Printrbot Play to SKR Mini E3 V1.2 board.

I have been working on my Printrbot Play 3D Printer to a newer 32 bit control board. The Play is at least 5 years old. In fact it is actually older than that, Mine started Life as a Simple Makers Kit. Then it was upgraded to a Play with a kit from Printrbot. It still has the Ceramic UBIS hotend but has a V2 extruder drive. The Printrboard is a F5 and newer than the rest of the printer due to a broken Micro USB port, a common problem with the F5 boards.

Printrbot Play printers are very solid and robust printers that really deserve an update to newer control boards. They were accurate and reliable printers for there time but budget 3D printers can out print them due to the age and size limitations of their firmware and control board. Considering the move to a 32 bit board is only $37 plus $8 in JST-XH connectors it should be well worth the effort.

Firmware for this move is not really available as yet, sort of, but is in the works. I am rolling my own build with help from files for a V1.0 board to printrbot (Phillip Mally). There is a adapter set of boards being developed right now to make this switch “plug and play” by a guy named Phillip Mally. He is in fact assembling the prototype Beta test “Adaptrboard” release boards as this is being typed. These, with a few additions, should make the swap into a half hour and done deal for most people with no crimping or soldering needed. Firmware is a simple install of a BIN file onto the SD card to install. He has setups for the Play, Simple Metal and the Metal plus (SKR 1.3 board there) being developed. So if you are looking to revive a Printrbot it could be really easy in the not too distant future!

SKR Mini E3 V1.2 Control Board

The main problem with the upgrade is the connectors. Printrbot used mostly Molex style connectors with some Dupont connectors thrown in. The SKR Mini E3 vV1.2 Board uses JST-XH connectors throughout. It took me about 3 total hours to remove, Strip crimp and install the new connectors. I am sure that those with more experience at this part could get it done in about an hour. TIP; label all of your wires before starting this job. You will save yourself all kinds of heartache if you do.

changed to JST-XH. picture has a Creality 1.1.4 board for tests.
Creality 1.1.4 board (the SKR Mini E3 V1.2 is a direct install replacement for this board) and showing the 12V optocoupler to make the induction probe operate correctly.

WARNING: Realize that Printrbot used a short lead induction probe cable, that went into a dupont connector that is different colored wires. You will need to make sure that that you pay attention to this interchange and label the wires under the printer correctly. While you are at it Printrbot, for what ever retarded reason, chose to put uncovered male Dupont connectors to the fan and the induction probe. These pins are powered and exposed if they come unplugged. This will cause a short and destroy your board if it is not corrected. My brother lost a 2 month old printrboard in just this way. So while you are at it, crimp some JST-XH which lock and provide at least a shield for these pins. Not all of the Printrbot’s are this way so make sure yours is not one of these. If it is make sure you correct it!

The next feat is to wire up the induction probe to make it work properly with the new board. To do this a 12V to 5V optocoupler board is used. You can also use a voltage divider circuit or diode circuit to accomplish this. The induction probe works best if it is supplied at least 6V. But a direct connection to the board only provides 5V. The sensor can operate from 6V to 36V. But if you put more than 5V to the Z stop connector you will damage the board. The Optocoupler allows 12V to power the probe but have an output of 5V to the board. I saw how to wire this up on a post on Facebook in the Prinrbot page by Darren J. Green

Next hurdle is to design an adapter board mount that goes from the printrbot format to the SKR format. Only one hole lines up as far as I can see. Also there will need to be a hole cut in the body to allow access to the MicroSD port and the Mini USB B ports.

Another thing to do is design a LCD holder to use the Creality LCD board for controlling the Printer. I will remount the Laptop to the printer and control it from there as I used to, but there are some unique features to using the LCD like setting the nozzle height just by dialing it up or down with the LCD control knob.

This is it for now so far. The SKR board is delayed until Monday. I will get some more pictures of it and it’s install in the coming days. The induction probe/optocoupler setup needs to be tested to make sure only 5V is output and that it is wired correctly before being plugged in.

Well the SKR Mini E3 V1.2 came in. I drew up several mount adapters to install the board. In the end I rotated the board 90deg. and lined the MicroSD port up with the SD port in the chassis. The USB port is covered but that will be fixed at the next chance with a drill and Dremel with cutting wheel.

MicroSD card lined up with chassis.

