Automating 3D Printers With Robots

3D printers were never meant to be used for production. They’re not manufacturing machines, they’re prototyping machines. That doesn’t mean 3D printers can’t be used in a manufacturing context, it’s just very hard – you’d need someone manning a fleet of machines, or some sort of ‘automated build platform’ that won’t be invented for exactly fourteen years.

In the absence of someone paid to watch printers print, [Mark], [Robert], and [James] at tend.ai have created a way to manage a fleet of printers with a robot arm. It’s a robotic arm that automatically monitors the LCD on a rack full of 3D printers, plucks the finished prints off the bed, drops the parts in a box, and starts another print.

Tend.ai is in the business of cloud robotics, and have designed a system that takes any robotic arm, any webcam, and provides the backend for this robotic arm to – wait for it – tend to other machines. As a demo, it works well. Parts are picked up off of the machines, dropped into boxes, and another print run started.

As a tech demo for a cloud robotics platform, you can’t do much better than this. As a way to automate a fleet of 3D printers, I can only wonder how this robot arm system would work with large, flat printed parts. A robotic gripper could always be replaced with a spatula, I guess.

You can check out the demo and the ‘how they did it’ video below.

Continue reading “Automating 3D Printers With Robots”

Skateboard Hackers Trick on 3D Printed Wheels

The team over at [Braille Skateboarding] is willing to ride just about anything. This week they’re testing out 3D printed skateboard wheels. We’re not just talking rolling around here, the [Braille] team takes their experiments out to the skate park and gives them to the locals to test out. Tail whips, jumps, ollies, and grinds were on the agenda. The skaters were a bit apprehensive, as this is the third time they’ve tested 3D printed wheels.

The first set shattered upon landing a jump. That set appears to have been made from PLA with about 10% infill. The second set were made from NinjaFlex, which had no shattering problems, but was so squishy that the wheels simply flattened under the weight of the riders. The third set, printed by [Nick Lindenmuth] work great. They have a bit of give, but don’t shatter. We’re guessing this set is either ABS or one of the more exotic filaments. It’s pretty amazing that 3D printers are capable of spitting out wheels that not only handle the load of rider, but the shock load of coming down from jumps and tricks.

Check out the video after the break. If you want to see more skateboard projects, check out this skateboarding themed Hacklet!

Continue reading “Skateboard Hackers Trick on 3D Printed Wheels”

Mosaic Palette: Single Extruder Multi-Color and Multi-Material 3D Printing

Lots of solutions have been proposed and enacted for multi-color and multi-material 3D printing, from color mixing in the nozzle to scripts requiring manual filament change. A solution proposed fairly early on was to manually splice the filament together, making a custom spool. The printer would print as normal, but the filament would change color. This worked pretty well, but it was tedious and it wasn’t entirely possible to control where the color change happened on the model.

You’ll find some examples of the more successful manual splicing hacks in the pictures below. Scroll down a bit further to find our interview with Mosaic Manufacturing at Bay Area Maker Faire 2016. They have a new product that automates the filament splicing process with precision as the ultimate goal. It unlocks a single extruder printer to behave like a multi-extruder model without stopping and starting.

Mosaic pulled off a very difficult combination of two methods mentioned above. Their flagship product is a machine they’ve dubbed, “Palette”. It’s an automatic filament splicer. Up to four different filaments can feed into Palette, and it will splice them at determined intervals. This would be cool by itself, if only to save the tedium of splicing and winding a custom spool by hand.

The real killer app with Palette, however, is the software that runs alongside it. Palette can take the GCODE output of any properly prepared multi material file from any slicer, and then precisely combine and splice the filament. This can feed into any printer without modifying it, aside from sticking an encoder somewhere in the filament path. The results are indistinguishable from a dual, or quad extruder set-up.

Continue reading “Mosaic Palette: Single Extruder Multi-Color and Multi-Material 3D Printing”

Solvespace: A Parametric CAD Tool

3D printing seems like it takes forever when you’re waiting for a part to come out. But if you’re like us, the real time spent in making something new is in modelling and refining the piece. There are tons of CAD programs out there, and finding one that meets your needs is part functionality and part personal preference. Reader [Leibowitz] pointed us to Solvespace, and it looks like it fills the gap between something like OpenSCAD and something more feature-full (and complicated) like FreeCAD.

We’re wondering why we hadn’t heard of Solvespace before. It looks great. It has a lot of what we like about OpenSCAD — the ability to quickly and easily specify two 5 mm holes exactly 21 mm from each other, center-to-center and then change that distance easily. But it also has other features like constraint solvers for mechanisms and linkages. It looks like a great way to design your next Strandbeest. The tutorials seem like a good way to get started quickly.

As we said above, choosing a 3D modeller is partly based on your requirements, but also partly on your feelings. If you’re feeling limited by OpenSCAD, there’s also ImplicitCAD. Or try out Autodesk’s free (but not open) Fusion 360. And now there’s Solvespace. It’s great to have options.

Prusa Shows Us the New i3 MK2 3D Printer and Where the Community is Headed

Josef Prusa’s designs have always been trustworthy. He has a talent for scouring the body of work out there in the RepRap community, finding the most valuable innovations, and then blending them together along with some innovations of his own into something greater than the sum of its parts. So, it’s not hard to say, that once a feature shows up in one of his printers, it is the direction that printers are going. With the latest version of the often imitated Prusa i3 design, we can see what’s next.

Continue reading “Prusa Shows Us the New i3 MK2 3D Printer and Where the Community is Headed”

Open Source SLA Printer Software Slices from the Browser

Resin-based SLA printers need a different slicing algorithm from “normal” melted-plastic printers. Following their latest hackathon, [Matt Keeter] and [Martin Galese] from Formlabs have polished off an open source slicer, and this one runs in your browser. It’s Javascript, so you can go test it out on their webpage.

Figuring out whether or not the voxel is inside or outside the model at every layer is harder for SLA printers, which have to take explicit account of the interior “empty” space inside the model. [Matt] and [Martin]’s software calculates this on the fly as the software is slicing. To do this, [Matt] devised a clever algorithm that leverages existing hardware to quickly accumulate the inside-or-out state of voxels during the slicing.

[Matt] is stranger to neither 3D mesh manipulation nor Hackaday. If you’re just getting started in this realm, have a look at Antimony, [Matt’s] otherworldly CAD software with a Python interface to get your feet wet with parametric 3D modeling.

Review: Monoprice MP Select Mini 3D Printer

2016 is the year of the consumer 3D printer. Yes, the hype over 3D printing has died down since 2012. There were too many 3D printers at Maker Faire three years ago. Nevertheless, sales of 3D printers have never been stronger, the industry is growing, and the low-end machines are getting very, very good.

Printers are also getting cheap. At CES last January, Monoprice, the same company you buy Ethernet and HDMI cables from, introduced a line of 3D printers that would be released this year. While the $300 resin-based printer has been canned, Monoprice has released their MP Select Mini 3D printer for $200. This printer appeared on Monoprice late last month.

My curiosity was worth more than $200, so Hackaday readers get a review of the MP Select Mini 3D printer. The bottom line? There are some problems with this printer, but nothing that wouldn’t be found in printers that cost three times as much. This is a game-changing machine, and proof 2016 is the year of the entry-level consumer 3D printer.

Continue reading “Review: Monoprice MP Select Mini 3D Printer”