Ask Hackaday: Is Owning A 3D Printer Worth It?

3D printers are the single best example of what Open Hardware can be. They’re useful for prototyping, building jigs for other tools, and Lulzbot has proven desktop 3D printers can be used in industrial production. We endorse 3D printing as a viable tool as a matter of course around here, but that doesn’t mean we think every house should have a 3D printer.

Back when Bre was on Colbert and manufacturing was the next thing to be ‘disrupted’, the value proposition of 3D printing was this: everyone would want a 3D printer at home because you could print plastic trinkets. Look, a low-poly Bulbasaur. I made a T-rex skull. The front page of /r/3Dprinting. Needless to say, the average consumer doesn’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to make their own plastic baubles when WalMart and Target exist.

The value proposition of a 3D printer is an open question, but now there is some evidence a 3D printer provides a return on its investment. In a paper published this week, [Joshua Pearce] and an undergraduate at Michigan Tech found a 3D printer pays for itself within six months and can see an almost 1,000% return on investment within five years. Read on as I investigate this dubious claim.

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Hackaday Links: January 29, 2017

A 3D printer and laser cutter were cited as cause in two deaths. A couple (and two cats) were found dead in their apartment this week. The cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning. Police and the gas company investigated the residence and found no other source of carbon monoxide besides a 3D printer and a laser cutter. Be sure to check out the people who know more about these deaths than the people who actually investigated these deaths in the comments below. In the mean time, get a CO detector. It’s nasty stuff.

At CES last this month, Lulzbot unleashed the MOARstruder. It’s an extruder with a massive, massive, 1.2mm nozzle. [James] from xrobots dot co dot uk just got his hands on the MOARstruder and the initial results are pretty cool. With a 1.2mm nozzle, you can print big parts fast (helpful for [James]’ massive builds), and the parts are stronger. Check out the video for a great hammer vs. printed part test.

We knew this would happen eventually. Pi Blades. Element14 is now offering ‘breakout boards but not quite’ for the full-size Raspberry Pis and Pi HATs. The idea of this product is to package clusters of Pis into an easy-to-use form factor. The Bitscope Blade Quattro, for example, provides power to four Pis. In other news, I own 20% of the world’s supply of vertical SODIMM sockets.

Arbitrary Code Execution On The Nintendo 64. A bit of background is required before going into this. Pokemon Stadium is a game for the N64. It used a Transfer Pak to read the save game data on Pokemon Game Boy cartridges to battle, trade, and organize Pokemon. Additionally, the Pokemon Tower in Pokemon Stadium allows players to play first-gen Game Boy Pokemon games from within an N64 – sort of like the SNES Super Game Boy. By using two Game Boy Pokemon games and two Transfer Paks, arbitrary code can be executed on the N64. Video demo right here. This is really cool, and the next obvious step is a ‘bootloader’ of sorts to allow arbitrary code downloading from controller button presses.

The Travelling Hacker Box is on the move! The original plan for the Travelling Hacker Box was to visit home base for the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference, then depart to foreign lands beginning with Canada, Greenland, Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceana, and the other America. After the SuperCon, the box was shipped out to its first recipient in Canada. The box came back. Something with customs. Now, the Travelling Hacker Box is on the move again. The plan is still the same, it’s just delayed a month or two. If you want to check out the future travels of the Travelling Hacker Box, here you go.

The 3D printers of CES

CES is over, and now we can take a step back, distance ourselves from the trade show booths, and figure out where 3D printing will be going over the next year.

The Hype Cycle is a great way to explain trends in fads and technological advances. VR and autonomous cars are very early on the Hype Cycle right now. Smartphones are on the plateau of productivity. 3D printing is head-down in the trough of disillusionment.

For this year’s CES, 3D printing is not even a product category. In fact, the official documentation I found at Prusa’s booth listed their company in the ‘Assistive Technologies’ category. These are dark days for the public perception of 3D printing. The source of this perception can be brilliantly presented in a pair of graphs:


The perception of 3D printing has been tied inexorably to Makerbot. Makerbot presented the only 3D printer on The Colbert Report. Only Makerbot had their 3D printing storefronts featured on CNN. It’s been like this for half a decade, and hopefully things will get better.

This doesn’t mean 3D printing isn’t improving. In fact, it’s the best it’s ever been. CES had the most innovative printers I’ve seen in years. I caught a glimpse of this year’s top-selling printer (and it launches in April). Resin machines are going to be very popular soon. What did CES have to offer? Check it out below.

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CES2017: Lulzbot Has the Best Names for Stuff

Lulzbot is the poster child of the RepRap project. Everything they do is big-O Open. At CES, Lulzbot launched the MOARstruder, a tool head with a 1.2mm nozzle diameter. That pushes a lot of plastic out, allowing for faster print times. This is the same nozzle diameter as the largest E3D Volcano, and from the big prints sitting around the booth, the results are similar: you get faster prints at larger layer heights, and the layer lines become a design feature.

Also announced by Lulzbot this week is the release of Cura 2 (Lulzbot edition), a partnership with the Blender Institute to develop a streamlined version of the best Free 3D modeling software available, and a collaboration with Monkeyprint to develop Free Software for resin-based 3D printing.

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Maker Faire Multicolor and Multi Material 3D Printing

The next frontier of desktop 3D printing is multi-material and multi-color prints. Right now, you can buy a dual toolhead for a Lulzbot, and dual toolheads from other companies exist, although they are a bit rare. In the next few years, we’re going to see a lot of printers able to print dissolvable supports and full-color 3D printers.

