3D Printing Has Evolved Two Filament Standards

We’re far beyond the heyday of the RepRap project, and the Hackaday tip line isn’t seeing multiple Kickstarters for 3D printers every week. In a way, this is a bit of a loss. The rapid evolution of the low-cost 3D printer seen in the first half of this decade will never be matched, and from now on we’ll only see incremental improvements instead of the revolutionary steps taken by the first Prusa, the first Printrbot, and even the Makerbot Replicator.

This doesn’t mean everything is standardized. There’s still enough room for arguing over deltas versus Cartesians, beds moving on the Y axis versus moving along the Z, and a host of other details that make the current crop of printers so diverse. One of these small arguments is especially interesting: the diameter of the filament. Today, you can get any type of plastic you want, in any color, in two sizes: 1.75 and 3mm. If you think about it, it’s bizarre. Why on Earth would filament manufacturers, hot end fabricators, and even printer manufacturers decide to support two different varieties of the same consumable? The answer is a mix of a historical choice, engineering tradeoffs, and an absolutely arbitrary consequence of what 3D printers actually do.

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Enormous Delta-bot 3D Designed to Print an Entire House

[Massimo Moretti] has a big idea – to build housing on the cheap from locally sourced materials for a burgeoning world population. He also has a background in 3D printing, and he’s brought the two concepts together by building a 12 meter tall delta-bot that can print a house from clay.

The printer, dubbed Big Delta for obvious reasons, was unveiled in a sort of Burning Man festival last weekend in Massa Lombarda, Italy, near the headquarters of [Moretti]’s WASProject. From the Italian-language video after the break, we can see that Big Delta moves an extruder for locally sourced clay over a print area of about 20 square meters. A video that was previously posted on WASProject’s web site showed the printer in action with clay during the festival, but it appears to have been taken down by the copyright holder. Still, another video of a smaller version of Big Delta shows that clay can be extruded into durable structures, so scaling up to full-sized dwellings should be feasible with the 4 meter delta’s big brother.

Clay extrusion is not the only medium for 3D printed houses, so we’ll reserve judgment on Big Delta until we’ve seen it print a livable structure. If it does, the possibilities are endless – imagine adding another axis to the Big Delta by having it wheel itself around a site to print an entire village.

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Giant Stepper Motor Gets You Up to Speed on Theory

Few hackers have trouble understanding basic electric motors. We’ve all taken apart something that has a permanent magnet DC motor in it and hooked up its two leads to a battery to make it spin. Reverse the polarity, reverse the spin; remove the power, stop the spin. Stepper motors (and their close cousins, brushless DC motors) are a little tougher to grok, though, especially for the beginner. But with a giant 3D printed stepper motor, [Proto G] has made getting your head around electronically commutated motors a little easier.

While we’ve seen 3D printed stepper motors before, the size and simple layout of this one really lends to understanding the theory. With a 3D-printed frame, coils wound on nails, and rare-earth magnets glued to a rotor, this is an approachable build that lays the internals of a stepper motor out for all to see and understand. You can easily watch how the rotor lines up as the various coils are energized in a circular pattern, although it might be more revealing to include bi-color LEDs to indicate which coils are energized and what the polarity is. Those would be especially helpful demonstrating the concept of half-stepping. We’d also like to see more detail on the controller electronics, although admittedly all the video-worthy action is in the motor itself.

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Drivers for 3D Printers and Why We Need Them

Manufacturers of 3D printers have a lot to do before they catch up with makers of the cheapest 2D, paper-based printers. If you’ve ever taken an inkjet apart, you’ll most likely find some sort of closed-loop control on at least one of the axes. The 2D printer will tell you when you’re out of ink, when a 3D printer will go merrily along, printing in air without filament. File formats? Everything is Gcode on a 3D printer, and there are dozens, if not hundreds of page description languages for 2D printers.

The solution to some of these problems are drivers – software for a 3D printer that slowly consumes the slicing of an object, printer settings, and placing an object on the bed. It’s coming, and the people who are responsible for making your 2D printer work with your computer are busy at work messing up the toolchain for your 3D printer.

