MakerBot Targets Schools With Rebranded Printers

MakerBot was poised to be one of the greatest success stories of the open source hardware movement. Founded on the shared knowledge of the RepRap community, they created the first practical desktop 3D printer aimed at consumers over a decade ago. But today, after being bought out by Stratasys and abandoning their open source roots, the company is all but completely absent in the market they helped to create. Cheaper and better printers, some of which built on that same RepRap lineage, have completely taken over in the consumer space; forcing MakerBot to refocus their efforts on professional and educational customers.

This fundamental restructuring of the company is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the recent unveiling of “SKETCH Classroom”: an $1,800 package that includes lesson plans, a teacher certification program, several rolls of filament, and two of the company’s new SKETCH printers. It even includes access to MakerBot Cloud, a new online service that aims to help teachers juggle student’s print jobs between multiple SKETCH printers.

Of course, the biggest takeaway from this announcement for the average Hackaday reader is that MakerBot is releasing new hardware. Their last printer was clearly not designed (or priced) for makers, and even a current-generation Replicator costs more than the entire SKETCH Classroom package. On the surface, it might seem like this is a return to a more reasonable pricing model for MakeBot’s products; something that could even help them regain some of the market share they’ve lost over the years.

There’s only one problem, MakerBot didn’t actually make the SKETCH. This once industry-leading company has now come full-circle, and is using a rebranded printer as the keystone of their push into the educational market. Whether they were unable to build a printer cheap enough to appeal to schools or simply didn’t want to, the message is clear: if you can’t beat them, join them.

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Adaptive Layer Height On The Monoprice Select Mini

If you’ve used a desktop 3D printer, you’re likely familiar with the concept of layer heights. Put simply: thicker layers will print faster, and thinner layers will produce better detail. Selecting your layer height is making a choice between detail and speed, which usually works well enough. For example, prints which are structural and don’t have much surface detail can be done in higher layer heights to maximize speed with no real downside. Conversely, if you’ve got a model with a lot of detail you’ll have to just deal with the increased print time of thinner layers.

At least, that’s how it’s been up till now. Modern slicer software is starting to test the waters of adaptive layer heights, which change the layer height during the print. So the software will raise or lower the layer height depending on the level of detail required for the current area being printed. [Dylan Radcliffe] wanted to experiment with this feature on his Monoprice Select Mini, but it took some tweaking and the dreaded mathematics to get Cura’s adaptive layer height working on the entry-level printer. He’s documented his settings for anyone who wants to check out this next-generation 3D printing technology without forking out the cash for a top of the line machine.

While Cura is a popular slicer, the fact of the matter is that it’s developed by Ultimaker primarily for their own line of high-end printers. It will control machines from other manufacturers, but it makes no promises that all the features in the software will actually work as expected on lesser printers. In the case of the Monoprice Mini, the issue is the rather unusual Z hardware. The printer uses a 7.5° 48-step motor coupled to 0.7 mm thread pitch M4 rod. This is a pretty suspect arrangement that was no doubt selected to keep costs down, and results in an unusual 0.04375 mm step increment. For the best possible print quality, layer heights should be a multiple of this number. That’s where the math comes in.

After enabling adaptive layers in Cura’s experimental settings, you need to define the value which Cura will add or subtract to the base layer height. In theory you could enter 0.04375 mm here, but while that’s the minimum on paper, the machine itself is unlikely to be able to pull off such a small variation. [Dylan] recommends doubling that to 0.0875 for the “variation step size” parameter, and setting the base layer height to 0.175 mm (4 x 0.04375 mm).

[Dylan] reports these settings reduced the print time on his topographical map pieces from 12 hours to 7 hours, while still maintaining high detail on the top surface. Of course print time reduction is going to be highly dependent on the model being printed, so your mileage may vary.

If Cura isn’t your style, our very own [Brian Benchoff] gave us a tour of “variable layer height”, the Slic3r version of this technique. Perfect for that Prusa i3 MK3 you finally spent the cash on.

Mini Delta Gets A Hot End Upgrade

3D printers are now cheaper than ever and Monoprice is at the absolute forefront of that trend. However, some of their printers struggle with flexible filaments, which is no fun if you’ve discovered you have a taste for the material properties of Ninjaflex and its ilk. Fear not, however — the community once again has a solution, in the form of a hot end adapter for the Monoprice Mini Delta.

The Mini Delta is a fantastic low-cost entry into 3D printing but its hot end has a break in the Bowden between the extruder and nozzle. This can lead to flexible filaments not being properly guided through the hot end and a general failure to print. This adapter allows the fitting of the popular E3D V6 hot end, and is similar to modifications out there for other Monoprice printers.

Overall, 3D printing has long benefited from the efforts of the community to bring both incremental improvements and major leaps forward to the technology. We look forward to seeing more hacks on the Monoprice range!

Monoprice Mini Delta Review

For the last year or so, Monoprice has been teasing their follow-up to the fantastic $200 MP Select Mini. This is the $150 mini delta printer. We got a look at it last January at CES, it was on display at the Bay Area Maker Faire last May. Now there’s one on the Hackaday review desk.

Over the last few years, 3D printing has settled down into what most of us expected way back in 2010. No, not everyone wants, or arguably needs, a 3D printer on their desks. This is a far cry from the hype of a few years ago, leaving us with what we have today. 3D printers are just tools, much like a drill press or a laser cutter.

