The IP Of The Infinite Build Volume 3D Printer

Last week, the Blackbelt 3D printer launched on Kickstarter. What makes the Blackbelt 3D printer different than any other 3D printer on Kickstarter? This printer has an infinite build volume. It’s built for continuous production. As long as you have a large enough spool of filament, this printer will keep producing plastic parts with no downtime in between. The Blackbelt is a truly remarkable and innovative machine. Yes, it’s a bit expensive, but it’s designed for production and manufacturing, not some guy tinkering in his garage.

However, the Blackbelt 3D website includes two words that have sent the 3D printer community into an uproar. ‘Patent Pending’ is something no one in the community wants to see given the history of the industry and a few poor decisions from the first movers during the great 3D printer awakening of 2010. The idea of an infinite build volume printer that allows for continuous production is not new; we saw one last March at the Midwest RepRap Festival. The question, therefore, is what is covered by the upcoming Blackbelt patents, what is the prior art, and is it still possible to build an Open Source printer that uses these innovative techniques?

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“You Had One Job”, Bot

Only a Human would understand the pithy sarcasm in “You had one job”. When [tterev3]’s RopeBot the Robot became sentient and asked “What is my purpose?”, [tterev3] had to lay it out for him quite bluntly – “You cut the rope”. He designed RopeBot (YouTube video embedded below) for one job only – single mission, single use.

A couple of years back, [tterev3] had put up some thick ropes for a low ropes course in his backyard. Over time, the trees grew up, and the ropes became embedded in the tree trunks. Instead of risking his own life and limbs to try cutting them down, he designed RopeBot to do the job for him. It’s built from scavenged electronics and custom 3D printed parts. A geared motor driving a large cogged pulley helped by two smaller, idler wheels helps the bot to scurry up and down the rope. A second geared motor drives a cam reciprocating mechanism, similar to industrial metal cutting saws. A common utility knife is the business end of the bot, helping slice through the rope. A radio receiver and controller is the brains of the bot which drives the two motors through a motor driver board. The remote controller, assembled on a piece of foam, has three switches for Up, Down and Cut. Everything is held together on the 3D printed frame and tied down with a generous use of zip ties, with rubber bands providing spring tension where needed. When the rope has been cut, the RopeBot comes down for a smashing end. It might not look fancy, but it gets the job done. We spy some real ball bearings on the three pulleys meaning [tterev3] didn’t skimp on good design just because it’s a disposable robot. Obviously, he spent a fair amount of time and effort in designing RopeBot.

Once the job is done, most of the electronics and hardware can be recovered and used again while the 3D printed parts could be recycled, making this a really cost-effective way of handling the problem. Like the Disposable Drones we covered earlier, these kind of “use and discard” robots not only make life easier for Humans, but also ensure low economic and ecological impact.

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Formlabs Announces a Desktop SLS 3D Printer

Formlabs have just announced the Fuse 1 — a selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printer that creates parts out of nylon. Formlabs is best known for their Form series of resin-based SLA 3D printers, and this represents a very different direction.

SLS printers, which use a laser to sinter together models out of a powder-based material, are not new but have so far remained the domain of Serious Commercial Use. To our knowledge, this is the first time an actual SLS printer is being made available to the prosumer market. At just under 10k USD it’s definitely the upper end of the prosumer market, but it’s certainly cheaper than the alternatives.

The announcement is pretty light on details, but they are reserving units for a $1000 deposit. A few things we can throw in about the benefits of SLS: it’s powder which is nicer to clean up than resin printers, and parts should not require any kind of curing. The process also requires no support material as the uncured powder will support any layers being cured above it. The Fuse 1’s build chamber is 165 x 165 x 320 mm, and can be packed full of parts to make full use of the volume.

In the past we saw a detailed teardown of the Form 2 which revealed excellent workmanship and attention to detail. Let’s hope the same remains true of Formlabs’ newest offering.

Saving A Part-Way-Through Failed 3D Print

This will be an experience shared by all 3D printer owners; a long print is mostly done, and something goes wrong. Result: most of the print and a heap of plastic vermicelli, or worse still, a print with an obviously offset layer in it.

[Simon Merrett] had a large part running on his printer, and 2.5 hours in to a 3 hour print the nozzle caught the edge of what he had already done, and as a result he was extruding into thin air (He told us in his tip email that his machine build was the likely culprit). Being fortunate enough to see it happening, he was able to hit the stop button in his Repetier software and bring the calamity to a swift halt.

