Hands On With The BIQU Thunder And The MyMiniFactory App Part 3
We had a chance to test an interesting 3D sprinter and software combination: the BIQU Thunder and MyMiniFactory’s new app.
MyMiniFactory (MMF) has produced a smartphone app that allows direct connection and control of certain desktop 3D printers. It’s actually their existing app used to access their comprehensive repository of 3D models, but it's been recently upgraded to include the ability to operate 3D printers.
Currently they are testing these direct printing features and we were fortunate enough to be able to try it out.
The basic idea of the app’s function is to allow an app user to initiate the printing of a 3D model found in MMF’s repository. There would be no need for a slicing program, no need to transfer a Gcode file to the printer, or other typical manual steps.
However, the very first thing you must do after setting up the BIQU Thunder is to connect between the MyMiniFactory app and the printer. I was very interested to understand how this takes place, because connecting printers to cloud systems can be fraught with peril as I've seen in several other machine/app combinations.
In this case, however, I was pleasantly surprised because the connection essentially worked right away. MyMiniFactory has chosen a relatively simple method using a QR code to perform the necessary machine identification. On the printer a menu item can display a QR code that represents that particular machine on the LCD panel. A feature in the MyMiniFactory app then takes a picture of the LCD screen and interprets the QR code. This is how the two are linked together.
Once the machine and app are connected then it's a matter of putting it to use. This means browsing the extensive MyMiniFactory repository of 3D model to find something that you'd like to print.
Here we encounter the problem facing all 3D model repositories, particularly the larger ones. It's actually quite difficult to find the model you want in an enormous collection numbering in the tens of thousands. 3D models have to be tagged with words and you search by text not by image. Nevertheless, this isn't a fault of the app, that's just the way it is in every repository.
Once you find a 3D model that you wish to print, it's a simple matter of scrolling down to find the "print” button as shown above and press it. The app and its infrastructure work behind the scenes to slice and send the data to the printer and even initiate the print job itself.
My search for items to print seemed to go well at first, but then I noticed something strange. Several of the 3D models that I liked did not have the print button enabled.
I wondered what was going on here, so I looked further. I pulled up quite a number of 3D models in the MyMiniFactory repository and found that the print button seem to appear on only 30% to 40% of the models. It seems that MyMiniFactory uses their “Click & Print” feature only on certain items. This can be a bit frustrating. [UPDATE: MyMiniFactory informs us that 77.5% of their library is now enabled for the click and print function. They also point out there is a filter mechanism in the app that can focus only on click and print models, which makes things much easier.]
I suspect this is because the Gcode for the print job is pre-made and stored for each model. In some cases the Gcode has not yet been prepared and so there is no corresponding print button available. It's likely that MyMiniFactory will add more of its repository to Click & Print status in the future.
If you're using the MyMiniFactory app for printing you'll notice that all of the printing functions seem to be buried deep in the app, hidden under the profile option has seen here.
One of the interesting things the app keeps track of is the list of the prints that have taken place and those that have not yet taken place. Here you can see a list of print jobs with a current job at the top, and previous jobs below. Note that successfully completed jobs are marked with green, well unsuccessful plans are marked with red.
When using a standard separate slicing program to prepare a 3D print job, there are number of parameters that one might wish to tickle to make sure the job works correctly. Does the MyMiniFactory app provide similar capabilities? It turns out they do provide some, but not all.
You are permitted to scale the 3D model up to full-size if you wish. However you can't really change the layer quality, or the support structure arrangement. Thus you were kind of stuck with whatever MyMiniFactory shows as the primary print parameters.
One issue we had with pre-made support parameters is that sometimes they aren’t quite suitable. Here we had a print that was a bit too fragile to survive removal of the considerable support structures. I suspect that MyMiniFactory will eventually tune these to be optimal.
Generally, this is fine. Why? The target market for the MyMiniFactory app will be those 3D printing newbies, people who aren't so familiar with the technology of 3D printing and are mostly just seeking a print. For that, this configuration would work well.
Does it work? Indeed it does. Here we see a 3D print of Rodin's famous “The Thinker” statue. The support structures were organized properly for this 3D model, and it came out quite well. One slight issue we noticed was that the raft, which seems to be present on all of the Click & Print models, was a bit too tight to the model and was difficult to remove in some cases.
And one more — I hesitate to call it a problem — was that the estimated print time occasionally was a bit wacky. Here we see a time estimate for a Towers of Hanoi print at an astonishing 475 hours and 59 minutes, or just short of three weeks. I have a suspicion that this particular print might not quite take that long.
In all I found the MyMiniFactory app to be actually pretty easy to use. It's ideal for novice users and particularly those who are already using MyMiniFactory's repository.
It seems to be MyMiniFactory's intention to ultimately allow the MyMiniFactory app to be used with a large number of different 3D printers beyond the BIQU Thunder. In fact their list of machines even includes CNC milling equipment. However it's not entirely clear how the technical connection works with these other pieces of equipment. But that's likely a future release for MyMiniFactory. [UPDATE: MyMiniFactory informs us they have developed a plugin for OctoPrint users that can perform a similar direct connection, which works with 37 different device types.]
If you happen to have a BIQU Thunder, by all means give this app a try — it’s quite useful, and should be even more so when MyMiniFactory opens it up to all 3D printers.