by makeme

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

3D Printing and Open Source Appropriate Technology

In Uncategorized on 05, Feb, 2012 at 09:39

The Open Source community already has a thick streak of sharing built into its DNA. But just straight “sharing” really only works for one’s technological peer group. Just because something is published for free doesn’t mean everyone in the world has the tools and/or skills to access or utilize it.

Open Source Appropriate Technology (OSAT) is attempting to close that gap. Appropriate Technology on its own might best be characterized as designs for systems that do not depend on unsustainable, capital-intensive technology from industrialized sources. There are several different ways to achieve that goal, some of them shaped more by ideology than by economics. The focus on how Open Source can deliver Appropriate Technology is a new one that has only been made possible by the dramatic spread of internet-connected devices around the world.

A paper titled 3-D Printing of Open Source Appropriate Technologies for Self-Directed Sustainable Development, written by J. M. Pearce, C. Morris Blair, K. J. Laciak, R. Andrews & A. Nosrat and I. Zelenika-Zovko, and published in The Journal of Sustainable Development, “…critically examines how open source 3-D printers, such as the RepRap and Fab@home, enable the use of designs in the public domain to fabricate open source appropriate technology (OSAT), which are easily and economically made from readily available resources by local communities to meet their needs.

Their focus isn’t on 3D printing so much as on OSAT and how 3D printing (in whatever form) can deliver it. They propose four categories of OSAT

1) Things that can be printed on existing printers. This category might include facial prosthetics (Feng & friends, also in this paper by (Mueller & friends ) and limb prosthetics. Also water system parts, specifically taps (Meah & friends). Tools and/or customization of existing tools, like wrenches, clamps, pulleys and gears.

2) Things that can be printed on existing printers, but would require the introduction of at least one new material. This would probably be accomplished by casting the plastic part in metal so it can resist higher temperatures and stresses. This category could be occupied by grills, circuit boards, and anything that requires a small metal part that can be cast rather than forged.

3) Things that can be printed with proven materials, but only if the printer is bigger. These could be solar dehydrators, solar stills, and solar pasteurizers. An important point is that large objects won’t be practical, even with a larger printer, until the print speed increases dramatically.

4) Things that require both larger printers and unproven print materials. Perhaps a large locking pressure cooker for desalination (complicated locking design), farm equipment, industrial equipment, and bulky medical equipment.

Their ideal requirements for a 3D printing process:

  • inexpensive (would probably follow from some of the other requirements)
  • self-replicating from locally available materials
  • printing feedstock made out of locally available materials
  • free/open access to designs and design software
  • fast print speeds that don’t compromise accuracy
  • uses locally available energy and little of it
  • free/open technical support
  • no (or very little) pollution

This analysis leads them to the rather obvious conclusion that OSAT requires several technological advances from the 3D printing world:

  • 3D printers need to use local feedstocks. They suggest using bio-polymers or recycled plastic waste. Additionally, they suggest a printer that can print directly with (recycled) metal. They also point out the need for the printer to adapt to and use whatever feedstocks are most economical in a particular location at a particular time.
  • They need to print bigger and faster. Ironically, it’s very western of them to want “more, now” which made me chuckle a bit. I guess Canada isn’t entirely free of America’s influence.
  • The finished product needs to have a wider selection of materials. They said it better than I could, “As open source 3-D printing is largely relegated to the hacking community, the full weight of the materials science and engineering community has [not] yet been applied.”
  • The whole thing needs to be solar powered. The sort of people targeted by OSAT are the sort of people who don’t have access to electricity, either because their supply is unreliable or because it’s nonexistent. The power draw of a small computer and a (current) RepRap is well within the Wattage that existing photovoltaic systems can provide. Although, this sort of undermines the point because it strongly implies that the whole thing could be powered by solar right now; all they need is someone to actually go to Africa with a RepRap.

They suggest that a key enabler for solving these problems is collaborative design (Buitenhuis & friends). Additionally, they point out that 3D printing needs some kind of test-based quality control. They would like to see standardized results detailing print accuracy, electricity and feedstock consumed, print time, quality required of feedstocks, yield stress, elastic limit/modulus, Poisson’s ratio, hardness, etc.

 

3D Printers You Might Not Have Heard About

In Uncategorized on 07, Dec, 2011 at 22:23

The Felix 1.0 can be found at FelixPrinters.com for about $1100. Designed by Guillaume Feliksdal because he has experience in mechatronics and he thought RepRaps took too long to put together and calibrate. The kit is mostly aluminum t-slot extrusions. It does not seem to be open source, but it is reportedly quick to assemble and calibrate, taking only 2-6 hours to go from zero-to-printing.