Printing in more than one color is almost here, but that doesn’t mean we’re on the cusp of a complete revolution. Multi-material printing is lagging a little bit behind; you’ll be able to print two colors of PLA next year, but printing an object in PLA and ABS is going to be a bit tricky. Printing something in PLA and nylon will be very hard. Color mixing, likewise, will be tricky. We can do it, the tools are getting there, but think of this year as a preview of what we’ll be doing in five years.

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Hackaday Links: May 22, 2016

Lulzbot’s TAZ 6 has been released. Lulzbot’s printers consistently place in the top three of any 3D printing list, and the TAZ 6 will likely be no exception. [James Bruton] was one of the lucky ones who got a review unit, and first looks are promising. The TAZ 6 has the auto bed leveling found in the Lulzbot Mini, and a ‘power tower’ for all the electronics. There are completely unconfirmed rumors (or someone told me and I forgot who) that the power tower will be available separately at some point.

The most impressive circuit we’ve seen this week month year is the dis-integrated 6502. It’s a discrete 6502 CPU, about a square foot in size. It’s slow, but it works. RAM and ROM is easy to make embiggened, which means someone needs to build a dis-integrated 6522 VIA. Who’s game?

[Jeremy Cook] wanted to learn another CAD package, in this case Onshape. Onshape is the ‘first cloud-only CAD package’, which has one huge bonus – you can run it anywhere, on anything – and one huge minus – it’s in the cloud. He designed a bicycle cupholder.

Last week, several thousand Raspberry Pi Zeros shipped out to retailers in the US and UK. For a time, Pi Zeros were in stock in some online stores. Now? Not so much. Where did they all go? eBay, apparently. It’s called arbitrage, and it’s the only risk-free form of investment.

Remember those ‘bed of nails’ toys, that were basically two sheets of plastic, with hundreds of small pins able to make 3D impressions of your face and hands. No, there is no official name for these devices, but here’s a Kickstarter for a very clever application of these toys. You can use them to hold through hole parts while soldering. Brilliant.

You should not pay attention to 3D printers on Kickstarter. Repeat after me: you should not give money to 3D printers on Kickstarter. Here’s a 3D printer on Kickstarter, promising a 3D printer for $74. I own several hats, and will eat one if this ships by next year.

Remember It’s being reimplemented on

Hackaday Links: May 15, 2016

The Hackaday Overlords (or Hackaday family) are running a series of AMAs on SupplyFX. What is SupplyFX? It’s a social network for EEs. Who’s in the first AMA? [Brady Forrest], the guy who runs Highway1, a Bay Area hardware accelerator. They’re the accelerator responsible for the lustworthy Keyboardio, and the startup that is purely mechanical and has shipped zero lines of code, CoolChip. If you want to talk about hardware startups, [Brady] is your man. The AMA is tomorrow, May 16th, at 13:00 Pacific.

Makerbot is dead, or at least they will be soon. Whatever. Nothing of value was lost. Lulzbot, on the other hand, is going gangbusters. They saw eight hundred percent growth over the last two years. and $15M in revenue in 2015. They did this all with open source hardware and software, and using 3D printing in a manufacturing context. They’re the jewel of the Open Hardware movement, and a shining example of what Free Software can do.

The current generation of software defined radios started with the ubiquitous TV tuner dongles, and quickly graduated to the HackRF. You can only get so much bandwidth out of a USB 2.0 socket, and the newest and bestest SDR is the LimeSDR. They’re about halfway through their crowdfunding campaign (and halfway funded), and have finally changed out the USB A connector to a USB micro B connector. Good choice.

The ESP8266 is quickly becoming the go-to device for when you want a cheap way to put a sensor on the Internet. The only problem is programming it. No problem – here’s a bunch of Lua scripts that do 90% of everything. Need to read a PIR sensor? Light up a few LEDs? Put the data from a temperature and humidity on the Internet? There you have it.

The Vintage Computer Festival West is back on this year. We’ve gone to VCF East in New Jersey for a few years now, and had a few occasional outings to the southeast and midwest Vintage Computer Festivals over the years. This is the first time the west coast has had a Vintage Computer Festival in several years. It’s in Mountain View, on August 6th and 7th. Yes, that’s the same weekend as DEF CON.

E3D, makers of fine hot ends and 3D printer paraphernalia, have released a new kind of filament. It’s called Edge, it’s based on PET, and it prints as easily as PLA, with better mechanical properties than ABS. A few sample prints made from Edge were at this year’s Midwest RepRap Festival, and the Edge’s bridging ability is crazy. You need a heated bed for Edge and it’s sensitive to moisture, but it has some very interesting properties that can be cleverly exploited.

In other filament news, Colorfabb released a filament to print clear parts. Yes, that’s very weird. Clear parts require 100% infill, meaning it will use a lot of filament. It’s still very advanced wizardry, and I’m very interested in seeing the first print of a sanded and polished convex lens.

Holy Crap it’s the 3D printing edition of the links post. [Prusa] just released the latest version of the i3. It’s now bigger: 250x210x200mm build volume. The heated bed – [Prusa] was one of the first to experiment with PCB heated beds – is now vastly improved when looking at it through a FLIR. The Mk. 42 heated bed doesn’t have a hot center or cool corners. PEI sheet removes the need for blue painters tape, glass, aqua net, or glue sticks. The printer has self-test capabilities. The mechanics of the printer, especially the Z axis, are improved. [Prusa] will be selling this as a kit for ~19000 Czech Crowns or $699 USD, but he’s RepRap to the core. Buy a spool and start printing your next printer.