Summer Project: Building our Own 3D Printer

Since FIRST Tech Challenge broadened the list of possible materials last season, making  3D printed parts allowable, we thought it would be fun to build our own 3D printer as a summer project.  When we toured the Backyard Workshop last year, and again at Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire in March, we really enjoyed seeing  Jamie Cunningham’s 3D printer in action.  The fact that he made his own printer – and his own CNC machine! – inspired us to start thinking about making our own RepRap machine, or something similar.  What better summer project, than to make a different kind of robot that will help make parts for our competition robot!

3D printers make things by layering plastic material (“additive manufacturing“)  according to programmed movements to create a finished part.  The printer has a frame and three axes: X-axis ( left-to-right), Y-axis ( front-to-back) and Z-axis ( up-and-down.) – 3 dimensions!  The plastic extruder sits on the X-axis and feeds melted plastic filament onto a platform to make the object. The printer is usually controlled by a by special software that translates a design via “G-code” into the Cartesian coordinates needed to create an object.

The cool thing about RepRaps is that they’re self-replicating!  It can make the parts to make more of itself.

3D printers have come a long way since the first ones were introduced in the early 1980s. Those operated on the principles of stereolithography using an ultraviolet laser.  Personal 3D printing has expanded rapidly in the past few years, with the advent of small more affordable machines like the Makerbot and the open source RepRap, both of which are rapid prototyping machines that make objects in relatively short periods of time, both for use as models and as parts.

And they’re just way cool!  We can’t wait to get started on ours.

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