Interview With A Printer

The Hackaday European tour continues, this time in Prague with Josef Průša (Google translate), core developer in the RepRap project, feature at all the Maker Faires and cons, and creator of his namesake, the Prusa Mendel and i3 printers.

[Prusa]‘s involvement with the RepRap project started with a RepRap Mendel, the second iteration of RepRap hardware, but the first popular and easy to build version. [Jo] found the Mendel rather difficult to build, so he loaded OpenSCAD and started to design his own version of the hardware. This version became the de facto standard RepRap for a few years, with many inspired by and derivative printers making their way to hackerspaces and workshops around the world.

The first Prusa printer, derived from the RepRap Mendel.
The first Prusa printer, derived from the RepRap Mendel.

A few years ago, [Prusa] was one of the first to make a complete break with the traditional ‘threaded rod and nut’ construction of RepRaps with the introduction of the Prusa i3. This was the first model that had a metal plate as the frame, another feature that would be seen in dozens of other models. It’s not something that was without controversy, either; using a metal plate for the frame doesn’t allow for as much self-replication, something that’s a core value of the RepRap project. That didn’t matter to the community; the Prusa i3 or a similar design is the third most popular printer on 3Dhubs.

The first Prusa printer showing off its Makerbot heritage
The first Prusa printer showing off its Makerbot heritage

What’s the future of the Prusa name? There is an i4 in the works, and I’m pretty sure that’s all I can tell you. Someone already bought the Prusai4 domain, so there may be a name change.

In the interview below, [Prusa] goes over his involvement with the RepRap project, his business, what he considers to be the latest advances in 3D printing for the past year, what the worst things about the 3D printing scene is (it’s Kickstarter), the state of the RepRap project, and thoughts on SLS, DLP, and SLA printing technologies. Video below.

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Make Flexible PCBs with Your 3D Printer

The last few years have seen great strides in budget printed circuit board manufacturing. These days you can have boards made in a week for only a few dollars a square inch. Flexible PCBs still tend to be rather expensive though. [Mikey77] is changing that by making flex circuits at home with his 3D printer. [Mikey77] utilized one of the properties of Ninjaflex Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) filament – it sticks to bare copper!

The TPE filament acts as an etch resist, similar to methods using laser printer toner. For a substrate, [Mikey77] lists 3 options:

.004″ thick “Scissor cut” copper clad board from Electronics Goldmine

.002″ thick pure copper polyester taffeta fabric from lessEMF.com

<.001″ Pyralux material from Adafruit, which is one of the materials used to make professional flex PCBs.

A bit of spray adhesive will hold the Flex PCB down on the printer’s bed. The only issue is convincing the printer to print a few thousandths of an inch higher than the actual bed level. Rather than change the home position on his Z axis, [Mikey77] used AutoDesk 123D to create 3D PCB designs. Each of his .stl files has a “spacer bar”, which sits at the bed level. The actual tracks to be printed are in the air a few thousandths of an inch above the bed – exactly the thickness of the substrate material. The printer prints the spacer bar on the bed, then raises its Z height and prints on the flexible PCB material. We’re sure that forcing the printer to print in mid-air like this would cause some printer software to throw errors, but the system worked for [Mikey77] and his Makerbot.

Once the designs have been printed, the boards are etched with standard etching solutions such as ferric chloride. Be careful though – these thin substrates can etch much faster than regular PCB.

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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Replicator 1 Receives a PID Controlled Heated Chamber

Replicator 1 PID Heated Enclosure

Improving 3D print quality is a bit of a black magic — there are tons of little tweaks you can do to your printer to help it, but in the end you’re just going to have to try everything. Adding a heated build enclosure however is one of those things almost guaranteed to improve the print quality of ABS parts!

And for good reason too — heated build enclosures are one of the outstanding “patented 3D printing technologies” – It’s why you don’t see any consumer printers with that feature. Anyway, [Bryan] just sent us his upgrade to his Makerbot Replicator 1, and it’s a pretty slick system. His goal was to add the heated enclosure to the printer as unobtrusively as possible — no need for people to think his printer is an even bigger fire hazard!