“…I love…to realize innovative technical ideas. The printer could also be useful for making my future inventions.” – Guillaume Feliksdal

The Orca 0.30, designed by Gubbels Engineering, can be found at Mendel-Parts.com. The kit is pretty much entirely steel rod and (anodized!) aluminum sheets, is about $800, and seems to be intended to be open source when the design is finalized.

The Mosaic, designed by Rick Pollack, can be found at MakerGear.com. The kit is mostly laser-cut plywood with pre-assembled precision linear guides, is about $1000, and doesn’t appear to be open source.

The Printrbot can be found at Printrbot.com. Designed by Brook Drumm because he figured people needed a printer that was a lot simpler and easier. The kit is about the most minimal combination of ABS and steel rod imaginable, is listed as $500 on the kickstarter page, and a lot of noise has been made about making it open source when the design is finalized.

Printrbot-Mystery-Print from Printr Bot on Vimeo.

The Prusa Air is Mecano’s redesign of the Prusa Mendel. It replaces a lot of the metal and plastic parts with flat sheet. Here it is on Thingiverse.com and the RepRap wiki. He says that the design evolved out of an attempt to make the Prusa more attractive and intuitive enough that someone could put it together after glancing at a picture. He has a version 2.0 on the way.

“Eventually I would like to see, apart from improvements in 3D printers, laser cutting open hardware, open hardware lathes, open hardware phones, etc” – Mecano

The Rook Printer by Jolijar can be found on Thingiverse and at Jolijar’s blog. He’s replaced the vast majority of the RepRap frame with t-slot aluminum and has redesigned the printed parts accordingly.

The Solidoodle 3D Printer, designed by Sam Cervantes, can be found at Solidoodle.com. This is a somewhat unusual design. Most of the functional parts are laser-cut wood, but the whole thing is enclosed in a steel frame that protects the whole printer. It only comes fully assembled for $700. The design doesn’t seem to be open source, but they do have a Facebook page. So you’ll have to make due.

The 3D Micro Printer is a stereolithography system that’s about the size of a large book and is only about $1600. It is the result of collaboration between teams led by professor Jürgen Stampfl and professor Robert Liska at the Vienna University of Technology. The prototype was developed by Klaus Stadlmann and Markus Hatzenbichler. The real strength of this approach, and the reason the overall machine is so small, is that it can be used to print very precise parts. This first generation prints in layers 50 microns (0.050mm) thick.

The following are even farther off the beaten path because they are CNC mills.

Don’t let that be a reason for ignoring them! Unlike a dedicated 3D printer, a CNC mill can do both additive and subtractive work (3D printers aren’t rigid enough to hold a carving tool in place without wobbling).

The MTM Snap has an exceptionally clever design. It was designed by Jonathan Ward at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms and it actually snaps together. Yes, snaps. The entire structure is rigid enough for milling but doesn’t include a single fastener. It is open source.

http://blip.tv/play/AYK2j0IC.html

The White Ant was designed by Patrick Hood-Daniel and can be found at BuildYourCNC.com. Looks like it’s around $1000, but for that you get a machine that’s specifically designed to be either a 3D printer or a CNC mill. It’s a compliment to the book, Printing In Plastic, which takes you through the entire build process. It’s extremely hackable, as the design has been released under the Creative Commons license (free to reproduce) and, while it’s cleaner to CNC mill the wood pieces, the entire thing can be made in a garage with power/hand tools.

“I would like to see a machine that would be able to fabricate using multiple materials in one process…I will be developing an SLS machine kit in the near future.” – Patrick Hood-Daniel

ZEN Toolworks, owned by Xin Chen,  has several variations of a hobby CNC. They also have a very nice wiki for learning about their kits. The CNC mill is about $810 and they have a conversion kit for $80 that makes the build volume more suitable for 3D printing. They don’t sell any extruders and Xin explained that they don’t sell a complete kit (mechanical and electrical) for 3D printing because they figure it’s better to get 3D printing-specific electronics from somewhere else. However, you can pick up the mill itself (just mechanical) for about $450 and get the electronics & extruder from a different vendor. This product is not open source.

The micRo (yes that’s how it’s spelled) is available at micro.lumenlab.com for around $700. You’ll get the CNC mill which you can use for 3D printing if you mount an extruder or syringe. LumenLabs does seem to be working on a high-precision 3D printing addition to turn the micRo into the UNIFAB, but there’s not much information at the moment.

