Tag Archives: 3d printing

Monoprice Mini Delta 3D Printer

The world of low-price 3D printing has been upended by Monoprice over the last several months. They’ve launched a handful of very inexpensive but well-reviewed printers at price points that basically no other manufacturer can touch.

Their latest printer, the Monoprice Mini Delta was launched earlier this year on Indiegogo, and I just received one of them. It’s a very small delta style 3D printer that’s rated to handle ABS and PLA. It has a heated bed, and more importantly, an auto-leveling feature, even if the build volume is only 120mm x 120mm (Delta printers have circular beds, which makes the bed size a diameter rather than an X/Y plane measurement). It even has wifi built in, so that prints can be sent wirelessly.

Did I mention that the printer is rumored to cost only $149? Fully assembled, ready to go out of the box.  They haven’t publicly announced retail pricing yet, but it looks like they are aiming at a $149 as the price, which will make this an amazing deal.

Even $149 is still a fair amount of money for many people, but relative to other 3D printers it is an amazing entry-level price.  For that price, you don’t get the long-term reliability of something like a Lulzbot Mini…the Monoprice Mini Delta is all metal, but is clearly not as well-built as more expensive printers. The tech support alone is going to be far, far less competent that companies that specialize in 3D printing. It’s louder, it rattles a bit, the fit and finish isn’t perfect. But in my testing, the quality of the prints it is putting out for me is much higher than one might expect given the price point.

I’ve printed a couple of Benchys at different orientations, and they have all been well within my expectations for accuracy.

All in all, this is a heck of a printer for the price. The reports online are that Monoprice is having a few issues with first-round production errors…bad control boards mostly. Those are being fixed with new machines immediately, though, so it looks like they are handling the launch and initial support problems fairly well.

I’m not yet certain if I’d recommend the Monoprice Delta Mini to libraries, as I haven’t had time to put hours and hour of printing on the thing to test its reliability. Given the overall build quality, I’m betting that this printer will need a bit of attention to keep running smoothly, which is something that libraries often can’t take the time to do. For libraries, I still recommend going with proven workhorses like the Lulzbot Mini as an entry level printer, or the Taz 6 as a high-end production machine. Even though the Delta Mini is almost 1/10th of the price of the Lulzbot Mini, I’m not convinced it’ll last 10 times as long, or print reliably 10 times as often.

What I would do is recommend the Delta Mini to librarians who are interested in playing around with the technology without a huge investment. For $150, you can have your own 3D printer to play with sitting on your desk at home….one that takes up about as much space as a large houseplant. This is the perfect sort of printer for individuals that just want to play around with printing things for the house, or their kids.

It has definitely made me set up and take notice of what Monoprice is doing in this space. I expect we’ll keep hearing from them over the next year or so with bargain-basement prices on interesting hardware. I’ll keep my eyes out.

Libraries, 3D Printer management, and Octoprint

Way back in 2014 I wrote a Library Technology Report  called 3D Printers for Libraries, one of the first long form works that set out to explain 3D printing to librarians. It is licensed under a CC BY-NC license, and 2 years seems like plenty of time for me to avoid linking to a copy here on the blog, so if you’re interested, here’s a PDF copy of it for you.

Since then, the market for 3D printers has exploded, but there have emerged a few new leaders that weren’t as well established when I wrote the LTR. Since that report was released, my favorite printers and the ones that I recommend for libraries are the Lulzbot Mini and Lulzbot Taz 6…they are spectacular FDM printers, capable and easy to use. Even better, they are certified Open Hardware and use Open Source software top to bottom, which means that they are easily repaired and have a myriad of options for printer management, slicing, and control.

One of those options is something that I’ve not seen recommended for libraries, but that I feel like they and others could get a huge amount of mileage from. Octoprint is an open source control program for 3D printers that runs on a variety of hardware (there are install instructions for Windows, OS X, and Linux) but by far the most interesting and useful method for using it is via the OctoPi project that uses a Raspberry Pi as a host for the Octoprint system and all its requirements. You can download pre-built images for a Raspberry Pi, flash an SD card, boot up the Pi, and have a robust and flexible management system for your 3D printer ready to go.
Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 11.23.48 PMWhat does Octoprint do? For compatible printers (which includes nearly any that use the industry standard gcode instructions to print), Octoprint can control every aspect of the printer, including:

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  • Print queuing
  • Slicing
  • Physical control (movement of printhead, temperature, etc)
  • Gcode previewing, including printhead movement
  • Start, stop, and pause prints
  • Full plugin architecture that allows for everything from cost estimation and filament usage, printer usage statistics, and integration with a variety of messaging apps (get Slack notifications when a print is completed, for example)
  • Native support for video streaming via an attached webcam, including the ability to use the same camera for time lapses of your prints

3D printing MtF Case Wood

The best part? All of the above take place in a web browser. No client software needed, no keeping up with installs of Cura or other printer-specific software. Suddenly you can start a print or monitor your printer from anywhere on your network, or from anywhere in the world if you forward the appropriate port externally. I recently uploaded and started a new print on the printer in my basement while in a different hemisphere…

You can preset the available plastic types and quality settings through printing profiles for slicing of uploaded STL files. For my part, since my primary printer is a Lulzbot Mini, I just downloaded the profiles directly from the manufacturer and uploaded them to Octoprint, and can now upload any STL that I find directly to my printer, from anywhere I am in the world.

