a pretty significant amount of flex as the surface area of a print goes up. My Shadow has that wider support with two rails, one on each side of the drive, which was for more robust. I haven’t seen any failures as a result, but it did cause a small amount of alarm the first time I noticed it.

I was, on the whole, impressed by the performance of the Sonic Mini compared to my other printer. In order to print some of the somewhat larger models I have access too, I picked up a Phrozen Sonic Mighty 4K. This one is somewhat pricier at $650. It’s pretty much the same thing, but much larger. The upper cover for this will actually fit pretty much completely over the Mini, cover and all. Setup and operator are exactly the same, but with many mechanical improvements. I can only assume this is so it can withstand the greater force from a larger print area.

It looks almost deceptively small due to how I chose to frame the shot, but is quickly becoming fun to work with. While a large model might take several days to put out on the smaller printer, I can put more than one or two parts on this one. I actually managed to get nearly two dozen standard sized models off of it in a single job, and a really nice large model in another.

The print area is 250 sq cm (38.75 sq in) compared to the Mini’s ~97 sq cm (15 sq in). It doesn’t quite look like that much extra space in person, but once you’re in some software loading models, it’s quite obvious. It also has a higher ceiling, but I’ve never found that to be much of a problem.

A couple of problems apply to both printers. Seems to be something of a consistent choice across the brand. I’m also not a huge fan of the side-load USB port, visible on the back of the Mighty in its picture and adjacent to the Mini above, because it’s annoying and awkward to deal with. This seems pretty common for reasons I can’t quite grasp, and I have acquired some right angle usb extension cables to deal with it.

Related to this, the Phrozen firmware cannot navigate sub-directories on the thumb drive. This means all prints must be stored in the root directory which feels like organized chaos at the best of times. I would much rather be able to keep known good slices on the thumb drive in a semi-organized fashion instead of constantly having to move files around to keep the list manageable. I can only hope that these issues are dealt with in a firmware update, but I’m not holding my breath.

Something I touched on briefly before is perhaps easier to communicate with the following chart. A typical consumer display that is rated for 4k is 3840 pixels wide. If you use a very large screen at 4k, the pixels themselves will be quite large compared to a small display with the same number. This is generally represented using the metric dots per inch (DPI). A notable impact of this is that a machine like the Mighty 4K, while having the same resolution, has a larger screen area and larger individual pixels. When dealing with a large format printer, the 4K can become a much more critical feature. The Shadow, which actually runs slightly above the 2K spec, actually has finer detail than the Mighty 4K. If you had a large format printer with a 2K display, it would likely have noticeably decreased detail by comparison. By using the 4K display, it can pull close to the Shadow and is technically higher than the standard Sonic Mini 2K. I was personally unable to see much difference between 540 and 722 DPI, I am curious about the 488 v 722. I have some models printed on each one, and I’m not entirely sure which set is which, so it’s a nice semi-blinded test.

Comparison Chart

PrinterDisplay TypePrint VolumeDPI*Vertical Rails
Phrozen Sonic Mini 4KMono 4K97 Sq cm7221
Phrozen Sonic Mighty 4KMono 4K250 Sq cm4882
Qidi Tech Shadow 6.0RGB 2K91 Sq cm5402
*Quoted the manufacturer for the Sonic Mini, and calculated the other values from the XY resolution in µm.

All things considered. I like the Phrozen printers. They’re extremely quick and have held up well so far. They’re a bit pricey though, and not nearly as quiet as the Shadow. The Minis in particular are a bit noisy while running. Enough that I wouldn’t want to sleep in the same room with them. The Mighty, for reasons I have yet to figure out, is much quieter.

Y’all take care out there.

Reading – Staring into the Void

Man, talk about falling off the wagon. A day or two became a week or two, which then became a couple of months.

In other news, I finally finished the remaining novels from Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. A somewhat bittersweet moment. Considering most of my fantasy reading for the last decade has been Discworld, it feels rather strange to have “finished” them. Of course, considering the 40-something novels involved and the fact that it took me close to a decade to get around to reading them, I could probably start over again at the beginning and find some of them quite new again. I suspect I might even appreciate some of the earlier works more now than I did the first time through.

