I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: if you’re using a 3D printer to make a few hundred identical plastic parts, you’re doing it wrong. That’s the place for traditional manufacturing methods such as injection molding or resin casting. If, however, you’re looking at printing a few dozen identical plastic parts, or even running a script to optimize your machine time, the current open source 3D printer world leaves one thing to be desired.
An Automated Build Platform
An Automated Build Platform is a fairly simple idea: put a conveyor belt on your heated bed, and when the print is done, send a command to drive a motor, dumping the newly printed part into a bin, The printer then begins the next part with a clean bed, and the days of doting over a 3D printer soon fade into the past.
For such a simple and useful idea, it’s surprising there hasn’t been much done with this idea in open source circles. There are, of course, problems both technical and legal, but hopefully nothing that should indefinitely derail anyone who would want to create the first open source automated build platform.
The Problem Space
For anyone who has been following 3D printers for a while now, the idea of an automated build platform will sound very familiar. Makerbot sold one for their first generation 3D printer, the Cupcake. Since then it’s been taken off the Makerbot store, and apparently expunged from all Makerbot literature; even the Makerbot Wiki page for the automated build plate has been removed. That doesn’t mean you still can’t buy the parts for an ABP, you’re just not getting any support or documentation from Makerbot.
“But Makerbot is terribly horrible and other ad hominem attacks!” you say, but let’s not forget that early Makerbot stuff was actually pretty innovative. They came up with a great pastestruder before anyone else, and created the ABP to fabricate their own printed parts. Just because there’s a Makerbot logo on a machine doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad….
It just means it’s automatically patented
Yep, there are two patents for the Automated Build Platform, apparently one for the apparatus and one for the method. Call it what you will, but an inventor deserves to profit off their inventions. The ABP is a great idea and we’d prefer to see it out in the wild by now. There is, however, one problem with this train of thought: no one is profiting off the Makerbot Automated Build Plate. It’s not being sold by Makerbot. That leaves us with one other option.
We’ll make our own ABP. With blackjack.
Here’s a challenge for you, oh Hackaday reader. The world of 3D printers has pretty much settled on a single build plate. There is, if I’m reading the suggestions for this 3D Printering column correctly, a demand for an open source automated build plate. Let’s make this happen.
There are a few things to consider before attempting to build your own ABP. The most important of which is the flexible bed material. The Makerbot ABP uses – according to the patents – a mylar or kapton material in the range of three to seven thousandths of an inch thick. Next is a way to remove the finished part from the bed. This can be done with a conveyor or by dispensing a single sheet of material that is consumed with each build. All this is in the patents, it’s amazing that they thought of just about everything..
Yes, the Makerbot ABP is locked down under a few patents, but think of this as just another interesting engineering challenge. Just as Converse All Stars aren’t taxed as sneakers, the goal of an open source automated build plate is to create something that doesn’t infringe on the Makerbot patents. Design something, put it up on Thingiverse, and send it in to the Hackaday tips line. We’ll put it up.