Help Us Decide If This Huge Reprap Array Is The Largest Fleet To Date


Take a minute to think about what your dream job might be.

Done imagining you are a ridiculously wealthy bachelor?  Good.

Back here in the real world, [Caleb Cover] has come into what might be one of the coolest hacking-related jobs we’ve seen in awhile. He recently snagged a gig working for Aleph Objects as the fleet master for a large array of 3D printers. His duties include the care and feeding of 30 MiniMax-style repraps, a job description we sure wouldn’t mind having.

Aside from merely gloating about his newfound employment, [Caleb] wrote in asking if we knew of a reprap setup larger than the one he is responsible for. We couldn’t come up with one, but perhaps you can.

Right now, [Caleb] says that he’s working on seeing how well the machines can produce parts to replicate themselves, which will certainly make this the largest collective set of production 3D printers sooner or later.

While you hunt down other large reprap setups at your monotonous desk job, check out the video below to hear the symphony of 3D printing that greets [Caleb] at the door each day.

Think you might have seen a 3D printing setup more massive than this one?  Pics Vids or it didn’t happen.  Seriously, we want to see em!

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27 thoughts on “Help Us Decide If This Huge Reprap Array Is The Largest Fleet To Date

    1. You’re not going to get that with an Ultimaker, they are just as finicky as a RepRap except it’s harder to repair and maintain because of it’s pseudo open-source and secret BOM. It was an expensive 1300 EUR lesson for me.

    1. First: sorry for commenting this much on a single article, but these topics in particular as in my field of interest/profession :P

      Answer: Depends on the resolution, print time, complexity and available resources.

      If you’re a hobbyist then you need to do a silicone mould, often with a glass fiber support structure. Depending on the complexity of the item this process can become rather hard. Not to mention that additional expertise is needed.

      If you have a production line-up for say, shower heads. Then of course you should be using moulds (injection probably). If you’re working with small batches of prototypes then this is far easier.

      you don’t need built in filtering, chemical knowledge, silicone and urethane expertise and so on.

      I can’t say for sure if it would be better to have some metal/silicone moulds and then cast the parts. Probably? Maybe? the amount of machines make affordable scaling easier though.

      1. “sorry for commenting this much on a single article, but these topics in particular as in my field of interest/profession :P”

        “I can’t say for sure if it would be better to have some metal/silicone moulds and then cast the parts. Probably? Maybe?”

        I really don’t mean to be a dick here (really), but if it’s your profession wouldn’t you know this? I’m positive there’s a quantity break where it’s more affordable to have a factory do a production run of injection molded parts. The only reasons not to do this would be batches smaller than this price break or lacking the knowledge of how to contract out the work.

      2. Injection molds really depend on the complexity of the part. But all information that I’ve found so far basically states a fixed cost of 1k$ – 5k$ for the mold. I would guess that this only becomes viable if you need a few hundred parts.

      3. Isotope: don’t worry it’s just a break in the communication. Web-development is my profession (ref. post about flash) :)

        Other people have since explained when it’s feasible to shift from 3D to moulding. Another discussed factor is also how often replication objects are changed.

    2. Who says they’re all printing the same thing all the time. They might have a large number of different things they want to print. The article says that at the moment they’re printing spares for themselves, but they could all be doing completely different components (for different customers?)

      1. Also, if they make customs or even a small set of items to sell this would improve their throughput by allowing for each part to be made simultaneously and then assembled at once. We just got a printer at work and for everything we’ve printed it’s been between 2 and 49 hours per print. If all components could be made at once that’d take potentially a 2 month delivery time down to two days.

      1. No, but the ability of each generation to produce such a precise object may start to become reduced. Ex: If the printer has a tolerance of 0.1mm, then then each part of the next generation can be 0.1mm out, which means that the 3rd generation will be printed by a less accurate machine, leading to a possible 0.15mm accuracy and so on.

        1. The parts are made out of plastic and therefore have give and flex to them. The accuracy and precision of the machine mostly comes down to the person assembling the machine and how careful they are in making sure everything is square (all of the parts where accuracy is critical are the ‘vitamin’ parts such as the stepper motors, the shafts, the all-thread and the nuts and bolts). Because of this each subsequent generation will be more or less of the same tolerance.

      2. DarwinSurvivor I can assure you that for the most part offspring printers end up printing better than their parent printers did at the time they where printed.

        The reason is several fold:

        1. The vast majority of 3d Printers ATM use lead screw and machined gears for their linear motion, so the printed parts are completely out of the loop on part quality.

        2. Each printer is individually calibrated to spec, so even if you did use printed parts for driving the linear motion, the “copy of a copy” error would be calibrated out. Printers should not be used till they are calibrated within .02mm over 100mm travel.

        3. Over time our software continually gets better, so each generation of machine I have ever done printed a HIGHER quality than the prior.

        4. There is a human in the loop. If and when the printer quality starts suffering the human will adjust the system to eliminate the error.

    1. The concept of using a farm of 3D printers to mass-produce identical 3D printers seems weird to me. Creating thousands of identical fully-developed products? That’s a situation where traditional manufacturing excels. Traditional molding or subtractive techniques (CNC machining) will give you a stronger, more consistent product with a better surface finish in much less time, and you can amortize the cost of the tooling or the CNC programming over the entire run of parts.

      Where 3D printers shine is building one-offs, experimenting with improvements to existing parts and testing new, unproven variations, not just building exactly the same thing over and over.

  1. Most books on Job Shop Best Practices have info on where it makes sense to have tooling built as opposed to one at a time fabrication.

    Having a fleet of 3d printers would change where that inflection point is.

    Making only 1 of something in plastic used to be very expensive, just look at how inexpensive it is now.
    3d printing or CNC machining can’t keep up with more traditional mass production methods, like mold or stamping. As an example, I will use a hypothetical plate for reduction gears for a little servo.

    Making one part, we decide that it doesn’t even make sense to break into the production CNC machine and decide to drill all the holes manually on a Jig Bore.

    Say we need to make 100 a month, at that point we decide to make some drill jigs and move to a plain old drill press. Could use less skilled labor at that point too. Could go full on production this way too. This is the old way of doing things, it scales up with the amount of labor and tooling you throw at the project.

    Moving over to the CNC, say we build 2 10-up fixtures and put them on a index table. One gets unloaded/loaded while the other is machined. The operator spends all his time removing and adding parts. What ever the cycle time is, puts a limit on how many parts could be made. Additionally this is still expensive, nowhere near pennies a part. Really expensive to scale this up.

    Injection Molding cycle times are from 10 seconds and up depending upon wall thickness etc. Not my area of expertise, so I’ll leave it at that.

    Now we go with a Die to stamp these out, just as accurate as the CNC, but at a rate of 120 per minute, that’s 57,600 per 8 hours. You could put this type of tooling in a high performance press like a Bruderer and get upto 1500 SPM, which would be 90,000 parts per hour. Things get tricky in the high speed presses though, things tend to get hot. I could just as easily make multiple parts per press stroke. Capital costs are high, big blocks of expensive tool steels and even bigger blocks of lesser unhardened steel in the die set.

    If there were bends in the part, there would have to be additional tooling probably for even the first part, unless it could be done with simple tools like a breakpress. Wouldn’t really complicate a die or mold too much though.

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