Maybe you prefer your projects a bit more…freeform. If so then check out how many 3D printers/CNC machines there are on Instructables.com.

So there you have it. The 3d printing world is a lot bigger than RepRap and Makerbot! The great thing is that more and more of these new designs are showing up all the time. Pretty soon there will be such a huge selection you’ll be able to find one that exactly suits your requirements. Additionally, the point of this post was little-known 3d printers. If you know of one that I missed please share that information with everyone else.

Professionals Do It On Powder Beds

In Uncategorized on 23, Nov, 2011 at 12:00

There are a lot of approaches to additive manufacturing. Fundamentally, however, they all break down into a few categories:

  • points
  • lines
  • planes

Planes means using sheets of material. This approach is usually more of a combination of additive and subtractive, since the excess sheet has to be trimmed away. Lines means using long thin noodles (floppy or rigid) to build up the part. Points means using powder, either laid down in a bed or shot out of a nozzle.

I’ve been trying to come up with a way to take Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF, AKA: the copyright free version of FDM) to the next level by removing the need for a support structure. If you can free up the extruder nozzle to move in more dimensions relative to the build surface you can print “overhangs” right onto the part instead of printing them onto thin air.

3d print FFF without overhangs

This approach would definitely allow an extruder-style printer to print nearly-arbitrary shapes faster and with less waste. However, it would not allow printing of truly arbitrary shapes. The easiest example of this limitation is the spiral. It doesn’t matter where you start from, an extruder-style printer is going to have to use support material to print a spiral.

cant print a spiral

Ultimately, if you want to print arbitrary shapes, you’re going to have to hold everything in place until you can get the entire print finished so that every little bit is attached to every other little bit. Either you use support material, or there are some things you just don’t print. That being the case, might as well embrace support material, and nothing is supportier than a powder bed.

CandyFab is a good open-source example. Here’s a great overview of the process by How It’s Made (my favorite show evaaar!)

There is a sort of natural difference here between hobby 3D printers and professional 3D printers. Powder beds allow for truly arbitrary shapes, but they require a lot more of the printer and the environment the printer is in. I think this means that hobby 3D printers will be limited to nearly-arbitrary shapes. Maybe in a decade there will be pro-sumer printers next to the drill presses at home improvement stores that will use powder beds. It’s at least a possibility.

The result of my investigation, and the point of this post, is that I don’t think the open-source hardware movement is going to drive the development of powder bed printers. I think those are going to be left for the professionals.

Time and Resolution

In Uncategorized on 22, Nov, 2011 at 19:36

I was discussing ways of making better prints with a guy in my office. What follows is the result of that discussion.

A big problem for 3D printing is that you have to trade resolution and time. If you want a cleaner and more accurate part you have to wait longer for it. This is because the printers can’t cover a large area at once. Whatever method is used for the smallest areas has to be used for the largest ones. Maybe you can change tools, but that’s got issues.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to form an entire layer at once? Yes. Yes it would. Here is a theoretical method for doing that.

Start with a build surface. Fill that build surface with a grid of tiny holes and in between those holes put tiny electromagnets. Next, flip that surface upside down so that the electromagnets are on the bottom. Now when you inject ferrofluid through the holes you can move it around on the underside of the build surface with the electromagnets. By turning the electromagnets on in a controlled order you can arrange the ferrofluid so that it outlines the exact shape of your first layer.

magnetic fluid 3d printing

Now put that into a tank so that the bottom of the ferrofluid, which is hanging off of the build surface, is just touching the bottom of the tank.

magnetic fluid 3d printing 2

Inject the printing substance through the build surface into the cavities formed by the ferrofluid. Even if the substance is liquid, it will be constrained by the floor of the tank and the ferrofluid.

magnetic fluid 3d printing 3

Harden the printing substance in some way. Heat, UV light, catalyst…kind words. Whatever works. Then raise the build surface by one layer height. Fill the tank with enough of a support substance to just reach the depth of one layer height. This support substance needs to be denser than the printing substance.

magnetic fluid 3d printing 4

Inject more printing substance through the build surface surface to fill the cavity formed by the ferrofluid and the previously hardened printing substance. Any overhangs will rest on the support substance.

magnetic fluid 3d printing 5

Repeat this procedure for each layer, rearranging the ferrofluid when necessary.

magnetic fluid 3d printing 6

This process, or something similar, could open up a paradigm in which you don’t have to trade time and resolution. Each area of detail can be resolved at the same time by just controlling all the relevant electromagnets, then the open space can simply be filled with whatever it is you’re using to print. It doesn’t seem like the control electronics would be all that complicated, either. Basically you’re just drawing on an LCD readout. The complicated part of this idea is the various substances. It’s more of a chemistry problem than an electrical problem.

