electronic brain surgery since 2001

Another Chunk of Future: 3D Printer

“The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed” -.- William Gibson

If you're following me on Google+ you probably already know that I bought and successfully assembled a RepRap Huxley 3D printer. If you don't, your first question probably is “What's a 3D printer?”.

A 3D printer is a printer that is able to create a real physical 3D object from a 3D computer model. There are various different technologies available in the professional market. The technology predominant in the end user hobby market is plastic extrusion. The printer creates the object by layering thin lines of molten plastic on top of each other similar to a hot glue gun. And while professional 3D printers cost several ten thousand dollars, their smaller hobbyist cousins are arriving at price ranges below 1000 Dollars currently.

I bought my kit from RepRapPro Ltd. which is Adrian Bowyer's company who initially founded the RepRap project. In a pre-Christmas sale on Indiegogo (a kickstarter like crowdsourcing platform) the Huxley was availabe for $657 plus shipping.

Here's a video of my first print to give you a general idea how such a printer looks and works like:

Even though I'm just at the start of 3D printing I'd like to share a few thoughts here.

The kit wasn't perfect. It was missing some printed plastic parts and it turned out the motor drivers weren't soldered correctly. For both problems I got very immeadiate feedback so I could continue building.

The RepRap Huxley is not a consumer product. You're buying a kit that will need quite some work to get going. It is especially designed to be easy to tinker with. If you're looking for something that is more like a real product, the more expensive Ultimaker or MakerBot printers might be better suited (but I'm guessing here).

Building the Huxley is not as easy as assembling a Lego model or Ikea furniture for two reasons. First you'll need a bunch of tools. At least some spanners, screwdrivers, pliers, a small file and a soldering iron are absoultely required. But having additional stuff like a Dremel, a bunch of shrink wraps and wires and all kinds of other tools certainly helps. The second reason are the assembly instructions. You have to follow a lot of steps all documented in the RepRap wiki. Because it's a wiki the quality of the instructions do vary quite a bit from step to step. I tried to improve a few things I found to be unclear, but still a bit of guesswork is required sometimes.

A lot of reprapers are active on Google+ and I got a lot of helpful tips from my RepRap Owner circle. Other valuable support was found at the #emaker IRC channel and the emaker forums.

My first print was far from perfect. The nozzle is oozing too much creating boogers and threads and the first layer didn't stick well to the build surface. But I already got some excellent tips on how to improve and am optimistic that I'll soon have some pretty good prints. All I need is some time to experiment.

The second question after “What is a 3D printer?” is always “And what do you want to do with it?”. I find this question really strange and hard to answer. “Print stuff” is the obvious answer. You probably can't tell what you will print on your conventional printer before you buy it. The idea of being able to create exactly sized objects out of thin air whenever I need them amazes me. It's another tool to be creative and to make things on my own. It feels like the future should feel like and that's worth 500 Euro to me.

3dprinter, reprap, huxley, photos
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