Machines That Build Other Machines

When the RepRap project was founded in 2005, it promised something spectacular: a machine that could build copies of itself. RepRaps were supposed to be somewhere between a grey goo and a device that could lift billions of people out of poverty by giving them self-sufficiency and the tools to make their lives better.

While the RepRap project was hugely successful in creating an open source ecosystem around 3D printers, a decade of development hasn’t produced a machine that can truly build itself. Either way, it’s usually easier and cheaper to buy a 3D printer than to build your own.

[castvee8]’s entry into the 2016 Hackaday Prize does just what the RepRap project promised ten years ago. It’s all about building machines with the ability to reproduce, creating an ecosystem of machines to build household goods. The best part? You can 3D print most of the machines. It’s the RepRap project, but for mills, lathes, microscopes, and routers. It’s an entire shop produced entirely in a 3D printer.

The idea of creating a machine shop from the most basic building materials has been around for a while. At the turn of the last century, concrete lathes and mills bootstrapped industrial economies. Decades later, [David J. Gingery] created a series of books on building a machine shop starting with a charcoal foundry. The idea of building a shop using scrap and the most minimal tools is very old, but this idea hasn’t been updated to the era where anyone can buy a 3D printer for a few hundred dollars.

So far, [castvee8] has a few homemade machine tools on the workbench, including a lathe, a tiny mill easily capable of fabricating a few circuit boards, and a little drill press. They’re all machines that can be used to make other useful items, and all allow anyone to create the devices they need.

The HackadayPrize2016 is Sponsored by:

Ask Hackaday MRRF Edition: 3D Printers Can Catch Fire

[Jay] out of the River City Labs Hackerspace in Peoria, IL cleared out a jam in his printer. It’s an operation most of us who own a 3D printer have performed. He reassembled the nozzle, and in a moment forgot to tighten down the grub nut that holds the heater cartridge in place. He started a print, saw the first layer go down right, and left the house at 8:30 for work. When he came back from work at 10:30 he didn’t see the print he expected, but was instead greeted by acrid smoke and a burnt out printer.

The approximate start time of the fire can be guessed by the height of the print before failure.
The approximate start time of the fire can be guessed by the height of the print before failure.

As far as he can figure, some time at around the thirty minute mark the heater cartridge vibrated out of the block. The printer saw a drop in temperature and increased the power to the cartridge. Since the cartridge was now hanging in air and the thermistor that reads the temperature was still attached to the block, the printer kept sending power. Eventually the cartridge, without a place to dump the energy being fed to it, burst into flame. This resulted in the carnage pictured. Luckily the Zortrax is a solidly built full metal printer, so there wasn’t much fuel for the fire, but the damage is total and the fire could easily have spread.

Which brings us to the topics of discussion.

How much can we trust our own work? We all have our home-builds and once you’ve put a lot of work into a printer you want to see it print a lot of things. I regularly leave the house with a print running and have a few other home projects going 24/7. Am I being arrogant? Should I treat my home work with a lesser degree of trust than something built by a larger organization? Or is the chance about the same? Continue reading “Ask Hackaday MRRF Edition: 3D Printers Can Catch Fire”

Getting it Right by Getting it Wrong: RepRap and the Evolution of 3D Printing

The beginning of the DIY 3D printing movement was a heady time. There was a vision of a post-scarcity world in which everything could and would be made at home, for free. Printers printing other printers would ensure the exponential growth that would put a 3D printer in every home. As it says on the front page: “RepRap is humanity’s first general-purpose self-replicating manufacturing machine.” Well, kinda.

Original Darwin. Photo: Adrian Bowyer, founder of RepRap.

Just to set the record straight, I love the RepRap project. My hackerspace put our funds together to build one of the first few Darwins in the US: Zach “Hoeken” came down and delivered the cut-acrylic pieces in person. I have, sitting on my desk, a Prusa Mendel with 3D parts printed by Joseph Prusa himself, and I spent a fantastic weekend with him and Kliment Yanev (author of Pronterface) putting it together. Most everyone I’ve met in the RepRap community has been awesome, giving, and talented. The overarching goal of RepRap — getting 3D printers in as many peoples’ hands as possible — is worthy.

But one foundational RepRap idea(l) is wrong, and unfortunately it’s in the name: replication. The original plan was that RepRap printers would print other printers and soon everyone on Earth would have one. In reality, an infinitesimal percentage of RepRap owners print other printers, and the cost of a mass-produced, commercial RepRap spinoff is much less than it would cost me to print you one and source the parts. Because of economies of scale, replicating 3D printers one at a time is just wasteful. Five years ago, this was a controversial stance in the community.

On the other hand, the openness of the RepRap community has fostered great advances in the state of the DIY 3D printing art. Printers haven’t reproduced like wildfire, but ideas and designs have. It’s time to look back on the ideal of literal replication and realize that the replication of designs, building methods, and the software that drives the RepRap project is its great success. It’s the Open Hardware, smarty! A corollary of this shift in thought is to use whatever materials are at hand that make experimentation with new designs as easy as possible, including embracing cheap mass-produced machines as a first step. The number of RepRaps may never grow exponentially, but the quality and number of RepRap designs can.

Continue reading “Getting it Right by Getting it Wrong: RepRap and the Evolution of 3D Printing”

Rethinking Automated Bed Leveling For 3D Printers

Automatic bed leveling is the next killer feature that will be found on all commercial filament printers. It’s a problem that has been solved a few dozen times already; there are just so many ways you can go about it. The Printrbot uses an inductive sensor to determine the position of the metal bed in relation to the nozzle. The Lulzbot Mini touches the nozzle itself to four contacts on the corner of the bed. There are even a few projects that will mechanically level the bed with the help of a system of cams and springs. It’s a difficult problem, and none of these solutions are perfect. [mjrice] has been thinking about the problem, and he hit upon a solution that is simple, elegant, and can be replicated on a 3D printer. It’s the RepRap solution to 3D printing, and it looks cool, to boot.