How Low Can You Go

In Uncategorized on 20, Nov, 2011 at 14:34

When it comes to 3D printing, the most expensive part of the system is the electronics.

Makerbot wants $370 for their Gen4 electronics. With their Gen6 stepper extruder (and the driver for it) costing $165, and a set of X-Y-Z motors costing $105, that puts the complete cost of electronics at around $640. I figure this is a good upper bound on what 3D printer electronics should cost since Makerbot’s electronics are probably the most professional and full-featured. I’m not going to include a heated bed in this comparison because it’s not strictly necessary to get started, it’s just a performance upgrade.

Obviously, when there are complete 3D printer kits starting at $500, $640 for just the electronics is unacceptable for my purposes.

The confounding thing is that when you move away from Makerbot (and complete kits in general) you start to have to source from multiple vendors. There is not, as yet, a clearing house for open-source 3D printer components. Sellers tend to focus on one or two options. Additionally, they tend to be located in Europe, so that whole “You want HOW MUCH for shipping?!?” thing gets reversed.

RAMPS and Gen6 are mid-range in terms of performance flexibility and cost. So, you know, whatever. All the electronics kits I know of use pretty much (if not exactly) the same stepper drivers, and they all use USB, and these days they all have an SD-card option, so unless one of them tends to spit out errors more often they all have the same 3D printing performance. 

Sanguinololu seems to be the strongest attempt to whittle the electronics down to just the bare necessities. eMakerShop sells the whole thing (including drivers & firmware tested) for about $170 shipped, they want $95 for the motors (shipped) and $75 for the extruder (shipped). That all comes to around $340. Solidoodle sells the whole thing (without drivers) for $105 (shipped), but doesn’t sell anything else. LulzBot can make up the difference with four Pololus for $65, four motors for $75, and a 12V 25A 300W power supply for $35. They have a hot end that they want $75 for. That all comes to around $350.

There are rumors of people pushing the electronics cost even lower. For example, something called GenL offloads most of the computation to the host computer by using more USB bandwidth. Another example is Repic by Mark Feldman, but I can’t find much information about it.

As you can see, the electronics is the most expensive part of the printer and the stepper motor/driver combination is the most expensive part of the electronics. The need for four bi-polar steppers and four microstepping drivers demands $120 minimum. You might be able to get that down under $100 if you get really lucky on sales or start salvaging parts. The biggest barrier is that these particular parts can’t be made much cheaper. The Sanguinololu board can be brought down to around $60 if you buy the bare PCB, then the components, then burn the bootloader with something you already had (or maybe you can find a chip that’s already burned). But the motors and driver prices aren’t going anywhere.

Some blue-sky ideas for lowering the cost even further involve basically starting from scratch and creating a new family of electronics. The primary reason steppers are so popular is that they don’t require any feedback for accurate positioning. It’s possible that coupling a feedback mechanism (linear resistor, optical encoder, whatever) with a standard DC motor to create a servo would be cheaper. It would also be possible to simulate the entire electronics board on an FPGA for a one-chip solution; just a PCB with the FPGA, its interface, and a bunch of transistors for amplification. Maybe the motors, and their complicated drivers, could be replaced with solenoids and some clockwork. Running all the high-power functions off of AC (out of the wall) might eliminate the need for a power supply (get logic power from the USB).

A 3D Printer Under $250

In Uncategorized on 23, Oct, 2011 at 22:22

All the coolest gadgets are too darned expensive; especially when they’re brand new. 3D printers are no exception.

Even the dramatic reduction in price that the open source hardware movement has managed to produce only brings 3D printers down to just over $500. That’s amazing compared to the commercial options (which start at $10,000) but it’s just not good enough.

I think the goal should be $250. That’s right around the pro-sumer line so anything under it is legitimately obtainable for the average person. You don’t have to worry about how much profit you can generate with the thing when it’s cheap enough.

A printer that cheap could become a practical option for STEM education. It would be a good introduction even if it didn’t have impressive performance.

Based on some research it looks like that price point is obtainable, in theory, today.