How he rescued the situation is an interesting tale which he’s recorded in the screen capture video we’ve placed below the break, it involved using a spreadsheet to analyse the G-Code and remove the lines for the part he had already printed before inserting a new set of Z-axis dimensions to start the remaining section of print from the bed upwards. A few further fixes, and he was able to print the rest of his part, which he could then glue to the unfinished top of the section he had already printed. He points out in his YouTube description that he emailed the Repetier folks, and they told him a quicker way to deal with the Z-axis: using the G92 command to reset it.

You might ask why if he was prepared to spend this amount of time he didn’t simply reprint the entire part. But he points out, in that event the print could well have failed again at exactly the same point.

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New Useless Machine Does The Twist

Useless machines might not do any work or produce anything of value on their own, but they can be a great learning tool, and are often beautifully crafted as an expression of the builder’s artistic talents. By and large, they consist of a switch to turn the machine on, and an arm that switches the machine back off in response to this. Vladimir had a different take, and built this twisting vase useless machine instead.

The build references the twisting vases we saw recently – [Vladimir] loved the way they so elegantly opened and closed, and decided to base the build around that. The useless part of the machine is the lifting mechanism – a servo turns a pulley, which uses a magnet on a rope to lift the vase. Upon reaching a certain point, the vase drops, and the magnet is once again lowered to lift it back up again.

The first prototype used a simple delay-based timing loop to determine when to drop the magnet again, however over time this would fall out of sync with the vase’s position and the magnet would fail to attach to the vase. For the second version, [Vladimir] improved things by using a limit switch to determine the position of the vase instead of running on timing alone. The machine’s frame was also rebuilt using copper pipe, which allowed the wires and servo to be hidden from sight. The second revision of the project shows the difference polish can make – differences like these make the machine more suitable for display as a curio in a stylish home setting, rather then a messy project that lives on the workbench only.

Be sure to check out the video of the project below the break. For a simpler useless machine, check out this build. 
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Interview: Francesco de Comité Makes Math Visually Awesome

Francesco de Comité is an Associate Professor in Computer Science at the University of Sciences in Lille, France, where he researches the 2D and 3D representation of mathematical concepts and objects. He’s presented papers on a variety of topics including anamorphoses, experiments in circle packing, and Dupin cyclides. His current project involves modeling and 3D printing sea shells. He’ll be presenting a paper on the topic at Bridges Conference in July. You can find his projects on Flickr as well as on Shapeways.

Hackaday: One of your recent projects involves creating fractal patterns and warping them into biologically-correct sea shell shapes, which you then print.

FdC: Modeling seashell shapes is an old topic–Moseley, 1838, D’Arcy Thompson beginning of 20th century. A seashell can be defined as a curve turning around an axis, while translating in the direction of this axis (i.e. on a helicoidal trajectory), and growing in size at the same time. This was modeled for computers in the ’60s by David Raup.

Drawing patterns on seashells was described by Hans Meinhardt using a model of chemical reactions (activator-inhibitor), in the same spirit as Turing’s work on morphogenesis. Combining these two works, and using 3D printers instead of 2D renderers, we can build realistic seashells, either by copying existing shells, or inventing new ones. A 3D model is not just a juxtaposition of a huge number of 2D views: manipulating 3D models can help you understand the object, find details, and so on.

I was curious to see if making a 3D seashell was possible. Moreover, I show that this can be done with simple tools — well, except the 3D printer.
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Additive + Subtractive = One Powerful Machine

It says it right on the title of the video below: it was bound to happen eventually. It’s only natural that somebody would stick a 3D printer extruder on the business end of a CNC machine. The long-awaited convergence of additive and subtractive manufacturing is here.

OK, that may be overstating things a bit, but we think [Chris DePrisco] is on to something here. Given the considerable investment he’s made in his DIY CNC machine, an enormous vertical machining center that looks a little like a homebrew Bridgeport, it was a no-brainer to take advantage of the huge XYZ stage. Mounting the Titan Aero extruder to the quill required some custom parts; fair warning that the video below is heavy on machining, but it’s not the seven hours of video he streamed when he milled the heated aluminum bed. Skip ahead to about the six-minute mark if you want to see the first prints and how he optimized the setup.

As we watched [Chris]’ video, we were struck by the potential for adding 3D printing to CNC milling machines. What we’d like to see is a setup where the spindle and the extruder work together to build more complex parts. Or maybe a tool-changing CNC that can pick up a spindle, an extruder, and maybe even a laser or plasma cutter head. Now that would be a powerful machine!

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