Creating Physical Reality: 3D Printing with the Reprap Prusa Mendel

We now have a working Reprap Prusa Mendel 3D Printer at the space!

3D printing aka additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file driven by a computer. Plastic is fed from a reel and heated and extruded onto a surface where it is additively layered to create 3D shapes. Reprap stands for replicating rapid prototyper, i.e. the printer can print its own parts (the plastic ones anyway, with a little care and feeding from a human). Similar to a regular 2D ink printer, you use special software on a computer (Windows or Mac) to design your print, then direct it to communicate the specs to the printer. In this way it is a computer numeric controlled plastic extruder. (I can’t help thinking CNC plastic factory and want to go listen to 90’s music by C+C Music Factory.)

The Prusa Mendel was graciously donated by Eric M and initially had some firmware and extruder problems to sort out. Jim T & Tijlon addressed the issues one by one and got it working properly and dialed in (calibrated). It has been merrily printing away for a couple weeks now and is nearly done spawning new parts for another printer that Jim is making for himself. Jim figures the cost to make a new reprap will be about $500 total, breaking down into about $350 for motors and electronics, $30 for the plastic, $120 for metal pieces + around 100 hours printing time for the plastic.

After Jim gets the second printer working and dialed in, he plans to offer a workshop in late June or early July to show us how to create computer-directed shapes and coax them out of a reel of plastic. The format of the class is not yet set, either a one or two instruction or possibly a series, covering the bases from how to use the Sketchup software, how to export and print in 3D, taking us from design to print. Jim is also planning to print parts for another reprap and offer them for sale, with proceeds to benefit the space.

Joel is also separately working on getting another printer up and working (the blue one in the photo). In other fun new toy news, we also recently had another member, Dixon, donate a CNC machine. We scratched our heads for a while as the parts were lining up a bit wonky, but Tijlon gave it a little encouragement over a weekend and it is now up and running too. More on that in an upcoming post.

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