Printing the Robot

Over the summer there was another crazy idea that came to mind in our discussions. Although we have yet to pursue it, we’ve given thought to making our own 3D printer. We decided that making the printer ourselves would cut down on the price and would be something to impress the judges. 3D printing was something I knew nothing about, but given my relatively ample amount of free time, I began researching 3D printers under $500. What came up was disheartening, as most of the printers in this price range were hard to build, difficult to source (parts & kits), and had small print areas. As I continued to search through different sites, I became overwhelmed by the amount of information provided that I did not understand.

This is something I copied off of diytechshop.com when looking for a printer I liked.
“Features of the i3xl:
. Build area of 220mm x 305mm x 180mm! ( 9″ x 12″ x 7” )
. 100 micron tested Z resolution.
. Easily comes apart into 2 pieces for easy transportation.
. Bed upgradable to be ABS compatible by adding any of the MK PCB heated beds designed by Josef Prusa.
. Wing nuts for precision bed adjustment.
. 0.5mm tip on the fine tuned vX Hot-end with embedded code in all software tuned to X S’s Ink Specs.
. ‘Z’ Stabilizers to prevent Z axis wobble.
. Sanguinololu 1.3a motherboard with pre-configured Marlin firmware uploaded.
. Or choose the ramps option to add an extra hotend for dual head printing. (you will need to purchase additional parts, head, 1 stepper driver, extruder and head mount) See dual head extruder kit.
. Many parts are upgradable so that you can tune your machine however you want.
. Adjustable fan mount (40-60mm) for stepper driver cooling.
. 5 NEMA 17 motors, each chosen to meet necessary torque needs.
. Build Guide PDF for printer assembly, download link provided with purchase.
. Little Brass hotend or J-Head style hotend, available as checkout option above.

I was, and to a certain extent, I still am, confused by the technical talk these guys put on their sites. This has made me hesitant to push my team to buy a printer, since I don’t understand it all myself.

Eventually, as school was getting nearer, it became clear that we would not decide on the printer type nor be able to build it before the year started. On the brighter side, my choice of printer was becoming more and more clear as I continued to search. Most decent printers cost between $750 and $2000 but there are a few that fall below that range that are still good enough for our purposing. Namely, the Reprap Prusa i3 printer struck me as a close fit. The Prusa model is a design created by Reprap that is oddly produced by a number of different companies (from what I can tell), and is less than $600 on most sites (only $585 for all the parts and pieces on makerfarm.com and diytechshop.com has it at only $575). I’m not sure what the difference is between producers, but it seems like the Makerfarm version has some sort of LCD display on the top which might be useful. On the other hand, the diy shop has a considerably larger print envelope. I’d have to consult my team, but I feel that the LCD may be a more useful feature, only because the parts we’re making do not need to be very big.

diy techshop Prusa i3

diy techshop Prusa i3

Makerfarm Prusa i3 much more popular on Google search than diy techshop's

Makerfarm Prusa i3
much more popular on Google search than diy techshop’s

These both seem like plausible options for the teams and I feel that we should be able to begin the process of buying and building the printer shortly after our first qualifier (win or lose). I feel like I still have a lot to learn about 3D printers, but that I may not ever learn more without buying one. Although it’s a scary thought, we may just have to buy the one we like the most and experiment with it. From what I’ve seen online, many people take their printers and modify them with extra fans to cool the plastic faster, different extruders to prevent clogging, and other interesting adaptations to improve the print accuracy and finished product. I hope to make a follow-up post to this, later in the season, when we revisit the subject.

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