Open Source DIY Printers are Alive and Well: What We Saw At ERRF 18

If you follow the desktop 3D printer market, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that nearly every 3D printer on display at the inaugural East Coast RepRap Festival (ERRF) was made in China. Even Printrbot CEO Brook Drumm had to admit that this was the year his company may finally bite the bullet and begin selling a branded and customized printer built overseas.

When you can get a decent (but let’s be clear, not great) 3D printer for $200 USD, it’s no surprise that American and European manufacturers are having a hard time staying competitive. But not everyone is seduced by low-cost printers. They know they could buy a decent printer for a couple hundred bucks, but for them that’s not the point. Some hackers are just as (if not more) interested in designing and building the machines than they are churning out little plastic boats with the finished product.

Luckily for us, these are also the type of folks who document their builds and make all their collected information and design files available for others under an open source license. Such builders exemplify the true spirit of the RepRap movement, and we’re happy to report that in a sea of imported printers, there were several interesting home built open source printers.

Whether you want to build your own copy of one of these machines, or simply get inspired by some of the ideas their creators had, these machines are physical proof that just because you can order a cheap 3D printer on eBay right now doesn’t mean you have to.

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Little Laser Light Show is Cleverly Packaged, Cheap to Build

We’re suckers for any project that’s nicely packaged, but an added bonus is when most of the components can be sourced cheaply and locally. Such is the case for this little laser light show, housed in electrical boxes from the local home center and built with stuff you probably have in your junk bin.

When we first came across [replayreb]’s write-up and saw that he used hard drives in its construction, we assumed he used head galvanometers to drive the mirrors. As it turns out, he used that approach in an earlier project, but this time around, the hard drive only donated its platters for use as low mass, first surface mirrors. And rather than driving the mirrors with galvos, he chose plain old brushed DC motors. These have the significant advantage of being cheap and a perfect fit for 3/4″ EMT set-screw connectors, designed to connect thin-wall conduit, also known as electromechanical tubing, to electrical boxes and panels. The motors are mounted to the back and side of the box so their axes are 90° from each other, and the mirrors are constrained by small cable ties and set at 45°. The motors are driven directly by the left and right channels of a small audio amp, wiggling enough to create a decent light show from the laser module.

We especially like the fact that these boxes are cheap enough that you can build three with different color lasers. In that case, an obvious next step would be bandpass filters to split the signal into bass, midrange, and treble for that retro-modern light organ effect. Or maybe figuring out what audio signals you’d need to make this box into a laser sky display would be a good idea too.

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