by tolomea on September 2, 2012

GXR A12, 50mm (35equiv), ISO 200, 1/79s, f/2.5, 2012-09-02

And now a 3d printer post, if only so people will stop bugging me about it :P
This is going to be long…

Edit: A Printrbot is a type of 3d printer, a device that makes 3d objects, a 3d model file goes in and a plastic object comes out.

I’ve been interested in 3d printing for some time, it’s an interesting technology that is a great enabler for a whole bunch of other things. My initial interest grew out of my photography hobby. I wanted a custom tripod bracket and looking around online turned up 3d printing as the most cost effective way of doing that. Over time and I designed several different brackets and had them printed by a couple of different firms. Of particular note are Shapeways who provide a good service and have an active and positive involvement in the community.

During that time I was keeping an eye on the growing RepRap community, I knew I wanted my own printer and I knew I didn’t want to pay 10′s of thousands for a commercial one. For a couple of years I was just hanging out waiting for the open source ones to reach a useable standard. Eventually they got there and I started to seriously consider my options. I could write a whole post just about the current state of the market but for now I’ll skim. I knew I wanted a printer that was popular so there would be lots of help available online. And a printer that had itself been printed so that I could mod it and upgrade it as the community advanced. That effectively narrowed the field down to the Prusa Mendel. However I was concerned about the build complexity, there are many blogs around where people of my general experience level document their attempts to build one and a concerning portion of them end in failure. So I was unsure how to proceed.

Then Kickstarter happened. One of the big early success stories on Kickstarter was the Printrbot project which made headlines as it skyrocketed past it’s funding goal. I could tell from my years of lurking that Brook the project leader had a reasonable working knowledge of the RepRap style printers. The build was clearly way simpler than the Prusa, granted the Prusa is a better machine, but that doesn’t matter if I fail to get it going. Additionally the Kickstarter guaranteed that there would be dozens if not hundreds of people assembling them at roughly the same time so help should be readily available. So I signed up for the 3d printed kit variant at $499usd, I’m backer 452 out of 1800.

That was December last year. Understandably Brook wasn’t at all prepared for the project blowing out it’s goal by 3300% so there were some delays sourcing and manufacturing parts in the volumes now needed to fulfill the backers orders. And then we decided to move to Britain, the day I gave notice at work I also email Printrbot HQ and had my shipping address changed to a friends place in London. In the end it actually beat us to London. After the move we were in temporary accommodation for a while and then when we found an apartment I started into full time work again. But a little bit of time weekends and evenings got it assembled and running.

The build really was quite straight forward and what issues I did have mostly related to lack of appropriate tools. Turning it on the first time was quite something. The assembly process made it really clear that this is a very simple machine made from a bunch of off the shelf motors, rods and screws and a stack of cheap plastic bits. There is nothing flash or impressive in the hardware. After the effort of assembling it the physical device was almost disappointing and I procrastinated before turning it on, I think out of fear that it wasn’t living up to my hopes. I pushed on and worked through the calibration process, by the end of that it seemed highly unlikely that this pile of bits was actually going to work. And then it was time for the first print, I loaded up the model, waited for everything to heat up and hit the go button… and then the software injected it’s special magic and my pile of bits became something really cool.

“It’s like having a little bit of science fiction right in our lounge” – Andrea

Contrary to what was said on G+ and FB, the first print wasn’t a shot glass, that was the second print, the first print was a one Euro calibration piece and the Euro fit perfectly. I think that’s enough for this post. I’m going to throw up a couple more images for interest sake.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Brook Drumm September 3, 2012 at 5:38 am

Great job telling your story! Love it.

tolomea September 3, 2012 at 7:35 am

Thank you and thanks for making it possible.
I’m looking forward to the LCD and 3 color mods, I hope they are compatible with the original :)

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