East Coast RepRap Festival Comes Alive In Second Year

By pretty much any metric you care to use, the inaugural East Coast RepRap Festival (ERRF) in 2018 was an incredible success. There was plenty to see, the venue was accommodating, and the ticket prices were exceptionally reasonable. But being a first-time event, there was an understandable amount of trepidation from both exhibitors and the attendees. Convincing people to travel hundreds of miles to an event with no track record can be a difficult thing, and if there was a phrase that would best describe the feel of that first ERRF, it would probably have been “cautious optimism”.

But this year, now that they had some idea of what to expect, the 3D printing community descended on Bel Air, Maryland with a vengeance. In 2019, everything at ERRF was bigger and better. There were more people, more printers, and of course, more incredible prints. Activities like the 3D Printed Derby returned, and were joined by new attractions including full-body 3D scanning and a shooting gallery where attendees could try out the latest in printable NERF weaponry.

The official tally shows that attendance nearly doubled over last year, and with growth like that, we wouldn’t be surprised if the ERRF organizers consider relocating to a larger venue for 2020 or 2021. As far as problems go, growth so explosive that it requires you to rethink where you hold the event isn’t a bad one to have. The Midwest RepRap Festival, which served as the inspiration for ERRF, found they too needed to move into more spacious digs after a few years. Something to keep in mind the next time somebody tells you the bubble has burst on desktop 3D printing.

Trying to distill an event as large and vibrant as ERRF 2019 into a few articles is always difficult. Even after spending hours walking around the show floor, you would still stumble upon something you hadn’t seen previously. As such, this article is merely a taste of what was on hand. The East Coast RepRap Festival 2020 should absolutely be marked on your calendar for next year, but until then let’s take a look at just some of what made this year’s event such a smash.

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Go Back In Time With A Laser Cut Wood 3D Printer Kit

About a decade ago, the only way the average hacker was getting their hands on a desktop 3D printer was by building it themselves from a kit. Even then, to keep costs down, many of these kits were made out of laser cut wood. For a few years, wooden printers from companies like MakerBot and PrintrBot were a common sight in particularly well equipped hackerspaces. But as the market expanded and production went up, companies could afford to bend metal and get parts injection molded; the era of the wooden 3D printer was over nearly as soon as it had started.

But [Luke Wallace] thinks there’s still some life left in the idea. For his entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize, he’s proposing a revival of the classic laser cut 3D printer kit. But this time, things are a bit different. Today, laser cutters are cheap enough that these kits could conceivably be manufactured at your local hackerspace. With a total bill of materials under $100 USD, these kits could be pumped out for less than the cheapest imports, potentially driving adoption in areas where the current options are too expensive or unavailable.

Of course, just a laser cut wood frame wouldn’t be enough to break the fabled $100 barrier. To drive the cost down even farther, [Luke] has redesigned essentially every component so it could be made out of wood. If its not electronic, there’s a good chance its going to be cut out of the same material the frame is made out of. Probably the biggest change is that the traditional belt and pulley system has been replaced with rack and pinion arrangements.

After cutting all the pieces, essentially all you need to provide is the stepper motors, a RAMPS controller, the hotend, and the extruder. He’s even got a design for a laser cut wood extruder if you want to go back to the real olden days and save yourself another few bucks. Or skip the LCD controller and just run it over USB.

But what do the prints look like? [Luke] has posted a few pictures of early test pieces on the project’s Hackaday.io page, and to be honest, they’re pretty rough. But they don’t look entirely unlike the kind of prints you’d get on one of those early printers before you really got it dialed in, so we’re interested in seeing how the results improve with further refinements and calibration. (Editor’s note: Since writing this, he got backlash compensation up and running, and it looks a ton better already. Very impressive for something running on wooden gears!)

Building A 3D Printer That Goes Where You Do

Back when one of the best paths to desktop 3D printer ownership was building the thing yourself from laser cut wood with some string thrown in for good measure, just saying you had one at home would instantly boost your hacker street cred. It didn’t even need to work particularly well (which is good, since it probably didn’t), you just had to have one. But now that 3D printers have become so common, the game has changed. If you want to keep on the cutting edge, you’ve got to come up with a unique hook.

