Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Quick Update

All of my parts have arrived. I will post some pics of the cast RP parts as soon as possible. They are quite rough but are usable. I may just order some of the trickier bits from Provantage. They produce all the printed parts on their commercial Stratasys® Dimension™ 3D printers in high-strength ABS Plus® plastic. They are pretty expensive compared to any other sources but they do this as a business, not a hobby. I know from experience that many factors conspire to drive prices up once you start considering commercial operations.

I attempted to order the drive gears and the x-carriage-lower_1off but their google widget told me that they didn't ship to Canada. An email to their contact address resulted in a very quick response from Nick Pace telling me that he would have it fixed in a day or so. I love good customer service!

This will probably drive the price of my Mendel up into "WTF territory" but I am past caring. I am having too much fun.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Parts Collection

Here are some pictures of what I have accumulated so far. The only thing that I am waiting for is my RP parts and they have been shipped so I expect them within the next 3 or 4 weeks.

All my metric fasteners. Not too exciting in the boxes but you can't build a Mendel without em.

The X belt and 8 ft of additional belt for the Y and X axis.

4 NEMA17 stepper motors. I will have to remove the gears currently on the shafts since they do not fit my belts.

50 624 bearings and 2 608 bearings.

Various Printhead parts from Makergear, including their heater kit for the extruder. It allows me to make a heater that I can remove from the extruder if necessary to place on another one. Handy if the extruder fails, which seems to be quite common with us beginners.

The lasercut chassis, build plate and circuit board mounts. all ready to go.

Mendel vertices from James Villenieuve. I won't need these now since I will get another set along with my RP parts but I will keep them as spares and perhaps to kickstart the build of a second Mendel.

The power supply that came with my boards is a small 12v adapter. Probably fine for running the Reprap itself but I also want to run a heated build platform, cooling fans for pos-print cooldown and maybe some lighting. I found a 500W ATX power supply on Ebay for only $20 (plus another 20 for shipping of course) so I ordered it as well. Once I have it here I can decide how big a project box I need to contain everything.

Monday, March 22, 2010

At Last!

I have managed to acquire a set of printed parts. Actually they are a set of the cast polyethylene copies of the printed parts available from Ireland. They were pricey but I am unwilling to wait and what good is working for 30 years if you can't outbid the poor young engineers for things you want?

Also, my electronics arrived today from TechZone Communications. Unfortunately I have to take care of some real priorities before I can get back to my hobbies. We have been waiting for almost a year to get my daughter in to see an orthopedic specialist about a knee injury and we finally have an appointment tomorrow morning. That means that we have to hit the highway to Saskatoon this afternoon. No time to look over the boards.

Last night I took pictures of all the parts that have arrived so far. When I get back I will post them and hopefully start setting up the electronics and motors on the workbench to try everything out. It will probably take 4 to 6 weeks for the printed parts to get here from the UK so I should have time to get bugs worked out of the electronics.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Steampunk Aesthetic and Rapid Prototyping, a Perfect Marriage?

As you might notice from the title of this blog and some of the graphics that I have used, I am a fan of the steampunk movement. For me it probably started back in the early 70’s when I first saw Disney’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and the movie version of H. G. Wells’ “The Time Machine”. The look and feel of all that Victorian technological equipment fascinated me more than the stories and I have loved it ever since. During the intervening 30+ years I always thought that I was just an eccentric oddball (which, of course, I am) but apparently there were any number of people out there who felt the same. Over the last decade it has grown into a movement with it’s own websites, stores, books, newsletters, games and all the associated detritus of a modern social phenomenon. The specs above were created by Y43GR at Deviant Art.

These days I am more given to analysing things than I was back in my teens so I have been thinking about what it is about steampunk that attracts people. I suppose that there are as many answers as there are different people but, in my case, it is the fact that it represents the rise of the individual inventor and craftsman. During the late 1800’s the industrial revolution brought high quality equipment and parts within the reach of many people who previously were not able to manufacture anything themselves. They could take that hardware and use it to build their dream gadgets. It is the fact that these machines were one-of-a-kind pieces, built to high standards of both function and beauty, which makes them so attractive. The Victorian craftsmen lived and worked in an era when ornate decoration was as important as the actual operation of the device. Since every piece was a one-off, it was worth investing the time.

