I get a lot of blank stares and strange looks when I tell people that I am working on a 3D printer. As such I’d like to set out to explain what one is as well as show off what I’ve completed on mine thus far.
So you ask, “What exactly is one of them there 3-Dee printer things you’re talking about?” In short, it is a rapid prototyping machine. Since I’m sure that clears it all up and removes any further questions you have in your mind, I’m done here and everyone’s good to move on to the next blog right? No of course not. The best explanation I have is it’s a machine that takes a plastic material, melts it down, and places a thin layer of the melted plastic one layer at a time until you have a finished object. It is a printer that works like your old school inkjet printer but also moves on a 3rd axis to make non flat prints.
The idea is as follows. What do you do when you want to develop some brand new, earth shattering, world stopping, sign of the apocalypse product that has never been in existence before and it needs a custom part that even Nostradamus didn’t predict? You design it of course, in your favorite 3D modeling software like Google Sketchup or Blender or any of the other dozens that are out there. The show stopper before was how you went from a digital model to something tangible that you could hold in your hands and break if you are one of those accident prone individuals. It always meant that you had to go pay some exorbitant amount for a machine shop to make you just one of that item, and heaven forbid that item didn’t fit the needs on the first round. I’m sure you can imagine where the price would go up rather quickly in development. So why not just make it out of cheaper material and something that works just well enough to serve as a proof of concept. Well, that’s exactly what the 3D printer does for you.
A handful of months ago two of the other members at our hackerspace and myself all decided we wanted to build our own Prusa 3D printers. No real defined reason behind it other than we knew we wanted our own printers, and that if we had one it would open new possibilities to us. Since there is no real completion point for these things, it would simply be that once we had it “working” we could use it to create new items and repair or replace old ones that were no longer available. That in a nutshell is the appeal of having such a device and the driving force behind our continued development of them. One of the single most awesome things about this particular printer that we are building, the Prusa. Is that it’s relatively cheap, easily reproducible, modular, and upgradeable. Currently we are in the process of getting them fine tuned and working to some extent. From there we’ll be able to spend further time using it to upgrade itself and improve it’s quality. Expect to see more details in the near future right here on my very own blog enlightening all of the saga of blood, sweat, tears, cursing, and agony that is the way of life a homemade 3D prototyping machine is.