The latest version of CUPS (C Unix Printing System) adds support for 3D printers. This addition is based on meetings, white papers, and discussions in the Printer Working Group (PWG). There has already been a lot of talk about what is wrong with the current state of 3D printer toolchains, what can be improved, and what should be completely ignored. Let’s take a look at what all of this has accomplished.

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Hacking an SD Slot for WiFi

Back in the 1990’s moving files via a floppy disk was known as “sneaker net.” While floppies are a thing of the past, SD Cards are the modern equivalent and they still lend themselves to sneaker net operations.

But why? WiFi is everywhere now. Wouldn’t it be great if you could hack those devices with SD slots to use WiFi? Apparently 3D printer [extrud3d] thought the same thing and found a way to reconfigure a Toshiba FlashAir card to put his 3D printer on the network.

The card is aimed at consumers, so by default it creates a hotspot and waits for a connection, a rudimentary web app allows you to move files back and forth over the network to the SD card which is then read by the host device. However, [extrud3d] shows how to modify a file on the SD card’s file system to allow the device to hook up to an existing wireless network and also provides a Python script to make the file transfer easier.

Although this hack is for a 3D printer, it ought to work with most devices that have a full sized SD slot (or can be adapted to take a full sized card). Since the hack is nothing more than changing a text file, it is a lot easier than some other SD hacks we’ve covered. Over on hackaday.io, [Chris Jones] has recently done some hacking on the FlashAir and has a list of its shell commands if you want to go beyond the text file hacks.

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Automatically Designing 3D Printers From E-Waste

No one wants to design consumer electronics that last longer than a few years. This trend is an ecological disaster, with millions of tons of computers, printers, fax machines and cell phones ending up in landfills. In these landfills, all the lead and chemicals used to extract minuscule amounts of gold plating leech into the environment. Turning it all around is monumental, but reusing some of this waste can help make a difference.

[Masterperson] and [Maaphoo] have been working on a way to turn those tons of e-waste into something useful. They’ve come up with a framework for turning e-waste into 3D printers. With a clever application of Python and FreeCAD Macros, this project can generate a model of a 3D printer using motors, shafts, and bearings taken from discarded 2D printers.

Right now a printer can be configured by adding the parts you have on hand to a configuration file, running a Python macro in FreeCAD, and waiting until the macro generates the parts to build a cartesian bot. This macro also spits out the files for the parts that need to be printed, and can interface with Plater to optimize the placement of these printed parts on an existing printer.

It’s a very cool project, but it’s not done yet: the team is looking for help to refine the printer designs and possibly growing more designs than a simple cartesian bot. Anything that is explicitly designed to pick the meat off of 2D printers is a great idea, and turning those into real 3D printers is the cherry on top.

Wood & Glue RepStrap Works Surprisingly Well

Even with the cost of 3D Printers continually falling, entering the hobby still requires a significant investment. [Skeat] had some typical 3D Printer components available but didn’t have access to a printer for making the ever-so-common frame parts of typical RepRap designs.

glue rep strap [Skeat’s] plan was to cobble together a printer just good enough to print out parts for another, more robust one. The frame is made from wood, a very inexpensive and available material. The frame is not screwed together and doesn’t have any alignment tabs, it’s just hand cut pieces glued together. Each portion of the frame is laid out, aligned with a carpenter’s square and then glued together. This design and assembly method was intentional as [Skeat] didn’t have access to any precision tools. He stated that the only parts of the frame that had to be somewhat precise were the motor mount holes. The assembly process is well documented to aid anyone else looking to make something similar.

In addition to the wooden frame, all of the components are glued in place. That includes the bearings, rods, limit switches and even the Z axis motor! After seeing the photos of this printer, it would be easy to dismiss it as a poor performer. The below video shows that this printer’s print quality can keep up with any hobby level machine available. We wonder if [Skeat] is rethinking making another since this one works so well.

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