The most expensive part is always the electronics. Well, eMAKERshop sells sanguinololu electronics, fully assembled (and flashed), with the pololu drivers, for $125. They also sell a mechanical endstop kit for $10. Nema 17 stepper motors are around $15 from Kysan (4 of those). A 12v 5a power supply goes for around $10 on Amazon. That’s the majority of the electronics right there for about $200.

Now we just need to build the frame and linear motion systems. A 1/4″ x 2′ x 4′ piece of pine plywood can be about $10. Home Depot lists 16″ keyboard sliders for about $15 (3 of those). Assuming you could make the printer out of cabinet supplies, that’s about $55. If the extruder could be made out of a bolt with some nichrome wire (old school I know) it wouldn’t add much to the total, which is now around $255.

There are some crucial assumptions in there like a dirt-simple extruder and no need for timing belts. At any rate I think this demonstrates that the idea isn’t as far fetched as it might at first appear. A big piece of the puzzle will be getting around the need for metal pieces, printed pieces, and laser-cut pieces.

Insane 3D Print Resolution

In Uncategorized on 16, Oct, 2011 at 14:31

You know how professional 3D printers start at $10,000 and then work their way up to $100,000 or more? Yeah…that’s probably going to change soon.

Dave Durant posted a long series of examples of how the latest generation of open-source 3D printer software and hardware is quickly outstripping our ability to challenge it. His post is well worth reading through, so I’m just going to highlight one point.

He linked to this post in which Jordan Miller put one of the newest Ultimaker prints under a microscope.
LowerMag_WithFingerAndScaleBar_162pixelsPerMillimeter

That thing on the left, kind of hard to identify…that’s a finger. Or, rather, those are the little ridges that make a fingerprint. Yeah. The average layer height in that print is 0.074mm (74 microns).

I just want to remind the reader that resolution was achieved on a printer that’s not only around $1600 but also open-source, so the software and hardware designs are available for free.

Dave has another example of a print by Paul Candler that uses 0.02mm (20 microns) layers (two perimeter layers for each infill layer). For comparison, the Stratasys UPrint can do 0.25 or 0.33mm. It costs $20,000.

If you want an Ultimaker (you should by now) you can even win one for free.

 

 

 

 

 

Lower Entry Barriers For 3D Printing

In Uncategorized on 12, Oct, 2011 at 22:36

The basic technology required to make a 3D printer work isn’t particularly groundbreaking, so it’s nice to see a brand new design as opposed to yet another copy. Origo is a project (company?) started by Artur Tchoukanov and Joris Peels with the goal of producing an $800 mass-produced 3D printer specifically for kids. It looks like they’re planning on using a double swing arm for the X Y motion, which greatly simplifies the physical construction, lowering the cost. They are also integrating the software so that kids can design things in 3DTin and then have their creations automatically printed. Also, a recycler, but I doubt that idea will work.

More 3D printers, particularly cheaper ones, is great. However, I would like to see the cost and complexity drop even farther. Here are some ideas for how that might happen:

