The current trend of cheap, desktop, consumer 3D printers arguably began at the World Maker Faire in New York several years ago. What began with just a single printer exploded into a mindless proliferation of extrusion boxes, and by 2012, every single booth had to have a 3D printer on display no matter how applicable a CNC machine was to what they were actually selling.
Now we’re in the doldrums of the hype cycle and 3D printers just aren’t cool anymore. This year at the World Maker Faire, 3D printers were relegated to a tiny corner of the faire, right next to the portajohns. It’s the smallest showing of 3D printing I’ve ever seen at the New York Maker Faire.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the state of 3D printing isn’t constantly improving. 3D printers have never been cheaper, more capable, or more popular. This is how technology works, really: it doesn’t get good until it gets boring. Still, there were some impressive displays of the current state of 3D printing at the World Maker Faire this weekend. You can check that out below.
Prusa’s I3 Mk. 3
One of the perennial favorite 3D printers is the Prusa I3, In the last year, Prusa has been knocking everything out of the park with actual innovation like a slicer for beginners, a dead-simple implementation of variable layer thickness printing, and of course multi-material extrusion.
Now the I3 is getting an upgrade, announced today at the World Maker Faire. The I3 MK 3 is an incremental upgrade, but still has some awesome, very desirable features. The stepper drivers have been upgraded to Trinamic drivers, and the fan is now a PC Master Race-approved Noctua unit. The print bed has been upgraded to a removable, magnetic piece of spring steel coated with PEI, and there’s now a touch sensor to turn the printer on. Also on the upgrade list is a Bondtech drive gear, an optical filament encoder, and the ability to recover prints after a power failure and to recover shifted layers.
There are a few pics of the prints coming off the multi-extrusion Prusa below. These are really some of the finest prints I’ve ever seen coming off a 3D printer. Of course, most of this is due to the incredible operator skill demonstrated by the Prusa team, but these results show the Prusa is capable of just about anything.
Let’s Turn Smartphones Into 3D Printers!
Stereolithography, resin printers, or whatever else you want to call them are the future. The future isn’t here quite yet, but a lot of people are trying. FormLabs is kicking ass with their Form2 resin printer, but not everyone wants to drop thousands of dollars on a printer. There’s a market for a cheap resin printer, which leads to a few observations and engineering decisions. Everyone has a smartphone with a bright, high-DPI display, for instance, so why not build a printer around a smartphone.
The first ‘resin printer built around a smartphone’ is the ONO printer. This was a Kickstarter that raked in $2 Million a few years ago, and these guys have been showing up at the World Maker Faire for the past few years. Does the printer work? I can tell you, for certain, the ONO printer didn’t work last year. I checked it out in their booth last year, and even though the team said the parts were produced on the ONO printer, they were not.
This year is different. I don’t know if this printer works. They had a few units on display that looked like they were doing something. That’s technically progress. ONO was showing off their fantastic packaging, and they say they’ll be shipping in mid-October. The year was not specified.
If one idea can rake in two million from Kickstarter, somebody else is going to try it again. Another printer, T3D, just launched on Kickstarter and made an appearance at this year’s World Maker Faire. This is basically the same idea as the ONO printer — take a smartphone, put it underneath some resin, and display slices of a 3D print on the screen. Add a stepper, and something might happen.
That, unfortunately, is just about all there is when it comes to 3D printers at Maker Faire. There are incremental advances to great printers and slightly outlandish ideas that probably won’t pan out. This is okay, really. 3D printers are now what they should have been all along: not incredible hype machines, but just tools to build stuff.