Luckily for us, [Thomas Sanladerer] is here to advance the status quo of desktop 3D printing. Not content with a 3D printer that spends its time loafing around the workshop, he decided to build a completely mobile 3D printer. For a guy who spends a lot of time traveling to different 3D printing conferences and shows, this is actually a pretty handy thing to have around, but there are probably some lessons to be learned here even if you aren’t a 3D printing YouTube celebrity.

Given the wide array of very popular low cost 3D printers out there, some will likely be surprised that [Thomas] decided to mobilize a printer which is nearly an antique at this point: the PrinterBot Play. But as he explains in the video after the break, the design of the Play really lends itself perfectly to life on the road. For one, it’s an extremely rigid printer thanks to its (arguably overkill) steel construction. Compared to most contemporary 3D printers which are often little more than a wispy collection of aluminium extrusion and zip ties, the boxy design of the Play also offers ample room inside for additional electronics and wiring

The most obvious addition to the PrintrBot is the six Sony NP-F camera batteries that [Thomas] attaches to the back of the printer by way of 3D printed mounts, but there’s also quite a bit of hardware hidden inside to break the machine free from its alternating current shackles. The bank of batteries feed simultaneously into a DC boost converter which brings the battery voltage up to the 12 V required for the printer’s electronics and motors, and a DC regulator which brings the voltage down to the 5 V required by the Raspberry Pi running OctoPrint. There’s even a charge controller hiding in there which not only frees him from carrying around a separate charger, but lets him top up the cells while the printer is up and running.

On the software side of things, the Raspberry Pi is configured to work as a WiFi access point so that OctoPrint can be controlled with a smartphone even if there’s no existing network in place. A fact demonstrated when he takes the printer outside for a walk while it’s in the middle of a job. The ability to control the printer without any existing infrastructure combined with the estimated six hour runtime on a charge means this modified PrinterBot can get the job done no matter where [Thomas] finds himself.

The hacker community was saddened by the news that PrintrBot was closing its doors last year, an unfortunate casualty of an increasingly competitive desktop 3D printing market. But perhaps we can take some comfort from the fact that their eminently hackable open source printers still live on in projects such as this.

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Printrbot Post Mortem

For many people, Printrbot was their first 3D printer. What started out as [Brook Drumm’s] Kickstarter idea to make 50 printers turned into over a thousand orders backlogged. To quote [Brook], they went from zero sales to about two million in the first year and then twelve million a few years later. As is often the case, though, the rapid scale-up didn’t survive a drop in sales. [Thomas Sanladerer] has a great interview video with [Brook] and you can see it below.

It is both nostalgic and sad to see the Printrbot headquarters all empty with quiet machines. [Brook] was always one of us and often gave back to the community and it is interesting to hear his perspective about what brought his company to an end.

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Hackaday Links: August 5, 2018

Here’s something of historical interest. The daughter of Terry Holdt, project manager for the 6502, cleaned out a garage and found shelves full of MOS Technology binders, test results, notes, instructions for processes, letters to customers, and datasheets full of errata. Some of these documents have been posted on Twitter, and efforts are underway to collect, scan, upload, and preserve them. In the distance, a man in a fabulous suit is screaming, ‘donate them to the Internet Archive’.

This is a link to Defcad, the repository of 3D printable files for weapons. Under an agreement with the US Department of State, Defcad was set to go online on August 1st. This caused much handwringing in the tech journalist thoughtspace, with reporters calling to end the first amendment because they don’t like the second. Alyssa Milano chimed in. Defcad was ordered shut down by a federal judge in the western district of Washington before going live.

As you may well be aware, Printrbot ceased operations last month. It’s sad to see them go, but they made some acceptable machines and were really pushing the boundaries of what was possible with their infinite build volume prototype printer. But what about all those existing printrbots in the wild, you might ask. Well, good news for anyone who hasn’t changed their hotend over to an E3D yet: Ubis is going to be selling hotends. Get ’em while they’re hot (or not, I don’t know how this pun works).