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For most libraries, just the ease of statistics and usage tracking would be enough to make Octoprint useful enough to try out.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.46.06 PM Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.46.22 PM

But add in the ability to control your printer(s) from any computer, to video stream the printing and watch for errors remotely, to be alerted when a print completes…it’s just a much more robust way of managing your 3D printing. And for the cost of a Raspberry Pi and maybe an hour of setup, you can be up and running.

This isn’t to say that Octoprint solves all 3D printing problems. It’s largest shortcoming in my opinion is its lack of plating tools…if you have an STL, you are stuck with just printing that single STL with Octoprint. If you need to plate several STL files together on a single print plate, you would have to do that in Cura or other program (you could even do it in Tinkercad if you wanted to stay in-browser I suppose) and then either save the collection as an STL or go ahead and slice it to gcode and upload the gcode directly to Octoprint. It is technically possible for a single install and Raspberry Pi to control more than one 3D printer, but it isn’t built in to the system and is something I’d only recommend to technical users. RPi’s aren’t expensive, and having one per printer isn’t the end of the world, but hopefully over time the OctoPi setup will evolve to handle multiple printers natively.

I’ve been using the latest version of Octoprint for months now, and it’s simplified so much of my work with my 3D printer. If you are responsible for running the makerspace or 3d printer service in your library, check out Octoprint. I’m guessing it will make your life easier.

I’m considering putting together a workshop on how to install and use Octoprint with your 3D printer…would anyone be interested in such a training? If so, leave me a comment and let me know, I’ll see if I can find a venue and do it sometime this winter.

Carbon3D Printer Analysis

This morning, a new 3D printing company (Carbon3D) won the marketing lottery, by appearing in a story in the Washington Post, and then being featured pretty much everywhere possible online. They were tweeted hundreds of times.

While I trust that they really are doing something different, the overall technology isn’t new…it is a variation on stereolithography,  which predates fused deposition modeling (what most library 3d printers are using) as a technology. It’s not even the first consumer level stereolithographic printer! The Form 1 (http://formlabs.com/products/form-1-plus/) has been out for a couple of years now, and at least one library (Darien) has one in operation.

In order to figure out what it was that they were doing differently, I had to read their paper that was published yesterday in Science. Unsurprisingly, WaPo got a lot of the tech wrong, or at the very least wrote it in such a way that it is very confused. Take this section:

“To create an object, CLIP projects specific bursts of light and oxygen. Light hardens the resin, and oxygen keeps it from hardening. By controlling light and oxygen exposure in tandem, intricate shapes and latices can be made in one piece instead of the many layers of material that usually make up a 3D printed object.”

“Bursts of oxygen”? You can’t “project” oxygen into a liquid like you can a laser. And “instead of the many layers” is also raising red flags. There may not be distinct layers in the same way as FDM printing, but there must be some form of progressive building.

What is actually going on is that they are, indeed, using a UV projector to selectively harden a photosensitive resin. What is different about their approach is that they are projecting through a membrane that is selectively oxygen permeable, which allows for a “dead zone” of resin that can’t harden (due to the oxygen level), above which the UV sensitivity kicks in and the resin hardens. They call this process “continuous liquid interface production technology” or CLIP.

The paper doesn’t say it outright, but knowing the technology, I’m guessing that their hardening process is a continuous build. Rather than a laser-based traditional resin printer, they are using a projector, which I can imagine is more like a video, continuously painting the surface to be hardened. It would be more like pulling sugar, where the liquid becomes solid as you lengthen it, and there would be no layers per se, but more of a crystalline lattice. This would account for the smoothness of the prints. It is also, to be fair, a complete guess on my part.

This change in the traditional stereolithography process apparently gives them a huge increase in speed, which is the key differentiator here. They appear to be able to print objects very, very fast. It also looks like they have the cash to research and develop it commercially, with both Silver Lake and Sequoia as backers.

So what does this mean for libraries? Honestly, not much for the moment. This particular technology could be very inexpensive to make…or, given the proprietary nature of the membrane and resin, it could be ridiculously expensive. The company hasn’t announced any pricing or even availability, so we really have no idea when it might be available. When it is, I’ll revisit and see what I think for libraries. For now, this is interesting, but just a news item.