MRRF 17: Lulzbot and IC3D Release Line Of Open Source Filament

Today at the Midwest RepRap Festival, Lulzbot and IC3D announced the creation of an Open Source filament.

While the RepRap project is the best example we have for what can be done with Open Source hardware, the stuff that makes 3D printers work – filament, motors, and to some extent the electronics – are tied up in trade secrets and proprietary processes. As you would expect from most industrial processes, there is an art and a science to making filament and now these secrets will be revealed.

IC3D Printers is a manufacturer of filament based in Ohio. This weekend at MRRF, [Michael Cao], founder and CEO of IC3D Printers announced they would be releasing all the information, data, suppliers, and techniques that go into producing their rolls of filament.

According to [Michael Cao], there won’t be much change for anyone who is already using IC3D filament – the materials and techniques used to produce this filament will remain the same. In the coming months, all of this data will be published and IC3D is working on an Open Source Hardware Certification for their filament.

This partnership between IC3D and Lulzbot is due in no small part to Lulzbot’s dedication to Open Source Hardware. This dedication is almost excessive, but until now there has been no option for Open Source filament. Now it exists, and the value of Open Source hardware is again apparent.

MRRF 17: The Infinite Build Volume Printer

Before we dig into this one, a bit of a history lesson is in order. In 2010, MakerBot released the Automated Build Platform for the MakerBot Cupcake. This build platform was like nothing seen before or since. It’s a combination build platform and a conveyor belt for a 3D printer, allowing the Cupcake to become a completely automated production machine. Start a print, let the machine run, and when the print is finished it’s rolled off the bed into a bin, allowing a second print to start. If you’re using 3D printers for production in a manufacturing context – like Makerbot was – this is a phenomenal invention.

The Automated Build Platform was released under an Open Source license, then quickly patented by Makerbot. Since 2010, the idea of an automated build platform has been dead. No one is working on a similar device, lest they draw the ire of a few MakerBot lawyers.

This year’s Midwest RepRap Festival saw a device that’s an even better idea than MakerBot’s Automated Build platform. Yes, it’s a continuous factory of 3D printed parts, but there’s an even better reason for you to build one of these things: this printer has an infinite build volume.

This printer – it doesn’t have a name; this is just a one-off project – is the work of [Bill Steele] of Polar3D. The core of the build is just a hacked up MakerBot Replicator, but with one important difference. This printer has an Automated Build Platform tilted away from the nozzle at a 45-degree angle. What’s the benefit of this setup? Continuous printing and an infinite build volume.

Despite being downright bizarre, the mechanics for this printer are actually pretty simple. The bed is a standard MakerBot heated bed, rotated 90 degrees in the axis you would expect, then rotated 45 degrees in the axis you wouldn’t. A conveyor belt made of Kapton-coated paper is strung between two rollers and connected to a motor.

To produce a print, this printer starts at the very back and the very top of this conveyor belt. The first layer is added, the conveyor belt rolls forward a bit, and the second layer is added on top. The effect for each print is that the layer lines are 45 degrees from what you would expect.

When the print is finished, the belt just rolls forward until the part falls into a bin. Of course, since there’s nothing stopping this printer from producing a meter-long part on this build platform. [Bill] has already produced a 3D printed chain using this printer that was four feet long. Each segment of the chain just fell off the end of the printer when it was done.

There’s still some work to do with this idea. There isn’t a way to tension the belt on this printer, and [Bill] is looking for a material that’s better than Kapton coated paper. Still, this is the most innovative printer you can find at the Midwest RepRap Festival, and it’s not encumbered by the MakerBot patent on the automated build platform. You can check out a video of this printer below.

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Bad Thermal Design And Burning Down The House

Control boards for 3D printers are a dime a dozen on the usual online marketplaces, and you usually get what you pay for. These boards can burn down your house thanks to a few terrible design choices. [Scott Rider] aka [Crow] took a look at the popular Melzi board, and what he found was horrifying. These boards overheat right at the connector for the heated bed, but the good news is these problems are easily fixed.

The Melzi board has a few problems with its PCB design. The first and most glaring issue is the use of thermals on the pads for the heated bed connector. In low-power applications, thermals — the method of not connecting the entire top or bottom layer to a hole or pad — are a great idea. It makes it easier to solder, because heat isn’t transmitted as easily to the entire copper layer. Unfortunately, this means heat isn’t transmitted as easily to the entire copper layer. In high-power applications, like a connection to a heated bed, these thermals can heat up enough to melt a plastic connector. Once that happens, it’s game over.

Other problems were found in the Melzi board, although you wouldn’t know it just by looking at the Eagle file of the PCB. [Scott]’s Chinesium Melzi board used 1-ounce copper, where 2-ounce copper would be more appropriate. The connector, too, should be rated above the design power loading.

[Scott] made a few tweaks to the board and also added a tiny DS1822Z temperature sensor to the high-current area of his version of a Melzi. Imagine that, 3D printer electronics with a temperature sensor. Slowly but surely, the state of 3D printer electronics is clawing its way to the present.

Welcome… To Resin Cast Park

From animatronic dinosaurs to [Jeff Goldblum]’s prosthetic chest hair, Jurassic Park is known for its practical effects and props. While it’s not as fancy as a breathing triceratops, YouTube’s god of resin casting has recreated one of the more endearing props from this movie. [Peter Brown] and [Pocket83] made a replica of the amber-topped cane carried by John Hammond, and it took him two years to do it.

