Hackaday Podcast 047: Prusa Controversy, Bottle Organ Breakdown, PCBs Bending Backwards, And Listen To Your LED

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot WIlliams get together for the 47th and final Hackaday Podcast of 2019. We dive into the removable appendix on Prusa’s new “Buddy” control board, get excited over the world’s largest grid-backup battery, and commiserate about the folly of designing enclosures as an afterthought. There’s some great research into which threaded-inserts perform best for 3D-printed parts, how LEDs everywhere should be broadcasting data, and an acoustic organ that’s one-ups the traditional jug band.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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Annealing 3D Prints: A Scientific Approach

We’ve all been taught the scientific method: Form a hypothesis, do some experiments, gather some data, and prove or disprove the hypothesis. But we don’t always do it. We will tweak our 3D prints a little bit and think we see an improvement (or not) and draw some conclusions without a lot of data. Not [Josef Prusa], though. His team printed 856 different parts from four different materials to generate data about how parts behaved when annealed. There’s a video to watch, below.

Annealing is the process of heating a part to cause its structure to reorganize. Of course, heated plastic has an annoying habit of deforming. However, it can also make the parts firmer and with less inner tension. Printed parts tend to have an amorphous molecular structure. That is to say, they have no organization at all. The temperature where the plastic becomes soft and able to reorganize is the glass transition temperature.

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Prusa Dares You To Break Their Latest Printer

Two months after its surprise reveal at the 2019 East Coast RepRap Festival, the Prusa Mini has started shipping out to the first wave of early adopters. True to form, with the hardware now officially released to the public, the company has begun the process of releasing the design as open source. In their GitHub repository, owners can already find the KiCad files for the new “Buddy” control board and STLs for the machine’s printable parts.

But even so, not everyone feels that Prusa Research has made the Mini as “open” as its predecessors. Some concerned owners have pointed out that according to the documentation for the Buddy board, they’ll need to physically snap off a section of the PCB so they can flash custom firmware images via Device Firmware Upgrade (DFU) mode. Once this piece of the board has been broken off, which the documentation refers to as the Appendix, Prusa Research will no longer honor any warranty claims for the electronic components of the printer.

For the hardcore tinkerers out there, this news may come as something of a shock. Previous Prusa printers have enjoyed a fairly active firmware development community, and indeed, features that started out as user-developed modifications eventually made their way into the official upstream firmware. What’s more, certain hardware modifications require firmware tweaks to complete.

Prusa Research explains their stance by saying that there’s no way the company can verify the safety of community developed firmware builds. If thermal runaway protections have been disabled or otherwise compromised, the results could be disastrous. We’ve already seen it happen with other printers, so it’s hard to fault them for being cautious here. The company is also quick to point out that the installation of an unofficial firmware has always invalidated the printer’s warranty; physically breaking the board on the Mini is simply meant as a way to ensure the user understands they’re about to leave the beaten path.

How much support is a manufacturer obligated to provide to a user who’s modified their hardware? It’s of course an issue we’ve covered many times before. But here the situation is rather unique, as the user is being told they have to literally break a piece off of their device to unlock certain advanced functionality. If Prusa wanted to prevent users from running alternate firmware entirely they could have done so (or at least tried to), but instead they’ve created a scenario that forces the prospective tinkerer to either back down or fully commit.

So how did Prusa integrate this unusual feature into their brand new 32-bit control board? Perhaps more importantly, how is this going to impact those who want to hack their printers? Let’s find out.

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Josef Prusa Wants You To Change File Formats

We’ve all been there. You find that cool cat model on Thingiverse — we won’t judge. You download the STL, all ready to watch the magic of having it materialize on your print bed. But the slicer complains it isn’t manifold or watertight or something like that. What a let down. Part of this is due to shortcomings in the STL file format. There’s a newer format available, 3MF, and Josef Prusa and Jakub Kočí would like you to start using it.

STL — short for stereolithography — is a simple format that just holds a bunch of triangles. If you need any information about the part — like colors or materials. Worse still, as in our hypothetical example, there are no definition about how the triangles relate so you can create “bad” STL files. Even properly formed files can be tough to work with. You might scale for inches and the file is set for millimeters, for example.