Instead of using the nozzle as a contact, getting an inductive sensor, or fabricating a baroque system of gears and cams, [mjrice] is doing this the old-fashioned way: a simple microswitch, the same type of switch you would find on the limit switches of any RepRap. Having a switch at the same Z position as a nozzle is an iffy idea, so [mjrice] made this switch retract into the extruder during printing, without using any motors, servos, or other electromechanical contrivances.

The key to this setup is a simple spring and a rack gear. When this rack gear is hit from the left side, it moves an arm and places the switch down on the bed. Hit the rack from the right side, and the switch folds up into the extruder. Combine this with a bit of G-code at the beginning of the print, and the switch will move down, figure out the actual height of the bed, and flip up out of the way. Beautiful, elegant, and the algorithms for bed leveling are already in most major printer firmwares.

You can check out the video of the mechanism below. It’s a great little device, and since it’s on a RepRap first, it’s not going to show up in a proprietary 3D printer next.

Continue reading “Rethinking Automated Bed Leveling For 3D Printers”

Kicking The Tires Before You Buy: 3d Printers

So you’re looking to buy your first 3D printer, and your index finger is quivering over that 300 US Dollar printer on Stop! You’re about to have a bad time. 3D printing has come a long way, but most 3D printers are designed through witchcraft, legends, and tall tales rather than any rigorous engineering process. I would say most 3D printer designs are either just plain bad, or designed by a team of Chinese engineers applying all their ingenuity to cost cutting. There are a few that are well designed, and there is a comparatively higher price tag attached.

I’ll start by going through some of the myths and legends that show up in 3D printers. After that I’ll go through some of the common, mostly gimmick, features that typically hinder your printer’s ability, rather than adding any useful function. Next I’ll go onto the things that will actually make your printer better. Finally, I’ll add some special consideration if you’re a beginner buying your first printer.

Continue reading “Kicking The Tires Before You Buy: 3d Printers”

Hackaday Links: January 24, 2016

The RepRap wiki was spammed this week. Everything is fine now, but I feel I should call attention to the fact that the RepRap wiki needs some people to contribute, organize, and maintain everything. The wikis for obscure anime shows are better than the RepRap wiki, so if you’re looking to contribute to an important open source project, there ‘ya go.

The 200cc, 5.5HP, 4-stroke OHV Honda GX200 engine is found in a whole lot of tools, and is a fantastic power plant to build a go-kart around. It also costs about $350. There are clones of this engine available direct from China for about $100. Here’s how you add a turbo to one of these clone engines.

Freescale makes some pretty cool sensors and [Juan Ignacio Cerrudo] figured they needed breakout boards. He has some boards for a low-power three-axis accelerometer, an accelerometer and magnetometer, and a pressure sensor.

The Tektronix TDS744A is an older but still extremely capable 500MHz, 2Gsps, 4-channel scope. You can upgrade it to the 1GHz TDS784A by desoldering a few resistors. Very cool if you’re looking for a cheap-ish 1GHz scope.

[TheBackyardScientist] hung out with some cub scouts a few weekends ago and launched a high altitude balloon over Florida. The payload included a game camera, APRS tracker, GoPro, and a few other bits and bobs. The balloon reached 106,000 feet and landed only a few miles from Cape Canaveral.

Big RC planes – UAVs especially – are a pain to launch. Flying wings above a certain size are just dangerous to launch by hand, and landing gear is heavy and for the most part unnecessary. What’s the next best solution? A trebuchet, of course. It mounts on a car and is able to give a UAV a little bit of altitude and some speed. A pretty good idea that could be easily implemented with some load-bearing PVC pipe.

Everybody likes the Game of Life, so here’s one built with a 6502. It’s built around a Western Design Center 65c816 board we’ve seen before, nine MAX7219 LED controllers mapped to the VIA, and nine 8×8 LED matrix displays. Here’s a video of it in action.

About a month ago, a search of AliExpress turned up Apple’s A8 CPU. I bought one. Here’s what I got. It’s a stupidly small pitch BGA, and I don’t have a datasheet. What am I going to do with it? Make a non-functioning board with a few ports, resistors, no traces, and the A8 chip planted square in the middle.

The Effects of Color on Material Properties of 3D Printed Components

The strength of object printed on filament-based 3D printers varies by the plastic used, the G-code used by the printer, the percent infill, and even the temperature the plastic was extruded at. Everything, it seems, has an effect on the strength of 3D printed parts, but does the color of filament have an effect on the stress and strain a plastic part it can withstand? [Joshua M. Pearce] set out to answer that question in one of his most recent papers.

The methods section of the paper is about what you would expect for someone investigating the strength of parts printed on a RepRap. A Lulzbot TAZ 4 was used, along with natural, white, black, silver, and blue 3mm PLA filament. All parts were printed at 190°C with a 60°C heated bed.

The printed parts demonstrated yet again that a RepRap can produce parts that are at least equal in material strength to those produced by a proprietary 3D printer. But what about a difference in the strength among different colors? While there wasn’t a significant variation in the Young’s modulus of parts printed in different colors, there was a significant variation of the crystallization of differently colored printed parts, with white PLA producing the largest percent crystallinity, followed by blue, grey, black, and finally natural PLA. This crystallinity of a printed part can affect the tensile properties of a printed part, but [Pearce] found the extrusion temperature also has a large effect on the percentage of crystallinity.