Page started Easter 2012.
2014This page is a few years old now - much water under the bridge as they say.
My printrbot has been a fairly faithful work horse for the last few years but is needing a bit more care and feeding than it used to.
My next printer is in progress. A large format design of my own I've named Huey.
Printer technology.Polymer deposition is the main game for home 3D printing at the moment. Basically something like a precision hot glue gun is moved around under computer control to built a solid object.
This technique has limitation and also benefits.
Some of the downers are.
- It is slow
- resolution is a little course.
- No good for high temperature products.
- Requires support to print overhangs.
The ups are.
- It is relatively simple.
- It is reasonably cheap.
- It is not terribly messy.
- Parts are strong enough to be functional.
- It can use (home) recycled plastic.
- Open source printers and software available.
- Growing user base for mutual help - active forums etc.
Another big plus it can make things few (if any) other methods can - it can make fully enclosed objects with internal detail in a single pass.
Amateurs are developing other types of systems but these are very much a minority. Polymer deposition is practical now.
Also see my 3d cad page and my printrbot page.
Reprap.Most of these low cost devices sit on the shoulders of the reprap project. The idea to build a printer which could print its own parts is attributed to Adrain Bowyer from Bath university in the UK. It is a somewhat obvious idea and machines have been building parts for themselves for years (probably eons). It isn't like they print the whole machine - just the plastic bits. I think he oversold the printer as something that would do away with mass production and we would print everything at home. I don't think so.
Some people now seem to think star-trek replicators are just around the corner and we will be printing working smart phones and live kittens some time soon. This isn't so - we are just printing some plastic parts.
What the team did was lower the cost of 3D printers by one or two orders of magnitude and this is a game changer - we owe them one. We now have thousands of wannabee 3D designers with a means of getting to work and making stuff.
Reprap also embraced the open-source model many of us love. They didn't set out to patent and profit from their work - they gave it away and others such as Brooke (printrbot) have taken the idea further (simple and cheaper in this case).
Printrbot (and others) are for profit ventures but they are still open sourced - you can legally make and even sell printrbots in competition to Brooke. This pretty much guarantees the prices stay low and the idea can't be bought out and shelved.
I'll digress.I left school in 1976 and built a computer. http://www.eddiem.com/micros/micros.htm
It was the upgraded version of the mini-scamp with 256 bytes of RAM instead of 64 - yes bytes not Kilobytes,Megabytes or Gigabytes.
No ROM, no display other than LEDs and no printer (printers are the thrust of this ramble).
No compilers - no even an assembler - we worked out the binary to enter on paper.
A few years later I had a 2650 based PCB and we were building video terminals used TTL parts (no video controllers yet).
I got my first printer - a x-telegram printing baudot printer which ran at 50ish baud and literally shook the house.
Some years later I hacked a Burroughs (sp) teller terminal to work with my 2650 - much to the amazement of the surplus dealer who sold it to me.
We had an active microprocessor interest group (micro-controllers didn't exist) in Brisbane and I still see friends I met there now.
One guy (Graham) installed 3-phase power in his home so he could run an x-government printer which was maybe twice the size of my fridge. He also tried to build a dot matrix printer (with some success) based on a surplus print head out of a cash register or something. I wrote the software to drive it.
Graham also ran a bulletin board - the internet didn't exist. I got access to the internet (arnet) via university a few years later but it would be decades before the average person had access to the web. PCs, Linux, open-source and crowd-sourcing were still in the future.
Then the printer hacking stopped. The reason was printers became affordable. There were daisywheels and golfballs, thermal printers and carbon-paper based dot matrix. There was even a single solenoid print-head the ran a spline behind the paper to slowly print dot-matrix letters.
Dot matrix impact printers ruled for a time.
Inkjets existed but were huge and used an electrostatically steered stream of ink.
Then cannon invented the bubble-jet - wow. Epson invented the piezo inkjet head - double wow.
We didn't really see it coming. The printer companies began selling printers cheaply and ripping people of with expensive ink.
When 3'rd partied sold alternative ink they began to add inkchips to the cartridges.