Turns out 3MF is actually a ZIP archive and it can contain lots of information. The file can contain one or more models, colors, slicing data, copyrights, images, and lots more. The ZIP file is often shorter, too because of the compression. The big deal, though, is that the file format won’t allow nonmanifold models and removes ambiguity so that everything nicely prints. If your slicer stores data into the file — as the Prusa one does — other people using the same software can grab your settings, too.

The format isn’t really that new — it appeared around 2015 — but it hasn’t seen widespread adoption yet. Prusa encourages you to upload models in 3MF even if you also add an STL copy for people who haven’t made the switch yet.

So will you start using 3MF? Or are you already? The file format is open, they say. So if your favorite tool doesn’t like 3MF, you could always add support for it yourself.

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Hackaday Podcast 040: 3D Printed Everything, Strength V Toughness, Blades Of Fiber, And What Can’t Coffee Do?

Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams opine on the coolest hacks we saw this week. This episode is heavy with 3D printing as Prusa released a new, smaller printer, printed gearboxes continue to impress us with their power and design, hoverboards are turned into tanks, and researchers suggest you pour used coffee grounds into your prints. Don’t throw out those “toy” computers, they may be hiding vintage processors. And we have a pair of fantastic articles that cover the rise and fall of forest fire watchtowers, and raise the question of where all those wind turbine blades will go when we’re done with them.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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Prusa Unveils New Mini 3D Printer, Shakes Up The Competition

For the last couple of years, consumer desktop 3D printer choices in the under $1,000 USD range have fallen into two broad categories: everything bellow $500 USD, and the latest Prusa i3. There are plenty of respectable printers made by companies such as Monoprice and Creality to choose from on that lower end of the scale. It wasn’t a luxury everyone could justify, but if you had the budget to swing the $749 for Prusa’s i3 kit, the choice became obvious.

Of course, that was before the Prusa Mini. Available as a kit for just $349, it’s far and away the cheapest printer that Prusa Research has ever offered. But this isn’t just some rebranded hardware, and it doesn’t compromise on the ideals that have made the company’s flagship machine the de facto open source FDM printer. For less than half the cost of the i3 MK3S, you’re not only getting most of the larger printer’s best features and Prusa’s renowned customer support, but even capabilities that presumably won’t make it to the i3 line until the MK4 is released.

Josef Průša was on hand to officially unveil his latest printer at the 2019 East Coast Reprap Festival, where I got the chance to get up close and personal with the diminutive machine. While it might be awhile before we can do a full review on the Mini, it’s safe to say that this small printer is going to have a big impact on the entry-level market.

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3D Printering: The Past And Future Of Prusa’s Slicer

If you own a desktop 3D printer, you’re almost certainly familiar with Slic3r. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, there’s an excellent chance that a program you’ve used to convert STLs into the G-code your printer can understand was using Slic3r behind the scenes in some capacity. While there have been the occasional challengers, Slic3r has remained one of the most widely used open source slicers for the better part of a decade. While some might argue that proprietary slicers have pulled ahead in some respects, it’s hard to beat free.

So when Josef Prusa announced his team’s fork of Slic3r back in 2016, it wasn’t exactly a shock. The company wanted to offer a slicer optimized for their line of 3D printers, and being big proponents of open source, it made sense they would lean heavily on what was already available in the community. The result was the aptly named “Slic3r Prusa Edition”, or as it came to be known, Slic3r PE.

Ostensibly the fork enabled Prusa to fine tune print parameters for their particular machines and implement support for products such as their Multi-Material Upgrade, but it didn’t take long for Prusa’s developers to start fixing and improving core Slic3r functionality. As both projects were released under the GNU Affero General Public License v3.0, any and all of these improvements could be backported to the original Slic3r; but doing so would take considerable time and effort, something that’s always in short supply with community developed projects.

Since Slic3r PE still produced standard G-code that any 3D printer could use, soon people started using it with their non-Prusa printers simply because it had more features. But this served only to further blur the line between the two projects, especially for new users. When issues arose, it could be hard to determine who should take responsibility for it. All the while, the gap between the two projects continued to widen.

With a new release on the horizon that promised to bring massive changes to Slic3r PE, Josef Prusa decided things had reached a tipping point. In a recent blog post, he announced that as of version 2.0, their slicer would henceforth be known as PrusaSlicer. Let’s take a look at this new slicer, and find out what it took to finally separate these two projects.

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