I find myself reluctant to do so, though. In fact, I’ve been maintaining a healthy distance from fiction since I finished the final book. I took a detour a few months ago and read some novels pretty far off my beaten path, but at the moment don’t feel particularly inclined to read anything.

It’s not an unfamiliar sensation either. Comparable to finishing a reasonably immersive book, but on a larger scale. It’s a strange sense of satisfaction with a note of loss. I’ve noticed it used in advertising streaming services as well. The rather manipulatively named “Show Hole.” The implication being that it’s bad needs to be filled with one of their TV shows.

I personally associate it instead with a decent ending. I enjoyed the series and remain thankful for the ideas and concepts that Sir Terry introduced me to along the way. There’s a high likelihood that I will reread some or all of them, at one point or another. For now, though, I shall simply rest and allow my thoughts to settle. Staring into the void and letting it stare back until I feel adequately reset.

Y’all take care.

Final Fantasy Tactics meets Octopath Traveller?

All images in this post are taken from the trailer. I have embedded it at the end of the post.

I was going to write something about my misadventures with PSO2 installation (because that’s still a thing) but instead I came across this trailer. Now, when I see the words “strategy” and “Nintendo” in close proximity, I tend to think of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. While I have limited experience with the actual handheld Advance titles, I was a large fan of the original Final Fantasy Tactics on PS1. Enough so that I own another copy for android.

Since I eventually discovered it was a genre and not a game, I try to keep an eye out for these. Enough so that I own far more of them than I’ve actually played. I wasn’t surprised to find out it was a Squenix title, in fact, I was quite excited. My first thought was, of course, a new entry in the Final Fantasy Tactics series. While it could be branded that way, I suppose, the trailer specifically says it’s a new entry in the HD-2D series.

I can only assume this is a reference to Octopath Traveller, a game I also own on two different platforms but have barely found time to play. I did enjoy what I played though, and while not exactly what I think of when I hear “tactical RPG,” the level of thought and planning I had to put into encounters seems similar, even if the gameplay is more traditional console RPG.

This is somewhat reinforced by the “chosen path” idea. I would dare say that’s the primary concept of Octopath. Octopath as also originally announced as “Project Octopath Traveler.” The title also has the same style as Octopath Traveler, though I can’t imagine it will keep the name “Triangle Strategy.” It sounds so… mundane.

The footage in the trailer certainly appears to be the tactical RPG that it claims to be. The “triangle” part of its name seems to refer to three characters that personify different paths, though for me its hard to shake the mental image of Fire Emblem’s melee rock paper scissors diagram. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Provided I don’t forget between now and the time I get home, I’ll do my best to track down this demo and give it a go. Don’t hold your breath though, that isn’t safe.

Considering I watched the trailer and immediately stopped to write about it, I seem to be fairly excited to see the game. I’m not exactly sold on the overall concept, but it’s a genre that Squenix knows well enough and I have a small measure of trust in their ability to execute it. It’s also intriguing to see the birth of a new IP. I had always assumed Octopath was a bit of a standalone niche game what would do good to get more than a single sequel.

Y’all take care, and here’s the trailer if you want to see it for yourself.

Looking Forward – A Mid-Term Gaming Plan

I’ve felt slightly adrift with my gaming plan lately. I’ve simply moved from one thing to the next somewhat randomly. Not that there’s really anything wrong with that, but there are things in the coming year which require slightly more planning and lead-up.

The first, and farthest, is FFXIV’s Endwalker expansion. I haven’t really touched the game much in the last year. Most of our FC has stopped playing and unsubbed and I just ran out of steam arguing with end-game raid content. This means I’ll need to log in, get back into the swing of things, and get caught up by mid to late autumn.

At some point (probably) before that, the weird kinda-same-but-also-different PSO2: New Genesis will become a thing. PSO2’s endgame had gotten a bit too routine there for a while, but now that I’ve ignored it we have plenty of new stuff to poke through in the meantime.

This is actually the last update, not the next one.

The third and last thing I’m willing to put on a list right now is what I’m currently playing, No Man’s Sky. It’s supposed to have an update in the next month or so with pets or something. I’m honestly just playing because I’m enjoying poking around and it has yet to become excessively repetitive. It will, eventually, but until then it’s on the list.

