Robots With 3D Printed Shock Absorbing Skin

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, CSAIL, put out a paper recently about an interesting advance in 3D printing. Naturally, being the computer science and AI lab the paper had a robotic bend to it. In summary, they can 3D print a robot with a rubber skin of arbitrarily varying stiffness. The end goal? Shock absorbing skin!

They modified an Objet printer to print simultaneously using three materials. One is a UV curing solid. One is a UV curing rubber, and the other is an unreactive liquid. By carefully depositing these in a pattern they can print a material with any property they like. In doing so they have been able to print mono body robots that, simply put, crash into the ground better.  There are other uses of course, from joints to sensor housings. There’s more in the paper.

We’re not sure how this compares to the Objet’s existing ability to mix flexible resins together to produce different Shore ratings. Likely this offers more seamless transitions and a wider range of material properties. From the paper it also appears to dampen better than the alternatives. Either way, it’s an interesting advance and approach. We wonder if it’s possible to reproduce on a larger scale with FDM.

3D Printering: Makerbot’s Class Action Suit Dismissed

This time last year, Stratasys, parent company of Makerbot, was implicated in a class action suit. Investors claimed Stratasys violated securities laws, and overstated both the performance of the 5th generation of Makerbot printers and the performance of the company itself. Court docs received by Adafruit have revealed this case has been dismissed with prejudice. Makerbot won this one.

The case presented by Stratasys investors relied on two obvious facts. First, the price of Stratasys shares fell far beyond expectations. Second, the extruder for the 5th generation of Makerbot printers – the ‘Smart Extruder’ – was terrible. No one can reasonably dispute these claims; shares of SYSS fell from $120 in September of 2014 to $30 in September of 2015. With many returns to handle, Makerbot quickly redesigned the Smart Extruder.

Both of these indisputable facts are in stark contrast to statements made by Stratasys and Makerbot at the time. In a press release for the 4th quarter 2013 financial results, Stratasys’ expected sales to grow at least 25% over 2013 and stated it was experiencing “strong sales” of its desktop 3D printer. Concerning the Smart Extruder, Makerbot stated this new feature of the 5th generation Makerbots would make them easy to use, and “define the new standard for quality and reliability.”

The facts of this case are not in dispute – Stratasys did not see the growth they expected in late 2013. The Smart Extruder certainly did not make printers more reliable. These facts, however, are not sufficient to violate securities law.  In a wonderful legal turn of phrase, the judge deciding this case called the statements about the quality of the 5th generation Makerbots consisted of, “non-actionable puffery,” and a ‘statement so vague and such obvious hyperbole than no reasonable investor would rely on them.’

Statements made by Stratasys on their financial performance were also found not to be sufficient to violate securities laws. Stratasys did make several statements about negative performance in late 2014 and 2015, and positive statements made earlier did not have an intent to deceive investors.

This is good news for Makerbot. The claims brought by investors in this case had little merit. The case cannot be appealed, and Stratasys is no longer facing a class action suit. Does this news actually matter? Not really; Makerbot is a dead man walking, and 2016 sales will be at levels not seen since 2010 or 2011.

The consumer 3D printing industry is booming, despite the Makerbot bellwether though.

Hacklet 107 – 3D Printing Projects

3D printers have forever changed the hardware hacker movement. From the original RepRap project on up through current commercial offerings, 3D printers have become an indispensable tool for hackers, makers, and engineers. While printers may not have started a desktop manufacturing revolution, they are a desktop prototyping evolution. It’s rare for a day to go by on Hackaday without a project that uses a 3D printed part in some way shape or form. These printers also continue to evolve, with new projects pushing the technology ever forward. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best 3D printer projects on!

reprapWe start with [TTN] and Icepick Delta. [TTN’s] passion is creating 3D printers as cheaply as possible. The Icepick definitely succeeds at this. Icepick’s frame is made of wood. The motors are commodity steppers. Control is via the long proven Ramps 1.4 board, which can be picked up with drivers and an Arduino Mega clone for under $35 these days. A few ball bearings and metal parts fill out the vitamins of this design. Just about everything else is 3D printed in true RepRap style. The printer is currently running Marlin firmware, but [TTN] plans to move to Repetier in the future.

