24 November 2013

3D Printing Intro

Hi. So, how you've been? OK. Today, ultimaker! So we have been trying to buy a Ultimaker this last 2 weeks but we had constant issues with the payment system and after 7 e-mails and 4 phone calls we finally managed to acquire GOLD. Before we started the long process of buying a 3D Printer we initially started wondering, what should we buy, but before that we were wondering if we should buy or build. So there was a lot of wondering.

Buy, build? Huh?

Ultimaker
If you have no idea what a Ultimaker is let's start from the beginning. A printer is a computer peripheral that uses ink to draw on a piece of paper. It uses the flat 2D surface of the paper, moving the paper in one axis and the print head in a second axis. The image being printed is drawn on the paper line by line, the print head moves along its axis drawing everything that should be on that line, then the paper is moved along its axis so that the print head is now aligned with the position of the new line. A line of characters is made out of multiple print lines. A 3D printer has an additional axis and uses molten plastic. There is no paper, a print bed is used for the first line. Subsequent lines are drawn on top of each-other. The 3D print head is referred to as an extruder, as it extrudes a thin string of molten plastic in lieu of ink. There are other types of 3D printers and 3D print methods, that manufacturing philosophy has been around for 2.something~3 decades.

RepRapPro Tricolour Mendel
The specific type of 3D printing we are interested in is the RepRap type 3D printing. RepRap is an open project/community trying to bring 3D printing to the desk of electronics and DIY enthusiasts. The final goal is a romantic dream of a cheap self replicating device that fits on your desk. Not gonna happen soon. Although the size of these types of 3D printers is small enough to fit on your desk, the noise and the shaking are not something you want next to you. Even if they were as noisy as their ink and paper counterparts, a 3D print job could take hours to complete, imagine your printer printing the whole day. Self replication is impossible since a plastic extruder can't stay solid at temperatures needed to melt plastic. You can't fabricate electric motors out of plastic because plastic doesn't have the needed electromagnetic properties. Some parts are going to remain mail-order for the time being. Gears, and parts of the frame can be plastic, so they can be printed. Nuts and bolts are a gray area. These are not actually problems with the technology itself since the capabilities of the device put it in a specific niche where neither noise nor self replication are factors.

Ultimaker PLA Blue-Translucent 
The material needed to produce an object is more expensive than the object bought from the store, especially if you factor in the production time and work and some trial and error. The 3D printer shines when you need something that isn't really available in stores. You can't buy a mock-up/model of your invention, you can't order a prototype of something new (actually you can, but...). You have a special problem that no current product can solve, you need something small made out of plastic that nobody has ever seen. You need a 3D printer! Sometimes this technology can even be considered as a production method, for small volumes where the cost of ordering mold injection produced parts isn't viable. Many factories want you to order something like 10 000 items minimum. You need a 100?

Now that we have that out of the way. CONTINUED!