That seems to be a fairly solid list for the coming year. If my PSO2 migration from MS Live to Steam is set up by this weekend, I might do some PSO2, but I’m expecting most of my weekend to be No Man’s Sky and babysitting 3D printers. Not a bad weekend, if I say so myself.

There are a few other things vaguely on my radar, but not serious contenders. I’m watching to see what becomes of Anthem and it’s alleged overhaul. Elite Dangerous is getting legs at some point, that might be interesting. A nice flavour change from No Man’s Sky, perhaps.

Y’all take care. Excelsior, or something.

A Brief Look at the Time and Material Cost of 3D Printing

I feel like many people glorify 3D printing a bit more than it deserves. It has this mystique of “make anything you want” about it that does a wonderful job at glossing over the reality of it.

Let’s say I want to make some of these nifty little drawers. Each one of these has a volume of roughly 312 cm3. Roughly 4cm (~1.5″) per side and about 7.5cm (3″) deep. Not a particularly large amount of space, in my opinion, but to each their own.

Let’s talk material cost first. A fairly low cost PLA filament runs about $20/kg. 322g/3 drawers is about 107g each. Total cost is around $6.44 or $2.15 each. Not bad, really, but this also assumes no failure. Nothing about this print seems overly risky, but you never know. Also note that to print them two-tone as they are in the picture, you’d have to buy two different spools, not one, but that doesn’t really alter the $/g unless you get something fancy.

Do note, though, that the total print time is 37 hours and 18 minutes. Realistically that’s probably two days, unless you just happen to be around when the first one finishes, pull everything off warm, and fire it right back up.

Image acquired from Reddit.

The good news is that it’ll mostly do its thing without any significant intervention, but you still want to check it regularly, especially for the first few hours. If something goes pear shaped and you’re not around to stop it, it’ll usually keep running, use up filament, and make a mess. Spaghetti happens, goes with the territory. I’ve managed to avoid a failure quite as spectacular as this one, but I’m paranoid. The ones I would have had I caught early enough to stop. Not much I can do with a 22 hour print though.

Is that worth it for three little honeycomb drawers? Hard to say, really. I could not easily locate a comparable product. Mostly just standard floating shelves going for $30+ per piece/set. I suppose if you really liked the drawers and had nothing else in the world to do with your $300+ printer, then sure, it’s probably worth it.

This small lamp, on the other hand, is something I would find much more practical. It’s a bit smaller than it looks, a feature common to many printed objects. Spread across three print jobs, it’s total print time is around 14 hours. Using a slightly more decorative silk metallic filament it comes out to around $2.05, not including the lamp fixture and bulb. It’s only 89g of material, but the arms aren’t that long either. 140mm for the short one and 200mm for the longer one. You’re losing about 30mm per joint so 250mm (~10″) total length. That’s pretty short.

Still, that doesn’t really account for the cost of the printer or the opportunity cost of printing other stuff. I might go ahead and print it sometime in the next couple weeks, if only for the cuteness of a baby lamp. If nothing else it would make a good reading light near the bed.

Either way, that’s a quick look at the type of per object costs. Low material cost, very slow throughput. I don’t have a setup capable of measuring power usage, but I should consider doing that. Considering this thing is hot, it probably isn’t cheap to operate in terms of power.

There’s also the minor issue of taking the time to load the files, figure out which ones you need, and lay them out into separate print jobs with appropriate settings and layouts. I wouldn’t say it’s a ton of time, but for more complicated objects it can take an hour or two to identify everything, resize it, orient it, and check for overhangs. Something that’s only a few large pieces like the drawer bodies are pretty quick. I can’t tell you how much your time is worth, that’s for you figure out. I typically find the activity somewhat peaceful and entertaining.

I recently loaded some files my wife asked for that were apparently designed in inches instead of the usual mm. It took me a while to realize I had to change the scale from 100% to 2540% (100 * 25.4mm/inch) in order to get them sized correctly. If nothing else, it’s a great way to learn the metric system in a country that’s hell bent on using the “standard” system.

Y’all take care and stay safe out there.

No Man’s Life – Thoughts of Permadeath

I have a strange love/hate relationship with the idea of permadeath. The fact that I dabble with it seems to suggest that it has some manner of inherent value, though it does come at fairly high stakes.

