My Adventure in 3D Printing

I've been wanting a 3D printer since the advent of the MakerBot Cupcake CNC back in 2009 introduced the first of what I considered the affordable 3D printer kits. It was the first 3D printer that I can recall that was available in kit form. I studied the plans and gave a lot of thought to what would be required to build my own printer. At that time I was also looking at building my own CNC router. When I considered the level of effort involved to build, and then get usable results from, the Cupcake CNC printer the CNC Router won out as my first project!

Over the intervening time I've been busy working on 3D design of R2 parts and translating those designs into parts packages that can be cut on a CNC machine. My objective has been, and continues to be, to improve the build process by incorporating features that can only be cut using CNC to strengthen the resulting parts or make the assembly an easier process. I'm at the point now where I offer the major structural parts to assemble almost a complete R2 Droid. Finishing a droid will still involve a considerable amount of work as well as any number of small detail oriented parts that I can't machine using the tools I have available (my CNC router and a Sherline Milling machine).

I've been watching the 3D printing arena during this time as well. During 2012 I was looking closely at the Mendel series of RepRap machines. In particular the MendelMax variant. While I was looking, the designer of the MendelMax, Mike Payson, was offering kits for the 1.0 and 1.5 versions. As I watched in the summer of 2012, he got so much business he could not keep up with the orders, and closed his store until he could clear up the backlog. What actually happened is that Mike joined Trinity Labs who then offered the MendelMax and started shipping product to the customers who had placed orders with Mike. Ezra Zygmuntowicz, the founder behind TL, then offered a MendelMax Pro variant which replaced the shaft/bushing arrangement common to reprap machines with linear slides. The change was intended to reduce parts count and simplify assembly and alignment of the printer. Alas, the new variant was too popular for TL to keep up with demand, and in the fall TL shoutdown it's store in order to catch up with the order backlog and overhaul the shipping department.

During this time Ezra had been talking about a re-design of the MendelMax and, as a result of  creative differences, Mike left TL to form his own company, Maker's Tool Works. In the meantime, TL previewed the Aluminatus 1 [formally, the Aluminatus TrinityOne] at Maker Faire NYC, which I attended. It was an all aluminum machine (hence the name) and designed for precision and repeatibility. We waited patiently for both companies to formally announce the availablity of their new products and start taking orders. The A1 was first to become available for orders although at a price point that was higher than the original MendelMax Pro. By buying one of the 'first 50' machines ordered I was able to get a significant (20%) discount on what I'm hoping will be a very competitive machine. It's target specifications and price point compares favorably with other printers available on the market. We are expecting shipment of our printer on Jan 21st 2013.

And then, the adventure will begin!

Frank Pirz