The ‘mosquito in amber’ walking cane prop from Jurassic Park is just what you think it is – a large mosquito-looking bug trapped in 100 million year old amber. Of course, finding such a chunk of amber with the included mosquito would cost a fortune, so [Peter] turned to polyurethane resin. This block of resin was cast in two halves, with a ‘mosquito eater’ (or a crane fly) embedded in the middle. It took two years for [Peter] to cast this block of amber, but really all but two weeks of that was waiting for a few adult crane flys to appear.

With a bug encased in resin, the project went over to [Pocket83] who turned the walking cane on his lathe. There’s not much to this part of the build except for drilling a three-foot long hole down the center of a piece of wood, although the finish does make this cane look spectacular.

The long wait for crane fly breeding season was worth it. This is one of the best looking functional props from Jurassic Park. You can check out the videos for this build below.

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The Latest In 3D Printed Part Smoothing: Use A Brush

Part smoothing for 3D printed parts, especially parts printed in ABS, has been around for a while. The process of exposing an ABS part to acetone vapor turns even low-resolution prints into smooth, glossy 3D renderings that are stronger than ever. The latest improvement in part smoothing for 3D printed parts is now here: use a brush. Published in Nature‘s Scientific Reports, researchers at Waseda University have improved the ABS + acetone part smoothing process with a brush.

According to the authors of the paper, traditional filament-based printing with ABS has its drawbacks. The grooves formed by each layer forms a porous surface with a poor appearance and low rigidity. This can be fixed by exposing an ABS part to acetone vapor, a process we’ve seen about a million times before. The acetone vapor smoothing process is indiscriminate, though; it smooths and over-smooths everything, and the process involves possible explosions.

The researcher’s solution is a felt tip pen-like device that selectively applies acetone to a 3D printed part. Compared to the print over-smoothed in a vat of acetone vapor, more detail is retained. Also, there’s a ready market for felt tip pens and there isn’t one for crock pots able to contain explosive vapor. This is, therefore, research that can be easily commercialized.

Acoustic Coupler Pole-Vaults Over China’s Firewall

[agp.cooper]’s son recently went to China, and the biggest complaint was the Great Firewall of China. A VPN is a viable option to get around the Great Firewall of China, but [agp] had a better idea: an acoustic coupler for his son’s iPhone.

Hackaday readers of a recent vintage might remember an old US Robotics modem that plugged into your computer and phone line, allowing you to access MySpace or Geocities. Yes, if someone picked up the phone, your connection would drop. Those of us with just a little more experience under our belts will remember the acoustic coupler modem — a cradle that held a phone handset that connected your computer (indirectly) to the phone line.

With a little bit of CNC work, [agp] quickly routed out a block of plywood that cradled his son’s iPhone. Add in a speaker and a microphone, and that’s an acoustic coupler. There’s not much to it, really. The real challenge is building a modem.

In the late 90s, there were dedicated chipsets for modems, and before that, there was a 74xx-series chip that was a 300-baud modem. [agp] isn’t using anything like that. He’s building a modem with an Arduino. This is a Bell 103A-compatible modem, allowing an iPhone to talk to a remote computer at 300 bits per second. This is a difficult challenge; we’re not able to get 33kbps over a smartphone voice connection simply because of the codecs used. However, with a little bit of work, [agp] managed to build a real modem with an Arduino.

Making More Of Me Money

For the last few years, Hackaday has really been stepping up our game with marketing materials. Our t-shirts and swag are second to none, and last year we introduced the ‘Benchoff Buck’ (featured above), a bill replete with Jolly Wrencher EURions that is not yet legal currency. At least until we get a sweet compound in the desert, that is.

[Andrew Sowa] created the Benchoff Nickel. It’s a visage of yours truly emblazoned on a PCB, rendered in FR4, silkscreen, gold, and OSHPark’s royal purple. In doing so, [Andrew] has earned himself a field commission to the rank of lieutenant and can now reserve the dune buggy for a whole weekend.

The Benchoff Nickel was created in KiCad using the Bitmap2Component functionality. Planning this required a little bit of work; there are only five colors you can get on an OSH Park PCB, from white to gold to beige to purple (soldermask on top of copper) to black (soldermask with no copper). Luckily, the best picture we have of me renders very well in five colors.

The Bitmap2Component part of KiCad will only get you so far, though. It’s used mainly to put silkscreen logos on a board, and messing around with copper and mask layers is beyond its functionality. To import different layers of my face into different layers of a KiCad PCB, [Andrew] had to open up Notepad and make a few manual edits. It’s annoying, but yes, it can be done.

OSH Park’s fabs apparently use two different tones of FR4

The Benchoff Nickel can be found on Github and as a shared project on OSH Park ($22.55 for three copies). One little curiosity of the OSH Park fabrication process presented itself with [Andrew]’s second order of Benchoff Nickels. OSH Park uses at least two board houses to produce their PCBs, and one of them apparently uses a lighter shade of FR4. This resulted in a lighter skin tone for the second order of Benchoff Nickels.

This is truly tremendous work. I’ve never seen anything like this, and it’s one of the best ‘artistic’ PCBs I’ve ever held in my hands. It was a really great surprise when [Andrew] handed me one of these at the Hackaday Unconference in Chicago. I’ll be talking to [Andrew] again this week at the Midwest RepRap festival, and we’re going to try and figure out some way to do a small run of Benchoff Nickels.

Edit: OSH Park revealed why there are different tones of FR4. In short, there aren’t. The lighter shade of skintone is actually FR408, which is used on 4-layer boards.