That is, on the surface it seems that upon death or failure, the time invested is somehow lost or wasted. This isn’t a big problem with rogue-like games, which are somewhat designed to progress through repeated attempts that give you a progressively better starting point. It can be somewhat more severe when we discuss RPGs and/or MMOs where a single character can easily become a 40+hour investment, with many being in excess of 100. To the extent that it’s more common for playtime to be discussed in terms of days rather than hours.

This was brought about by my starting a new playthrough of No Man’s Sky, mostly as a way to occupy myself for a time, and using the permadeath difficulty on a whim. I’ve always thought it to be an odd play mode, for a game that regularly introduces new bugs to kill you randomly and unexpectedly. It also has an extremely harsh setup on a new playthrough. It took a half dozen tries to make it past the 5 minute mark, which is pretty much just a combination of speed and luck.

One difference I have noted in the past with other titles, such as Diablo 3, is that it tends to change my overall play style. Permadeath encourages a somewhat more slow and thoughtful approach where I would normally just YOLO it and deal with the consequences as they arose. I find myself looking at thing in NMS and doing impromptu risk assessments. A coworker was talking to me about the derelict freighters that I haven’t looked into and they dangers present in them and I was initially of the opinion that it’s something I wouldn’t want to do in such a severe playthrough. Give me a few days to consider it, though, and I start to wonder if it isn’t more a matter of preparation instead.

If I make sure my defences and environmental protections are well established, bring plenty of recharging materials, set up a multitool for that specific situation, and proceed with an extraordinary amount of caution, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

It reminds me quite a bit of my XCOM runs on the Ironman difficulty, a very similar sort of autosave with no/minimal reloading that has much the same feel. When something happens, good or bad, your must deal with the hand you are dealt.

Now, I find that the “waste of time” portion is somewhat case by case. In fact, it relies almost entirely upon nature of games as a form of entertainment. If you enjoy the higher stakes, playstyle, and time spent doing it, then it’s hard to argue that the time was wasted. I would say the opposite applies as well. If you find little to no enjoyment in knowing that your accumulated time can be erased, then that time should be spent in other ways.

What I don’t tend to favor is games with mandatory permadeath. While those tend to be far and few between, I prefer to have the option to choose a more relaxed mode if that’s what I’m interested in. It’s very similar to the whole full-loot PvP setup in MMOs, if it’s optional, I might dabble here and there. If it’s required, no thanks.

Regardless, it’s time for me to move on, I think. Y’all take care, and whatever you’re doing, make sure you try to enjoy it.

Playing with Printers – Resin Exposure Time

So, one project I’ve been working on for the last month is trying to tune my printer settings. There is something of a balancing act in the resin printers which revolves around the exposure time. Basically the length of time that each layer is displayed on the LCD screen to cure the resin.

This trade-off is mainly between detail and success rate. Higher exposure times will “bleed over” the edges and obscure finer details. It also lends more strength to the model and its supports. Too little exposure and the supports will fail, leaving you with an irritatingly difficult to clean “puddle” on the bottom or missing limbs. Just depends on how far off you were and what size the supports were.

One of the accepted ways to narrow this down is to print these XPS calibration squares with different settings and see what you end up with. Ideally you get a very sharp point on the center infinity section and the positive bars at the bottom should look like they would slide into the negative space below them.

In this case, you can see that 5 seconds looks about right since the 6s is too large and 4s is missing a lot of the finer bits. Something I did note, though, was that all but the 6.5s were missing at least one of the positive dots on the left side. Had I noticed this when doing the squares, perhaps I would not have experienced as much trouble.

Before this, I had been printing at 8s per layer, which isn’t absurd, but it was overkill for most prints, and having the display on longer than it needs to be degrades it rather quickly. As it is, this one already has some dim spots and flickering.

The “Failed Print” box full of mostly supports.

Having decided I would try a proper print at the 4.5s mark so I loaded up a print plate full of bandits and got mostly supports. Only three models out of eight lived to see daylight. I wasn’t really surprised. The rather severe damage to the 4s calibration square suggest this would be an issue, so I did the only reasonable thing and kept repeating the job adding a half second at a time.

The print job as a whole takes about 2-3 hours print time, plus whatever setup and cleanup is required. This typically meant I could get in about one set per day, starting the print either before I left for work or right before going to bed.