  • The printer itself shouldn’t require powerful or precise tools.
The Thing-O-Matic achieves precision with laser cutters, the Mendel achieves precision with another 3D printer, and they both use special steel rods. The designs depend on expensive and difficult-to-maintain manufacturing tools.
I think it’s possible to avoid the use of things like laser cutters, precision ground steel rod, and pre-existing 3D printers. Anything that’s going to be expected to recreate precise movements is going to need some precision parts and assembly, but that’s almost entirely about the layout. For example, instead of laser cut parts one could print a template on a desktop printer, attach it to the wood, and cut/drill by following the guide. The typical solution to linear motion is some kind of bearing riding on precision rod, but some things like aluminum angle and drawer sliders are nearly as precise while being far cheaper.
The real barrier to entry, however, are the precision manufacturing tools. You CAN download the blueprints for a Thing-O-Matic, but they are specifically designed to be produced on a laser cutter. For example, the T-slots aren’t something you can accurately reproduce on your own. Likewise, while you CAN download the parts files for the Mendel, good luck carving them. “Many of the mendel parts are quite difficult to make from wood, and could do with a re-design. They are all created with 3d printing in mind, so there is no consideration for access to internal spaces, or grain or any of the other things to keep in mind when working in wood.” Designs with these requirements create a speedbump which sucks down money, time or luck. Instead, the goal could be for the printer design to require nothing more than a hand saw (cuts) and an electric drill (holes).
  • It doesn’t actually need a .5mm nozzle.
Creating sub-millimeter holes is kind of a problem. The only really reliable way to do it is to put the nozzle blank and drill bit into a lathe. If you allow the nozzle diameter to rise you start to run into pre-manufactured components like needles. Or, at a minimum, things like 1/32th (.8mm) drill bits that are cheaper and easier to obtain than .5mm bits (at least in the States). Even 1/16th (1.6mm) bits would be small enough to do something useful (probably equate to a 2.7mm wide track) and are pretty much free.
More importantly, moving up to something like a 1/16th bit wouldn’t require any special tools to use. Even holding a sub-millimeter bit requires a special tool. A 1/16th will fit into a standard drill chuck. Sure, you CAN get sub-millimeter bits that have expanded shafts, but that’s starting to raise the barriers again as people need to special order them and they can’t be easily replaced.
  • Make each part do more than one job.
The Mendel (and derivatives) is a good example of not doing this. As great a design as it is, there are metal rods being used for the structure and then different metal rods being used for the linear motion. Using the frame material for linear motion would create more synergy (do you have your innovation Bingo card?).
  • Simplify the positioning system.
The reason 3D printers tend to use linear motion is that it’s really simple to program for. 3D files record things in XYZ Cartesian coordinates, so it’s just a matter of calculating the steps. That’s great for the programmers, but not so great for the mechanical engineers. They have to figure out how to create a 3-axis linear motion system on the cheap. Switching to something more like the Origo (a double swing arm) would make the bot a lot easier to build. All you’d have to do is slap a couple arms onto the shafts of a couple motors. The programming would be more complex, and maybe the motors would be more expensive, but the physical construction would be much simpler.
  • Reduce the number of electronic components.
Electronics are expensive, even when you build them yourself. The electronics package is around 1/4 of the cost of a Thing-O-Matic, for example. It might be possible to create a “board on a chip” design inside a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) that would literally do ALL the calculations. It could even replace the stepper boards. FPGA’s, instead of running software, are reconfigurable hardware. You program their logic gates and then they just do what they do. They have hundreds of I/O ports, allowing all the windings of the stepper motors and all of the sensors and all of the heaters to be controlled directly by the FPGA (via some form of amplification). Also, and this is important, they are truly parallel. If something needs to happen on one I/O pin it doesn’t have to wait for the software to get to that part, it just goes in and right back out.
FPGAs aren’t exactly main stream, and there aren’t any open-source solutions yet, but you can get the software you need to program them for free (just sign up for a license). I’m not sure how many gates you would need to replace an Arduino and four Pololus, but seeing as how you could do it with a single chip it’s worth looking in to.
  • Why not design things without a computer?
Origo is on the right track in terms of making it easier for people (kids) to design the 3D models that 3D printers construct. Why not make it even easier? OpenSCAD, a program that has already proven itself in the open-source 3D printing world, already has support for generating 3D models directly from 2D pictures.

openscad 2D to 3D

With just colored lines and some labels OpenSCAD can generate a water-tight 3D model. Kids (anyone) could use crayons or colored pencils to draw a blueprint of their design, scan it, and have it start printing automatically.

I’m Conflicted About Buildatron

In Uncategorized on 15, Sep, 2011 at 22:13

I have a few keywords like “reprap” and “makerbot” on my google alerts list, so I heard about this new company Buildatron. The link in my email took me to a press release that is responsible for the inner turmoil.

See…I want 3D printing to move into the mainstream. There’s only 4 years left until my inter-family prediction of “this stuff is totally going to be everywhere” becomes premature. I want to go to Wal-Mart and pick up a $100 3D printer that makes cell phones, and I want it now! On the other hand, I am convinced that the old people who own all the stuff and write all the laws are going to fill up their Depends when they realize the same people who pirate music and movies are now free to pirate physical products.

As is pretty obvious to anyone who bothers to look ahead: 3D printers are going to create some legal issues. With the Supreme Court ruling that corporations are people, and Congress worried that existing businesses might not pay for their reelection, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that 3D printing would end up strictly regulated. The exciting thing about desktop additive manufacturing is how much more efficient it makes people. That’s great for individuals, but not so great for existing corporations. Combine the threat of copyright infringement with the decreased revenue from simple (and not so simple) little gizmos and you’ve got a recipe for a new version of the RIAA.

It seems to me the best way to make that possibility unlikely is to push 3D printing into schools where it can give a whole new generation a reason to learn STEM. About the time industry lobbyists are marching around demanding regulation I want school kids marching around showing off how they invented a new pacemaker or something. That will even get the attention of industry (they need all the STEM geeks they can hire). Thus, creating a strong argument for allowing 3D printing to flourish with modest, safety-based regulation.

