Towards Sensible Packaging For 3D Printer Filament

Filament-based 3D printers are remarkably wasteful. If you buy a kilogram of filament from your favorite supplier, the odds are that it will come wrapped around a plastic spool weighing about 250 grams. Use the filament, and that spool will be thrown in the trash. Very, very few products have such wasteful packaging as 3D printer filament, with the possible exception of inkjet cartridges or getting a receipt with your purchase at CVS.

For the last few years, [Richard Horne], better known as RichRap, has been working towards a solution to the problem of the wasteful spools for 3D printer filament. Now, it looks like he has a solution with the MakerSpool. It’s the perfect solution for a 3D printing ecosystem that doesn’t waste 20% of the total plastic on packaging.

The design of the MakerSpool is fairly straightforward and also 3D printable. It’s a plastic filament spool, just a shade over 200mm in diameter, consisting of two halves that screw together. Add in some RepRap ‘teardrop’ logos, and you have a spool that should fit nearly any machine, and will accept any type of filament.

The trick with this system is, of course, getting the filament onto the spool in the first place. Obviously, filament manufacturers would have to ship unspooled filament that’s somehow constrained and hopefully vacuum packed. Das Filament, a filament manufacturer out of Germany, has already tested this and it looks like they have their process down. It is possible to ship a kilogram of 1.75 filament without a spool, and held together with zip ties. Other filament manufacturers also have packaging processes that are amenable to this style of packaging.

Whether this sort of packing will catch on is anyone’s guess, but there are obvious advantages. There is less waste for the environmentalists in the crowd, but with that you also get reduced shipping costs. It’s a win-win for any filament manufacturer that could also result in reduced costs passed onto the consumer.

Boost Tube Replacement Through 3D Printing

[Sam] is the lucky owner of a 1990 VW Corrado G60. To the uninitiated, that’s the souped-up, go fast version with the fancy supercharger on top. While performing some mods to the air intake (car-speak for “hacks”), there came a need for a custom tube to eliminate the original silencer box. With available options costing up to $400, suddenly 3D printing a replacement seemed like a better answer.

3D printing intake parts for a supercharged vehicle has some unique challenges. The intake must be able to take the boost pressures seen by the engine, in this case up to around 10 psi. There must be no air leaks at all as this risks confusing the sensors that measure how much air is entering the engine. Lastly, the tube must be able to withstand the hot, and often oily environment under the hood.

The first attempt was completed with TPU filament, which unfortunately did not hold pressure. A followup with PLA fared better, but was unable to withstand the heat present in the engine bay. After some experimentation, a successful print was made in PETG which was more robust. In the final design, [Sam] applied a rubber coating and then some aluminum tape, to both help seal any micro-holes in the 3D printed surface as well as help protect against heat.

After over a month of testing, [Sam]’s data logs indicate the tube is performing well and holding boost. It goes to show that with some perseverance and iterative design, 3D printed parts can often save the day.

Perhaps you’re inspired by this hack but need to jack up your car to work on it? Never fear, you can 3D print those too.

SiFive Introduces RISC-V Linux-Capable Multicore Processor

Slowly but surely, RISC-V, the Open Source architecture for everything from microcontrollers to server CPUs is making inroads in the community. Now SiFive, the major company behind putting RISC-V chips into actual silicon, is releasing a chip that’s even more powerful. At FOSDEM this weekend, SiFive announced the release of a Linux-capable Single Board Computer built around the RISC-V ISA. It’s called the HiFive Unleashed, and it’s the first piece of silicon capable or running Linux on a RISC-V core.

SiFive’s HiFive Unleashed

The HiFive Unleashed is built around the Freedom U540 SOC, a quad-core processor built on a 28nm process. The chip itself boasts four U54 RV64GC cores with an additional E51 RV64IMAC management core. This chip has support for 64-bit DDR4 with ECC and a single Gigabit Ethernet port. Those specs are just the chip though, and you’ll really need a complete system for a single board computer. This is the HiFive Unleashed, a board sporting the Freedom U540, 8GB of DDR4 with ECC, 32MB of Quad SPI Flash, Gigabit Ethernet, and a microSD card slot for storage. If you don’t mind being slightly inaccurate while describing this to a technological youngling, you could say this is comparable to a Raspberry Pi but with a completely Open Source architecture.

News of this caliber can’t come without some disappointment though, and in this case it’s that the HiFive Unleashed will ship this summer and cost $999. Yes, compared to a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone that is an extremely high price, but it has to be borne in mind that this is a custom chip and low-volume silicon on a 28nm process. Until a router or phone manufacturer picks up a RISC-V chip for some commodity equipment, this architecture will be expensive.

This announcement of a full Single Board Computer comes just months after the announcement of the SOC itself. Already, GCC support works, Linux stuff is going upstream, and the entire Open Source community seems reasonably enthusiastic about RISC-V. It’ll be great to see where this goes in the coming years, and when we can get Linux-capable RISC-V chips for less than a kilobuck.