In the full-size images you can see some of the places where bits didn’t quite print correctly. The female bandit and the one with mace were particularly troublesome. I probably could add some supports of my own to the trouble areas, but wanted to keep things consistent just for testing purposes. I will probably consider 6s my standard for the moment. At least for this printer and this resin.

There are some flaws that stand out in this test as well. I didn’t think to record the environmental conditions for these prints. While it is being done in a somewhat heated space, it was still well below the recommended temperature range at times. Maybe I’ll do a repeat in the future, but honestly, I don’t need these figures, I just needed something with fairly fine supports to test the settings and this set had two different kinds of supports.

My next set of test are going to involve post-processing. There is a noticeable difference in surface finish from batch to batch and I haven’t quite nailed down why, especially since I follow the same general steps every time. Off the printer into the ultrasonic cleaner for around 10 minutes, then rinse, lay on towel to dry, and a pass in the curing box. In fact, the yellowish tint to the 6s set was because they spent more time in the cure box than the other sets.

Still, that’s a problem for another day.

I haven’t yet decided what to do with the failed prints. Outside of the one half-woman most of these are salvageable, at least for personal use. These models were sculpted by TytanTroll, so if you want to make them yourself feel free to check out his MyMiniFactory page or his Patreon. I’m technically licensed to sell prints of his models as well, if that’s something you’re interested in.

Y’all take care. I’m gonna go stare at the wall for a little bit myself.

Robinhood – A Brief Follow-Up

Robinhood has put forth a statement regarding the choices they made that limited trading. Before I offer my own opinion, I will reproduce that message here for the curious.

A note from Robinhood
Hi [SDWeasel],

We wanted to reach out to you after a transformative week in the markets to answer a question we know many of you are asking: “Why did Robinhood limit certain stocks?” 

We understand that the temporary limits we placed on certain stocks this past week were frustrating for many, especially since we built Robinhood to expand access to investing. We have always sought to put our customers first and we want you to be able to invest on your own terms. 

To help explain what happened and why we had to take action, we wrote a letter to our customers and captured the key understandings for you below:

* For Robinhood to operate, we must meet clearinghouse deposit requirements to support customer trades.
* Deposit requirements are determined in part by how much stock a firm’s customers hold. If a firm’s customers’ holdings are volatile, a broker (in this instance Robinhood) is obligated to meet higher deposit requirements.
* Last week, in part due to volatility in some popular stocks, Robinhood’s deposit requirements rose tenfold. The combination of the deposit increase and the extraordinary increase in volume on these particular symbols led us to put temporary buying restrictions in place on a small number of those stocks.
* We had to take steps to limit buying in those volatile stocks to ensure we could comfortably meet our deposit obligations. We didn’t want to stop people from buying stocks and we certainly weren’t trying to help hedge funds.

We hope you take away this: at Robinhood, we stand with everyday investors participating in the markets.Standing by our Robinhood community means being there for our customers through any trading environment. We’ll continue to improve as we break down barriers in the financial system to open it for all.

Thank you for being a part of the Robinhood community.

The Robinhood Team

Now, this is quite a decent reasoning for why they made the choice they did. They’ve already had their fair of run-ins with the SEC over their monetization model so doing whatever it takes for compliance reasons is, well, probably a little fair. Banking and investment regulations like reserve requirements tend not to care much about circumstance.

Still, they would have been way better off explaining that when they did it, rather than after the fact. I would be far more sympathetic if the timing didn’t suggest damage control. As the old saying goes, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.

Regardless, their choice has an obvious chilling effect on events that worked directly to the benefit of one side more than the other(s). Saying that you “didn’t want to” does little to change the fact that you did, knowing full well what it would do.

It seems a bit misleading, in a letter about why you had to shut down your target market of everyday investors, to continue on and say you “stand with everyday investors participating in the markets.” I mean, do you really though? When push came to shove, seems like you weren’t.

Of course, this is a no-win situation for Robinhood. Even if they manage not to alienate a good portion of their user base, there’s always a chance that the SEC will decide what they did was improper and fine them anyway. Again.

Does any of this affect my decision to find a different way to invest my money? Maybe. To be honest I went straight from reading their statement to writing this post, so this is more of a knee-jerk reaction than a well thought out response.

