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3D Printing in My Future? January 24, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Toys.

This is just awesome in concept and wretched in execution, unless you are seriously well off.  I have been in love with the idea of printing and assembling anything from just the plans and plastic feedstock…but the devil is truly in the details with this technology.

All the pieces seem to be available, here and now, for this bit of science fiction: control electronics have come very far down in price, stepper motors are a bulk purchase item, 3D plotting software is now FREE and 3D scanning technology is likewise declining in cost.  And the people who are interested in putting this together for the masses have gotten very far in their desire to produce not just a machine to make machines, but a machine which can make other machines, and a copy of itself.

The trouble is, most of this technology is amazingly difficult to implement for anyone with even a pretty good handyman’s abilities, and a degree in chemistry, and lots of computer experience. The cost is daunting and the time required to just assemble the beast is nearly unavailable to a family man with teenagers.  It’s enough to make a guy throw in the towel.

Unless he’s me.

I have been looking into this for some time, and learned a lot.

· I learned that H-P is going to be selling Stratasys’ 3D printer for $15,000.

· I learned that the RepRap-based MakerBot is $950 before shipping and just the component electronics (for the cheap do-it-yourselfer like me) is ~$450.

· I learned that many people on the Net discuss making things from these bots and that not as many people report successes as challenges (perversely, this intrigues me).

· I learned that plastic feedstock for these projects is pricey, and that NOBODY is looking into ways to get it from recycling.  The only plastic I could find a simple method for reusing is Styrofoam, using acetone (that was actually kind of cool.  Look at the video).

RepRap actually makes a bunch of different bots, and possibly some version of their machine could meet my need.  The trouble is, the electronics cost is still crippling, even if the assembling of the platform is pretty easy (see the McWire, below).


Nice, huh?  I find the juxtaposition of the futuristic Lucite platform against the Luddite plumber’s pipe support almost poetic.  Unfortunately, this still has the same costs of electronic control as the latest incarnation, the Mendel (Darwin was the next step after McWire but is already old hat.  They aren’t even working on it anymore):


And let’s not even talk about the difficulty of extruding the plastic; lots of trial and error seems to be called for.  I suppose that’s what a professional system like Stratasys’ draws down the big bucks for; they presumably have taken care of that.  I bet they still charge through the nose for feedstock, though.

So, what is left for me to work on?  I am rather seriously considering making a Mendel, ordering the assembled electronics to make sure I don’t solder something wrong and paying whatever they ask for it.  I would (probably) make one and start experimenting with different deposition heads for it, trying each of the traditional ones in turn (light plastic, heavy plastic, frosting) and then truly experimental ones like a CO2 laser for cutting plywood (must be fun to make a gas laser, I should look into that) or sintering ceramic-metal mixes.  Think of the possibilities:















Then there’s 3D scanning of the objects to copy (is this even legal?  Can I make a copy of the back of my phone if I lose it?  Could I sell it if I did?).  The imported images need serious cleanup and work of other kinds.  Will this technology ever be practical for hobbyists?  Probably not yet, like the 3D printers themselves.  And I haven’t forgotten the problems with feedstock.  Nobody is even looking into that.  Still.

Cory Doctorow has published a book called Makers which kind of follows this thought to its logical conclusion, wherein people are bootlegging designs at home a lot, and the copyright police come down on them pretty heavily, just like the half-million dollar award to the RIAA over some stupid kid who shared thirty songs (judge just reduced it to a mere $60,000. Never let it be said that justice was disproportionately on the side of the very rich).  Sadly, this tech still looks like science fiction to me.

It doesn’t mean I won’t give it a try.

Update: it seems that people are looking for ways to recycle plastics after all for just this sort of thing: http://dev.forums.reprap.org/read.php?171,34188


1. Additional 3D Printing News « Stuffilike.net - January 28, 2010

[…] one for $20,00 and one for $80,000 for building a machine for building useful stuff (see previous posting, below).  Cribbed from the […]

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