News report from the fore­front of ubber geekness ^^

No we didn´t launch a DIY open source space-station,.. just yet. What we did do is assem­ble 2 Cup­cake CNC´s from Maker­bot Indus­tries. Maker­Bot Indus­tries is a Bro­o­klyn NY based com­pany, foun­ded in Janu­ary 2009 by Bre Pet­tis, Adam Mayer, and Zach Hoe­ken. It´s a very young com­pany indeed, and they must be one of the few com­pa­nies based enti­rely on open source hard­ware. Now, what is the Maker­bot Cup­cake CNC ? It´s an open source 3D prin­ter rapid pro­toty­ping machine. It´s a cute lit­tle machine that fits on your desk­top and unlike a nor­mal prin­ter that only prints in 2d on flat paper, this one prints true phy­si­cal objects in ABS plas­tic. It´s a robot that makes things ! How does this work ? You design your thing in 3d soft­ware, send it to the Maker­bot Cup­cake and some time later your thing exists for real, in real plas­tic, strong and durable !

A white and black role of 3 mm filament ABS plastic.

A white and black role of 3 mm fila­ment ABS plastic.

Some of you pro desig­ners out there might say, well there is nothing new about this, rapid pro­toty­ping machi­nes have been around for some time now, yes you are right, but until recen­tly these type of machi­nes where pro­pri­e­tary and very expen­sive with pri­ces ran­ging from 20.000 € and upwards and cer­tainly didn´t fit on your desk­top. This was true until Dr Adrian Bowyer, a Senior Lec­tu­rer in mecha­ni­cal engi­ne­e­ring at the Uni­ver­sity of Bath in the Uni­ted King­dom, foun­ded and inven­ted the RepRap Pro­ject. As it hap­pens, Dr Adrian Bowyer is one of the seed inves­tors of Maker­bot Indus­tries. DIY open source rapid pro­toty­ping for the mas­ses was born. Now you can have your own machine for less then 700€, or even less if you recy­cle some motors from old prin­ters and you´re handy enough to saw some plywood into a nice loo­king box. Being the geeks we are, we had to have one of those machi­nes, so many times while wor­king on pro­jects we wished we could make a moun­ting brac­ket for this, or a sup­port that could hold that, or that we could just have this cool figure we mode­led in 3d soft­ware for real to show it off to our fri­ends or offer as a gift to our belo­ved ones. The need was cle­arly there, and what bet­ter way to ful­fill that need then invi­ting one of the foun­ders and inven­tors of Maker­bot, Mr. Zach Hoe­ken to host a 2 week workshop on buil­ding and using a Maker­bot Cup­cake CNC.

Zach explaining how the Plastruder MK4 works.

Zach explai­ning how the Plas­tru­der MK4 works.

We were very lucky in fin­ding just the right place to hold the workshop the “Facul­dade Arqui­tec­tura — UTL” in Lis­bon, a cen­tral loca­tion and thus easily acces­si­ble to par­ti­ci­pants coming from all over Por­tu­gal, we even had the visit of a proud Maker­bot owner from Spain. Besi­des it´s ideal loca­tion, we had great sup­port from the local Pro­fes­sors who par­ti­ci­pa­ted in the workshop, it was great to wit­ness their moti­va­tion and dedi­ca­tion to the project.

Working hard assembling the Makerbots.

Wor­king hard assem­bling the Makerbots.

Thanks to Mr. Zach´s pati­ent gui­dance and extreme kno­wledge, it took us only 8 hours to build the 2 machi­nes. Zach divi­ded us into 2 groups per machine, the machine con­sists of 2 main parts , the casing that holds the 3 moving axis X Y and Z and the elec­tro­nics to drive them, the other main part is the extru­der aka the “Plas­tru­der MK4″, this is the bit that will pull the 3mm ABS fila­ment and heat it up to 220 °C, this guy is the ‘printhead’ for your Maker­bot, It has a beefy motor. This is also the same extru­der that you would use for a RepRap machine and was deve­lo­ped by Maker­bot Indus­tries as a part of the RepRap pro­ject. As if by magic the groups wor­ked in syn­cro mode, so that when the indi­vi­dual parts where ready, it was just a mat­ter of assem­bling them into nice loo­king and ready to print Maker­bot Cup­ca­kes. A few more hours where dedi­ca­ted to test and cali­brate all the ele­ments to make sure they wor­ked well and prin­ted nice, it was so cool to see the machi­nes up and run­ning and to feel the exci­te­ment and awe of the gre­a­test magic trick ever ^^

The 2 Makerbots ready.

The 2 Maker­bots ready.

Now what ? Get prin­ting of-course ! Get­ting a vir­tual 3d model ready to be prin­ted for real is not as easy as hit­ting print in your text edi­tor, but it´s not roc­ket sci­ence either, there are a some things to know and a few tricks to learn, luc­kily our workshop host Zach knew it all and had quite a few tricks up his sle­eve which he gene­rously sha­red with us, It didn´t take long before we all had something ready to print. Before you can send your 3d model to the Maker­bots, you have to export it from your favo­rite 3d app as a .STL file, if your fav 3d app doesn´t export .STL , no wor­ries, Blen­der to the res­cue! Blen­der is a splen­did open source 3d appli­ca­tion that can read most 3d file for­mats out there, for sure you´ll find a file for­mat that´s com­pa­ti­ble with Blen­der, once in Blen­der it´s a bre­eze to export your 3d model in the right for­mat. Besi­des expor­ting in the .STL for­mat, Blen­der is handy for a few more things, you can easily get rid of any dou­bled ver­ti­ces, check for Mani­fold mesh errors, and reduce your poly­gon count (deci­mate) to improve prin­ting speed.

One of the Makerbots printing in black ABS.

One of the Maker­bots prin­ting in black ABS.

Some of the par­ti­ci­pants where advan­ced 3d artists, and some never had tou­ched 3d soft­ware before, but the truth is that we all mana­ged to achi­eve some ama­zing results, and we were all very impres­sed by the qua­lity that those lit­tle machi­nes where able to pro­duce. Not all prints came out per­fec­tly at the first go, and here and there some ope­ra­tor errors where made, that resul­ted in having to unmount the Plas­tru­der to clean it´s lit­tle teeth, which by the way is done in less then 10 minu­tes, unem­ploy­ment due to tech­ni­cal fault just gives you enough time to get a cof­fee, only if the cof­fee machine is just around the cor­ner. For me per­so­nally this has been one of the best workshops i´ve par­ti­ci­pa­ted in, all par­ti­ci­pants where highly moti­va­ted and eager to learn and share, the ambi­ence was all about sha­ring and caring, how could it not be when you´r dis­co­ve­ring the ama­zing world of Maker­bot­ness, and you have a great host like Zach to hold your hand ;) Thank you.

Ple­ase head over to Zach´s post to see some great exam­ples of what has been prin­ted during the workshop.

Keep an eye out on the blogs from the AZ-Labs (AltLab, xDA, LCD) for more news on upco­ming Maker­bot adven­tu­res, inclu­ding more workshops and how to get access to our Machi­nes to print your stuff.