MakerBot Files Patents, Internet Goes Crazy

patent

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

bed

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.

3D Printering: A Makerbot In Every School Follows the Oregon Trail

printering

Gather ’round, children and I’ll tell you a tale of how everyone from the ages of 16 to 40 has played Oregon Trail.

Back when Apple was just starting out, [The Steves] thought it would be a good idea to get the Apple II into the hands of schoolchildren across the United States. They did this with educational pricing, getting Apple IIs into newly created ‘computer labs’ in schools across the country. These new computers – from my experience, anyway – were used as a replacement for the old Selectric typewriters, and on rare occasions a machine that played the MECC classics like Oregon Trail.

Fortunately, a few students were bright enough and had teachers who were brave enough to allow BASIC programming, PEEKs and POKEs. This was the start of a computer revolution, a time when grade schoolers would learn a computer wasn’t just a glorified word processor or dysentery machine, but something that would do what you told it to do. For those kids, and I’m sure a few of them are reading this, it was a life changing experience.

Now it appears we’re in the midst of a new revolution. If this horribly named column isn’t enough of a clue, I’m talking about 3D printing. Yesterday, Makerbot announced they were going to fill in for Apple in this physical revolution by trying to get a Makerbot into every school in the country.

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3D Printering: A Call for an Open Source Automated Build Platform

printering

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: if you’re using a 3D printer to make a few hundred identical plastic parts, you’re doing it wrong. That’s the place for traditional manufacturing methods such as injection molding or resin casting. If, however, you’re looking at printing a few dozen identical plastic parts, or even running a script to optimize your machine time, the current open source 3D printer world leaves one thing to be desired.

An Automated Build Platform

An Automated Build Platform is a fairly simple idea: put a conveyor belt on your heated bed, and when the print is done, send a command to drive a motor, dumping the newly printed part into a bin, The printer then begins the next part with a clean bed, and the days of doting over a 3D printer soon fade into the past.

For such a simple and useful idea, it’s surprising there hasn’t been much done with this idea in open source circles. There are, of course, problems both technical and legal, but hopefully nothing that should indefinitely derail anyone who would want to create the first open source automated build platform.

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