Maker Faire NY: Infinite Autonomous 3D Printing

Although it’s not an idea that has yet trickled down to $200 printers drop-shipped from China, one of the most innovative ideas in the 3D printing world in the last few years is putting plastic down on a conveyor belt. Yes, MakerBot was doing it back in 2010, but we’re not going to talk about that. Printing on a conveyor belt instead of a static bed allows you to easily print multiples of an object autonomously, without any human interaction. If you’re really clever, you could rotate the hot end 45° and build a piece of plastic that is infinitely long, like the printer [Bill Steele] built, the Blackbelt, or ‘the CAD files might exist somewhere’ Printrbot infinite build volume printer.

At this year’s World Maker Faire, we didn’t see an infinite printer, but we did catch a glimpse of an idea that could reliably take 3D printers into production. It’s a Multiprinter Autonomous 3D Printer, designed and built by [Thomas Vagnini].

The idea of using 3D printers for production and manufacturing is a well-studied problem. Lulzbot has a heated room filled with printers they use to manufacture all their machines. Prusa’s manufacturing facility is similarly well-equipped. However, both of these setups require helper monkeys to remove a part from the bed and set the machine up for the next print.

Instead of a strictly manual process, [Thomas]’ machine uses a sort of cartridge-based system for the printing bed. The glass beds are stored in a cassette, and for the first print, the printer pulls a bed onto the heated build plate through a system of conveyors. When the print is finished, the part and the bed ar fed into a rotating cassette, where it can be removed by a tech, prepped for the next print, and placed back in the ‘bed feeder’. It’s a system that brings the manual intervention cycle time of a 3D printer down to zero. If you’re producing hundreds of parts, this will drastically speed up manufacturing.

While it is a relatively niche idea, this is a very well-designed machine. It’s all laser cut, uses core-XY mechanics, and with the right amount of tuning, it does exactly what it says it will do. It’s not for everybody, but that’s sort of the point of manufacturing parts on a 3D printer.

Fixing An IBM 1401 Computer To Get It Printing Again

The IBM 1401 is a classic computer which IBM marketed throughout the 1960s, late enough for it to have used transistors rather than vacuum tubes, which is probably a good thing for this story. For small businesses, it was often used as their main data processing machine along with the 1403 printer. For larger businesses with mainframes, the 1401 was used to handle the slower peripherals such as that 1403 printer as well as card readers.

Broken germanium transistor
Broken germanium transistor

The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA has two working 1401s as well as at least one 1403 printer, and recently whenever the printer printed out a line, the computer would report a “print check” error. [Ken Shirriff] was among those who found and fixed the problem and he wrote up a detailed blog entry which takes us from the first test done to narrow down the problem, through IBM’s original logic diagrams, until finally yanking out the suspect board and finding the culprit, a germanium transistor which likely failed due to corrosion and an emitter wire that doesn’t look solidly connected. How do they know that? In the typical [Ken]-and-company style which we love, they opened up the transistor and looked at it under a microscope. We get the feeling that if they could have dug even deeper then they would have.

If you’re unfamiliar with the work of this team who maintain the machines at the museum, you’ll want to read up on how they recently got a 1401 to run FORTRAN II code.

Python Resurrects Dot Matrix Printing

These days a printer — especially one at home — is likely to spray ink out of nozzles. It is getting harder to find home laser printers, and earlier printer technologies such as dot matrix are almost gone from people’s homes even if you’ll still see a few printing multipart forms in some offices.

[Thomas Winningham] bought an old Commodore dot matrix printer in a fast food parking lot for $20. How hard could it be to get it working? How hard, indeed. Check out the video below to see the whole adventure. The principle behind the printer is simple enough. The head has one or two rows of pins each controlled by a solenoid. The head moves across the paper and your job — should you decide to accept it — is to make the pins push out at the right spot. An ink ribbon like a typewriter uses — oh yeah, more vanishing tech — leaves ink on the paper where it gets punched by the pin.

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Case Mod Takes “All In One” Printer to the Next Level

You’ve seen printers with scanners in them, printers with copiers in them, even ones with the ancient technology known as “facsimile” built-in. But have you ever seen a printer with a full gaming computer built into it? No? Well, you still haven’t, technically. There’s no printer to be had anymore inside this re-purposed HP Photosmart 6520 case, but it’s probably the closest we’re going to get.

[Jacob Lee] wrote in to share this awesome build with us, which sees the motherboard, graphics card, ATX power supply, and hard drives all fit seamlessly into the shell of a disused “All-in-one” style printer. Incredibly, he even managed to integrate an LCD into the top; which hinges open when in use and gives a look down into the madness that makes this build tick.

To say there’s a lot of hardware packed into this thing is an understatement. Which is all the more impressive when you consider that he] didn’t take the easy way out for any of it. He could have used a mini-ITX motherboard, or a slim PSU. He could have even dropped the graphics card for integrated. No, [Jacob] is clearly a subscriber to the “Go big or go home” ethos.