Even with these humble origins, Icepick manages to print at a very respectable 50 mm/s before frame flex becomes a problem.  Prints at 0.1mm layer height look great, on par with any current commercial printer.

strataNext up is  [Machinist] with 3D printer brain retrofit. Commercial 3D printers have been available for decades now. This means some of the older models are getting a bit long in the tooth. [Machinist] has a very tired 15 year old Stratasys Dimension 768. The mechanics of the Dimension are still in good shape, but the electronics have seen better days. [Machinist] is ditching all the old electronic hardware (and the DRM which goes with it) and setting this machine up with a Smoothieboard 5X. So far the Dimension has been gutted, and [Machinist] has gotten the monster stepper motors playing sweet music with his new control board. I can’t wait to see how this project progresses.

coffeeNext we have [jcchurch’s] Coffee Maker Delta 3D Printer. [jcchurch] has managed to convert an old Norelco coffee maker into a mini sized 3D printer. The warmer plate has even become a heated bed for ABS prints. Unlike Icepick up top, the aim of this design is to use as few 3D printed parts as possible. The idea is that this would be the first printer to build when you don’t have another printer handy. Think of it as a caffeinated RepStrap. According to [jcchurch], this printer has been running strong at Tropical Labs for over a year. You can even pull the delta assembly off and make a pot of coffee! The coffee maker printer is still somewhat of a teaser project. If you see [jcchurch] online, tell him to head over and give us more details!

linearFinally, we have [DeepSOIC] with linear stepper motor 3d printer. 3D printers all use good old fashioned rotary stepper motors. [DeepSOIC] is trying to eliminate all that rotary motion, along with the belts and pulleys required to convert to linear motion. Linear stepper motors can be thought of as regular stepper motors, just unrolled. They tend to be very expensive though, so [DeepSOIC] is building DIY versions. His first attempt was to print motor parts using BlackMagic3D’s ferromagnetic filament. This lead to a whole separate project to measure the permeability of the filament. Unfortunately, the filament isn’t permeable enough to act as a motor for a printer. [DeepSOIC] hasn’t given up though. This is the type of project we love – one that might not work out, but really gets people thinking. Check out the comment thread on the project to see collaboration at work!

If you want to see more 3D printer projects, check out our updated 3D printer list! If I didn’t wake up early enough to catch your project, don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

The MakerBot Obituary

MakerBot is not dead, but it is connected to life support waiting for a merciful soul to pull the plug.

This week, MakerBot announced it would lay off its entire manufacturing force, outsourcing the manufacturing of all MakerBot printers to China. A few weeks ago, Stratasys, MakerBot’s parent company, released their 2015 financial reports, noting MakerBot sales revenues have fallen precipitously. The MakerBot brand is now worth far less than the $400 Million Stratasys spent to acquire it. MakerBot is a dead company walking, and it is very doubtful MakerBot will ever be held in the same regard as the heady days of 2010.

How did this happen? The most common explanation of MakerBot’s fall from grace is that Stratasys gutted the engineering and goodwill of the company after acquiring it. While it is true MakerBot saw its biggest problems after the acquisition from Stratasys, the problems started much earlier.

Continue reading “The MakerBot Obituary”

Makerbot Has Now Cut 36% of Staff in Last 6 Months

The CEO of Makerbot, [Jonathan Jaglom] announced this week a massive reorganization. Twenty percent of the staff will be laid off, management will be changed, an office will be closed, and perhaps most interestingly, the production of 4th generation of Makerbots will be outsourced to contract manufacturers.

This news comes just months after Makerbot announced its first 20% reduction in staff, and follows on the heels of a class action suit from investors. These are troubling times for Makerbot.

So Goes Makerbot, So Goes The Industry

In the last six months, Makerbot has closed all three of its retail locations in Manhattan, Boston, and Greenwich, CT. It has moved out of one of its office buildings in Industry City, Brooklyn as the company faces a class action suit from investors for possible securities violations. These are by any measure troubling times for anyone at Makerbot.

The 3D printing industry has been forced through the rollercoaster of the hype cycle in the last few years, and where Makerbot goes, media coverage and public perception of 3D printing goes with it. According to pundits, we are now deep in the doldrums of the trough of disillusionment. No one wants to make their own parts for their washing machine, it is said, and 3D printers are finicky devices with limited utility.

