Reverse Engineering The Monoprice Printer

When the Monoprice MP Select Mini 3D printer was released last year, it was a game changer. This was a printer for $200, yes, but it also held a not-so-obvious secret: a 3D printer controller board no one had ever seen before powered by a 32-bit ARM microcontroller with an ESP8266 handling the UI. This is a game-changing set of electronics in the world of 3D printing, and now, finally, someone is reverse engineering it.

[Robin] began the reverse engineering by attaching the lead of an oscilloscope to the serial line between the main controller and display controller. The baud rate is weird (500 kHz), but apart from that, the commands readily appear in human-parsable text. There is a web server built into the MP Mini printer, and after inspecting the web page that’s served up from this printer, [Robin] found it was possible to send G-code directly from the controller board, get a list of files on the SD card, and do everything you would want to do with a 3D printer.

After deconstructing the circuit on the display board, [Robin] found exactly what you would expect from such a simple board: an SPI display driven by an ESP, and a big flash chip sitting off to the side. [Robin] found the the model of the display, and quickly built a project on Platform.io to draw text to the LCD. This isn’t the end of the project – there’s still a lot that must be done before this printer is squirting out parts with custom firmware.

While this isn’t a hack of the driver board inside the MP Mini, that’s not really a problem. The motor driver board in this printer doesn’t really need any changes, and was already ahead of its time when this printer was released last year. As with most things, the UI is the weak point, and upgrading the firmware and built-in web server for this printer is the best way forward.

[Robin] put together a truly phenomenal video of how he reverse engineered this display controller. You can check that out below.

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Mini Delta 3D Printer in Action at the Monoprice Booth

When I was at Bay Area Maker Faire a few weekends ago I stopped by the Monoprice booth to chat with [Chris Apland], their head of 3D Printing. Earlier in the week, the company had just announced preorders for their new $169 delta-style 3D printer called the MP Mini Delta.

[Brian Benchoff] covered that launch and I don’t have a lot of details about the machine itself to add. I saw it in action, printing tiny waving cat models. The stock printer can use ABS or PLA and has a build volume of 110mm in diameter and 120mm tall and these preorder units (being sold through Indegogo) will begin shipping in August.

What was of interest is to hear the shipping estimates the Monoprice team is throwing around. Chris told me that their conservative estimate is that 20,000 of these printers will ship through this preorder, but he is optimistic that by the end of the fourth quarter they’ll be closer to 100,000 units. That is incredible.

Part of the promise here is the out of the box functionality; [Chris] mentioned having a printed cat in your hands within 5 minutes. If it can actually do that without the need for setup and calibration that’s impressive. But I know that even seasoned printing veterans are interested in seeing how fast they can run this tiny delta and still turn out quality prints.

You’ll find the video interview after the break.

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Monoprice Releases Their Mini Delta Printer (On Indiegogo)

Around this time last year, Monoprice quietly unveiled a small, $200 3D printer. At the time, a fully functioning printer at this price point wasn’t unheard of. A good 3D printer at this price point was. It turned out this printer was actually fantastic and completely changed the value proposition of desktop 3D printers.

In the year since the release of the MP Select Mini printer, Monoprice has been hard at work bringing costs down, reworking designs, and creating an even less expensive printer. Now, it’s out. It’s available for pre-order on Indiegogo right now. Is this still a $150 printer? Not quite: the ‘early bird’ price is $159 with free shipping and August delivery, and a regular price of $169 plus $10 shipping with September or October delivery. There’s also a bundle for $279 that includes the printer, 2kg of filament, and a software package.

The first time we saw this tiny printer was way back in January at CES. It looked to be an extremely capable printer; the only question was if Monoprice could produce it and get it out the door. This would be a tall order; this printer comes with NEMA 17 stepper motors, a heated bed, a 32-bit controller board, and has WiFi enabled.

Here’s what we know about the capabilities of this printer. It’s a fairly standard delta printer with Bowden extruder and a heated bed. PLA and ABS is supported. The printer has auto bed leveling that measures the bed by ‘tapping’ the nozzle against the bed in about a dozen places before printing. From what we saw at CES, the hot end appears similar to the first revision of the $200 MP Select Mini — possibly opening up the door to E3D hot end installations.

Is this printer worth it? Every 3D printer released on a crowdfunding platform should come with the standard warnings, but Monoprice says this machine is in production right now. This raises the question: why release it on Indiegogo when Monoprice already has the whole ‘taking orders for products online’ thing in the bag? I suspect this crowdfunding campaign is just building a buffer; a year ago, the MP Select Mini was perpetually out of stock, and demand far outstripped supply. The same thing will happen with a 3D printer that’s even deeper into impulse buy territory.