That’s my point of view, and I’m working on it (slowly; I have a day job). But then I see stuff like the Buildatron 1. The company’s press release stops just short of going “YOU get a car and YOU get a car and YOU get a car”…but then you click on the link.

They put a box around a reprap. Then they put their name on the box. Then they promised a revolution.

The best thing is that there are already companies selling reprap parts and kits assembled or disassembled. There’s makergear and reprapcentral and reprapstores and reprapkit and XYZprinters and botmill and techzone and I’m sure I missed some. Last but certainly not least there is Dr. Bowyer himself. And you know what? None of them bothered to brand an open-source project. Why does the Mendel need a box around it? I assume it was the only way they could create enough space to FIT a brand name in there.

I love open-source for exactly that reason. Since no one had ever thought of putting a big title on the machine there isn’t even any room to add one if you want to. It’s a marketing department’s nightmare.

See, Buildatron instantly invites comparison to Makerbot. Makerbot is from New York, so is Buildatron. Makerbot had 3 techie founders, so does Buildatron. Makerbot was based on the reprap project and so is Buildatron. Makerbot looks like a box…and so does Buildatron. Even the name looks copycat (build-a-tron, mak-er-bot). However, all that stuff is just surface. What seems significant to me is that Makerbot looks like a box because those guys actually designed a new printer. It makes sense for them to put their name on a product that was merely inspired by the reprap project. The Buildatron 1, however, IS the reprap project. With a box around it.

They didn’t even have the decency to make the box printable.

A  few of my favorite quotes from the press release:

Today Buildatron Systems announced the international launch of the Buildatron 1 3D printer…

Their offering represents a new paradigm in 3D personal manufacturing technology…

social network driven DIY (Do It Yourself) 3D printer kit.

We worked … industry leading customer support via Buildatron’s social network gateway

Buildatron’s opening of the 3D printer market to millions at industry shattering prices makes no bones about the impact they will have…

Buildatron is working hard to put you in the drivers seat by developing a new generation of tools unparalleled in history.

It’s just sooo cookie-cutter and over-the-top. They’re international because they have a website. They’re a new paradigm because they have a box. They’re social networking because they have a facebook page. They’re industry leading because there’s no industry to lead. They’re opening the market by sitting next to Makerbot at Makerfair. They’re unparalleled because they’re taking what everyone else is working on in a weird direction. The best part is that they could actually lower the price of their kit if they didn’t bother to put it in a box.

All of this leaves me conflicted. I want people to get involved in 3D printing who can hype it. Bre Pettis is awesome because he can get in front of a camera and really evangelize 3D printing. I don’t think an external control panel is all that important or useful, but I’ll let Makerbot do anything they want without complaint as long as they’re putting so much effort into building public awareness. However, the approach Buildatron is taking, right from the get-go, makes me want to tell them to stop.

You know who else saw what Makerbot was doing and thought it was a good idea? Well, Rick Pollack of Makergear and Erik de Bruijn of Ultimaker come to mind. They are both selling their own (branded) boxy 3D printer. But THEY DESIGNED NEW PRINTERS! The Mosaic and the Ultimaker are both brand new and innovative designs that take INSPIRATION from the open-source projects that birthed them. It makes perfect sense for them to give it a new name because it’s new. Buildatron just put a Mendel in a box.

Practical Payback Period

In Uncategorized on 12, Jun, 2011 at 20:29

The payback period of an investment is the amount of time it takes for that investment to produce as much money as it originally cost. The assumption is that any money made/saved AFTER the end of the payback period is what you invested for in the first place. The payback period, then, is how long you have to wait to start seeing a return on your investment.

A 3d printer is, obviously, an investment. For the people who are interested in 3d printers themselves the payback period isn’t really an issue, but for the people who are only interested in what 3d printers can do for them it’s a different story. A common question is, “What can you do with a 3d printer?” People like me are usually quick to skirt the question with a passionate description of the future of 3d printing…but it’s a good question.

What CAN you do with a 3d printer?

Or, more specifically, WHY would the average person pick up a 3d printer at Sears on their way home from work?

I doubt that the proliferation of 3d printers will turn a lot of people into “makers.” Most people probably aren’t going to ever design a single printable object. Does that mean they’d never get their money’s worth out of a 3d printer? Well, I’d like to argue that the average person absolutely WOULD get their money’s worth out of investing in a 3d printer. The only thing holding back 3d printers from being a good investment RIGHT NOW is that they cost more than $500.

