That Time I Spent $20 For 25 .STL Files

Last weekend I ran out of filament for my 3D printer midway through a print. Yes, it’s evidence of poor planning, but I’ve done this a few times and I can always run over to Lowe’s or Home Depot or Staples and grab an overpriced spool of crappy filament to tide me over until the good, cheap filament arrives via UPS.

The Staples in my neck of the woods was one of the few stores in the country to host a, ‘premium, in-store experience’ featuring MakerBot printers. Until a few months ago, this was a great place to pick up a spool of filament that could get you through the next few hours of printing. The filament cost about three times what I would usually pay, but it was still good quality filament and they usually had the color I needed.

This partnership between MakerBot and Staples fell through a few months ago, the inventory was apparently shipped back to Brooklyn, and now Robo3D has taken MakerBot’s space at the endcap in Staples. Last weekend, I picked up a 1kg spool of red PLA for $40. What I found next to this filament left me shocked, confused, and insatiably curious. I walked out of that store with a spool of filament and a USB thumb drive loaded up with twenty-five STL files. This, apparently, is the future of 3D printing.

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3D Printering: Trinamic TMC2130 Stepper Motor Drivers

Adjust the phase current, crank up the microstepping, and forget about it — that’s what most people want out of a stepper motor driver IC. Although they power most of our CNC machines and 3D printers, as monolithic solutions to “make it spin”, we don’t often pay much attention to them.

In this article, I’ll be looking at the Trinamic TMC2130 stepper motor driver, one that comes with more bells and whistles than you might ever need. On the one hand, this driver can be configured through its SPI interface to suit virtually any application that employs a stepper motor. On the other hand, you can also write directly to the coil current registers and expand the scope of applicability far beyond motors.

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3D Printering: Aramid and Carbon Fiber Infused ABS

Last week, we had a look at a carbon-infused PETG filament. This week, I’d like to show you two composites based on a more common thermoplastic in 3D printing: ABS. Among a whole lot of other engineering plastics, the french company Nanovia manufactures Kevlar-like aramid-fiber-infused and carbon-fiber-infused ABS 3D printing filaments. These materials promise tougher parts with less warping while being just as easy to print as regular ABS. Let’s check them out!

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3D Printering: G-Code Post Processing With Perl

Most of our beloved tools, such as Slic3r, Cura or KISSlicer, offer scripting interfaces that help a great deal if your existing 3D printing toolchain has yet to learn how to produce decent results with a five headed thermoplastic spitting hydra. Using scripts, it’s possible to tweak the little bits it takes to get great results, inserting wipe or prime towers and purge moves on the fly, and if your setup requires it, also control additional servos and solenoids for the flamethrowers.

This article gives you a short introduction in how to post-process G-code using Perl and Slic3r. Perl Ninja skills are not required. Slic3r plays well with pretty much any scripting language that produces executables, so if you’re reluctant to use Perl, you’ll probably be able to replicate most of the steps in your favorite language.

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3D Printering: Makerbot’s Class Action Suit Dismissed

This time last year, Stratasys, parent company of Makerbot, was implicated in a class action suit. Investors claimed Stratasys violated securities laws, and overstated both the performance of the 5th generation of Makerbot printers and the performance of the company itself. Court docs received by Adafruit have revealed this case has been dismissed with prejudice. Makerbot won this one.

The case presented by Stratasys investors relied on two obvious facts. First, the price of Stratasys shares fell far beyond expectations. Second, the extruder for the 5th generation of Makerbot printers – the ‘Smart Extruder’ – was terrible. No one can reasonably dispute these claims; shares of SYSS fell from $120 in September of 2014 to $30 in September of 2015. With many returns to handle, Makerbot quickly redesigned the Smart Extruder.

Both of these indisputable facts are in stark contrast to statements made by Stratasys and Makerbot at the time. In a press release for the 4th quarter 2013 financial results, Stratasys’ expected sales to grow at least 25% over 2013 and stated it was experiencing “strong sales” of its desktop 3D printer. Concerning the Smart Extruder, Makerbot stated this new feature of the 5th generation Makerbots would make them easy to use, and “define the new standard for quality and reliability.”

The facts of this case are not in dispute – Stratasys did not see the growth they expected in late 2013. The Smart Extruder certainly did not make printers more reliable. These facts, however, are not sufficient to violate securities law.  In a wonderful legal turn of phrase, the judge deciding this case called the statements about the quality of the 5th generation Makerbots consisted of, “non-actionable puffery,” and a ‘statement so vague and such obvious hyperbole than no reasonable investor would rely on them.’

Statements made by Stratasys on their financial performance were also found not to be sufficient to violate securities laws. Stratasys did make several statements about negative performance in late 2014 and 2015, and positive statements made earlier did not have an intent to deceive investors.

This is good news for Makerbot. The claims brought by investors in this case had little merit. The case cannot be appealed, and Stratasys is no longer facing a class action suit. Does this news actually matter? Not really; Makerbot is a dead man walking, and 2016 sales will be at levels not seen since 2010 or 2011.

The consumer 3D printing industry is booming, despite the Makerbot bellwether though.

Build A 3D Printer Workhorse, Not an Amazing Disappointment Machine

3D printers have become incredibly cheap, you can get a fully workable unit for $200 – even without throwing your money down a crowdfunded abyss. Looking at the folks who still buy kits or even build their own 3D printer from scratch, investing far more than those $200 and so many hours of work into a machine you can buy for cheap, the question “Why the heck would you do that?” may justifiably arise.

The answer is simple: DIY 3D printers done right are rugged workhorses. They work every single time, they never break, and even if: they are an inexhaustible source of spare parts for themselves. They have exactly the quality and functionality you build them to have. No clutter and nothing’s missing. However, the term DIY 3D printer, in its current commonly accepted use, actually means: the first and the last 3D printer someone ever built, which often ends in the amazing disappointment machine.

This post is dedicated to unlocking the full potential in all of these builds, and to turning almost any combination of threaded rods and plywood into a workshop-grade piece of equipment.

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The Triumph of Open Design and the Birth of a FormLabs Aftermarket

Whilst designing hardware, it’s easy to shut the doors, close the blinds, and bury ourselves deeply into an after-hours design session. Although it’s tempting to fly solo, it’s likely that we’ll encounter bugs that others have handled, or perhaps we’ll realize that we forgot to add a handy feature that someone else could’ve noticed before we sent the darned PCB files out for fab. All that said, if we probe the community around us and ask for feedback, we can produce a project that’s far more functional and feature-complete in less time than if we were to design solo. Who knows? With enough eyes giving feedback on your project, maybe others will get excited enough to want one for themselves! [Andrew Werby] and [Zak Timan] on the FormLabs forums did just that: through months of iterative design and discussion on the FormLabs forums, they’ve created the first 3rd party glass resin tank that’s altogether sturdier, longer-lasting, more scratch-resistant, and less distorting than the original resin tank. And guess what? After months of trials through a few brave customers, you too can be the proud owner such a tank as they’re now up for sale on [Zak’s] website.
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