Despite these pundits’ projections, the 3D printing industry doubled in 2015. Multiple manufacturers of sub $5000 machines are going gangbusters, and seeing the biggest revenues in the history of their respective companies. By any measure except the one provided by Makerbot, we are still in an era of a vast proliferation of 3D printing.

Makerbot, for better or worse, is a bellweather, and public perception and media attention is highly dependant on the success of Makerbot. The Verge writes – incorrectly – “…The consumer 3D-printing market’s rise has slowed”, and Business Insider writes ‘consumers are beginning to lose interest.’ These are not statements backed up by facts or statistics or even hearsay; they are merely a reflection of the consumer’s disinterest in Makerbot and not of the 3D printing industry of the whole.

Unfortunately, we will not know the extent of how bad it is at Makerbot until Stratasys releases its 2015 financial report sometime in early March next year. Wohlers Report 2016, the definitive guide to the 3D printing industry, will be released sometime around May of next year. Keep one thing in mind: Makerbot did not build the 3D printing industry, and the public perception of Makerbot does not necessarily translate to the public perception of 3D printing.

3D Printering: The Makerbot Class Action Suit

Since the 5th generation of Makerbot 3D printers were released at CES in 2014, there has been an avalanche of complaints about the smart extruder in these printers. Clogs were common, and the recommended fix was to simply replace the extruder. The smart extruder is a $175 part, and the mean time before failure is somewhere between 200 and 500 hours. With these smart extruders, you’re looking at a new extruder every dozen prints or so. Combine this with Makerbot’s abdication of open source values, and it’s easy to see why no one in the know would buy a Makerbot.

The performance of the 5th gen Makerbots is also reflected in the Stratasys stock price. The stock has tanked, from a high of $130.83 in early 2014 to a low of $31.88 a few days ago. This has investors calling for blood, and now there’s a class action suit claiming Stratasys violated securities laws. The court docs found by the folks at Adafruit allege Stratasys rushed the 5th gen Makerbots into production resulting in an avalanche of negative feedback, warranty claims, returns, and misled investors until the stock collapsed when the market was made aware of these issues.

The court documents allege Stratasys and Makerbot touted the incredible ease of use and ‘unmatched’ quality of the 5th generation of Makerbots, while former Makerbot employees confirmed known issues with the smart extruder. The 5th gen Makerbots were rushed into production without proper testing for performance and reliability and no standardized testing and validation program. In short, Makerbot itself didn’t know how bad the smart extruder was, but shipped the product anyway. This in turn hurt sales, with one sales executive leaving the company as he “did not want to sell the 5th generation printers after learning about the defect issues because he has a ‘conscience’.”

Despite this, those in charge at Makerbot and Stratasys continued to make misleading  positive claims about the reliability of their printers and how the printers were received by the market. This is the crux of the lawsuit, and something that points to an artificially inflated stock value.

The plaintiffs for this lawsuit are limited to Stratasys stock holders, and anyone out there who only owns a 5th gen Makerbot will sadly be ignored in this lawsuit. Still, if the claims of this lawsuit are true, Stratasys and Makerbot are in for a world of hurt; this is an alleged violation of federal securities laws. demanding a jury trial. Popcorn abounds, and as always, [Zach] and [Adam] came out ahead.

3D Printed Injection Molds

A team at Budapest University has successfully created a functional injection mold for prototyping by using a Stratasys 3D printer.

Prototype injection molds are expensive. They are typically machined out of steel or aluminum which is both costly and time consuming, due to the complex geometries of most molds. [Dr. Jozsef Gabor Kovacs] works in the Department of Polymer Engineering at Budapest University, which is where he came up with the innovative approach of using 3D printing to produce a prototype mold.

The mold was printed in Digital ABS PolyJet Photopolymer plastic using a Objet Connex 3D printer. The injection material used was polyacetal; which has a fairly low melting point of 175°C. By using this method they were able to go from a prototype mold to a test part in less than 24 hours. We don’t even want to think about how expensive that would be to expedite from a machine shop.

After the break you can watch the entire production process from printing to molding.

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