We Have A Problem: 3D Printers Are Too Expensive

Hackaday, we have a problem. 3D printing is changing the world but it’s still too expensive to be embraced as a truly transformative technology.

With each passing year, the 3D printing industry grows by leaps and bounds. Food safe PLA is now the norm, with dissolvable and other exotic filaments becoming more mainstream.  New filaments are making it possible to print objects that were not possible before. New CAD software is popping up like dandelions, with each iteration giving novice users a friendly and more intuitive interface to design 3D models. As time marches on, and we look into its future, a vision of the 3D printing world is evident – its only going to get bigger.

3d printerImagine a future where a 3D printer is as common as an ink jet printer in homes all across the world.  A future where you could buy filament from the supermarket down the street, and pick up a new printer from any hardware store. A future where dishwashers, refrigerators and bicycles come with .stl files that allow you to print upgrades or spare parts. A future where companies compete to give the market easy-to-use printers at the cheapest price.

Is this future possible? Not until the technology changes. It’s too expensive, and that’s the problem you’re going to solve. How can you make a 3D printer cheaper? A cheap printer could change the game and make our future a reality.

Where do we need cost savings?

To get you going, here are some parts of common 3D Printers which think need to find cost-saving solutions.


Stepper motors are going to run you about $15 each. Is it possible to use cheaper DC motors with some type of position tracking while keeping the cost down?


Threaded rod is probably the cheapest way to move your XYZ axis. What about couplings and guide rods? Check out how this guy made a CNC out of parts from his local hardware store.


No arduino with Easysteppers here – too expensive. We’ve just seen a super cheap controller a few days ago. If we use something other than NEMA steppers, it will radically change the typical electronic controller for our super cheap 3d printer.


What is the cheapest way to melt and extrude plastic? What about using thermistors in place of thermocouples? Let’s think out of the box with this, and see if we can get away from the typical stepper motor based extruder. Remember, everything is low cost. If we have to sacrifice some resolution, that is OK.

So there you go. Let’s hear your input on the issue. We need to make 3D printers a lot more affordable and we want to hear any ideas you have on the topic in the comments below. Do you think this is in our future and why?

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Lego Printer Prints Lego

[Gosse Adema] made his very first instructable by detailing his Lego 3D printer build. It’s Prusa i3 based, and originally started out as an A4 plotter with repurposed steppers out of an old HP printer. After upgrading to some NEMA 17 steppers, it became a full-blown 3D printer.

It turns out that NEMA 17 stepper mounting holes align perfectly with Lego, making it super easy to mount them. Check out this Lego ‘datasheet’ for some great details on measurements.

The brains of the printer are occupied by Marlin running atop a Atmega 2560, and Pronterface for the PC software. He tops it off with a Geeeteck built MK8 extruder boasting a 0.3 mm nozzle that accepts 1.75 mm filament.

As with almost any DIY 3D printer build, his first prints didn’t turn out so well. After adjusting the nozzle and filament size in the software, he started to get some good results. Be sure to check out the video below to see this Lego 3D printer in action.

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Hackaday Links: June 7, 2015

I’ve said over and over again that Apple’s MagSafe port is the greatest advancement in laptop tech in the last 15 years. Those charger connectors break, though, so how do you fix it? With Lego, of course (Google translatrix). Use a light-colored 1×4 brick so the LED will shine through.

Want to learn Git commands? Here’s a great game that does just that. It’s a really well-designed game/tutorial that walks you through basic Git commands.

Lets say you’re just slightly paranoid about the Bad Guys™ getting into your computer with 0-days and roller blades. You’d like to connect this computer to the Internet, but you don’t want to leave it connected all the time. The solution? A timer for an Ethernet switch. It’s actually a better solution than doing the same thing with scripts: there’s a real, physical interface, and if the Bad Guys™ get in when you are connected, they could just enable the network adapter anyway. An extremely niche use case, but that’s 99% of the security hacks we see.

The DaVinci 3D printer is an okay printer if you’re cool with the Gilette model. The filament cartridges are chipped, and the software is proprietary. These problems have been solved, and now you can use a standard RepRap heated bed and glass with the DaVinci. At this point, people are buying the DaVinci just to tear it apart.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Welding Plastic Filament

There are a lot of neat toys and accessories that rely on 3D printing filament. The 3Doodler is a 3D printing pen, or pretty much an extruder in a battery-powered portable package. You can make your own filament with a Filastruder, and of course 3D printers themselves use up a lot of filament. [Bodet]’s project for this year’s Hackaday Prize gives those tiny scraps of leftover filament a new life by welding filament together.