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Automated Bed Leveling For 3D Printers Is Now Solved

The latest and greatest feature for 3D printers – besides being closed source, having no meaningful technical specs, and being on track towards pulling in $10 Million on a Kickstarter – is automated bed leveling. This amazingly useful feature makes sure your prints have proper adhesion to the bed, reduce print errors, and put even inexpensive printers into the realm of extremely expensive professional machines. Automated bed leveling has been extremely hard to implement in the past, but now [Scottbee] has it figured out with a working prototype on his Makerbot Replicator 2X.

Earlier attempts at automated bed leveling used some sort of probe on the tool head to measure the build plate, calculate its flatness and orientation in space, and compensate for any tilt in software. [Scottbee]‘s solution to the problem took a different tack: instead of trying to compensate for any odd orientation of the build surface in software, he’s simply making the bed level with a series of springs and cam locks.

[Scottbee]‘s device levitates the build plate on three springs, and replaces the jack screws with three “gimballing pins” and pin locks. With the pin locks disengaged, the bed plate is pressed down with the printer’s nozzle. By moving the extruder across the build plate and locking the pins in place one by one, [Scottbee]‘s device defines the plane of the build plate along three points. This makes the build platform parallel to the extruder nozzle, and also has a nice benefit of setting the distance from the build platform to the nozzle precisely with incredible repeatability.

The mechanics of locking the three gimballing pins in place  only requires a single DC gear motor, driven by an extra fan output on the Makerbot’s electronics. It’s simple, and with a bit of rework, it looks like most of the device could also be 3D printed.

An awful lot of RepRaps and 3D printers out there already use three points to attach the build plate to a frame. With a little bit of effort, this same technique could be ported and made a bit more generic than the Makerbot-based build seen above. It’s amazingly simple, and we can’t wait to see this applied to a normal RepRap.

Thanks [Josh] for the tip.

A Quick and Simple Filament Joiner for Multi-Color Prints

Filament splicer

[Malcolm] was having a grand time with his new 3D printer. He was getting tired of monochromatic prints, though. Not having a machine with multiple extruders, he went looking for a way to join pieces of filament. There were a few designs on Thingiverse, but they required milled parts that he didn’t have the tools to recreate. Rather than invest in a mill, [Malcolm] decided to build his own filament joiner. He started by raiding his wife’s hair care tools. His first test was a curling iron. It had the heat, but lacked a good surface to join the filament. [Malcolm's] next test was a ceramic hair straightener, which he found to be the perfect tool.

The splicing process is simple. Start with a hot iron, then lay two pieces of filament on top of the short end of the iron. They soften quickly and melt together. [Malcolm's] real trick is to slightly pull the joint once the two pieces have joined. Pulling causes the filament to stretch, slightly reducing the diameter of the joint. A thinner joint helps prevent extruder jams as the joint passes through. This method works great for PLA. We’d love to see if it works for ABS as well.

Click past the break for an example piece and for [Malcom's] instructional video.

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The 2014 Line Of MakerBots

makerbots

With the Consumer Electronics Show over, it’s finally time to take a look at the new line of MakerBot printers (here’s the press release). Unlike MakerBot’s previous offerings with a one size fits all business model, they’re branching out with a product line that can only be described as, ‘regular, small, and large’.

The new MakerBots include an updated Replicator that’s just slightly larger than the previous version. It includes Ethernet, an option for WiFi, an on-board camera, and a control panel with a 3.5″ LCD and rotary encoder. This new Replicator will retail for $2900, $700 more than the current Replicator (single extruder).

The other new MakerBots include the stripped down and small Replicator Mini. It’s a no-frills machine with a build volume of 10 x 10 x 12.5 cm (~4 x 4 x 5 in) with 200 micron resolution. Also in the new lineup is the Replicator Z18, an impressively large printer with a 30.5 x 30.5 x 45.7 cm (12 x 12 x 18 in) build volume, 100 micron resolution, plastic sides for a heated build volume, and all the bells and whistles on the new Replicator. The Mini will sell for $1375 and the Z18 is expected to sell for $6500.

The updated Replicator is available now, and the Mini and Z18 will be available sometime in the next few months.