Monday, 22 October 2012

On going from not having a 3D printer, to having a 3D printer

This is all about 3D printers. If you aren't interested in 3D printers I suggest you stop reading now. Otherwise you're just going to regret wasting precious minutes of your life.

Still here? Sweet.

My first experience with a 3D printer was in about 2004 when the Engineering Department at my University purchased a rapid prototyping machine. This machine cost about $800,000 and could manufacture all sorts of cool stuff overnight - it was very awesome and unfortunately I never got to play with it :-(

Fast forward 8 years. Thanks to the wonders of technological development anyone with a technical mindset can build their own 3D printer for a few hundred dollars (or more if you live anywhere other than the USA and have to pay ridiculous international shipping rates).

There's a number of different "streams" of DIY 3D printers, the stream I'm going to be focusing on in particular is the REPRAP project ( REPRAP, I believe, being short for "Self-Replicating Rapid Prototyping Machine". In that you can use one to print the CAD parts to build another one (once you add in things like steel rod, screws, electronics, etc.). Anyway - I chose the REPRAP project because it's large, well supported in the community and, not insignificantly, my mate is also building one ( and is a well of knowledge on the subject - I owe him for my decision to build one in the first place.

If you have a look on the REPRAP page you'll see that there's a number of different major designs - after much thought and research I've opted for the MendelMax 1.5 design. It was either that or a Prusa, and it came down to basically nothing in it, so I just picked one of them to go with. The Prusa has more customisability (in my opinion) and the Mendel is possibly easier to assemble - anyway, not too much in it as far as I can see.

So I'm right at the start of this project at this point - in the research and acquisition phase. I'm stoked to have pretty much everything I need on order - a feat that might seem easy, but given I live in New Zealand - it complicates everything.

There's an awesome BOM (Bill Of Material) for the MendelMax 1.5 listed here ( which has been of great use to me, however I haven't been able to utilise all of the suggested suppliers - due to being in NZ.

McMaster have been the most frustrating. I thought I'd order from them since they are the suggested source, and also because they have a handy-dandy online ordering system that allows international orders, also to New Zealand. I placed my order, it calculated shipping and all that and successfully submitted. I was happy. Until I got an email from them this morning stating:

"Due to the complexity of U.S. export regulations, McMaster-Carr accepts international orders only from our established customers. This decision also applies to orders shipping within the United States, because it is based on the final destination of the items. We cannot accept this order or future orders."

Which is all very well, but leads me to 2 key questions:

1: If you are based overseas how do you go about becoming an established customer? Do you have to live in the States, become a customer, and then move overseas?

2: Why on earth have a web ordering system that allows you to place overseas orders as a guest if you have no intention whatsoever of honouring it?

Anyway - short story is: if you live in New Zealand don't bother getting your hardware anywhere other than Anzor ( Very highly recommended. I used the online system to choose my hardware and request a quote. Got a phone call 4 minutes later to discuss and a quote emailed through 10 minutes later - I'm picking the whole lot up this afternoon, for cheaper than McMaster were without shipping charges added.

VXB.Com and SDP-SI.Com have been all good for international ordering - very reasonable shipping (they also don't seem to have the same problems with "US Export Restrictions" that McMaster apparently do.... have also been fine, although I've used NZPost's "YouPost" service to ship to a US address and then forward to me in NZ due to lulzbot's prohibitive international shipping rates.

For the electronics I got the whole lot in a bundle on ebay (worked out the cheapest) with the bonus that the pack also included the heatbed and motor drivers :-)

The motors I got on Trademe from a guy in Dunedin - he seems to put stuff up regularly so worth checking there.

That just leaves some random hardware and the steel rod (which I'm still to source) - so I'm pretty much there in terms of having everything to get started.

I'll post up pictures etc. as stuff arrives.

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