Jake Von Slatt's steampunk computer

This combination of mass produced industrial hardware and individual craftsmanship only lasted for a short time. Rising labour costs and the creation of the assembly line brought us to our modern world, where everything is affordable but nothing is unique.

So how does this relate to Rapid Prototyping? Well, we are now entering another era when individuals will be able to manufacture, in their own workshops, whatever they desire. These items will be as individual as their creators and, even if we all pass around the .STL files to make multiple copies, there is always an impulse to personalize “your” version of someone else’s design. A quick look at repstraps out there shows an amazing variety of designs, all reflecting their creator’s individual goals and design choices. They even have unique names, as was common for Victorian devices.

I have been wondering what a steampunk Mendel would look like. The rod used throughout would have to be brass, of course, as would all the connectors. The various plastic parts could probably be made out of wood but that really goes against the whole reprap philosophy. Perhaps black ABS with scrollwork grooves that could be later picked out with gold paint. Add a build surface of polished wood with a brass plate for the heater and you have a RepRap for Captain Nemo. Handy when you are on the bottom of the ocean without your full shipyard available and you need a replacement trigger for your electric rifle.

Nemo: "Drat, my electro-rifle is damaged. To the Mendel M. Aronnax!"

Perhaps the actual steampunk fad has just about run its’ course. Now that it seems to be everywhere on the internet, maybe folks will become bored with it. I hope not, I love the whole brass and wood look with the elegence that they imply. I am not enough of a sociologist to know for sure how long steampunk will last but I believe that the underlying philosophy that drives the design and creation of such unique hardware will continue to be apparent in the RepRap community for years to come

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Curses, foiled again!

This lot of Mendel parts appeared on Ebay. The seller was in Ireland and they are cast in polyurethane rather than printed or machined.

Here's a closeup. the quality looks pretty good. Of course looks can be deceiving but I thought it was worth the risk so I threw in a bid just shy of $400.

They finally sold for $465 which is still a bit too rich for me. I am hoping the fact that they were cast rather than printed or machined means that the seller will be making more sets. This could finally start bringing the price down.

Hopefully whoever bought these will post something to let all of us potential buyers know what the quality is like.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ruminations on a Heated Build Platform

In the early days of homebuilt rapid prototyping machines (that would be a year ago) there were constant problems with the parts warping due to cooling of the different layers of the object. Commercial machines have the whole build area heated in order to prevent this but that wasn't really possible given the RepRap's open grid design. Then someone had the brilliant idea of simply heating the build platform and a new era of predictably unwarped building was begun. Now anyone who is able to heat their platform can, with a bit of experimentation, produce good quality parts without throwing 50% of them in the trash.

It is fairly obvious that I will need to add a heated platform fairly soon after I complete the Mendel if I want it to actually be usable. I have investigated any number of designs on various blogs. Most of them look fairly simple but, being mechanicaly challenged, I want to take the absolute easiest path possible. I think that I have found that in Tim's design over at It is a bit more expensive than others I have seen but tons easier to implement. This guy is my hero, his repstrap design, using aluminum channel, is also extremely clean and elegant.

The following links and pictures have been shamelessy stolen from Tim's website.

The setup consists of the following:

I find this approach attractive because it is basically a buy it and install it solution. The pads even come with their own adhesive already applied. He has also posted a couple of pics of his control box which is exactly what I was planning on setting up. It seems logical to have everything neatly enclosed in a project box and, in addition to the heater, there will probably be a number of additional systems to build and control as things progress. The workbench could become a mess of loose switches, wiring, etc. without some advance planning and organizing. Below are a couple of pics of Bothacker's control box which includes the bed heater controls, power supply, fans, control board, stepper drivers and an emergency cutoff switch. Very slick, and he still has lots of room on the front panel to add things.