What I did was I went through thingiverse and kept track of all the things I could find that served a practical, but not overly specific, purpose (the table is included at the end of this post). After I found something that looked practical, but pedestrian, I shopped for it online. I found that most things could be had for about $1-2 dollars, which sounds about right for hunks of plastic. A few things, however, were more expensive. To make this a realistic test of the principle I made an effort to price out the cheapest thing I could find. Even holding the costs down, the estimate came out to more than $400 in savings.

This doesn’t include costs like the raw plastic, or electricity, but I can’t imagine those are greater than or equal to the costs of gasoline and shipping, which aren’t included either. Obviously, one could perform a more rigorous analysis, but I think the point stands. An average person COULD pay back the cost of their 3d printer $1-10 at a time…just as soon as the cost of the printer comes down below $500.

The cool thing is that we’re right on the edge of that price point. A 3d printer, the eMAKER Huxley, just recently got down to a promotional price of $500 each (for preorders).

So, if you picked up a $400 3d printer, and started using it to make things instead of buying them, how long would it take you to get past the payback period? Estimating 30 minutes per print, and estimating 70 items in that list, it would take you just over a month of printing 1 hour a day to have saved the total cost of the printer. Of course…handy people who like to do things for themselves will benefit more from this technology, but I think everyone else will start to get used to the convenience.

It’s not just a question of how much money you save, but also how much time and frustration. Pretty much everyone keeps a microwave around simply because it’s waaay easier and quicker to use than an oven or a trip to a store or restaurant. When 3d printers come down to $100 they’ll pay for themselves so quickly that apartments and hotels will keep them in rooms, right next to the microwave. The convenience factor will be overwhelming because the payback period will be functionally irrelevant.

estimated savings # project link
$420.35


$2.00 each child deterrent device http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8709
$4.00 pair tire leveler http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8699
$1.00 each drink coaster http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8693
$1.00 each guitar pick holder http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8689
$20.00 each tripod mount http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8679
$7.00 each paper towel roll holder http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8677
$50.00 each lens gear for follow focus http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8658
$124.00 each peristaltic pump http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8652
$40.00 each solder fume fan mount http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8642
$3.00 each pillbox http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8626
$0.75 each bag clip http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8610
?
watch back replacement http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8606
$1.00 each small perf board http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8601
$2.00 each replacement table/chair foot http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8599
$1.00 each replacement drawer slider http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8589
$5.00 each capodastre http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8554
$5.00 each wall mount http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8547
$1.00 each headphone sorter http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8539
$1.00 each replacement knob http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8516
$7.00 each ukulele bridge http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8492
$1.00 each picture frame http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8487
?
mop/broom attachment http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8478
$2.00 each hex key holder http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8470
$1.00 pair jump rope handle http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8469
$1.00 pair toilet seat hinge http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8449
$0.50 each wire cube storage bracket http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8448
$1.00 each pencil holder http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8433
?
custom cookie cutter http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8434
?
wet food divider http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8411
$10.00 each cell phone stand http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8393
$2.00 each candle holder http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8387
$5.00 each emergency belt buckle http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8373
?
toilet seat holder http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8267
$0.10 each silverware http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8248
$1.00 each wall mount bottle opener http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8244
$3.00 each door latch http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8218
$20.00 each third hand PCB vice http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8194


stereoscopic camera mount http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8050
$30.00 each orange juice squeezer http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:7924
$2.00 each lint roller http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:7878
$2.00 each soap tray http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:7843
$1.00 each sim card adapter http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:7838


recycling bin key http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:7817
$1.00 pack table cloth clamp http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:7790
$12.00 each collapsible traffic cone http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:7788


shower bar support http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:7770
$1.00 each tweezers http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:7768


hinge http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:7598
$3.00 each pet brush http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:8890


textile fastner http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:7544
$5.00 each tie holder http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:9228
$3.00 each sandpaper block http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:9222
$1.00 each guitar string winder http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:9211
$1.00 each whistle http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:9206


curtain clip http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:9202
$2.00 each protractor http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:9200
$2.00 each component bins http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:9159
$6.00 each coin holder http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:9116
$10.00 each bird feeder http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:4847
$1.00 each carabiner http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:5689
$1.00 each file handle http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2031
$10.00 pack tarp clip http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1247


water bottle camera mount http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2631
$3.00 each door stop http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1858


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