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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Josef Prusa: Multi Material Extruders for Amazing Color Prints

The Prusa i3 Mk 2 is the hotness in consumer-grade, quality 3D printing right now. And things just keep getting more interesting. We caught up with Josef Průša at Maker Faire Bay Area this weekend to see the multi-material extruder in its final form. It’s an upgrade to the Mk 2 which allows a single hot end to print in four different materials, be it different colors or different types of filament.

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Prusa Releases 4-Extruder Upgrade

Let’s talk multi-material printing on desktop 3D printers. There are a lot of problems when printing in more than one color. The easiest way to do this is simply to add another extruder and hotend to a printer, but this reduces the build volume, adds more mass to the part of the printer that doesn’t need any more mass, and making sure each nozzle is at the correct Z-height is difficult. The best solution for multi-material printing is some sort of mixing hotend that only squirts plastic from one nozzle, fed by a Bowden system.

[Prusa], the man, not the printer, has just released a multi-material upgrade for the Prusa i3 mk2. This upgrade allows the i3 mk2 to print in four colors using only one hotend, and does it in a way that allows anyone to turn their printer into a multi-material powerhouse.

The basic idea behind this multi-material upgrade is a four-way Y-shaped filament path. Each color of filament is loaded into a separate extruder, and when the material is changed the currently ‘active’ filament is retracted out of the heater block to just before where the filament paths cross. After the filament is swapped in the hotend, the remainder of the previous color of filament is squirted out onto a small (3x5cm) tower.

Because this is an upgrade to the i3 mk2, Prusa needed a way to add three additional stepper motors to the build without having to replace the printer’s electronics board. He’s doing this with an SSR-based multiplexer that allows one stepper motor output and a few GPIOs to control four motors.

If you have an i3 mk2, a four- material upgrade for your printer will be available for $249 USD in a few months. That means a full color, four-extruder i3 mk 2 costs less than $1000 USD, a price no other multi-material printer can touch.

You can check out [Prusa’s] video of the multi-material upgrade below. The printer and the man will be touring the US for Maker Faire and Open Hardware Summit, and you can bet we’re going to get some video of this multi-material printer in action.

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