Monday, April 9, 2012

3D Printing, I'm in awe of the potential

I've been hearing about 3D printers for a long time now, but they always seemed like these magical devices that were out of reach of anyone not willing to turn it into their career and had $20,000 to $100,000 to spare to buy one and start a business.  Then about two or three years ago I hear about the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic an amazing 3D printer that can be purchased unassembled as a DIY kit for $1,100.
The MakerBot Thing-O-Matic

While still not a trivial amount of money for most of us, it's getting into a price range that begins to bring in hobbyists and small businesses.  It also uses an Arduino to run the whole thing which is a device I've been playing around with for the past year or so and am comfortable programming and building electronics with.  The idea was really neat, but I was looking for something that felt a little more hackable and where I could potentially be able to contribute to a community.

RepRap Prussa 2 
So I just recently heard about the 3D printer called RepRap.  RepRap is an open sourced 3D printer founded in 2005 by Dr Adrian Bowyer, a Senior Lecturer in mechanical engineering at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom.

These things are amazing, they are built around off the shelf parts and are constantly being tweaked with new software and hardware revisions.  One of the awesome things about 3D printers is that they can print out many of the parts needed to build them.  While I'm hoping I can do a better job with my wiring to give it a cleaner look, the picture to the left is essentially what I'll be building.  A Reprap Prusa Mendel for about $500 including a few extra bells and whistles.

I've been researching everything I can find online about these 3D printers.  From build guides, to working with programming the microchips and modifying them.  Calibrating the whole system so it will print right and how to build your own 3D models to print out.  There are some limitations with the quality or resolution of printable objects at this point, but cutting edge stuff like this will always have it's flaws and issues to be worked out and in the past 6 years they've figured out solutions to a lot of them and refined the printing quality to rival some of the professional 3D printers out there.

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