3D Printing Pen and CNC Machine Yields Cheap 3D Printer

3D printers are ubiquitous now, but they’re still prohibitively expensive for some people. Some printers cost thousands, but even more inexpensive options aren’t exactly cheap. [Daniel] decided that this was unacceptable, and set out to make a basic 3D printer for under $100 by including only the bare essentials needed for creating anything out of melted plastic.

3D printers are essentially four parts: a bed, filament, and a hot end and extruder. In a previous project, [Daniel] used parts from old CD drives to create a three-axis CNC machine which he uses for the bed. To take care of the hot end and extruder, he is using a 3D printing pen which he mounts to the CNC machine and voila: a 3D printer!

It’s not quite as simple as just strapping a 3D printing pen to a CNC machine, though. The pen and the CNC machine have to communicate with each other so that the pen knows when to place filament and the CNC machine knows when to move. For that, [Daniel] went with a trusty Arduino in order to switch the pen on and off. Once it’s working, it’s time to start printing!

[Daniel] does note that this is a design that’s relatively limited in terms of print size and resolution, but for the price it can’t be beat. If you’re interested in getting started with 3D printing, a setup like this would be perfect. 3D pens are a pretty new idea too, and it’s interesting to see them used in different ways like this.

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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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?

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Fail of the Week: Easy Cheese? Printer Says No

Well, this is timely. We saw a lot of things at Midwest RepRap Festival this year on both the printer and the material fronts. We told you about the delicious offerings made possible through remote extruder setups, strong and heavy filaments infused with copper and other metals, and a printer built out of K’NEX. No one was printing with canned cheese, though, and maybe for good reason.

[Andrew] here has created a 3D-printed arm that holds a can of aerosol cheese-like substance in place. A motor causes the holder to move the spout to the side, dispensing the goo. At first he squirts it in a coiled pile on to a cracker. That goes pretty well until it’s time to move away from the cracker. [Andrew]’s later attempt to build up four cheesy walls had us cheering. You can see what we mean after the break.

There are a couple of issues at play. Sometimes the add-on just plain falls off the end of the spout. Other times, air in the can interrupts the flow, just as it does during manual operation. And every once in a while, it just seems that the spout was too close to the substrate.

What do you think about the viability of cheese printing? Would it work better if the extrusion took place remotely, and the cheese was pushed through a thinner tip? Would a cooled print bed help? Let us know.

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MRRF: Hot Ends, Extruders, Extremely Posh Brits, and Stoic Swedes

As far as locations for the Midwest RepRap Festival go, it’s not exactly ideal. This is a feature, not a bug, and it means only the cool people come out to the event. There were a few people travelling thousands of miles across an ocean, just to show off some cool things they built.

Two Colors, One Nozzle

[Sanjay] and [Josh] from E3D came all the way from merry olde England to show off a few of their wares. The star of their show was the Cyclops extruder, a dual-extrusion hot end that’s two input, one output. Yes, two colors can come out of one nozzle.


If you see a printer advertised as being dual extrusion, what you’re going to get is two extruders and two hot ends. This is the kludgy way to do things – the elegant solution is to make two colors come out of one nozzle.

The guys from E3D were showing off a few prints from their Cyclops nozzle that does just that, including a black and red poison dart frog, and a blue and white octopus. The prints looked amazing, and exactly what you would expect from a two-color print.

Rumor has it the development of the Cyclops involved extruding two colors, freezing the nozzle, and putting it in the mill just to see how the colors mixed. I didn’t see those pictures, but there’s a lot of work that went into this hot end.

The Power of Two Extruders

[Martin] of bondtech.se came to MRRF all the way from Sweden. He was there showing off his new extruder.

The extruder uses a normal stepper motor, but instead of the usual knurled or threaded feed wheel and bearing to push filament though, he’s using two counter-rotating feed wheels attached to a planetary gear system. That’s a lot of torque that doesn’t distort or strip the filament. When you consider all the weird filaments that are coming out – ninjaflex, and even 3D printable machinable wax filament, this is extremely interesting.

Even if your filament isn’t exactly 1.75 or 3mm in diameter, this setup will still reliably push plastic; there is a bolt that will move one of the feed wheels in and out 0.4mm.

[Martin] had a pair of his extruders hooked up to a strain gauge, and it’s strong enough to lift your printer off the table without stripping the filament. Here’s a video of that demo from the bondtech page.

3D Printering: Hobbs Meters And 3D Printer Reliability

A direct link to Makerbot's  3-pack of Smart Extruders is very hard to find
A direct link to Makerbot’s 3-pack of Smart Extruders is very hard to find

It’s been a little over a year since Makerbot introduced their new line of printers, and since then there have been grumblings about the quality of the Smart Extruder that each one of these printers comes with. While there is no 3D printer extruder that will not eventually clog, wear down, or otherwise break, there are reports of the Makerbot Smart Extruder failing in only hundreds or even tens of hours of use. Considering that a single large print can take a dozen or so hours to complete, you can easily see the why the Smart Extruder is so despised and why even the availability of a three-pack of Smart Extruders is a joke in the 3D printing community.

