How Cheap Can A 3D Printer Get? The Anet A8

The short answer: something like $200, if your time is worth $0/hour. How is this possible? Cheap kit printers, with laser-cut acrylic frames, but otherwise reasonably solid components. In particular, for this review, an Anet A8. If you’re willing to add a little sweat equity and fix up some of the bugs, an A8 can be turned into a good 3D printer on a shoestring budget.

That said, the A8 is a printer kit, not a printer. You’re going to be responsible for assembly of every last M3 screw, and there are many. Building the thing took me eight or ten hours over three evenings. It’s not rocket surgery, though. There are very accessible videos available online, and a community of people dedicated to turning this box of parts into a great machine. You can do it if you want to.

This article is half how-to guide and half review, and while the fun of a how-to is in the details, the review part is easy enough to sum up: if you want the experience of building a 3D printer, and don’t mind tweaking to get things just right, you should absolutely look into the A8. If you want a backup printer that can print well enough right after assembly, the A8 is a good deal as well; most of the work I’ve put into mine is in chasing perfection. But there are a couple reasons that I’d hesitate to recommend it to a rank beginner, and one of them is fire.

Still, I’ve put 1,615 m (1.0035 miles) of filament through my A8 over 330 hours of run-time spread across the last three months — it’s been actively running for 15% of its lifetime! Some parts have broken, and some have “needed” improving, but basically, it’s been a very functional machine with only three or four hours of unintentional downtime. My expectations going in were naturally fairly low, but the A8 has turned out to be not just a workhorse but also a decent performer, with a little TLC. In short, it’s a hacker’s printer, and I love it.

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Lego Go-Kart Scores Radio Control

LEGO has always been an excellent toy for both play and learning, and the Technic sets are a great starting point for any budding engineer. Not content to rest on their plastic, blocky laurels, LEGO introduced more advanced parts over the years, such as motors and battery packs to allow builders to propel their creations. Combine this mechanical philosophy with [Matt]’s Giant Lego Go-Kart and you have one heck of a project.

It all started months ago, when [Matt] built his original Giant Lego Go-Kart, a 5-times scaled up model of the original kit #1972-1. Achieved through the wonder of 3D printing, he had sized it up based off the largest parts he could fit on his printer. The Youtube video led to commenters asking – could it be driven?

He decided that radio control was definitely a possibility. Not content to simply bolt on a series of motors to control the drive and steering, he took the effort to build scaled up replica LEGO motors, even taking care to emulate the old-school connectors as well. A particularly nice touch was the LEGO antenna, concealing the Orange RX radio receiver.

There were some hiccups – at this scale & with [Matt]’s parts, the LEGO force just isn’t strong enough to hold everything together. With a handful of zipties and a few squirts of glue, however, the giant ‘kart was drifting around the carpark with ease and hitting up to 26km/h.

In the end, the build is impressive not just for its performance but the attention to detail in faithfully recreating the LEGO aesthetic. As for the next step, we’d like to know what you think – how could this be scaled up to take a human driver? Is it possible? You decide.

Rubies Are a 3D Printer’s Best Friend

Watching a 3D printer work always reminds us of watching a baker decorate a cake. Gooey icing squeezes out of a nozzle and makes interesting shapes and designs. While hot plastic doesn’t taste as good as icing, it does flow easily through the printer’s nozzle. Well… normal plastic, anyway. These days, advanced 3D printers are using filament with wood, metal, carbon fiber, and other additives. These can provide impressive results, but the bits of hard material in them tend to wear down metallic nozzles. If this is your problem and you are tired of replacing nozzles, you should check out the Olsson Ruby Nozzle.

Ruby, in this case, isn’t just a name. The nozzle has a small bit of ruby with a 0.4mm hole in the center — or they have a few other sizes. We suppose diamond would even be better, but ruby is so much more affordable. We haven’t tried these ourselves, but [3D Printing Nerd] has an interesting video review you can see below.

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What Actually Happens At A Hardware Hacking Con

The Hackaday Superconference was last weekend, and it was the greatest hardware con on the planet. What can you build out of a conference badge? If you answered “a resin-based 3D printer” you would have won a prize. If you decided to put your badge in a conference water bottle and make a stun gun you’d receive adoration of all in attendance. Yeah, it got that crazy.

Yes, there’s a Supercon badge in that bottle and it’s now a stun gun.

At other tech conferences, you’ll find gaggles of nerds sitting around a table with MacBooks and Thinkpads. The Superconference is different. Here, you’ll find soldering irons, tackle boxes filled with components, and loose WS2812s scattered about the floor. The smell of solder flux wafts through the air. You detect a hint of ozone.

The depth and breadth of hacks that came out of this were simply stunning. We a binocular virtual reality hack, an internet trolling badge, blinky add-on boards, audio add-on boards, a film festival was shot on the badge, and much more which you’ll find below.

