I settled on a laser engraver as my first tool, because at the time 3D printing was in infancy.
Even by today's standards, 3D printing at a hobbyist level won't get you a panel surface as straight and finished as a laser engraver.
There are plenty of other places that a 3D printer will help you in cockpit building though!
I began my pit using cheap eBay knobs for all my potentiometers and rotaries, before I started buying a few real ones. The prices of those are ridiculous- possibly $100 each for a real mil-spec knob from the US to Australia with shipping.
I painted a few cheap knobs up to look more realistic, but as my cockpit evolved into a replica I wanted more accuracy.
I found a store on Shapeways, again by another guy from the forums, Deadman. I bought some of the knobs on Shapeways and these were the first 3D printed parts I had ever seen. I was impressed by the quality, thought that's to be expected with the seriously expensive, quality commercial printers that they use!
The costs are pretty reasonable to use that service, but the shipping to Australia blows it out (like everything), so it wasn't exactly cheap.
I originally bought a few plain white knobs, then realised that I could order them in material that was printed in clear to allow back-lighting, so I spent more money again.
To read more about 3D printing knobs, click here.
I priced out how much it would cost me to get the entire pit done using the Shapeways store, and with shipping to Australia, it was much more than a cheap 3D printer.
So... I started reading up on 3D printers, and the Creality Ender 3 stood out. It had plenty of mostly positive reviews, and although it had a small print bed it was more than enough for what I needed.
The largest panel in an A-10C will fit on a Creality Ender 3 bed.
So I pulled the trigger and bought one.
I paid $275 AUD ($210 USD) for a Creality Ender 3 with a glass bed on eBay.
And as the title suggests, I really should have done that ages ago.
There was a little bit of trial and error, but compared to my K40 laser it was a walk in the park. Out of the box everything worked. Within a day I had printed my first A-10C Knob that I had designed in FreeCad.
The printer arrives relatively assembled. A few bolts, a few YouTube tutorials on how to level a bed, and you will be printing in no time.
Here is my Creality Ender 3 assembled and powered on for the first time. Completely stock. I printed a lot of benchys to practice and dial in the printer before staring on simulator parts. I was very pleased with how it performs straight out of the box!
As with everything I buy, I always feel the need to make it better.
The upgrades on my printer are all mostly cheap, with some actually being 3D printed by the machine itself.
Close up of the aluminium extruder installed. The bowden tube connector came with it.
Here is the 'Hero Me' fan duct mounted to the printer. You can also see I upgraded the plastic extruder to a cheap aluminium one, visible in red in the background.
Another view of the Hero Me duct. I chose not to add the front 40mm fan shroud. When attached it make the fan very loud, and I know not to stick my fingers in there anyway...
The best thing about the 3D printer is that once you start you realise that the printing possibilities are endless. Ive printed lots of things since, be it toys for my kids, moon lamps, cool things for the man cave, or funtional things like a replacement cable clip for my Occulus Rift that I snapped.
I practiced printing a few other things for around the sim room. These cutaway 30 mm GAU-8 rounds seemed fitting. Found on Thingiverse here!
My first attempt at multi colour printing. Nothing fancy, you can set Cura (the slicing software) to pause at any layer and return to home. When paused you just change out the colour of filament by hand, then click resume. It came out great!
And all three of my 30mm GAU-8 Rounds! TP, HPI and API in full colour. These will be wall mounted in my sim room!
After I had it dialed in I started printing knobs for the cockpit. Here is a set of back-lightable knobs, printed in translucent filimant, fresh off the printer. A quick sand with sandpaper, mask up the arrows and a coat of grey paint is all they need. More info about printing knobs here.
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