Anyway, I think I’ll simply leave it there for now. Y’all take care.

An Introduction to 3D Printing

Do you dream of owning a fiddly bit of equipment that requires constant re-calibration and still never seems to give you what you wanted? Have you ever wanted to constantly clean up mildly toxic liquids? If so, then 3D printing may be right for you!

Humorous pitches aside, there are a few different kinds of printers out there, each with their own pros and cons. I thought I would take a moment to at least go over the two most popular types.

First, however, I would address the more general idea of what 3D printing is and isn’t. Mostly isn’t, I think.

It is not a technology for the impatient. I would say the typical print job tends to take around 6-8 hours to complete. I’ve printed some small bits that only took around 30 minutes, and I’ve run my fair share of 14 hour jobs as well. It’s not a Star Trek replicator. This also assumes that you can locate an appropriate 3D model, or create one yourself, and understand how to set up the print job. On top of that, you will inevitably find one of the layouts/job types that don’t work well (tall skinny objects, I’m looking at you) and nothing else goes wrong. Seeing a 14 hour print fail at the twelve hour mark, or having the power flicker and terminate the job is quite inconvenient and typically requires you to start over from the beginning.

As pieces of equipment go, they’re also quite fiddly. Certain things, such as the distance between the print surface and the business end are fairly precise and prone to shift. If you don’t have it set properly you’ll fail right out of the gate and if you’re far enough off, damage the equipment in the process.

There’s also emerging research suggesting it’s not a healthy indoor activity, but something that needs ventilation. This is without considering some of the solvents involved in the cleaning process. If nothing else, I imagine repeated exposure to 91+% isopropyl is not great and some people go on to process their prints with acetone or chloroform as well.

Last, there are always going to be some trade-offs in quality somewhere. Most items made of plastic or resin in our daily lives are injection molded. That process has a much more refined finish than 3D-printed bits do. Most hobbyist 3D printers are limited to various forms of plastics and resins, only some of which are recyclable and even then I’m not sure how many of them are commercially recyclable. Certainly not a particularly green technology.

With all that said, there are two main types of hobbyist printers, the FDM machines that print using polymer filament and the SLA units that use a UV light to solidify a liquid resin.

FDM apparently stands for “Fused Deposition Modeling,” though I personally prefer to think of it as “Filament Deposit Machine.” It’s basically what happens when someone decides to put a hot glue gun on a CNC machine. It forces plastic string through a small hole and using a series of motors to move the head and the platform draws objects with the temporarily liquid plastic.

Of the two, it is probably the most versatile. They can typically make much larger objects out of a pretty wide variety of materials. It can also produce hollow parts much more easily. The main downsides are the characteristic “liney” appearance of the parts, which can require a lot of post-processing to cover up, and the fact that it requires constant calibration. While I have seen people claiming to be able to replace a few parts and stay calibrated for months at a time, I do not feel that this is realistic for most people. The level-ness of that print bed relies on springs under tension. Since environmental factors such a temperature will alter the properties of the springs, living in a temperate area with wide swings from day to day means that I have to constantly check and adjust.

These things also generate quite a large amount of waste plastic. The plastic “spaghetti” from the failed print in the picture is one example. I’ve been collecting mine in a small box, but the gear requires to process and extrude it into re-usable filament is prohibitively expensive.

SLA stands for stereolithography. These are the UV resin printers. While there are some varieties that use laser(s) to draw much like the FDM printers do, most models use an ultraviolet display to cure an entire layer at once. Dusty parts aside, this leaves a much smoother finish.

The primary advantage to these things is visual quality. The parts they produce are much more detailed, as the resin can be cured in thinner layers (0.05mm v 0.1mm) as well as in whole layers instead of line drawings of a layer. For a similar sized object, I would say the resin tends to be a bit faster, though this varies heavily from printer to printer. They don’t seem to require as much mechanical maintenance and calibration either.

The first major downside is that this liquid resin is both toxic and messy. The build platform and the parts come out covered in the stuff and must be cleaned with isopropyl and/or degreaser. Any time you experience a print failure, or at least once a day, you must also pour all the resin out of the vat, through a paint filter, back into the original container, and very carefully clean the vat as well. The whole process generates a fairly large amount of trash as it consumes paper towels and microfiber towels to do these jobs properly.