We have started a Badge Hacks list and want to see details of all of the hacks. So if you were at Supercon be sure to publish them on Hackaday.io and send a DM to be added to the list.

Starting Up An Extra Day of Hacking

To get all of this creativity rolling we did something a bit different for this year’s Superconference. Instead of opening the doors up on Saturday morning, we set up a badge hacking area and party on Friday afternoon. The drinks flowed like the meniscus on a properly soldered lead, and by 2pm on Friday, everyone was hacking firmware on the incredible camera badge for this year’s con.

We didn’t stop on Friday. The Superconference is a hardware hacking conference, and that meant we brought out the soldering irons, experimented with melting aluminum with gallium, reflowed a few boards, and created a few deadbug LED cubes. This went on all weekend.

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Cheap 3D Printers Make Cheaper(er) Bioprinters

In case you missed it, prices on 3D printers have hit an all time low. The hardware is largely standardized and the software is almost exclusively open source, so it makes sense that eventually somebody was going to start knocking these things out cheap. There are now many 3D printers available for less than $300 USD, and a few are even dipping under the $200 mark. Realistically, this is about as cheap as these machines are ever going to get.

A startup by the name of 3D Cultures has recently started capitalizing on the availability of these inexpensive high-precision three dimensional motion platforms by co-opting an existing consumer 3D printer to deliver their Tissue Scribe bioprinter. Some may call this cheating, but we see it for what it really is: a huge savings in cost and R&D time. Why design your own kinematics when somebody else has already done it for you?

Despite the C-3PO level of disguise that 3D Cultures attempted by putting stickers over the original logo, the donor machine for the Tissue Scribe is very obviously a Monoprice Select Mini, the undisputed king of beginner printers. The big change of course comes from the removal of the extruder and hotend, which has been replaced with an apparatus that can heat and depress a standard syringe.

At the very basic level, bioprinting is performed in the exact same way as normal 3D printing; it’s merely a difference in materials. While 3D printing uses molten plastic, bioprinting is done with organic materials like algae or collagen. In the Tissue Scribe, the traditional 3D printer hotend has been replaced with a syringe full of the organic material to be printed which is slowly pushed down by a NEMA 17 stepper motor and 8mm leadscrew.

The hotend heating element and thermistor that once were used to melt plastic are still here, but now handle warming the metal frame used to hold the syringe. In theory these changes would have only required some tweaks to the firmware calibration to get working. Frankly, it makes perfect sense, and is certainly a much easier to pull off than some of the earlier attempts at homebrew biological printers we’ve seen.

We won’t comment on the Tissue Scribe’s price point of $999 USD except to say that in the field of bioprinters, that’s pocket change. Still, it seems inevitable that somebody will build and document their own bolt-on biological extruder now that 3D Cultures has shown how simple it really is, so they may find themselves undercut in the near future.

If all this talk of hot extruded collagen has got you interested, we’ve seen some excellent resources on the emerging field of bioprinting that will probably be right up your alley.

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3D Printed Tyres Let You Drive on Water

[Jesus] apparently walked on water, without any tools at all. But when you’ve got a 3D printer handy, it makes sense to use it. [Simon] decided to use his to 3D print some tyres for his R/C car – with awesome results.

[Simon] started this project with a goal of driving on water. Initial experiments were promising – the first design of paddle tyres gave great traction in the sand and were capable of climbing some impressive slopes. However, once aimed at the water, the car quickly sank below the surface.

Returning to the drawing board armed with the advice of commenters, [Simon] made some changes. The paddle tyres were reprinted with larger paddles, and a more powerful R/C car selected as the test bed. On the second attempt, the car deftly skipped along the surface and was remarkably controllable as well! [Simon] has provided the files so you can make your own at home.

It’s a great example of a practical use for a 3D printer. Parts can readily be made for all manner of RC purposes, such as making your own servo adapters.

This 3D Cable Printer Remixes the Delta

When last we ran into [Daren Schwenke] he was showing off his 6-color delta printer that changes colors seamless mid-print. Right now he’s working on a printer that uses tensioned cables to precisely move a toolhead while maintaining enough solidity that [Daren] can tap on the toolhead without it budging at all.

It’s much more simple a rig than a gantry-style 3D printer, with a chassis shaped like a geodesic polyhedron consisting of fiberglass trusses (those driveway markers) secured by 3D-printed lugs, all controlled by a Beaglebone Green and four steppers. A key element of the build is the central steel rod, a 4′ repurposed garden stake which serves to stabilize the whole toolhead. In terms of  build diameter it can scale from around 200 mm to 600 mm. [Daren] aims to using Machinekit’s tripod kinematics for control and he also learned a bunch from RepRap’s Flying SkyDelta project.

For more 3D-printing goodness, be sure to check out [Daren]’s aforementioned 6-color delta.

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