The State Of 3D Printing At MRRF

Only a few days ago, a significant proportion of the Hackaday crew was leaving Goshen, Indiana after the fourth annual Midwest RepRap Festival. We go to a lot of events every year, and even when you include DEF CON, security conferences, ham swap meets, and Maker Faires, MRRF is still one of the best. The event itself is an odd mix of people rallying under a banner of open source hardware and dorks dorking around with 3D printer. It’s very casual, but you’re guaranteed to learn something from the hundreds of attendees.

Hundreds of people made the trek out to Goshen this year, and a lot of them brought a 3D printer. Most of these printers aren’t the kind you can buy at a Home Depot or from Amazon. These are customized machines that push the envelope of what consumer 3D printing technology. If you want to know what 3D printing will be like in two or three years, you only need to come to MRRF. It’s an incubator of great ideas, and a peek at what the future of 3D printing holds.

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MRRF: Tasty Filament From Proto-Pasta

Alongside printers from all walks of manufacturing, one can naturally expect to find people selling different kinds of filament at a 3D printing festival. One of these purveyors of plastic was Proto-pasta out of Vancouver, WA. Proto-pasta prides themselves on unique offerings and complete transparency about their manufacturing processes.

Almost all of their filaments are either PLA or HTPLA with something special added during extrusion. The menu includes steel, iron, carbon, and finely ground coffee. The coffee filament was one of our favorites for sure. The print they brought with them looked solidified light roast and had a transparent kind of lollipop quality to it. I couldn’t detect the coffee scent due to allergies, but [Alex] assured me that printing with this filament will make your house or hackerspace smell terrific.

[Alex] was giving away samples of their stainless steel composite PLA. This one can be polished to a smooth shine with a series of papers that run from 400 to 8,000-grit. Another of their newer offerings is PLA infused with magnetic iron particles. Prints made with this stuff can be rusted to achieve an antique, steampunk, or shabby chic aesthetic.

Proto-pasta also has an electrically conductive composite carbon PLA. This one is great for capacitive applications like making a custom, ergonomic stylus or your own game controller. According to the site, the resistivity of printed parts is 30 ohms per centimeter as measured perpendicular to the layers, and 115 ohms along the layers.

Have you made anything awesome with conductive or magnetic filament? Have you had any problems with unorthodox filaments? Let us know in the comments.

MRRF: Launching An Adorable Printer For Fun

Patrick and Matt hold a running Kitten Printer. The frame is stiff enough that the printer can be held or turned upside down and it can keep printing.
Patrick and Matt hold a running Kitten Printer. The frame is stiff enough that the printer can be held or turned upside down and it can keep printing without visible defects in the print.

[Patrick] and [Matt] have been coming to the Midwest RepRap Festival from Minneapolis for the past few years and bringing their trusty Tantillus printers with them. However, sometime between this year and the last [Patrick] decided that it would be really fun to make his own 3D printer, and liking the size and accuracy of the Tantillus, started there.

The adorably sized printer is adorably named too: Kitten 3D printer. The printer is certainly an enthusiast’s choice. It’s expensive at 1200 and small, but very well made. Its one big advantage?  It prints really accurate parts.

The Tantillus also printed well, but the extruder left a lot to be desired, and the low stretch fishing line movement was very difficult to get tensioned just right. The secret behind the Tantillus and Kitten’s great print quality, aside from good design, is the small xy movement and low weight of the extruder set-ups. By having a movement over a very small range, cumulative errors in construction never get to add up. Also vibrations are less likely to show and smaller moments on the joints mean less flex at the extremes of the movements.

Really stunning print quality almost entirely free of ringing and z-wobble.
Really stunning print quality almost entirely free of ringing and z-wobble. 100mm x 100mm tray. These are very small parts.

[Patrick] is a mechanical engineer for his day job, and since this was a just for fun printer, he cut no corners. The frame is made with Misumi extrusions and linear movements. The build plate sits on a machined aluminum plate. It’s not flexing or going anywhere.

Part of what really stood out to me about the printer are a lot of neat little features which show careful thought. For example, the extruder movement sits neatly under one of the motors. All the parts except for one can be printed inside its build envelope without support. It uses around 200g of plastic. Every axis is constrained just enough, rather than the common tendency to over constrain that plagues 3D printer design. The spec sheet reads like my printer part wishlist: Bondtech extruder, Rambo board, E3d nozzle, heated bed, flat borosilicate build plate, name brand linear movements, and a well designed Z.

The entire extruder assembly tucks under one of the XY motors at the corner of its movement. Compare its size to the size of a NEMA14 stepper motor.