After I got the board installed I installed a firmware from Phillip Mally. It immediately showed a “TMC connection error” on the LCD display. But all the steppers were working and it was able to home, including the Z Probe. The Extruder motor was running backwards but that was fixed by swapping the wires in the connector. All of the stepper connectors are wired the same. Left to Right; Red, Green, Yellow Blue, when looking at the board.

Lots of thanks to Philip Mally and Darren J. Green on Facebook. Their post and help made this easier and turned me back from some dead ends. Phillip Mally’s Adaptrboard set will make this project possible for others to resurrect those old solidly built Printrbots with modern control boards.

The extruder is still reversed in this photo. The parts cooling fan wires were moved from the block connector to FAN1 with a JST-XH connector installed. The Probe power was moved from FAN1 to the cool zone fan block as it remains powered. neither of these is correct in this earlier photo. As you can see shortening the wires really cleaned up the wiring mess that was the original Printrbot printers. In some cases more than 20″ of wire was removed.

This lead me to installing VSCode and the PlatformIO extension to build my own firmware. I finally had to watch a video on how to set up the environment properly. Then lots of time trying to figure out build errors. Many of the settings I copied over from the Play/SKR GitHub config.h and config adv.h had to be messed with until the errors mostly went away. Finally I got a working firmware built and it still had the TMC error.

I reinstalled the original firmware and there was no TMC error, so I knew it had to be settings.

I found that he had set Slave address settings and that was causing the error. Of course it took a whole lot longer than this to figure it out. Once they were all changed to zero the error was gone

No TMC error message.
Yep, it was printing even with the error, but it hardware problems never let a print finish.

So after I fixed the error I then had to track down some hardware problems that were causing failed prints. After screwing with the cables the cabling was catching on the bed. And the pulley on the X axis was not centered and had to be loosened and re-centered. I am still hearing some noise from the X rods and bearing, they need to be removed and have a good cleaning. My parts cooling fan was plugged together backwards at the upper end and was not working. And the dreaded “banding” is still there. I need to upgrade to a 4 lead Z screw. A future project.

Butttt,,, It is now printing.

So overall the project was a success. I replaced the heart of the printer with a 32bit upgrade and made it work. It is unbelievably quiet compared to it’s original board.

Next upgrade projects:

4 lead Z screw

Hotend upgrade. I am thinking of going to the CR 10 hotend, mounted Direct Drive,(same as Ender 3/5 but at 12V) or going to a UBIS 13S. Frankly the UBIS 13s is an easy upgrade with this board. It is more expensive than the ender unit but would not be easily added to the Printrbot extruder drive. A new extruder and a mounting plate would be needed. In the end a 13s will probably end up in it.

An upgraded build surface!!!!! tired of the Blue tape regimen. I am thinking of using a cut down magnetic build plate from one of the Enders. A spritz of hairspray and they work real well.

I also want to get the laptop(control center) back to work on this printer. that means opening up the SD card port to expose the Mini USB connector on the board. The SKR board uses a CH340 connection. It came with the right cable and it is short enough that it might just be right for the job.

Not planning to upgrade:

Heated bed. I have always used this printer for primarily PLA, so I really just do not think it makes sense. BUT! this board, SKR Mini E3 V1.2, was designed for a heated bed, if you want to upgrade yours. You will have to go to a 350W PSU to upgrade the bed. I used a 6A, laptop style, Brick to power this printer.

Crate Club policy

Their Company Logo

Christmas 2018 My wife bought me a subscription to Crate Club. What was advertised then was the stuff was American Made and it was a Monthly ship date. Well, 80% or more was Chinese made gear that I could find on Amazon. In several cases there were items that were advertised as being in these crates but were not there, such as a butane turbo lighter, twice it was listed in a crate but not present. There was useful stuff in these packages but many things were similar items, like I received 3 or 4 different flint style fire striker sets. And some were pretty useless like the round keychain folding knife. I will lay this stuff out soon so you can see what a year of Crate Club at the “Captain” level gets you. I personally believe your $359.99 could be much better spent on choice items. Another claim was military grade, well there may be an item or two that might meet that, but the majority of the crates are no where near “Military Grade”. If you pay for their “General Crates” maybe you will receive military grade and American made but not in the Captain’s Crate!

As you see in the above screen capture they say that these “box values” exceed the amount you are paying. My experience is that I could meet or beat the majority of their prices on Amazon. As most of you know Amazon is not always the cheapest place to get stuff. Here is an example below. I received this EXACT kit from Crate Club. And this is basically the price the crate cost when you figured $360 divided by 12 months equals $30. So I truly question their stated crate values. You should remember this is a retail price, not their price for the kit!