As if putting all this gear inside of a normal looking printer case wasn’t impressive enough, he even went as far as adding female ports for Ethernet, HDMI, and USB on the rear of the device to give it a stock look. He mentions there’s some room for improvement with the USB ports, but the power switch and IEC port really look like they could have been original components.

In the age of the Raspberry Pi and other diminutive computers, we don’t see too many proper desktop computer projects anymore. Fewer still that are so well executed and creative. We don’t know how many other people might be trying to stick a computer in a printer case, but if they’re out there, the bar has just been set pretty high.

This Thermal Printer has Serious Game

[Dhole], like the fox, isn’t the first to connect his computer to a Game Boy printer but he has done a remarkable job of documenting the process so well that anyone can follow. The operation is described well enough that it isn’t necessary to scrutinize his code, so don’t be put off if C and Rust are not your first choices. The whole thing is written like a story in three chapters.

The first chapter is about hacking a link cable between two Game Boys. First, he explains the necessity and process of setting the speed of his microcontroller, a NUCLEO-F411RE development board by STMicroelectronics. Once the rate is set, he builds a sniffer by observing the traffic on the cable and listens in on two Game Boys playing Tetris in competition mode. We can’t help but think that some 8-bit cheating would be possible if Tetris thought your opponent instantly had a screen overflowing with tetrominoes. Spying on a couple of Game Boys meant that no undue stress was put on the printer.

Chapter two built on the first chapter by using the protocol to understand how the printer expects to be spoken to. There is plenty of documentation about this already, and it is thoughtfully referenced. It becomes possible to convince a Game Boy that the connected microcontroller is a printer so it will oblige by sending an image. Since there isn’t a reason to wait for printing hardware, the transfer is nearly instantaneous. In the image above, you can see a picture of [Dhole] taken by a Game Boy camera.

The final chapter, now that all the protocols are understood, is also the climax where the computer and microcontroller convince the printer they are a Game Boy that wants to print an image. In the finale, we get another lesson about measuring controller frequency without an oscilloscope. If you are looking for the hack, there it is. There is a handful of success in the form of old receipts with superimposed grayscale images since virgin thermal printer paper by Nintendo costs as much as a used printer.

This story had a happy ending but grab your reading glasses for the smallest Game Boy and here’s someone who wrote their own Game Boy color game.

Trio of Tips for a Cetus Printer

Thanks to the holiday gifting cycle, many homes are newly adorned with 3D printers. Some noobs are clearly in the “plug and play” camp, looking for a user experience no more complicated than installing a new 2D printer. But most of us quickly learn that adding a dimension increases the level of difficulty substantially, and tinkering ensues.

One such tinkerer, [Marco Reps], has been taking his new Cetus 3D printer to new places, and his latest video offers a trio of tips to enhance the user experience of this bare-bones but capable printer. First tip: adding a heated bed. While the company offers a heated aluminum bed for ABS and PETG printing at a very reasonable price, [Marco] rolled his own. He bolted some power resistors to the aluminum platen, built a simple controller, and used the oversized stock power supply to run everything.

To contain the heat, tip two is an enclosure for the printer. Nothing revolutionary here — [Marco] just built a quick cover from aluminum profiles and acrylic.

But the clear case allows for tip number three, the gem of this video: synchronized time-lapse photography. Unhappy with the jerky time-lapse sequences that are standard fare, he wrote a Python program that uses OpenCV to compare webcam frames and save those that are similar to the last saved frame. This results in super smooth time-lapse sequences that make it look like the print is being extruded as a unit. Pretty neat stuff.

Did you find a 3D printer under your Festivus Pole, and now you’re wondering what’s next? Check out [Tom Nardi]’s guide for 3D newbies for more tips.

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Heavily Hacked Printer for DIY PCBs

Sometimes we get tips that only leave us guessing as to how — and sometimes why — a project was built. Such is the case with this PCB printer; in this case, the build specifics are the only thing in question, because it puts out some pretty impressive PCBs.

All we have to go on is the video after the break, which despite an exhaustive minutes-long search appears to be the only documentation [Androkavo] did for this build. The captions tell us that the printer is built around the guts from an Epson Stylus Photo 1390 printer. There’s no evidence of that from the outside, as every bit of the printer has been built into a custom enclosure. The paper handling gear has been replaced by an A3-sized heated flatbed, adjustable in the Z-axis to accommodate varying board thicknesses. The bed runs on linear rails that appear custom-made. Under the hood, the ink cartridges have been replaced with outboard ink bottles in any color you want as long as it’s black. The video shows some test prints down to 0.1 mm traces with 0.1 mm pitch — those were a little dodgy, but at a 0.2 mm pitch, the finest traces came out great. The boards were etched in the usual way with great results; we wonder if the printer could be modified to print resist and silkscreens too.

[Androkavo] seems to have quite a few interesting projects in his YouTube channel, one of which — this wooden digital clock — we featured recently. We’d love to learn more about this printer build, though. Hopefully [Androkavo] will see this and comment below.

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