Crowdfunding Is Now A Contract Between Company And Backer

Kickstarter is not a store. Indiegogo is not a store. Crowdfunding is not buying something — you’re merely donating some money, and you might get a reward for your pledge. Caveat emptor doesn’t apply, because there is no buyer, and no one can figure out what the correct Latin translation for ‘backer’ is. These are the realities that have kept Indiegogo and Kickstarter in business, have caused much distress in people who think otherwise, and have been the source of so, so many crowdfunding follies.

Now, finally, crowdfunding is being legally recognized as a store. The Register reports a court in England has ruled against Retro Computers Ltd and said it had formed a contract of sale with crowdfunding backer Rob Morton. For one person, at least, for one of their pledges, Indiegogo is a store.

The crowdfunding campaign in question is the Retro Computers’ Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega Plus, a small device not unlike the Commodore 64 direct to TV joysticks. The Spectrum Vega simply plugs into your TV, reads an SD card, and plays old ‘speccy games. Clive Sinclair, the genius who brought us the Spectrum, strange flat CRTs, and a host of other inventions, was involved in this campaign. In the years since the campaign ended, there have been numerous updates and Retro Computers still says they intend to deliver the device. Morton, apparently fed up with the delays, brought a suit against Retro Computers for the grand sum of £584: £85 for the Spectrum pledge, £5 for shipping, and the remainder for travel expenses and lost wages for the court date.

District Judge Clarke of Luton County Court heard the case and ruled against Retro Computers, finding there was a contract of sale between Morton and Retro Computers Ltd.. Evidence included a number of copies of Morton’s order, a document the judge pointed out as saying ‘this order’ and not ‘this pledge’. Additionally, the judge found the fine print on Indiegogo does not negate a contract of sale; there was still an implied agreement between Morton and Retro Computers, and Retro Computers had breached the contract by not delivering a Spectrum.

It should go without saying that this finding does not apply to every project on Indiegogo, it does not apply to Kickstarter, and nor does it apply to every crowdfunding campaign. This does not even apply to all backers of the Spectrum Vega Plus. Still, there are hundreds of thousands of backers for crowdfunding projects that haven’t received what they paid for, and if nothing else this story gives just a little bit of satisfaction to anyone that’s still waiting on an undelivered product.

MIT Makes Lego Lab For Microfluidics

As any good hacker (or scientist) knows, sometimes you find the tools you need in unexpected places. For one group of MIT scientists, that place is a box of Lego. Graduate student [Crystal Owens] was looking for new ways to make a cheap, simple microfluidics kit. This technique uses the flow of small amounts of liquid to do things like sort cells, test the purity of liquids and much more. The existing lab tools aren’t cheap, but [Crystal] realized that Lego could do the same thing. By cutting channels into the flat surface of a Lego brick with a precise CNC machine and covering the side of the brick with glass, she was able to create microfluidic tools like mixers, drop makers and others. To create a fluid resistor, she made the channel smaller. To create a larger microfluidic system, she mounted the blocks next to each other so the channels connected. The tiny gap between blocks (about 100 to 500 microns) was dealt with by adding an O-ring to the end of each of channel. Line up several of these bricks, and you have a complete microfluidic system in a few blocks, and a lab that only costs a few dollars.

Continue reading “MIT Makes Lego Lab For Microfluidics”

3D Print A 3D Printer Frame

It is over a decade since the RepRap project was begun, originally to deliver 3D printers that could replicate themselves, in other words ones that could print the parts required to make a new printer identical to themselves. And we’re used to seeing printers of multiple different designs still constructed to some extent on this principle.

The problem with these printers from a purist replicating perspective though is that there are always frame parts that must be made using other materials rather than through the 3D printer. Their frames have been variously threaded rod, lasercut sheet, or aluminium extrusion, leaving only the fittings to be printed. Thus [Chip Jones]’ Thingiverse post of an entirely 3D printed printer frame using a 3D printed copy of aluminium extrusion raises the interesting prospect of a printer with a much greater self-replicating capability. It uses the parts from an Anet A8 clone of a Prusa i3, upon which it will be interesting to see whether the 3D printed frame lends the required rigidity.

There is a question as to whether an inexpensive clone printer makes for the most promising collection of mechanical parts upon which to start, but we look forward to seeing this frame and its further derivatives in the wild. Meanwhile this is not the most self-replicating printer we’ve featured, that one we covered in 2015.

Thanks [MarkF] for the tip.

Here’s Why Hoverboard Motors Might Belong In Robots

[madcowswe] starts by pointing out that the entire premise of ODrive (an open-source brushless motor driver board) is to make use of inexpensive brushless motors in industrial-type applications. This usually means using hobby electric aircraft motors, but robotic applications sometimes need more torque than those motors can provide. Adding a gearbox is one option, but there is another: so-called “hoverboard” motors are common and offer a frankly outstanding torque-to-price ratio.

A teardown showed that the necessary mechanical and electrical interfacing look to be worth a try, so prototyping has begun. These motors are really designed for spinning a tire on the ground instead of driving other loads, but [madcowswe] believes that by adding an encoder and the right fixtures, these motors could form the basis of an excellent robot arm. The ODrive project was a contender for the 2016 Hackaday Prize and we can’t wait to see where this ends up.