The EasyWelder [Bodet] is designing looks a little bit like a tiny hair straightener; it has a temperature control, a power switch, and two tips that grip 1.7 or 3mm diameter filament and weld them together. It works with ABS, PLA, HIPS, Nylon, NinjaFlex, and just about every other filament you can throw at a printer. By welding a few different colors of filament together, you can create objects with different colors or mechanical properties. It’s not as good as dual extrusion, but it does make good use of those tiny bits of filament left on a mostly used spool.

Since the EasyWelder can weld NinjaFlex and other flexible filaments, it’s also possible to weld NinjaFlex to itself. What does that mean? Custom sized O-rings, of course. You can see a video of that below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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The Hackaday Prize: An Ultra Low Cost 3D Printer Controller

This isn’t a Hackaday Prize entry that will change the world, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a place for it. [vdirienzo] is building an ultra low-cost 3D printer controller for 3D printers and other CNC machine. It’s not going to change the world, but it is a rather interesting little device.

This printer controller is very minimal, with a single-sided circuit board with just enough parts and components to make this board useful. The stepper motor drivers are from Pololu, and most of the other components are stuff you could pull out of a reasonably stocked junk drawer. The microcontroller is rather interesting; it’s an Arduino Nano. Instead of the ATMega644 and ‘Mega1280 microcontrollers found on other 8-bit printer controller boards, [vdirienzo] slimmed down the Teacup firmware to fit on the ATMega328 in the Arduino Nano.

The SinapTec is not by any means the first effort to create an ultra low-cost controller board for a 3D printer that can be assembled at home. The RepRap Gen 7 electronics can be manufactured on a RepRap or small CNC mill. There’s not much to these boards – just a small, single-sided board. If you want a small, simple, and cheap controller board for a 3D printer, this is all you need.

While a cheap 3D printer controller board doesn’t really fit with the ‘change the world’ theme of The Hackaday Prize, that doesn’t mean there’s still not a place in the contest for [vdirienzo]’s entry; we have a Best Product category, with a $100k prize and a six month residency in the Hackaday Design Lab. If that’s not enough reason to build something cool – even if it won’t change the world – we don’t know what is.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Vacuum Gauge Display; Arduino Replaces Industrial

Arduinos! They’re a great tool that make the world of microcontrollers pretty easy, and in [cptlolalot]’s case, they also give us an alternative to buying expensive, proprietary parts. [cptlolalot] needed a gauge for an expensive vacuum pump, and rather than buying an expensive part, built a circuit around an Arduino to monitor the vacuum.

pressure-gauge-thumbThis project goes a little beyond simple Arduino programming though. A 12V to 5V power supply drives the device, which is laid out on a blank PCB. The display fits snugly over the circuit which reduces the footprint of the project, and the entire thing is housed in a custom-printed case with a custom-printed pushbutton. The device gets power and data over the RJ45 connection so no external power is needed. If you want to take a look at the code, it’s linked on [cptlolalot]’s reddit thread.

This project shows how much easier it can be to grab an Arduino off the shelf to solve a problem that would otherwise be very expensive. We’ve been seeing Arduinos in industrial applications at an increasing rate as well, which is promising not just because it’s cheap but because it’s a familiar platform that will make repairs and hacks in the future much easier for everyone.

Modern Spin on an Old Technology

It seems that the longer a technology has been around, the more likely it is that all of the ideas and uses for that technology will be fleshed out. For something that’s been around for around 5500 years it must be especially rare to teach an old dog new tricks, but [Sebastian] has built a sundial that’s different from any we’ve ever seen.

Once done with all of the math for the sundial to compute its angles and true north based on his latitude and longitude, [Sebastian] used Autodesk Inventor to create a model. From there it was 3D printed, but the interesting part here is that the 3D printer allowed for him to leave recesses for numbers in the sundial. The numbers are arranged at such angles inside the sundial so that when it’s a particular hour, the number of the hour shines through the shadow of the sundial which creates a very unique effect. This would be pretty difficult to do with any machine tools but is easily accomplished via 3D printing.

[Sebastian] wanted a way to appreciate the beauty of time, and he’s certainly accomplished that with this new take on  the sundial! He also wonders what it would be like if there was a giant one in a park. This may also be the first actual sundial build we’ve featured. What does that mean? Check out this non-pv, sun-powered clock that isn’t a sundial.

Thanks to [Todd] for the tip!