In any event, the printer we’ve all been waiting for has been ‘released’, for varying values of ‘released’. The first units will start making their way onto desktops this summer, and we’re going to pick one up and put it through its paces. You can check out Monoprice’s video of this printer below.

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Hackaday Links: April 30, 2017

This last week was SEFF, a week of electric-powered remote-controlled aircraft above 1700 feet of Bermuda grass in the middle of Georgia. [Damon Atwood] has been bringing his 16-foot-wingspan Emmaselle to SEFF for a few years now, and this year we’re getting a great video of the flight. This is, or was at one time, the 3rd largest electric RC on the planet. It’s flying on 11S, and is absolutely beautiful in the air.

Speaking of electric RC meetups, Flite Fest West is going on right now. Flite Fest East will be July 13th through the 16th. Here’s the link to the relevant YouTube channel.

One of the very inexpensive 3D printers announced at CES by Monoprice is now on sale. It’s the improved $200 Cartesian, not the $150 delta. As I saw at CES last January, this is a slight improvement over the already fantastic V1 version of this printer. Improvements include an all metal hot end (an E3D clone) and working WiFi on the main board. Still waiting on the $150 delta printer? The only thing I can tell you is that it’s coming out soon.

StippleGen is an application from Evil Mad Scientists Labs to create stippled drawings. Stippling is dots, but not halftone. [HEXceramic] is using StippleGen to create laser cut molds for making ceramic tiles. The results look awesome, and I can’t wait to see one of these fired.

Hackaday has been voted, ‘The Hacker News of Hardware‘ by the Hacker News community. I would have included this in the links post last week, but feared that would be seen as manipulating the upvote system on Hacker News. This is great, but of course you already know Hackaday is seen as a reputable source of hardware and embedded news!

As a rule, Hackaday is nonpartisan and not political at all. In fact, two of my headlines have been shot down so far this year for using the word ‘trump’ as a verb. You’re welcome. This project is too cool, so we’re going to bend a few rules. This is a Trump gummi. It’s the rarest gummi of them all. It was carved by gummi artisans who work exclusively in the medium of gummi.

[Michael Welling] designed the PocketBone Mini in KiCad. It’s built around the Octavo Systems OSD3358, and is really, really tiny while designed to be as capable as a full size BeagleBone. He’s doing an interest check to gauge the community’s interest in this tiny, tiny single board computer.

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:

hype-cycle

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: Monoprice Unveils Expanded Line of 3D Printers

At CES last year, Monoprice introduced a $200 3D printer. Initial expectations of this printer were middling. My curiosity got the best of me, and last summer I picked up one of these printers for a review. The Monoprice MP Select Mini is actually phenomenal, and not just ‘phenomenal for the price’. This machine showed the world how good one of the cheapest printers can be. The future is looking awesome.

You might think Monoprice wouldn’t be able to top the success of this great little machine. You would be wrong. This week, Monoprice announced a bevy of new and upgraded printers. Some are resin. Some are huge. One will sell for $150 USD.

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Don’t Leave 3D Printers Unattended – They Can Catch Fire

The holidays are almost here, and with that comes the traditional Mass Consumption of Consumer Goods and Gift Exchange. 3D printers are getting really good and really cheap, and it’s inevitable that a lot of 3D printers will be given as gifts this year. Be careful if you’re giving or receiving one of these printers: they can cause fires as [Ben Hencke] found out when diagnosing a problem with a printer he bought this year.

The printer in question is the Monoprice Maker Select V2, a Prusa i3 clone with impressive specs for a $300 printer. This printer is a rebranded Wanhao Duplicator i3, and we’ve reviewed it favorably. It’s a capable printer that beats the pants off of any Kickstarter printer in quality (and for the fact that you can buy it right now). We’re pretty sure there are going to be more than a few of these printers under the Saturnalia tree this year.

After a few weeks, [Ben] noticed a bit of smoke coming from the printer while the bed was preheating. This wasn’t blue pixie smoke, like you’d find from an exploded capacitor. There was a lot of smoke.

After a closer inspection and help from [Elecia White] from embedded.fm, the problem was traced to the power connector for the heated bed. The green, bromine-infused plastic for this connector was charred and there’s little doubt this could have caused a fire.

3D printing is a fantastic tool, and has enabled more hacks and builds over the last few years than we could have ever imagined. 3D printers are getting very good, and very cheap, and of course this will eventually mean someone losing their workshop to a printer fire. Until someone figures out how to build a ‘thermal fuse’ or something of that nature, 3D printers — from the high-end ones to the still very good Monoprice and Wanhao units — have the potential to start a fire.

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