Melting plastic powder together, one layer at a time

Here’s an interesting development in the world of 3D printers: A rapid prototyping machine that melts plastic powder together to create objects with extremely good resolution

The Blueprinter works by drawing a 0.1 mm thick layer of plastic powder over the build platform. After that, a very hot needle-shaped probe melts the plastic together. This process continues at a rate of 10mm an hour on the z axis, and a very precise plastic model eventually appears in the powder.

There is no price ( or solid release date ) for the Blueprinter, but this article from earlier this year tells us the price for the machine will be €9,995, with a material cost of €49 per kg. Pricey, yes, but seeing as how the RepRap community already has the techniques behind melting plastic down pat, it might now be too hard to build your own plastic sintering printer.

If you know of any current projects or builds that are trying to emulate this plastic powder melting technique, drop us a note on the tip line. We’d love to see a version of this printer up and running. Until then, you can check out the render showing a rendered Blueprinter in action, along with a demo of a plastic clip printed on this sintering printer.

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Yet Another RepRap Host looks pretty cool

Joining the pantheon of other RepRap host software packages such as ReplicatorG, RepSnapper, and Skeinforge is Yet Another RepRap Host, a project by [Arkadiusz] that combines a lot of neat features into a very cool package.

One thing we’ve really got to give [Arkadiusz] credit for is a virtual table that allows you to import several .STL files, place them on a virtual build platform, and print them all at once. Previously, the only way we knew how to do this was by either creating a single .STL file with all the desired parts already in place, or arraying several object to increase production. The virtual table feature allows anyone to bypass those steps and print out a lot of objects all at once.

YARRH also allows you to view the GCode in 3D. This feature is a little kludgy at the moment, but [Arkadiusz] says it’s functional and more than serviceable to run a 3D printer.

Right now, YARRH is only available for Windows, but a package for Ubuntu (and hopefully OS X) are coming down the pipe. You can check out some videos of YARRH in action after the break.

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RA 3D printer controller board does everything, has disco lights

3D printers are getting far, far more complicated than a 4-axis, plastic-squirting CNC machine. These days, you really haven’t earned your geek cred unless you’ve hacked an LCD and SD card interface into your 3D printer, or at least experimented with multiple extruders. There’s a problem with the controller boards everyone is using, though: most boards simply don’t have enough output pins, greatly reducing the number of cool things a 3D printer can do.

Enter RA. It’s a new 3D printer controller board with IO for any imaginable setup. Going down the feature list of RA, we’re wondering why we haven’t seen some of these features before. A 24-pin ATX power header is soldered directly to the board, giving RA users a stupidly easy way to power their printer. Of course there are outputs for LEDs, camera triggers (printer time-lapse movies are really cool), light rings, buzzers, an LCD/rotary encoder/SD card control panel, and support for two heated beds for gigantic printers. If printing in one color isn’t good enough for you, RA has support for three extruders

Compared to other 3D printer boards such as RAMPS or the Sanguinololu, the number of outputs on this board is simply amazing. If you’re planning to build a huge, feature-laden 3D printer, you probably couldn’t do much better than what RA is offering.

Tearing apart a hot glue gun for a 3D printer

If you’re building a 3D printer, the most complicated part is the extruder. This part uses a series of gears to pull plastic filament off of a spool, heats it up, and squirts it out in a manner precise enough to build objects one layer at a time. [Chris] made his own extruder out of a hot glue gun and made it so simple we’re surprised we haven’t seen this build before.

The basic operations of a plastic extruder – pushing a rod of plastic through a heated nozzle – already exists in a hot glue gun available for $3 at WalMart. To build his printer, [Chris] tor apart the hot glue gun and mounted the nozzle on a piece of plywood. The hot glue sticks are fed into the nozzle with the help of a 3D printed gear and a stepper motor driver.

After the break, you can see [Chris]’s hot glue gun RepRap printing a 10cm cube. It’s not fast, but the quality is exceptional, especially considering he made it out of a hot glue gun.

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3D printing with Nylon for a more useful objects

[taulman] over on Instructables has been working on his own version of a 3D printer. Unlike the usual PLA or ABS filament all the RepRaps and Makerbots use, this printer uses nylon to make parts with very interesting properties.

Most extrusion printers are designed to print with ABS (a very hard plastic that melts around 220-230° C) or PLA (a somewhat softer plastic that melts at about 180° C). [taulman] is using Nylon 6, a very slippery and bendable plastic that melts around 320° C (about 600 degrees Fahrenheit). He’s doing this with a hot end of his own design and a ‘spiky’ extruder bolt that allows high-temperature thermoplastics to be extruded into any shape imaginable.

For the longest time, the 3D printer community has been using low-temperature thermoplastics such as PLA and ABS. There are obvious benefits to these materials: it’s pretty easy to source a spool of filament, and the low melting point of these plastics makes building a printer easier and safer. Now that [taulman] has the high-temperature plastic nut cracked, he’s moving on to easily-machiniable Delrin and transparent Polycarbonate. Very cool, and hopefully in a year’s time we’ll have a choice of what material to run in our printers.

After the break, there are a few videos [taulman] put up showing his printer at work and the properties of his 3D printed objects. It looks like [taulman] can print objects that are impossible on any other 3D printer we’ve seen; the flexible iPhone case probably couldn’t be made on any other DIY machine.

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Printing circuitry on a RepRap

Over on the RepRap blog, [Rhys] has been experimenting with molten metal to build circuits with the RepRap.

Last June, [Rhys] found a neat alloy made of Tin, Bismuth, and a little bit of Indium that melts at around 130° C, and has just the right properties to be extruded with a standard RepRap setup. The results were encouraging, but the molten metal quickly dissolved the brass and aluminum nozzles [Rhys] was pushing liquid metal through.

The solution to this problem was solved by anodizing the heck out of a RepRap nozzle to make a hard, protective oxide layer. Already [Rhys] has logged hundreds of hours squirting molten metal out of his RepRap with no signs of any damage to the nozzle.

Since [Rhys] figured out how to print in metal, he whipped up an extremely minimal Sanguino board. You can see this RepRapped PCB running a LED blink program after the break. Now to work on the RepRap pick and place…

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Mixing colors on the Reprap

3d printing has come huge strides in ability to construct detailed objects. Unfortunately, color is still a considerable limitation. Here, some people at the Reprap blog are having fun coming up with an extruder head that actually mixes two colors as it deposits them. Don’t confuse this with the dual head that Makerbot is touting that allows you to switch colors on the fly, this is a single head that actually has a cavity where the material is melted, then stirred to create a combination of the two. It is an interesting method of overcoming a limited supply of colors.

Having this extra stirring chamber means that there would be a small amount of material wasted any time that you wanted to make a change to the color, as it would have to be purged. There are some interesting thoughts in their comments on how to use this extra material most efficiently.