With that said, there still are some fantastic advances in 3D printing coming down from on high. Prusa will be shipping the 4-color multi-extruder add-on for the i3 Mk 2 shortly, and somehow or another we have infinite build volume printers. Still, there’s space to democratize 3D printing, and an opportunity for someone to release a very cheap, very good printer.

Monoprice was kind enough to send me a review unit of the MP Mini Delta before it officially hit their website. This is one of the first off the production line, alongside the few hundred pre ordered on an Indiegogo campaign earlier this year.  Does this printer live up to expectations? It sure does, and that’s not just because it’s a $150 printer.

This would be an excellent printer at three times the price, and evidence enough that 3D printing is changing from a weird hobbyist thing to a proper tool.

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Hackaday Links: August 13, 2017

We found the most boring man on the Internet! HTTP Status Code 418 — “I’m a teapot” — was introduced as an April Fools Joke in 1998. Everyone had a good laugh, and some frameworks even implemented it. Now, the most boring man on the Internet and chairman of the IETF HTTP working group is trying to get 418 removed from Node and Go. There is an argument to removing code 418 from pieces of software — it gums up the works, and given only 100 code points for a client error, with 30 of them already used, we don’t really have space for a joke. There’s a solution, though: someone has submitted a request to register 418 as ‘I’m a teapot’.

The Travelling Hacker box is a migratory box of random electronic junk. The box has traveled across the United States several times, and earlier this year it started across Canada — from Vancouver to St. Johns — to begin an International journey. The box is now missing, and I’m out. I’m turning this one over to the community. There are now several rogue boxes traveling the world, the first of which was sent from [Sophi] to [jlbrian7] and is now in Latvia with [Arsenijs]. The idea of the Travelling Hacker Box is now up to you — organize your own, and share random electronic crap.

Bluetooth 5 is here, or at least the spec is. It has longer range, more bandwidth, and advertising extensions.

Guess what’s on the review desk? The Monoprice Mini Delta! If you have any questions you’d like answered about this tiny, very inexpensive printer, put them in the comments. I only have some first impressions, but so far, it looks like extending the rails (to make a taller printer) is more difficult than it’s worth. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but with the effort required, I could just print another printer.

Interested in PCB art? [Drew] found someone doing halftone art with PCBs. This is a step up from nickels.

Indiana University is getting rid of some very, very cool stuff in a government auction. This device is listed as a ‘gantry’, but that’s certainly not what it is. There have been suggestions that these devices are a flight sim, but that doesn’t sit quite right either. It’s several thousand pounds of metal, with the minimum bid of $2.00 at the time of this writing. Any guesses on what this actually is?

Reverse Engineering The Monoprice Printer

When the Monoprice MP Select Mini 3D printer was released last year, it was a game changer. This was a printer for $200, yes, but it also held a not-so-obvious secret: a 3D printer controller board no one had ever seen before powered by a 32-bit ARM microcontroller with an ESP8266 handling the UI. This is a game-changing set of electronics in the world of 3D printing, and now, finally, someone is reverse engineering it.

[Robin] began the reverse engineering by attaching the lead of an oscilloscope to the serial line between the main controller and display controller. The baud rate is weird (500 kHz), but apart from that, the commands readily appear in human-parsable text. There is a web server built into the MP Mini printer, and after inspecting the web page that’s served up from this printer, [Robin] found it was possible to send G-code directly from the controller board, get a list of files on the SD card, and do everything you would want to do with a 3D printer.

After deconstructing the circuit on the display board, [Robin] found exactly what you would expect from such a simple board: an SPI display driven by an ESP, and a big flash chip sitting off to the side. [Robin] found the the model of the display, and quickly built a project on Platform.io to draw text to the LCD. This isn’t the end of the project – there’s still a lot that must be done before this printer is squirting out parts with custom firmware.

While this isn’t a hack of the driver board inside the MP Mini, that’s not really a problem. The motor driver board in this printer doesn’t really need any changes, and was already ahead of its time when this printer was released last year. As with most things, the UI is the weak point, and upgrading the firmware and built-in web server for this printer is the best way forward.

[Robin] put together a truly phenomenal video of how he reverse engineered this display controller. You can check that out below.

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Mini Delta 3D Printer In Action At The Monoprice Booth

When I was at Bay Area Maker Faire a few weekends ago I stopped by the Monoprice booth to chat with [Chris Apland], their head of 3D Printing. Earlier in the week, the company had just announced preorders for their new $169 delta-style 3D printer called the MP Mini Delta.

[Brian Benchoff] covered that launch and I don’t have a lot of details about the machine itself to add. I saw it in action, printing tiny waving cat models. The stock printer can use ABS or PLA and has a build volume of 110mm in diameter and 120mm tall and these preorder units (being sold through Indegogo) will begin shipping in August.

What was of interest is to hear the shipping estimates the Monoprice team is throwing around. Chris told me that their conservative estimate is that 20,000 of these printers will ship through this preorder, but he is optimistic that by the end of the fourth quarter they’ll be closer to 100,000 units. That is incredible.

Part of the promise here is the out of the box functionality; [Chris] mentioned having a printed cat in your hands within 5 minutes. If it can actually do that without the need for setup and calibration that’s impressive. But I know that even seasoned printing veterans are interested in seeing how fast they can run this tiny delta and still turn out quality prints.

You’ll find the video interview after the break.

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