People like me had to waste our time defeating them. http://www.eddiem.com/photo/CIS/inkchip/chip.html
But mostly people took the bait and paid the price. Many good printers were binned.
So to get to the points.
I am of course drawing parallels between the history of 2D printers and the course of 3D printers.
Would printers have developed the same way if we had the same connectivity and mindset we have now. Maybe it would but it is conceivable an open-sourced printer would have emerged and it may have forced printer companies to play fair.
Even now it is possible someone could launch a kickstarter to build a 2D printer.
If for example someone offered an open-sourced wide format photo quality printer for similar $$$ to a close source one I'd be tempted.
Will 3D printer manufacturer try to pull the same stunt with consumables. I'm sure some would like to but I'm hoping the open source alternatives will stop them playing those games.
The only way I can see them pulling it off is if they come up with something significantly better in some way.
I noted that consumables for the Up! printer are significantly more expensive than 3'rd party filament.
I have heard that some people (corporations) are not happy with the idea of DIY manufacturing and a looking to buy up any patents which may give them a legal weapon against it. I think this is paranoia on their part because I don't think 3DP at home will affect their bottom line too much. If anything it will provided a source of new ideas for things to manufacture.
We should however keep the threat of legal action in mind. I think it is healthy (for us) to put all our crazy ideas out there (the web) this should make them un-patentable.
Other printing/fabrication methods.These include.
CNC mills and lathes.These are computer controlled machines - 2 or more axis, more degrees of freedom possible along with automatic tool changes.
Home made CNC is not new, people have been doing it for decades and there is a lot of information on the web.
What is new is 3D printed mini CNC mills. There are a few mini mill out there made from wood or metal but now we can use our printers to make other types of CNC. You won't be machining car engine on these but they are still pretty useful.
Here is a printed snap together mini mill - http://mtm.cba.mit.edu/machines/mtm_snap-lock/index.html
Crude printed lathes already exist along with printable chucks. It is only a matter off time before someone designs and open-source printable CNC lathe.
SLS - selective laser sintering.SLS works by spreading a thin flat layer of melt-able powder and selectively fusing some areas together with a laser beam.
Then add another layer and repeat the process while also fusing the new pattern to the one below. Repeat this process many times then turn it off and dig the solid object out of the loose powder.
With suitable equipment you can sinter(fuse) anything from wax to titanium. Even sand can be sintered and this is done to make molds for metal casting. Crude SLS has been done using sugar.
All this is in reach of hobbyists but you need deep pockets if you want to sinter metal or sand. However a cheapish laser diode could fuse wax or plastic. Once again we can print most of the parts and someone probably will.
Objects may or may not be strong enough to be structural.
Printing a bicycle with a 3D printer - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmxjLpu2BvY
Fused powder.This is almost identical to SLS except some sort of binder is used to stick the powder together in a useful way. As with SLS the parts may be weak or strong depending on the materials. The binder can be applied with inkjet type print heads and the binder can be coloured for pretty results.
Zcorp 3D Printer 650 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QP73uTJApw
Light cured resin systems.Expect to see some action in this field.
These systems use a resin which is cured by exposing it to light. Often UV is required but some resins can be cured using other wavelengths. Until recently scanning lasers were mainly used as the light source. In recent years systems have come out which use digital projectors to expose a complete layer at one time. There are several home-built system (see links) using DLP projectors. These systems have drool-worthy resolution and modest speed. As well as these printers becoming practical there is also work being done to produce affordable resins.
I suspect it is still a little messy for some people. I'm not sure if the projection system will suffer from distortions. I'd like to try a low power laser system one day.
Laser cutting.Laser cutter cut sheets of material such as plywood into shapes which can easily be assembled into useful stuff. 3D printers such as the makerbot were laser cut instead of printed. It is a faster process and some people prefer the look. Most of us don't have the option but projects like this may change that.
Small paste extruder based machines printing small objects from stuff like clay or cement.http://www.designboom.com/weblog/cat/16/view/9227/3d-ceramic-printer.html
Large paste extruder based machines printing large objects from stuff like clay or cement.Contour Crafting - House Building Prototype Robot - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOlRI_Hm1Po
Some interesting large scale printing here.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvRTHynk9KA
The reprap project.