These project boxes are not expensive. I have been looking as a couple on this site but I will wait until I have gathered all my electronics before ordering one to ensure that I get the right size.

As a final note - A new set of Mendel RP parts has shown up on Ebay so I threw a bid in on it. Given that the set sold by Adrian Bowyer went for $647 Canadian, I don't hold out much hope but you never know.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Holy Crap! This stuff adds up.

Here are the actual costs for all of the parts that I have purchased so far. The laser cutting for the thick sheet is the one that I overpaid the most for. I subsequently found the same parts on Ebay for $33.00 US so I guess I got hosed. Happens to me regularly. All costs are in Canadian Dollars and these numbers also include shipping, which was overly high in some cases (in my opinion). The cost of shipping is always a significant cost out here on the Canadadian prairies. We are a long ways from everywhere.

I bought the bearings kit from VXB Ball Bearings for $62.00
Belts from SDP/SI (part numbers A6R3-C025 and A6R3-185025) for $32.00
I bought my extruder parts (nozzle, insulator, Heatcore) from for a total of $37.00
All my metric Fasteners from Pointe Products for $81.00
I found 4 NEMA17 stepper Motors on Ebay for $65.00 including the shipping
Electronics are from Tech Zone Communications for $258.00 (includes the power supply and cables)
I got all my thick sheet cut locally at Laser Cut Mfg. in Saskatoon for $176.00
Total spent to date - $751.00

McMaster Carr does not ship to Canada so I had to find different vendors for my fasteners, belts, bearings, etc. My best find was Pointe Products, who were able to provide all of my fasteners and could probably have been a single source for everything if I had found them sooner.
You will notice that, for $750, I could have purchased a Cupcake from MakerBot and been printing by now (if they weren't out of stock). Oh well, the construction itself is a journey and I am looking forward to it.

Note - I have not yet received the electronics from Kimberly Andrus at Tech Zone Communications but she has been quick to reply to emails and very professional. I will post a review of the boards when they arrive. Her price of $215 US for all of the boards, including the extruder board as well as a power supply and all the cabling was just too good to pass up.

Friday, March 12, 2010

First Post

Like many others at the moment I am beginning to build a Mendel 3d printer. I have decided to document my journey in the hopes that the information will be useful to other builders. I have built a few mechanical items in my life and I have a couple of older British cars that I manage to keep running so I am not too worried on that front. It is the electronics that I expect to be a challenge if anything goes wrong. I am trying to avoid that by buying them as completed items rather than kits of parts. I work in the software industry and, even though my technical days are somewhat behind me (about 20 yrs behind me), I'm sure that I can either manage the programming myself or talk one of my staff into helping me.

I have ordered all of the necessary parts except for the printed ones. Most of them have arrived and I expect to have the rest within the next week or so. I will post a cost breakdown of what I have purchased so far, where I obtained it and how much I paid. I have already found that I grossly overpaid for a few things that I could have found on Ebay or through the Reprap forums. Perhaps I can help someone else from making the same mistakes.

Of course, it is the replicated parts that are hardest to come by. I expect that the scarcity will resolve itself within the next 6 months or so since it creates a significant business opportunity for entrepreneur types. Anyone who is able to produce full sets of parts can essentially name their price at the moment. The set that Adrian Bowyer put up on Ebay about a week ago is currently listed at $427 (CAN) and hasn't yet arrived at the frantic bidding that always pushes things up a bit more in the last hour or so.

I have reached out to several of the user groups (without success so far) and I am also watching several sites that advertise the RP parts but are currently out of stock. I am still hopeful that I can find a set within the next few weeks.

If not I have plan B. Alvaro Fogassa documented the build of his 3d powder printer on his blog and it looks like an excellent complement to the extrusion technology of the Repraps. I managed to find a printer identical to the one that he used on Ebay for $15 plus another $15 for shipping. I would prefer to build the Mendel first since it is better documented and I will have to do some design work on the powder printer but, if I become impatient, perhaps I will proceed with this project first.