File this one into the ‘awesome government auctions’ category. The city of Longmont, Colorado decommissioned their tornado sirens last year because they ‘self-activated’ and malfunctioned. These sirens were put up for auction, with a winning bid of $526. Someone bought the most annoying thing imaginable for just over five bills. The world of government auctions is amazing.

A Farewell To Printrbot

It’s with a heavy heart that we must report Printrbot has announced they are ceasing operations. Founded in 2011 after a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, the company set out to make 3D printing cheaper and easier. Their first printer was an amalgamation of printed parts and wood that at the time offered an incredible deal; when the Makerbot CupCake was selling for $750 and took 20+ hours to assemble, the Printrbot kit would only run you $500 and could be built in under an hour.

Brook Drumm, Founder of Printrbot

Printrbot got their foot in the door early, but the competition wasn’t far behind. The dream of Star Trek style replicators fueled massive investment, and for a while it seemed like everyone was getting into the 3D printing game. Kit built machines gave way to turn-key printers, and the prices starting coming down. Printrbot’s products evolved as well, dropping wood in favor of folded steel and pioneering impressive features like automatic bed leveling. In 2014 they released the Printbot Simple Metal, which ultimately became their flagship product and in many ways represents the high water mark for the company.

Eventually, overseas manufacturers saw an opportunity and started flooding the market with 3D printers that were cheaper than what many would have believed possible only a few years earlier. Today you can go online and buy a perfectly serviceable starter printer for under $200, even less if you’re still willing to build it yourself. For an American company like Printrbot, competing at this price point was simply an impossibility.

Rather than give up, Brook decided to take things in a different direction. If he couldn’t compete with imported machines on price, he would start building high end printers. A new version of the Simple Metal was introduced in 2016 with premium features such as linear rails and cloud-based slicing, complete with a premium price. From that point on, most new Printrbot products would release at over $1,000; putting them more in line with “prosumer” machines from companies like Ultimaker. For hacker types who got their first taste of 3D printing thanks to a cheap wooden Printrbot kit, this was something of a bittersweet moment.

At the same time, Brook’s natural hacker spirit and love of the open source community lead to a number of interesting side projects that never quite got off the ground. Most recently, he’d been putting the finishing touches on the Printrbelt, a 3D printer with a conveyor belt in place of a traditional bed. Such a machine could finally bridge the gap between desktop 3D printing and true small scale production capability.

When we saw Brook at the East Coast RepRap Festival, he brought along a new machine that the more cynical observer might have taken as foreshadowing. The Printrbot Easy was going to be a modified and rebranded FlashForge Finder, a final acknowledgement that the only way to compete with the Chinese manufactured 3D printers was to sell one of your own.

It’s always sad to see a tech company go under, but seeing the end of Printrbot is especially hard. Built in America with locally sourced components and with a commitment to keeping their machines open source, there was a lot to love about the plucky little 3D printer company from Lincoln, California. Printrbot was the quintessential hacker success story, and we’re proud to say we’ve been in their corner from the start. Here’s to wishing Brook Drumm and the entire Printrbot team success in their future endeavors; we’ll be keeping an eye out.

ERRF 18: New Products Make Their Debut

While ostensibly the purpose of the recent East Coast RepRap Festival (ERRF) was to celebrate the 3D printing community and culture, it should come as no surprise that more than a few companies decided to use the event as an opportunity to publicly launch new products. Who can blame them? It’s not as if every day you have a captive audience of 3D printing aficionados; you might as well make the best of it.

Many creations were being shown off for the first time at ERRF, and we surely didn’t get a chance to see them all. There was simply too much going on at any given time to be sure no printed stone was left unturned. But the following printers, filaments, and accessories caught our attention long enough to warrant sharing with the good readers of Hackaday.

Keep in mind that much of this information is tentative at best, and things could easily change between now and when the products actually go on sale. These events serve as much as a sounding board for new products as they do a venue for advertising and selling them, so feedback received from show attendees may very well alter some of these products from what we saw at ERRF.

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