Our take on an affordable 3D Printer

TI’ve wanted a 3D printer since forever! Well, at least since the turn of the century. But, as we all know, they are not cheap! So I haven’t gotten one. However, recently the availability of open source hardware and software for 3D printing and CNC machines, along with the decreasing cost of components, has spurred me into wanting to build one myself – from design to final product!

So, what goes into designing and building a 3D printer – or anything for that matter? There’s a lot that goes into designing and building a 3D printer – let’s take a look:

  1. You have to decide that you want to and can build it!
  2. Have the means to purchase/build the components needed to build the printer.
  3. You need the mechanical, electrical, and design chops to put it all together!
  4. Have the time! – Depending on how fast you want to get to the actual printing, you can choose from several different paths.

That’s a short, but heavy list. Let’s get into it all a bit deeper.

You have to decide that you want to and can build it!

If you don’t really want it, you won’t do it – plain and simple! The world is riddled with half-finished ideas and projects – you need to commit to finishing it. This is my declaration to all of you that I am doing this!

Why am I doing this?

Why? Because it’s a cool project! Because it’s not easy, there aren’t really any detailed sources for this type of project, and because I like to teach and share! So, as part of this project, I am going to be building a lesson plan for teachers to use in a primary school setting – targeting the 3-6 grade level.

How do I know that I can do this? (And why anyone should listen to me)

I’ve worked in the aerospace maintenance field for over 20 years, been a professional software engineer for 10 years, and have been an electronics enthusiast for over 30 years. Combined, I feel that all of this background gives me a good solid foundation to take on this project – or at least learn what I need to!

You have to have the means to purchase/build the components needed to build the printer

You need certain tools and knowledge to accomplish a task such as this – all of which can be acquired. The tools you need for such a project are mostly basic tools, such as what can be found in the standard cheapy tool sets from the lower end retail stores. These sets can range from $100 – $200 and can be used for many other things – like basic automotive repair, home repair, and DIY, and so much more. But, if you’re reading this then you likely already have what you need in this area.

Other tools you’ll need are a soldering iron, solder, multimeter, wire strippers, and some wire of various gauges. The wire and other miscellaneous components can most likely be salvaged from old used appliances and such.

You have to have the mechanical, electrical, and design chops to put it all together!

Let’s face it, not everyone is cut out to build things. It’s a sad fact, but a reality! Don’t despair, if you’ve made it this far you’re likely to already know what you need to pull off a project such as this. Mainly the ability to learn and the wisdom to know when you need to learn.

You need the time!

Depending on how fast you want to get to the actual printing, you can choose from several different paths. If you don’t have the time to put into this kind of project (or need it completed in less than a month), you’d probably be better off just buying an assembled printer. If you can dedicate a few hours a week to this project, then you have all the time you need! Just make sure you have some space to have your project while you’re building it that won’t be in the way!

 

What we’re working from:

Every project needs to start somewhere, from a fixed point of requirements, to be successful. For most DIY projects this is just a pretty clear but rough idea in your head. That works for most things, but for something more complicated – like designing and building a 3D printer – you need to have something more concrete to work from. So I’ve put together my desired specifications that detail what I want to end up with. These project specifications need to describe what the finished product will be able to do, how it will do it, and any high-level constraints the project will operate under.

Let’s see, there are a few major points that this printer will need to hit. While we’re at it, let’s cover some of the details of the finished product’s capabilities.

  • Have a working area of at least 508 mm³ (20 in³)
  • Be able to switch between 1.75 mm and 3 mm filaments
  • Capable of switching between additive manufacturing and CNC operation relatively easily
  • Be extensible for:
    • Using different print media
    • Having a larger print/work area
    • Using Spray media, such as applying:
      • Lettering/images (like on a PCB)
      • Conformant coatings
      • Removal of conformant coatings
    • Composite/integrated assemblies – such as:
      • Conductive media
      • Be able to pause printing to add components to the print
  • Be as open source as possible
    • Apply and supply open source hardware
    • Apply and supply open source software
  • Have a total cost of less than $200
  • Allow construction without 3D printed parts

Next steps

So there we have it, the basis and background of this project. The next step is to source the parts and materials that we needed. That’s something I’ll save for the next post.

 

Until then…

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