So the next thing is the fact that they sign you up for Auto-renewal when you subscribe. So we received a Notice in November 2019 that this subscription was going to renew. I went in and canceled subscription, I thought. So here we are the end of February (2020) and we still had not received the fee back on our credit card. We also had not received any “Crates” in January or February. We Contacted Sofrep which is the company that runs Crate Club, I guess. We were told, in a chat session no phone number available, that we had only canceled the autorenewal but not the subscription? So how is it you cancel the renewal but that does not cancel your subscription? Then we were told that we could not cancel Crate Club now. We were also told that the subscription had changed to Quarterly, not monthly.

So when I originally canceled this subscription all of the MONTHLY “Ship Dates” showed canceled. Each month had a red canceled sign behind it. Now it shows 5 shipments as unshipped. I wish I had taken a screen shot of that. I truly believe they decided to keep our fee even though they knew we wanted to cancel their subscription. This is really questionable business practice. I really believe you do not want to do business with this company! This is a Dishonest, at best, business.

I will lay out what I have received from them and get photos. You will see the Majority is Chinese made items in the Captains Crates. And much of it is not the quality they claim. Their posted FAQ; “We work hard to find gear made in the good ol’ US of A. However, it isn’t always possible for us to procure the amount of gear and quality we love, or timeliness of inventory delivery this way. Our main focus is to get you the best gear we can find. We, of course, prefer to work with US-owned companies as our first choice!”

This is in their FAQ’s also, but clearly they did not follow this as they made us accept the whole YEAR of Crates. Our original subscription was monthly, they changed that to Quarterly. No where in this FAQ does it state that you automatically signed up for auto-renewal. But, you will be setup for auto-renewal. Once they have your money you WILL NOT GET A REFUND FROM THEM!!! Says so in this shot from their FAQ! Not stated elsewhere.

As to reviews? They only show the glowing reviews from customers, not one negative review on their entire site. But there are Negative reviews.

Crate Club Reviews
Over the years, Crate Club has generated a loyal following thanks to their dedication to excellence, preference for American-made gear, and roots in the US Armed Forces. However, reviews online indicate that there is a healthy mix of negative and positive public opinion about the company.
With over 200,000 ‘Likes’ on their official Facebook page, you might assume that this subscription box company is universally adored. However, numerous customer testimonials and anecdotes indicate otherwise. For example, many of their social media followers have used the platform to express their displeasure with the company’s shipping times or product quality.
It is also worth noting that SOFREP Clubs, the company that owns the box brand, is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). While this is not a major red flag on its own, it doesn’t help that the only two company reviews on their BBB profile are overwhelmingly negative, citing delayed shipping times and their auto-renewal policy.

Ender 3 Pro 3D Printer

The Ender 3 Pro has great prints considering it’s low price point!

Well I decided to get a new 3D Printer. After some looking and comparing I decided on the Ender 3 Pro. The price point was very good, I picked mine up from the Creality store for $214.99.

Creality Ender 3 Pro
Creality Ender 3 Pro

It was relatively easy to assemble. I took a lot longer than most say it takes to assemble. I did take my time as I have found you save yourself a lot of time and trouble not hurrying in assembly. I tried to make sure that I assembled it straight and true. Even then I found that the gantry (X axis) was sagging on one side. So after about an hour and a half I took a break. The next day I sat down and pulled the X axis apart and straightened it out, no more sag. A minor complaint here is there are no alignment pins to make sure it goes together straight and true. You line up the top of the extrusion with the top of the plates the rollers and extruders are on. BUT, if you watch it you can get it straight. I still need to go through and check the tightness of the bed rollers, there is some play that might be able to be removed.

Another thing I ran into was the filament would not feed into the Bowden tube. I followed the trouble shooting guides and solved this pretty easily. Loosen the Bowden couplers then feed in some filament. tighten the coupler in place. Do this at the hotend also. This solved the problem. After this I checked all of the factory assembled screws to make sure they were all snug.

I will not go through the whole assembly as there are numerous videos and papers on do this right. You should be able to assemble this printer, in less than 2 hours, even if you have never assembled one before. The others I have put together were a different style from Printrbot.

