I wrote an article on this blog at the end of 2013 in Swedish, an article found here. My article is about Business Models for 3D-printers and gives some clues on how to define where to find business opportunities, and also some suggestions on products and what kind of scenarios to look for when starting up a 3D-printer track or pilot in a businness. There is much more than that to be said about it, and I recommend to click the link at the end of this article for that.
Having written about it, I felt that it was time to actually do it in real life, by building a 3D-printer basically from scratch. So, I did. And my choice of platform became the Velleman K8200 kit, one of a couple of different offsprings of several open source projects both on hardware and on software that has developed solutions for 3D-printing. The basic concept was RepRap, and that is found on the net for anyone wanting to read the history. The price helped me to make my choice, at about SEK 8000 including tools and spare parts, there is few other that can compete in quality/price.
The build process was, even though it’s down to soldering cables to be connected to the circuit board, adjust parts down to 0.2mm precision and read and work from more than 600 pages of low-level instruction in the assembly manual, fairly straightforward. That is if all parts are okay out of the box, and for me, that was not the case. A circuit board for the X-motor driver came with some kind of error, and replacement parts did turn out to be difficult to get – a surprise considering that the parts are marketed in Sweden thru Kjell & Co that have most parts in their catalogue.
That was actually the main reason that I did choose to buy the Velleman 3D-printer because spare parts in electronics should be easily available when you run into something that requires modification or replacement. In reality, that was not entirely true, but I do love the quality of the parts, they are solid and genuinely of a high quality. And the best of it all: you can print new parts for your 3D-printer, on your 3D-printer. There is a huge eco-system of spare parts on the net.
My assessment after building the printer is that it could be done in 4-8 hours if it’s done on an assembly line with professional people focusing on different parts. A single individual with knowledge in electronics and software could probably do it in 1-2 days if trained sufficiently. The first time will obviously take longer, build 10 will be done with a factor of 1:10 compared with the first.
The result will look something like this.
The assembly manual, found here is 619 pages, and also includes the fine-tuning, software installation and configuration – and also the fairly hard and difficult task of finetuning the hardware to 0.2mm precision.
The manual does have some smaller errata, but that is very much covered by the forums that support the Velleman projects. Fram a question is asked on the internet, answers will be coming in within hours, not days.
Software for the printer is worth mentioning. Repetier Host 0.84 is the open source software that allows handling and fine tune all electronics on the printer. There is also software built in into Windows 8.1
Windows 8.1, on my computer – a spare part for the printer. From finding the item to load, slice and start printing – 2-3 minutes.
Repetier Host 0.84, on my computer, disconnected at the time. Any changes here will show up on the printer within milliseconds
After connecting to the 3D-printer hardware, loading a 3D blueprint generated as G-code, and setting motors, heatbed, extruder and other settings, the printer will push the PLA or ABS plastic thru the extruder layer by layer in, usually, 0.20 mm thick layers. That means that the precision is really good, but also that printing time will be several hours even for fairly small items.
Oh, talking about items, and that’s what this printer is for, you find a huge library of items and blueprints to print from at Thingiverse.com. I’ve seen somewhere that they have some 200.000 things to print, but I’ve never been able to confirm that.
What Thingiverse don’t have is the weapons that are circulated on the internet, but you will find a huge variety of stuff for many different scenarios on Thingiverse. I do not endorse printing weapons btw, it’s fairly likely you would be raided by authorities and run into some really bad publicity, as others have experienced. Building birdhouses and printing gifts are more likely to make you a happy person, considering that people usually give you something back if you are friendly. Same actually goes for doing bad stuff, because doing bad stuff usually returns bad stuff, so I recommend you to stick to giving away cute stuff that makes everyone smile.
The other reason to print stuff is to make a business of it, and I’m looking forward to see how this market will take off, and when. It’s been boiling for years as a potential big thing, but the hype has not hit the consumer markets yet. The market wait, as I interpret it, on the right guy (sorry ladies) with the right business model and the best timing. And something, a thing, that everyone needs. The price on the printers will also need to get down, and a printer must run everything automagically – that’s also required. There is no room here for technical difficulties, the masses asks for perfect tech that always work, with one push on a button.
One use that I want to see now, on the education market, is to realise mathematical models into physical objects and also the overall use of 3D-printers. There is a need for designers in 3D that can trandsform this tecnology into real life business in those businesses where it is starting to get traction.
A more detailed build instruction in Swedish is found here:
As of August 19 2014, I still have some fine tuning to do before starting the prints on my own printer. Other projects also have priorities higher than this, but I do hope to be able to start doing lots of stuff before the autumn sets in and make me even busier. When it comes to business models and consumer markets, that’s unchartered territories, and I hope that I can be a part of the discovery on that, somewhere, sometime soon. One business is to modify the Velleman and build a more consumer-friendly version, something that has been done by others, and is totally legit, because the whole concept, alla hardware and all software needed is open source, to be picked up on the net and in hardware stores, and modified for the best of humanity and the market.
Best bet for educating yourself on the technology for free is found here on Microsoft Virtual Academys course on 3D-printing – 3D Printing Essentials.
The future is described here, in The Telegraph
3D-printing in space
Dremel is trying to take the lead in consumer 3D-printing.