Laser Cutting a 3D Printer

The concept of self-replicating 3D printers is a really powerful one. But in practice, there are issues with the availability and quality of the 3D-printed parts. [Noyan] is taking a different approach by boostrapping a 3D printer with laser-cut parts. There are zero 3D-printed parts in this project. [Noyan] is using acrylic for the frame and the connecting mechanisms that go into the machine.

The printer design chosen for the project is the Prusa i3. We have certainly seen custom builds of this popular design before using laser-cut plywood for the frame. Still, these builds use 3D-printed parts for some of the more complicated parts like the extruder carriage and motor brackets. To the right is the X-carriage mechanism. It is complicated but requires no more than 6 mm and 3 mm acrylic stock and the type of hardware traditionally associated with printer builds.

With the proof of concept done, a few upgrades were designed and printed to take the place of the X-axis parts and the belt tensioner. But hey, who doesn’t get their hands on a 3D printer and immediately look for printable solutions for better performance?

We first saw a laser-cut RepRap almost nine years ago! That kit was going to run you an estimated $380. [Noyan] prices this one out at under $200 (if you know someone with a laser cutter), and of course you can get a consumer 3D printer at that price point now. Time has been good to this tool.

27 thoughts on “Laser Cutting a 3D Printer

  1. This is a great project because it was completed, it works, it’s billed as a bootstrap, and some of the laser-cut parts are being replaced with printed parts.

    But in the pure tradition of hackaday, here comes the shade: anyone who has significant experience with 3D printers can tell you that laser cut acrylic printers (at least ones with acrylic forming part of the mechanical construction of the printer) will always, always, ALWAYS break. I saw those laser-cut 3D printers 9 years ago too…at Maker Faire…where it was broken and not working and the people who made it were shocked and sad. Nobody knew better back then, but laser-cut plywood is by far the tougher material for this type of build.

    No experienced 3D printer / Reprap enthusiasts build or buy acrylic printers, and whenever a new person asks about some cheapo acrylic printer they are warned away from it.

    Someone will reply and say there are ways to make acrylic last longer; make it thicker, flame polish all the edges, use washers to spread out the load, etc. True, but no one does it.

    1. That’s because acrylic isn’t a stable structural material to use in this application. Use something metal. Carbon steel would work though it would be considerably heavier. Probably needs to be laser cut though since it needs to be reasonably precise.

      1. The waterjet or laser cut aluminum frames + frog for Prusa i3 work very well, with every other structural part being 3D printed. However, the OP is trying to bootstrap without easy access to such methods and materials. It should last long enough to print stronger replacements, though the back panel is not easy to replace. That’s one of the advantages of the Mendel90, I suppose…the frame is easy to make with wood and a jigsaw.

        1. Can’t you buy kits of the laser cut Prusa units fairly easily? Is it a cost consideration? Not sure this is really the best way to go about making a better version. Somebody had to make the first lathe but that’s not the case here though.

      2. What about a metal casting made from a laser cut sheet of wax? With that method you can bond wax layers into a 3D shape before coating for the lost wax casting method. Some form of aluminium alloy?

          1. There are various methods to improve casting outcomes, heated forms, vacuums and centrifugal force etc.

            Traditionally many huge bronze statues were cast as a series of plate like sections that were then joined.

    2. I’m one of those who had to struggle with the old laser-cut Rapman kit. A million bolts in everything, and every bolt was either loose or when tightened very slightly more broke the part. And the rods were all mild steel and constantly rusting. And if you even looked at it funny it went out of square. And I *barely* managed to print the first wade’s extruder by dripping oil down the filament as it went into the extruder assembly. Oh, and it was almost impossible to bond the belt into the required loop for the Z axis (ended up sewing it!) And then some pigeons shat all over it (not even kidding), it rusted *again* and was ripped apart in spite.

      Never Again.

  2. Dude, you better get that stuff cleaned up before the wife gets home. She’s gonna kill you if you scratched the table, got glue on the carpet or tore up the chair cushions with all those little screws. You’ll never hear the end of it. Trust me, I know. :)

    Nice build – would Delrin be more stable than acrylic? Maybe more bracing on the blue brackets. I like it though and have a laser cutter. But then again I have a Rostock Max V2 still sitting in the box waiting to be put together.

  3. Noooooo ! How many broken printers, how many entire companies failing *just* for choosing acrylic for structure ( or worse, parts that actually do something … ), over the years … many ….
    Just because people have a lasercutter, some acrylic around, and can’t bother to do a 3 minute google search for the *hundreds* of horror story about acrylic 3d printers …

    I visit a lot of Fablabs around France and Europe, and *most* of the ones that have been around for a while, have one, or more, acrylic 3d printer, gathering dust and broken dreams on the top of a shelf …

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