Another interesting aspect of the design is the extremely light extruder assembly. The lighter an extruder can get, the less ringing will show in your parts at speed. This is one of the most compact designs I’ve witnessed. It consists of two fans, an E3d v6 lite nozzle, and two small linear bearings. The cold end is handled by a bowden set-up and a Bondtech extruder at the back of the printer. The only way to get it lighter would be a different nozzle, such as the upcoming insanely light 13g Pico from B3 unveiled at the festival. I was also interested to see that the bearings on the supporting rails were printed bushings to keep the weight even lower. [nop head] has tested these extensively, they should be fine as long as the rods have a good finish.

I’ve mentioned the size before, but it’s hard to grasp just how adorable this printer is without seeing it. The build envelope is 100mm x 100mm x 100mm, the printer itself is 200mm x 200mm x 240mm. That’s only 50mm wider than the build footprint. It’s a really fun design just to look at and see how they fit it all in there. There are lots of neat little tricks with belt routing and part design to get it all right.

For the enthusiast this would make a good small parts printer and travel printer. However, for me, it was neat to see people still setting out to try designing their own printer. In some ways the 3d printer movement has become crowded with Chinese knock-offs, and I was excited to see something new at the festival. It wasn’t the only new printer design there, but it stood out to me the most. I like the uncompromising nature of it, many people try to design for the lowest BOM and not the nicer print. There are still lots of low-hanging fruit in the 3d printer world and many of them are just getting the mechanics right.

[Patrick] and [Matt] came to the festival with their printer to see if people would like it. They didn’t have grand dreams of selling tons of printers and making millions. They were quite aware that their price point and the small size made it not for everyone. However, their table always had a small crowd. They just really like 3D printers, and that honesty resonated. They didn’t even have a website up at the start of the convention, but by the end they had gotten so many requests they had to oblige. They expect to have 3 kit options available by the end of April. If you’re interested there’s a mailing list sign up on their website. Let’s hope we see them at MRRF again next year with another cool design to look over.

MRRF: Innovating Extruders And Dissolvable Filament

Think laying down molten plastic on a 3D printer is as easy as squeezing plastic filament out of a hot tube? It’s not, and anyone who had a 3D printer in 2009 would tell you as such. There were hobbed bolts that stripped the plastic into a gooey paste, extremely large x carriages that made everything wobbly, and nothing worked as well as it does today.

Technology marches on, and this year’s Midwest RepRap Festival had people showing off the latest advances in pushing plastic, and something that hasn’t seen much use yet – dissolvable filament.

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MRRF, How Red Hat Helps Open Source 3D Printing

Red Hat is the world’s largest open source company. Run as a for profit company, it manages to give every line of code away and still rake in a cozy 1.5 to 2 billion US dollars a year. So, quite provably, Red Hat knows how to run an open source business. Despite being a software company, as a corporation, Red Hat has hopes for the future of open hardware, and they put their money where their ethos is.

[Tom Callaway] is Red Hat’s full time 3d Printer guy. He works at Red Hat headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina. We had a chance to talk to him at MRRF and figure out what it is that Red Hat does for 3D printing anyway.

Red Hat’s first interest is that anyone who uses their software to run a 3D printer or interacts with the files involved has an easy time of it in Linux. To that end Tom regularly tests the latest versions of the software we regularly use. He makes sure that the software is nicely packaged for Red Hat. On top of that he also contributes to the projects themselves. He has submitted patches for Cura and Slic3r to name a few.

To run the software through its paces, and as a nice perk for Red Hat employees, [Tom] runs Red Hat’s 3D printing lab. Employees can print anything they like in it, but it also gives Red Hat an opportunity to test the software for failure points. If you are a 3D printer manufacturer (open or closed) you can send them a printer and they’ll make sure it has a profile and runs faultlessly with each version update, not bad!

The face of 3D printing at Red Hat.
The face of 3D printing at Red Hat.

[Tom] also participates in the Red Hat Fedora 3D printing special interest group. This lets Red Hat Fedora users come together and work out problems they find in the wild. It’s also one of the best ways for him to stay ahead of the new software packages that come out as 3d printing develops.

The coolest thing about all this, is Red Hat’s support for manufacturers. Red Hat will make sure any software that supports a printer will run, for free. So if you’ve written a custom driver for your printer that only runs on windows. As long as you give Red Hat access to the source code, they’ll make sure it can run on Linux as well. Though, apparently none of the closed source printer manufacturers have taken them up on the offer. Red Hat does have a partnership with open manufacturers such as Lulz Bot.

Being primarily a software company, Red Hat has no personal interest in entering the open hardware market at this time. They do want to see it succeed, and to that end, their last and most interesting service is their willingness to talk about what has and hasn’t worked in running an open source business. People in the open hardware business can reach out to people like [Tom] and ask for advice on the every day aspects of the open source business. Red Hat has undoubtedly learned many lessons over the years, and like their software, they’re willing to share every line.