While I find the resin printers don’t require as much hardware calibration, they do include a fair amount of software calibration. Finding the right exposure times and travel speeds can be a bit frustrating. I’ve spent the last couple of week off and on doing exposure tests and test prints, and it looks as though I’m going to end up pretty close to where I started.

For either type of printer, I would say that the time and material sink probably outweighs any monetary savings. When you consider how many hours are required to (re)calibrate them regularly, that cost adds up. The failure rate and losses to experimentation do as well.

So why would anyone do it then? I for one enjoy playing with it, but it has some more practical applications as well. It’s advertised use is “rapid” prototyping. I suspect a skilled tooling technician could easily outpace it, but if you don’t have the equipment or labor on hand, this is a passable substitute. I believe a jeweler and/or metal artist could find a way to print masters or wax copies for casting, though it seems to me that physical sculpting and 3D modeling aren’t different enough to make much difference.

I do know that many of the resin printers can handle dental resin as well, so there is at least some medical application. Having said that, I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of putting something from a hobbyist printer in my mouth. That seems… counterproductive.

For me it’s the best parts of my day job combined with an interesting but impractical home technology. Having said that, my wife seems to enjoy to products it can produce, if not exactly the speed at which I can produce them. It can produce the odd difficult to locate gift, such as this Sheikah Slate one of my children requested, but I’ve also printed some car trim with custom mounts, decorate corbels made from a composite wood filament that my wife claims is stainable, and a number of other little odds and ends.

There is always a small chance that familiarity with this technology could be of benefit at work, though most industrial applications use a third type I didn’t discuss here, selective laser sintering or SLS. I don’t see my own employer going down that road any time soon. I just can’t foresee it competing with multi-ton hydraulic presses any time soon.

Either way, I hope you learned something you wanted to know. Y’all take care.

The Great GameStop Short Part 2 – Robinhood and His Merry Redditors

Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the events that are, for all practical purposes still unfolding. I figured I would address them more directly. The topic is certainly a complicated and multifaceted one

First, I see very few people in the right here. Yeah, it’s easy to pick on the big guy at the top. Easy to look at a few hedge funds and call them the enemy. A sort of symbolic stand-in for American capitalism. As someone displeased with the current corporate culture, I can certain empathize with their desire to strike the system however they could.

In many ways, I feel that the overconfidence and complacency of the professional traders set these events in motion. I mean, shorting more shares than actually existed? I reminds me of the same reckless abandon that led to the financial problems in 2008. In that case, the risky assets were creative mortgages presumed to be made safe because they were bundled together with a lot of other mortgages.

Given the far-reaching consequences of that particular disaster, the actions of the group exploiting the mistake seems… shortsighted. Of course, they have done a magnificent job of highlighting how little the professional investors have learned.

All this aside, I cannot but feel that the Robinhood brokerage has made itself public enemy number one as well. For a platform that claims to be all about bringing trading “for everyone,” they seem to have gone well out of their way to shut down the… financial protestors. Other brokerages took actions to restrict the trading of GameStop and other stocks as well, but none quite as severe as Robinhood, who went so far as to alter the rules for cryptocurrency as well.

Though the actions of the protestors are questionable, they are (probably) not illegal and they had a right to make really bad investment decisions for reasons that were allegedly not about profit.

Ultimately I feel that nearly everyone was in the wrong. The motivation of the protestors was commendable but ill-advised. The rhetoric was absolutely deplorable, and smelled more of vengeance and hatred than justice. The professional investors have learned nothing in the last decade and displayed a need for additional regulation. Several investment platforms have shown their true colors, when the chips were down.

I think I still need more time to absorb all these things. I try my best to judge slowly, if a bit harshly in this case. None quite as harsh as Robinhood, though. I’ve been using their app infrequently since early 2019. Unfortunately I feel rather strongly about some of their actions in the last week. They haven’t really impacted me personally. I happened to own one of the stocks of interest, though not one of the ones that’s getting any attention. I sold my shares of GameStop back in March because I was dissatisfied with some of their business decisions. It bothers me enough that I intend to sell all the assets I have on their platform and move my money somewhere else.

Y’all take care, and watch yourselves out there. The stock market is rather unforgiving to the impatient.