Reprap Roundup.

Another 4 months; another wave of incremental improvements in low-end 3D Printers.

It looks to me like Kickstarter is driving a lot of this… the increasing features and level of polish etc. It reminds me of playing in bands… you can rehearse all you like, but the real crucible of change/improvement is playing live. Until you expose yourself to the withering gaze of public expectation, you’re just fantasizing. You’re still just playing a gig in your own head. You’re running a simulation. If a tree falls over in a forest and nobody hears it, it hasn’t really made any noise.

And so it is with retail / kickstarter. Maybe even more so with kickstarter because there’s a such a “big sell” on a philosophical/architectural basis before you even get out the door. I think this is part of the Quantum Quality Leap I was on about last year.

It’s partly to do with money… I mean we get the deal, if an artist does something and it costs money and we want them to do some more, then we need to pay them. We don’t need “IP” for that… but that IS the deal. If you like Game Of Thrones and want them to make some more, then you need to get some of your money to the people that make Game Of Thrones.

Anyway – The Reprap Project can be said to have well and truly succeeded… and the cat is out of the bag (the cloned raptors have escaped from the lab) and now it’s evolving faster than the originators can keep up with.


1) The Gmax Printer

This is my favorite… because it’s true to the spirit of reprap – ie: it has modular, almost mechano-like vitamin parts that can be recombined in future iterations. And it’s big. Big enough. The others haven’t (on the whole) been big enough. Yet.

It’s also set up to handle a little CNC mill as well – but what I’m really interested in is this design/philosophy used for laser-cutting. Because I like laser-cutting more than 3D printing. I think it’s more useful. I don’t think this is a permanent state of affairs – Laser-Cutting has fairly serious insoluble limitations… whereas the limitations of 3D printing are solvable, but for now, I like laser-cutters.

For something like this, the laser would need to be fibre-optic I think – rather than a bunch of mirrors (which are fiddly and annoying). I guess they’re a whole lot more expensive though.

Speaking of laser-bits, someone has just made (and released designs for) a laser-cut cable carrier chain for a laser-cutter


2) Microfactory

This one actually does do printing and milling in the same box – so that’s starting to become “a thing”. They’ve asked for a million dollars though, and are unlikely to get it – which is a pity because it’s a nice looking design… compared to what was around this time last year. Really the people doing the 3D printers on kickstarter (who are proper pro engineers) should get together with the (proper pro) designers on kickstarter and see what comes out… because the design category seems to be constantly filled with people designing “modern wallets” or pens or ipad stands.

3) Zeus

This one includes a scanner – so is an approximation of a 3D Photocopier, or fax machine.

With my own rudimentary experiments with scanning – it’s a lot harder than it looks… you need to do a lot of re-touching after the fact.

This looks as though it’s had a shit-load of money put into it already… and weirdly enough, I’m suspicious of anything where you can’t see the frame/mechanics. It looks proprietary… and to me “proprietary” now means “compromised by the US secret service”. If it’s not open-source, you can’t trust it.

But they’ve made their kickstarter target, so that’s good I guess.

I just wish this amount of effort was going into laser cutting though.

I think the triad of CNC technologies boils down to a couple of very very major pros and cons… and this in part is the reason why CNC printers are where all the evolution is going, namely:

Pro/Con #1 : You can use a 3D printer in a 1 bedroom flat.

I lived in the UK for 20 years, in about 20 different houses. Not one of them would have had space for a 6040 laser-cutter. A 6040 laser-cutter needs a room of its own. And ventilation, because it produces a lot of smoke. I now live in a small town in NZ, so space is not a problem. Maybe we’ll see a migration back to the suburbs.

Pro/Con #2 : A laser-cutter can make things with proper materials.

Wood, Acrylic, leather, abalone etc. When you make things with these materials you can sell them. Layered PLA, not so much. Home 3D Printers make make things that have a similar quality to things made out of heat-curable plasticine, ie: not great. In addition to that, you’re making a thing which is essentially “a lump of plastic” that if injection-molded would cost 2 cents rather than 10 dollars. Sure there are exceptions, but they’re very much in the minority.

Pro/Con #3 : 30,000 Volts

Pro/Con #4 : 2D vs 3D.

3D is a hell of a lot harder to design for. 3D is a hell of a lot more versatile. If you’re going to be pirating 3D objects, you’re probably going to be needing something that does 3D out of the box.

Pro/Con #5 : Laser cutting has kindof reached a vertex of development. There are incremental improvements that could happen with regards focus, power and safety/convenience… there are quantum-leaps to do with multi-axis, and possibly welding (some 3D printing already uses lasers for fused deposition)… but I kindof get the feeling that laser-cutting 20 years from now is going to look much the same as it does now, whereas 3D Printing has an entire Cambrian-Explosion of possibilities still waiting to happen.

So as far as that goes, it’s kindof more interesting.