Edit: Lastly, thanks to [Miro] in the comments, who also works for Red Hat and contributes to 3d Printing. Cool! I just wanted to be clear that most of these things translate into the Fedora Project, which oversees Fedora Linux, a very popular distro (Apparently Linus Torvald’s preferred.)  If you’d like to participate in any of this the Fedora Linux 3d Printer SIG (I mistakenly called it Red Hat SIG, which implies that it is only for paying customers of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which is not true) is the place to go. It makes Fedora better and helps the 3d printing community as a whole:)

MRRF: 3D Printed 2D Paintings

3D printing is obviously best used in printing three-dimensional objects. Laser cutters, jig saws, and CNC routers are obviously well-equipped to machine flat panels with intricate shapes out of plastic sheets, plywood, or metal, but these devices have one drawback: they’re subtractive manufacturing, and 3D printers add material. What good is this? [Jason Preuss] demonstrated a very interesting 3D printing technique at this year’s Midwest RepRap Festival. He’s producing 2D paintings with a 3D printer, with results that look like something between very intricate inlay work and a paint by numbers kit.

[Jason Preuss]' multicolor 2D print. Notice the toolpaths in the reflection. Click to embiggen.
[Jason Preuss]’ multicolor 2D print. Notice the toolpaths in the reflection of the upper left hand corner. Click to embiggen.
[Jason] is using a 3D printer, a series of very specialized techniques, and a software stack that includes a half-dozen programs to print multicolor 2D scenes. This isn’t pigment, paint, dye, or ink; the artwork becomes a single piece of plastic with individual colors laid down one at a time.

The best example of [Jason]’s work is a copy of a paint by numbers scene. Here, [Jason] makes an outline of all the shapes, separates onto different layers by color, and prints each color, one layer at a time. It’s an incredibly labor-intensive process to even get models into a slicer. Actually printing the model is even more difficult. [Jason]’s paint by numbers scene uses about twelve different colors.

[Jason]'s 3D printed paint by numbers scene. About a dozen different colors were used for this print.
[Jason]’s 3D printed paint by numbers scene. About a dozen different colors were used for this print.
We’ve seen [Jason]’s work at MRRF before, including last year’s exhibition of a fantastic chocolate clock that was a 3D printed version of an old scroll saw pattern. Taking what is normally a 2D design and translating that into something that can be built with a 3D printer seems to be [Jason]’s forte, and the results are remarkable. If you don’t know what you were looking at, you would just think these art pieces are a strange industrial fabrication process. Once you look closer, you have an immediate respect for the artistry and craftsmanship that went into a sheet of plastic only a few millimeters thick and no bigger than a piece of paper.

[Jason] hasn’t documented his build process for these 2D pictures on a 3D printer quite yet. There’s a reason for that: it’s supposedly very complicated, and it’s going to take a while to get all the documentation together. Eventually, the process will be documented and a tutorial will pop up on [Jason]’s website. He’s also on Thingiverse, with a few semi-related designs available for download.

From what we’ve seen at MRRF, in the next few years, a dual extrusion printer will be a necessity. While dual extrusion won’t be able to recreate such colorful pictures, it will make the creation of these 2D plastic panels much easier, and they will surely be popular. We can’t wait to see what [Jason] comes up with next.

Ask Hackaday MRRF Edition: 3D Printers Can Catch Fire

[Jay] out of the River City Labs Hackerspace in Peoria, IL cleared out a jam in his printer. It’s an operation most of us who own a 3D printer have performed. He reassembled the nozzle, and in a moment forgot to tighten down the grub nut that holds the heater cartridge in place. He started a print, saw the first layer go down right, and left the house at 8:30 for work. When he came back from work at 10:30 he didn’t see the print he expected, but was instead greeted by acrid smoke and a burnt out printer.

The approximate start time of the fire can be guessed by the height of the print before failure.
The approximate start time of the fire can be guessed by the height of the print before failure.

As far as he can figure, some time at around the thirty minute mark the heater cartridge vibrated out of the block. The printer saw a drop in temperature and increased the power to the cartridge. Since the cartridge was now hanging in air and the thermistor that reads the temperature was still attached to the block, the printer kept sending power. Eventually the cartridge, without a place to dump the energy being fed to it, burst into flame. This resulted in the carnage pictured. Luckily the Zortrax is a solidly built full metal printer, so there wasn’t much fuel for the fire, but the damage is total and the fire could easily have spread.

Which brings us to the topics of discussion.

How much can we trust our own work? We all have our home-builds and once you’ve put a lot of work into a printer you want to see it print a lot of things. I regularly leave the house with a print running and have a few other home projects going 24/7. Am I being arrogant? Should I treat my home work with a lesser degree of trust than something built by a larger organization? Or is the chance about the same? Continue reading “Ask Hackaday MRRF Edition: 3D Printers Can Catch Fire”