Cutting Edge of 3D Printing Revealed At Last Weekend’s Midwest RepRap Festival

The last three days marked the 2018 Midwest RepRap Festival. Every year, the stars of the 3D printing world make it out to Goshen, Indiana for the greatest gathering of 3D printers and printing enthusiasts the world has ever seen. This isn’t like any other 3D printing convention — everyone here needs to take the time to get to Goshen, and that means only the people who want to be here make it out.

Over the weekend we covered some amazing hacks and printer builds from MRRF. The ‘BeagleBone On A Chip’ has become a complete solution for a 3D printer controller. This is a great development that takes advantage of the very under-used Programmable Real-Time Units found in the BeagleBone, and will make an excellent controller for that custom printer you’ve been wanting to build. E3D has announced they’re working on an automatic tool-changing printer. It’s a slight derivative of their now-defunct BigBox printer, but is quite possibly the best answer to multi-material filament printers we’ve ever seen. There’s some interest from the community, and if everything goes well, this printer may become a kit, or something of the sort. Filament splicing robots also made an appearance at this year’s MRRF, and the results are extremely impressive. Now you can create multi-color prints with the printer you already own. Is it expensive? Yes, but it looks so good.

This wasn’t all that could be found at MRRF. There were hundreds of printers at the event, and at last count, over 1300 attendees. That’s amazing for a 3D printer convention that is held every year in the middle of nowhere, Indiana. What were the coolest sights and sounds coming out of MRRF this year? Check out the best-of list below.

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The Midwest RepRap Festival Spectacular

Every year, nestled between a swine auction and beef auction at the fairgrounds in Goshen, Indiana, the world’s greatest 3D-printing meetup happens. The Midwest RepRap Festival draws the greatest minds in 3D printing from around the world, with teams flying in from Prague, Oxford, and Hong Kong. This year was bigger than any other year. Over 1,000 people ventured forth into the sticks to attend this awesome festival dedicated to DIY printers.

What did we see this year? The PartDaddy, SeeMeCNC’s 18-foot-tall delta printer made an appearance. We saw a new extruder from E3D, and an announcement that Open Source filaments will soon be a reality. True color printing with a five filament CMYKW system is weird and cool. DIY resin printers using laser diodes and galvos are now a thing. An Easy Break Oven isn’t broken. Printers with an infinite build volume now exist, and it skirts around a MakerBot patent, too.

There was more to see at MRRF than a single weekend would allow. [Jason Kridner] from BeagleBone was there talking about the latest in fancy single-chip Linux computers. Hackerspaces were there talking about their coolest builds and doing the calculations necessary to strap model rocket engines to 3D printed rockets. A few local colleges sent teams out to talk about their efforts to bring additive manufacturing to their programs. YouTube personalities were there. Check out the rest of the goodies we saw below.

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MRRF 17: A Working MakerBot Cupcake

The Midwest RepRap Festival is the best place to go if you want to see the latest in desktop 3D printing. This weekend, we saw full-color 3D printers, a printer with an infinite build volume, new extruders, a fantastic development in the pursuit of Open Source filament, and a whole bunch of D-bots. If you want the bleeding edge in 3D printing, you’re going to Goshen, Indiana.

Of course, it wasn’t always like this. In 2009, MakerBot released the Cupcake, a tiny printer that ushered in the era of democratized 3D printing. The Cupcake was a primitive machine, but it existed, it was open source, and it was cheap – under $500 if you bought it at the right time. This was the printer that brought customized plastic parts to the masses, and even today no hackerspace is complete without an unused Cupcake or Thing-O-Matic sitting in the corner.

The MakerBot Cupcake has not aged well. This should be expected for a technology that is advancing as quickly as 3D printing, but today it’s rare to see a working first generation MakerBot. Not only was the Cupcake limited by the technology available to hackers in 2009, there are some pretty poor design choices in these printers. There’s a reason that old plywood MakerBot in your hackerspace isn’t used anymore – it’s probably broken.

This year at MRRF, [Ryan Branch] of River City Labs brought out his space’s MakerBot Cupcake, serial number 1515 of 2,625 total Cupcakes ever made. He got his Cupcake to print a test cube. If you’re at all familiar with the Cupcake, yes, this is a hack. It’s a miracle these things ever worked in the first place.

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MRRF 17: Laser Resin Printers

The Midwest RepRap Festival is the best 3D printer con on the planet. In the middle of Indiana, you’ll find the latest advances for CNC hot glue guns and the processes that make squirting filament machines better, more accurate, and more efficient. There’s more to 3D printing than just filament-based machines, though, and for the last few MRRFs we’ve been taking a look at resin-based machines.

While most of the current crop of resin printers use either DLP projectors or LCDs and a big, bright backlight [Mark Peng]’s Moai printer uses a 150 mW laser diode and galvos. This is somewhat rare in the world of desktop 3D printers, thanks in no small part to the ugliness between Formlabs and 3D Systems. Still, it’s a printer that looks fantastic and produces prints that are far beyond what’s possible with a filament-based machine.