Of course a cheap shot at Makerbot that plays right into your preconceived ideas and prejudices is far too easy. We’re here to solve problems, not just state them, so here’s what we’re working with: to quantify the long-term reliability of 3D printers we need a way to measure the mean time before failure of extruders. This is already a solved problem; it’s just not implemented.

On aircraft and some very expensive engines that power things like buildings and ships, there’s one gauge, tucked away in the control panel, that keeps track of how long the engine has been running. It’s called a hobbs meter, and the idea behind it is extremely simple – when there is power going to the Hobbs meter, it counts out hours on a small clockwork display. The resolution of the display is only tenths of an hour, usually, but that’s good enough for scheduling maintenance and to be mentioned in NTSB accident reports.

Spend enough time with a 3D printer, and you’ll quickly realize the ‘estimated print time’ is merely a ballpark, and with failed prints the ‘total print time for this object’ isn’t exactly a perfect measure of how many hours you’ve been using your extruder. Only by directly measuring how many hours are logged on a hot end or how many kilometers of filament have been sent through an extruder will you ever get an accurate idea of how long an extruder has been running, and how reliable a printer is.

Hobbs meters are available from Mouser, but you’ll be overpaying there. The better option is from a vendor in a different niche; $30 for a meter that can connect directly to the extruder heater. If enough people add this and keep proper logs, there’s a slight chance of improving the state of 3D printers with real data and not the prejudices of people trying to justify their own designs and purchases.

But perhaps that’s too hard; adding a $30 item to a printer’s BOM just for the sake of data is a bit much. Luckily, there’s an even simpler solution that won’t cost a dime. Just measure the time a heater has been on in the firmware, or save the total length of extruded filament in a microcontroller’s EEPROM. Every printer firmware out there, from Marlin to Repetier to Sprinter has in it a way to calculate both the length of time a heater has been on or how much filament has been pushed through a nozzle.

However, this is 3D printing we’re dealing with. An organized community is not a luxury we currently enjoy, and for this to work several things are needed. The first is somewhere to upload failure statistics. This would be a web site, naturally, with the ability to input the printer make, extruder and hot end model, and the time since last clogged nozzle. The website itself is just a database, some JavaScript, a bit of CSS, and some hosting costs; not hard until you consider tens of thousands of operators would have to know about this website and contribute.

Secondly, if we’re not going with mechanical Hobbs meters there would need to be a ‘total time heater on’ or ‘total length of extruded filament’ variable in the various firmwares. There would hopefully be standardized Gcodes or Mcodes to read and reset this variable.

Will this happen? Of course not. Organization isn’t a strong suit of the RepRap project, and any company that implements Hobbs meter functionality will probably lock that up in proprietary obfuscation. However, Makerbot isn’t dumb, and given they’re selling three-packs of extruders, I would bet they have some data on the MTBF of their extruders. A community-based measurement of the most common cause of broken printers is certainly possible, but like all problems it’s one of organization, not technology.

3D Printering is a semi-weekly column that digs deep into all things related to 3D Printing. If you have questions or ideas for future installments please sending us your thoughts.

MakerBot Files Patents, Internet Goes Crazy

In the past month, a few patent applications from MakerBot were published, and like everything tangentially related to the prodigal son of the 3D printer world, the Internet arose in a clamor that would be comparable only to news that grumpy cat has died. That’s just an analogy, by the way. Grumpy cat is fine.

The first patent, titled, Three-dimensional printer with force detection was filed on October 29th, 2013. It describes a 3D printer with a sensor coupled to the hot end able to sense a contact force between the nozzle and build plate. It’s a rather clever idea that will allow any 3D printer to perform software calibration of the build plate, ensuring everything is printed on a nice, level surface. Interestingly, [Steve Graber] posted an extremely similar design of a bed leveling probe on October 6th, 2013. In [Steve]’s video, you can see his bed level probe doing just about everything the MakerBot patent claims, all while being uploaded to YouTube before the patent application.

When it rains it pours, and the Quick-release extruder patent application, filed on October 28, 2013, bears this out. It claims an extruder that includes, “a bistable lever including a mechanical linkage to the bearing, the bearing engaged with the drive gear when the bistable lever is in a first position and the bearing disengaged from the drive gear when the bistable lever is in a second position.” Simple enough, a lever with two positions, where one presses a bearing against a drive gear, and the other position disengages the bearing from a drive gear. Here’s something that was published on Thingiverse in 2011 that does the same thing. Hugely famous RepRap contributor [whosawhatsis] has weighed in on this as well.

It is important to note that these are patent applications. Nothing has been patented yet. The US Patent and Trademark Office does seem to have a lot of rubber stamps these days, so what is the average Internet denizen to do? Here are easy to follow, step-by-step instructions on how to notify the USPTO of prior art. Remember, just because prior art does not completely invalidate a patent application’s claims doesn’t mean you shouldn’t send it in. It is a patent examiner’s job to review the prior art.

So there you go. MakerBot applies for patents, people complain, but not to the USPTO. Highly relevant video and transcription below.

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