Prusa XL Goes Big, But That’s Only Half The Story

For a few years now it’s been an open secret that Prusa Research was working on a larger printer named, imaginatively enough, the Prusa XL. Positioned at the opposite end of their product spectrum from the wildly popular Prusa Mini, this upper-tier machine would be for serious hobbyists or small companies that need to print single-part objects that were too large for their flagship i3 MK3S+ printer. Unfortunately, the global COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for the Czech company to focus on bringing a new product to market, to the point that some had begun to wonder if we’d ever see this mythical machine.

But now, finally, the wait is over. Or perhaps, it’s just beginning. That’s because while Prusa Research has officially announced their new XL model and opened preorders for the $1,999+ USD printer, it’s not expected to ship until at least the second quarter of 2022. That’s already a pretty substantial lead time, but given Prusa’s track record when it comes to product launches, we wouldn’t be surprised if early adopters don’t start seeing their machines until this time next year.

So what do you get for your money? Well, not an over-sized Prusa i3, that’s for sure. While many had speculated the XL would simply be a larger version of the company’s popular open source printer with a few modern niceties like a 32-bit control board sprinkled in, the reality is something else entirely. While the high purchase price and ponderous dimensions of the new machine might make it a tough sell for many in the hacker and maker communities, there’s little question that the technical improvements and innovations built into the Prusa XL provide a glimpse of the future for the desktop 3D printer market as a whole.

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3D Printed Box Gets Bigger

If you ever watched Dr. Who, you probably know that the TARDIS looked like a police call box on the outside, but was very large on the inside. When asked, the Doctor had some explanation of how something can look small when it is far away and large when it is close up, which never made much sense. However, [iQLess] has been 3D printing boxes in a small area, that fold out to be much larger boxes. (Video, embedded below.) The design comes from someone called [Cisco] who has a lot of interesting print in place designs.

You can find the design on the Prusa site or Thingiverse. The boxes do take a while to print, according to the video below. What was interesting to us, though, is that you should be able to print a design like this to create a box larger than your printer.

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Prusa Mini Gets Custom Heavy Duty Enclosure

Still waiting on your Prusa Mini to arrive? Join the club. Between the incredible amount of interest in the inexpensive 3D printer and the COVID-19 pandemic, it can take months for the machine to arrive at your doorstep. But patient makers are finally taking delivery of their new printers, and as such the hacks and modifications are starting to trickle their way in.

First up is this gloriously over-engineered enclosure from [Build Comics]. While PLA and PETG usually print fine with nothing more exotic than a heated bed, trickier materials like ABS work best when the printer is enclosed as it helps maintain a consistent temperature. Plus it keeps any curious hands and paws a safe distance from the hot moving bits, and if things go really pear-shaped, can help contain smoke and flames.

The enclosure is made from welded steel square tube, wood, and fire-retardant fiber board. A hinged polycarbonate cover, taking the form of a four-sided cube, is lowered over the printer with some heavy-duty hinges that look like they were intended for a fence. To keep the cover from slamming back down, [Build Comics] came up with a simple locking mechanism that can easily be operated from the front or side of the enclosure. With the addition of a small temperature and humidity display, the conditions inside the chamber can easily be monitored.

But [Build Comics] didn’t stop there. He also rigged up a relay box that will cut power to the printer should the smoke detector mounted above it trip. While there’s no reason to think the Prusa Mini would suffer the same fate of earlier budget desktop 3D printers, but there’s certainly no harm in taking precautions.

Will you need to build a similar enclosure whenever your Prusa Mini shows up? Maybe not. But if you felt so inclined, at least now you’ve got¬†plenty of images and details that can help you spin up your own solution.

The Prusa I3 MK3S And A Tale Of Two Sensors

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.

The optical filament sensor of the Prusa i3 MK3.

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.

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Automated Part Removal Gets Serious With The Chain Production Add-on

Giving a 3D printer the ability to remove its own prints means that it can crank out part after part automatically, without relying on a human operator between jobs. [Damien Weber] has done exactly that to his Prusa MK3/S printer, with what he calls the Chain Production Add-on.

[Damien]’s approach is one we haven’t quite seen before. When printing is complete, a fan cools the part then an arm (with what looks like utility knife blades attached at an angle) swings up and behind the bed. The arm zips forward and scoops the print off the bed, dumping the finished part in the process. It’s all made from 3D printed parts, aluminum extrusion and hardware, two stepper motors, and a driver PCB. The GitHub repository linked above holds all the design files, but there is also a project page on PrusaPrinters.org.

Not quite sure how it all works? Watch it in action in the video embedded below.

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Bolt-On Clog Detection For Your 3D Printer

Desktop 3D printing technology has improved by leaps and bounds over the last few years, but they can still be finicky beasts. Part of this is because the consumer-level machines generally don’t offer much in the way of instrumentation. If the filament runs out or the hotend clogs up and stops extruding, the vast majority of printers will keep humming along with nothing to show for it.

Looking to prevent the heartache of a half-finished print, [Elite Worm] has been working on a very clever filament detector that can be retrofitted to your 3D printer with a minimum of fuss. The design, at least in its current form, doesn’t actually interface with the printer beyond latching onto the part cooling fan as a convenient source of DC power. Filament simply passes through it on the way to the extruder, and should it stop moving while the fan is still running (indicating that the machine should be printing), it will sound the alarm.

Inside the handy device is a Digispark ATtiny85 microcontroller, a 128 x 32¬† I2C OLED display, a buzzer, an LED, and a photoresistor. An ingenious 3D printed mechanism grabs the filament on its way through to the extruder, and uses this movement to alternately block and unblock the path between the LED and photoresistor. If the microcontroller doesn’t see the telltale pulse after a few minutes, it knows that something has gone wrong.

In the video after the break, [Elite Worm] fits the device to his Prusa i3 MK2, but it should work on essentially any 3D printer if you can find a convenient place to mount it. Keep a close eye out during the video for our favorite part of the whole build, using the neck of a latex party balloon to add a little traction to the wheels of the filament sensor. Brilliant.

Incidentally, Prusa tried to tackle jam detection optically on the i3 MK3 but ended up deleting the feature on the subsequent MK3S since the system proved unreliable with some filaments. The official line is that jams are so infrequent with high-quality filament that the printer doesn’t need it, but it does seem like an odd omission when even the cheapest paper printer on the market still beeps at you when things have run afoul.

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Ventilators 101: What They Do And How They Work

Treating the most serious cases of COVID-19 calls for the use of ventilators. We’ve all heard this, and also that there is a shortage of these devices. But there is not one single type of ventilator, and that type of machine is not the only option when it comes to assisted breathing being used in treatment. Information is power and having better grasp on this topic will help us all better understand the situation.

We recently wrote about a Facebook group focused on open source ventilators and other technology that could assist in the COVID-19 pandemic. There was an outpouring of support, and while the community is great when it comes to building things, it’s clear we all need more information about the problems doctors are currently dealing with, and how existing equipment was designed to address them.

It’s a long and complicated topic, though, so go get what’s left of your quarantine snacks and let’s dig in.

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