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MRRF 17: Lulzbot and IC3D Release Line Of Open Source Filament

Today at the Midwest RepRap Festival, Lulzbot and IC3D announced the creation of an Open Source filament.

While the RepRap project is the best example we have for what can be done with Open Source hardware, the stuff that makes 3D printers work – filament, motors, and to some extent the electronics – are tied up in trade secrets and proprietary processes. As you would expect from most industrial processes, there is an art and a science to making filament and now these secrets will be revealed.

IC3D Printers is a manufacturer of filament based in Ohio. This weekend at MRRF, [Michael Cao], founder and CEO of IC3D Printers announced they would be releasing all the information, data, suppliers, and techniques that go into producing their rolls of filament.

According to [Michael Cao], there won’t be much change for anyone who is already using IC3D filament – the materials and techniques used to produce this filament will remain the same. In the coming months, all of this data will be published and IC3D is working on an Open Source Hardware Certification for their filament.

This partnership between IC3D and Lulzbot is due in no small part to Lulzbot’s dedication to Open Source Hardware. This dedication is almost excessive, but until now there has been no option for Open Source filament. Now it exists, and the value of Open Source hardware is again apparent.

MRRF 17: The Infinite Build Volume Printer

Before we dig into this one, a bit of a history lesson is in order. In 2010, MakerBot released the Automated Build Platform for the MakerBot Cupcake. This build platform was like nothing seen before or since. It’s a combination build platform and a conveyor belt for a 3D printer, allowing the Cupcake to become a completely automated production machine. Start a print, let the machine run, and when the print is finished it’s rolled off the bed into a bin, allowing a second print to start. If you’re using 3D printers for production in a manufacturing context – like Makerbot was – this is a phenomenal invention.

The Automated Build Platform was released under an Open Source license, then quickly patented by Makerbot. Since 2010, the idea of an automated build platform has been dead. No one is working on a similar device, lest they draw the ire of a few MakerBot lawyers.

This year’s Midwest RepRap Festival saw a device that’s an even better idea than MakerBot’s Automated Build platform. Yes, it’s a continuous factory of 3D printed parts, but there’s an even better reason for you to build one of these things: this printer has an infinite build volume.

This printer – it doesn’t have a name; this is just a one-off project – is the work of [Bill Steele] of Polar3D. The core of the build is just a hacked up MakerBot Replicator, but with one important difference. This printer has an Automated Build Platform tilted away from the nozzle at a 45-degree angle. What’s the benefit of this setup? Continuous printing and an infinite build volume.

Despite being downright bizarre, the mechanics for this printer are actually pretty simple. The bed is a standard MakerBot heated bed, rotated 90 degrees in the axis you would expect, then rotated 45 degrees in the axis you wouldn’t. A conveyor belt made of Kapton-coated paper is strung between two rollers and connected to a motor.

To produce a print, this printer starts at the very back and the very top of this conveyor belt. The first layer is added, the conveyor belt rolls forward a bit, and the second layer is added on top. The effect for each print is that the layer lines are 45 degrees from what you would expect.

When the print is finished, the belt just rolls forward until the part falls into a bin. Of course, since there’s nothing stopping this printer from producing a meter-long part on this build platform. [Bill] has already produced a 3D printed chain using this printer that was four feet long. Each segment of the chain just fell off the end of the printer when it was done.

There’s still some work to do with this idea. There isn’t a way to tension the belt on this printer, and [Bill] is looking for a material that’s better than Kapton coated paper. Still, this is the most innovative printer you can find at the Midwest RepRap Festival, and it’s not encumbered by the MakerBot patent on the automated build platform. You can check out a video of this printer below.

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Two Weeks Until The Greatest 3D Printer Meetup On The Planet

Every year, sometime in March, the world’s preeminent 3D printing enthusiasts gather in the middle of nowhere This is MRRF, the Midwest RepRap Festival. It’s only two weeks away. You need to come. Get your (free) tickets here. I’ll be there, and Hackaday is proud to once again sponsor the festival.

I need to backtrack a bit to explain why MRRF is so great. I go to a lot of cons. Maker Faire is getting old, CES was a horror show. Even DEF CON is losing its charm, and all of these cons have the same problem: there are too many people. MRRF does not have this problem. For one weekend a year, everyone who is anyone in the 3D printing world makes it out to the middle of Indiana. This is a small meetup, but that’s what makes it great. It’s a bunch of dorks dorking around for an entire weekend.

If that’s not enough to convince you, take a look at the previous coverage Hackaday has done from MRRF. The PartDaddy, an 18-foot-tall 3D printer will be there. The world’s largest 3D printed trash can will not. Prusa is coming in from Prague, E3D is coming in from England. Judging from past years, this is where the latest advancements in home 3D printing first appear. This is not an event to miss.

You might be wondering why the world’s greatest 3D printer festival is in the middle of nowhere. Goshen, Indiana is the home of SeeMeCNC, builders of the fantastic Rostock Max 3D delta bot. MRRF is hosted by the SeeMeCNC guys. If you’re exceptionally lucky, you’ll get to go over to the shop and see a demo of their milling machine that cools parts by ablation.