While buying this Printer I was not too happy it needed manual bed leveling. I am not accustomed to having to level the bed before printing. Both my prior printers (printrbots) were self leveling. They had their own challenges, like learning to set Z height in EEPROM, to get it to print. I thought bed leveling by hand would be a big pain in the rear. BUT so far it isn’t hard at all. I now can set it with a piece of paper first time, every time. But then there is my wife. She cannot set it at all. So I will probably end up with a BLTouch, or possibly an induction probe for her.

I will have to say it is easier than it looks if you follow the directions. Plus one of the videos I watched on it had a little G-code file that makes it even easier. The g-code file moves the hotend to the extent of the bed and stops waiting for your to click the LCD panel knob for the next point. Once you get the right feel for the correct resistance on a piece of paper you are right at the right height to start printing.

Once I had everything straight and the bed level I went for my first print. I went for the Cat to print from TF Card. I was surprised that it went very well. It stuck to the bed and came out very nice, lots of detail. It printed on a raft for some reason. It was very smooth and there were no anomalies in the layers. There was just a bit of blob and string at the tip of each ear.

I bought the Pro version because it had an upgraded Y axis and a upgraded Power Supply. It also had the removable build plate which I am not sure is really worth the trouble. Also the Pro version has made some small changes that covered problems with the earlier models.

Ender 3 Pro left side.

A few things that surprised me: It uses an 8 bit controller. The extruder was plastic. How Quiet this printer is! Cable management is kind of messy. Considering there are so many 32 bit boards out there and they are inexpensive I was surprised that they were not using one. And the upgrade board (1.1.5) is 8 bit also, just has quieter stepper drivers. The plastic extruder works fine but a metal one is just not much more expensive. Another surprise is that the printer is 24V. The heated bed and the Hotend heat very quickly compared to the 12V models I have.

So for $22.79 from Amazon I upgraded the Extruder to metal, To a Capricorn XS Bowden tube and it had the recommended upgrade bed springs. There is enough Bowden tube for two installs and better couplers for the tube also. This upgrade took about 20 minutes to install on the printer. I thought the kit was from Creality but it was from Comgrow which sells branded Ender printers. It was well worth the price and time to install.

Comgrow upgrade kit.
The best first upgrade especially if you plan on using flexible filaments.

There are tons of upgrades available for the Ender 3 series. Extruders, Direct Drive extruders, Hotends, Control boards, fans, build plates, Auto leveling probes,,,,,. But best of all the community has came up with dozens of printable improvements for these printers. Make sure you check which versions you print as there were many small changes between the Ender 3 and Ender 3 Pro.

Overall I am impressed by the prints I am getting from this printer. I will say it is slow compared to my other printers. I think with some tuning and tinkering I can get the print speed up quite a bit. I do plan to move to Auto Bed Leveling in the near future. And I also plan, as part of that upgrade, to move to a SKR Mini E3 V1.2 32 bit controller. I am also thinking of transitioning to a glass bed. A BL Touch or other auto Bed Leveling probe is in my future.

After several prints and cleaning the bed with Isopropyl Alcohol I started having adhesion problems with the removable bed plate. I tried some temperature settings and some bed leveling changes but still had troubles. At this time I resorted to Hairspray. Save yourself this trouble, use hairspray from the start.

I am happy with the printer. It has a great price and prints well. If you want to try out 3D Printing you could choose a worse printer to start with, but this is not one of them! I really do not think you will find a better printer for the price out there!

Future upgrades:

  • SKR Mini E3
  • BL Touch or other ABL probe
  • Printed Improvements

Added some printed upgrades to the Ender 3 Pro;

The first was an extruder knob;

Just printed and installed this parts fan duct;

In between I added this filament guide that uses the old Bowden tube and coupler;

Just added this X tensioner from Amazon. It is a bit of a pain to assemble properly. There are no included directions. Almost every piece can be assembled wrong. If it is not right the belt will not be centered in the extrusion. The smaller toothed pulley means the inner mount tensioner t-nut is right at the very end of the X extrusion. The bolt that is part of the tensioner is a Cap screw. This causes them to use a smaller toothed pulley making the belt essentially longer, a larger pulley would probably solve most of this. If they had used a button, pan or a counter sunk, they could have used a larger pulley. Or they should have made the mount longer. Assembly directions would have been appreciated. Marks on the pieces to help in assembly would have helped also. Online directions would not take that much to include. Overall it does work but could have been better designed to give more adjustment and an easier install.

Another addition is an adapter from Micro SD to full size SD card. I bought the adapter on Amazon and printed the mount for it from thingiverse.