When the Prusa i3 MK3 was released in 2017, it was marketed as being “bloody smart” thanks to the impressive number of sensors that had been packed into the printer. The update wasn’t really about improving print quality over the MK2, but rather to make the machine easier to use and more reliable. There was a system for resuming prints that had stopped during a power outage, a thermometer so the firmware could compensate against thermal drift in the inductive bed sensor, RPM detection on all of the cooling fans, and advanced Trinamic stepper drivers that could detect when the printer had slipped or gotten stuck.
But the most exciting upgrade of all was the new filament sensor. Using an optical encoder similar to what you’d find in a mouse, the Prusa i3 MK3 could detect when filament had been inserted into the extruder. This allowed the firmware to pause the print if the filament had run out, a feature that before this point was largely unheard of on consumer-grade desktop 3D printers. More than that, the optical encoder could also detect whether or not the filament was actually moving through the extruder.
In theory, this meant the MK3 could sense problems such as a jammed extruder or a tangle in the filament path that was keeping the spool from unrolling. Any other consumer 3D printer on the market would simply continue merrily along, not realizing that it wasn’t actually extruding any plastic. But the MK3 would be able to see that the filament had stalled and alert the user. The capabilities of the optical filament sensor represented a minor revolution in desktop 3D printing, and combined with the rest of the instrumentation in the MK3, promised to all but eradicate the heartbreak of failed prints.
Fast forward to February of 2019, and the announcement of the Prusa i3 MK3S. This relatively minor refresh of the printer collected up all the incremental tweaks that had been made during the production of the MK3, and didn’t really add any new features. Though it did delete one: the MK3S removed the optical encoder sensor used in the MK3, and with it the ability to sense filament movement. Users would have to decide if keeping the ability to detect clogs and tangles was worth giving up all of the other improvements offered by the update.
But why? What happened in those three years that made Prusa Research decide to abandon what promised to be a huge usability improvement for their flagship product? The answer is an interesting look at how even the cleverest of engineering solutions don’t always work as expected in the real-world.
(Pedantic Editor’s Note: VFDs actually run a little warm.)
At least that’s the reasoning [Scott M. Baker] applied to his Prusa upgrade. We have to admit to a certain affection for all retro displays relying on the excitation of gasses. Nixies, Numitrons, and even the lowly neon pilot light all have a certain charm of their own, but by our reckoning the VFD leads the pack. [Scott] chose a high-quality Noritake 4×20 alphanumeric display module for his upgrade, thriftily watching eBay for bargains rather than buying from the big distributors. The module has a pinout that’s compatible with the OEM LCD, so replacing it is a snap. [Scott] simplified that further by buying a replacement Prusa control board with no display, to which he soldered the Noritake module. Back inside the bezel, the VFD is bright and crisp. We like the blue-green digits against the Prusa red-orange, but [Scott] has an orange filter on order for the VFD to make everything monochromatic. That’ll be a nice look too.
A completely none functional hack, to be sure, but sometimes aesthetics need attention too. And it’s possible that a display switch would help the colorblind use the UI better, like this oscilloscope mod aims to do.
If you’ve been following the desktop 3D printing market for the last couple years, you’re probably aware of the major players right now. Chinese companies like Creality are dominating the entry level market with machines that are priced low enough to border on impulse buys, Prusa Research is iterating on their i3 design and bringing many exciting new features to the mid-range price point, and Ultimaker remains a solid choice for a high-end workhorse if you’ve got the cash. But one name that is conspicuously absent from a “Who’s Who” of 3D printing manufacturers is MakerBot; despite effectively creating the desktop 3D printing market, today they’ve largely slipped into obscurity.
So when a banner popped up on Thingiverse (MakerBot’s 3D print repository) advertising the imminent announcement of a new printer, there was a general feeling of surprise in the community. It had been assumed for some time that MakerBot was being maintained as a zombie company after being bought by industrial 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys in 2013; essentially using the name as a cheap way to maintain a foothold in the consumer 3D printer market. The idea that they would actually release a new consumer 3D printer in a market that’s already saturated with well-known, agile companies seemed difficult to believe.
But now that MakerBot has officially taken the wraps off a printer model they call Method, it all makes sense. Put simply, this isn’t a printer for us. With Method, MakerBot has officially stepped away from the maker community from which it got its name. While it could be argued that their later model Replicator printers were already edging out of the consumer market based on price alone, the Method makes the transition clear not only from its eye watering $6,500 USD price tag, but with its feature set and design.
That said, it’s still an interesting piece of equipment worth taking a closer look at. It borrows concepts from a number of other companies and printers while introducing a few legitimately compelling features of its own. While the Method might not be on any Hackaday reader’s holiday wish list, we can’t help but be intrigued about the machine’s future.
The Prusa i3 MK3 is, for lack of a better word, inescapable. Nearly every hacker or tech event that I’ve attended in 2018 has had dozens of them humming away, and you won’t get long looking up 3D printing on YouTube or discussion forums without somebody singing its praises. Demand for Prusa’s latest i3 printer is so high that there’s a literal waiting list to get one.
At the time of this writing, over a year after the printer was officially put up for sale, there’s still nearly a month lead time on the assembled version. Even longer if you want to wait on the upgraded powder coated bed, which has unfortunately turned out to be a considerable production bottleneck. But the team has finally caught up enough that the kit version of the printer (minus the powder coated bed) is currently in stock and shipping next day.
I thought this was a good a time as any to pull the trigger on the kit and see for myself what all the excitement is about. Now that I’ve had the Prusa i3 MK3 up and running for a couple of weeks, I can say with confidence that it’s not just hype. It isn’t a revolution in desktop 3D printing, but it’s absolutely an evolution, and almost certainly represents the shape of things to come for the next few years.
That said, it isn’t perfect. There’s still a few elements of the design that left me scratching my head a bit, and some parts of the assembly weren’t quite as smooth as the rest. I’ve put together some of those observations below. This isn’t meant to be a review of the Prusa i3 MK3 printer, there’s more than enough of those already, but hopefully these assorted notes may be of use to anyone thinking of jumping on the Prusa bandwagon now that production has started really ramping up.
Six weeks ago, we asked you to show us your best 3D printed repairs for a chance to win $100 in Tindie credit and other prizes. You answered the call with fixes for everything from the stuff everyone has, like zippers and remotes, to the more obscure stuff, like amazing microscopes scavenged from dumpsters.
It was hard to whittle down the entries we received into the top 20 because you came up with so many awesome fixes. A few of them had us thinking hard about the definition of repair, but are brilliant in their own way.
So without further ado, we are pleased to announce the winners of our Repairs You Can Print contest. We also want to give honorable mention to those projects that wowed us with ingenuity.