If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere
December 7, 2011 7:52 PM   Subscribe

Make Magazine has released its Ultimate Kit Guide which rates 175 DIY kits. Kits like the: 6-in-1 Solar Robot Kit, the Infrared Jammer Kit, the KaraKuri Somersault Doll kit, the Loud Objects Noise Toy Kit. But best of all you will find the astounding MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D printer. "The Thing-O-Matic is a breakthrough in 3D printing technology. The Thing-O-Matic prints thing after thing, it's completely automated! You hit print and the machine does all the work. Want to print 100 butterflies? Easy. Want to print an entire chess set? No problem. Buy it, assemble it, and enjoy being the first on your block to live in the cutting-edge personal manufacturing future of tomorrow!"

Or skip the Thing-O-Matic, and try putting together the Cracker Box Guitar Amp Bundle. The Saga Banjo Kit.. Or the amazingMini-Rhinoceros Strandbeest!
posted by storybored (35 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Dang it, left out an important linky: Make Magazine's Kit Reviews - where you can actually read the reviews of the kits mentioned above.
posted by storybored at 7:57 PM on December 7, 2011

That MakerBot Thing-O-Matic seems abolutely awesome. But what material does it use for printing? I read through the "more details" tab but couldn't find any specifics, and I can't really tell what kind of material is being used in the video. A 3D printer that can only make things out of foam is cool, but one that makes things out of metal... incredi-awesome (and more practical).
posted by Osrinith at 7:59 PM on December 7, 2011

Coincidentally but unrelated-ly, I happened to be looking at this earlier today: if you "fund" it in the next 9 days, and you don't mind what appears to be a lot less polish and automation, you can get your own 3D printer for $500.

I know what I want for Christmas.
posted by penduluum at 8:02 PM on December 7, 2011

Yeah, the 3D printers are conceptually awesome but I don't feel good about making more plastic cruft just for amusement's sake.
posted by curious nu at 8:10 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Can the thing-o-matic print out other thing-o-matics?

Cuz that would be pretty cool."

-- Skynet
posted by darkstar at 8:12 PM on December 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Can the thing-o-matic print out other thing-o-matics?

Kind of. You can print out the pieces for a RepRap.
posted by wayland at 8:15 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

darkstar, you're looking for the reprap project.
posted by smcameron at 8:15 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seriously, though, we have one in our department. The engineering students use it to design and fabricate their own model rocket housings, which they then fire off into the wild blue yonder to test the aerodynamic efficiency of their designs. It's pretty darn cool.

The only thing that's a pain is the rubber-like infill used as a support while the printer lays down its layers on an intricate design. Depending on the intricacy (especially if there are hollow spaces) it can be a PITA to clean out of the ABS. Students have to design with that in mind, so they usually fabricate in parts without voids, which can then be assembled.
posted by darkstar at 8:16 PM on December 7, 2011

You can print out the pieces for a RepRap.

You can print some of the pieces for a RepRap. I don't see a homebuilt 3D printer that prints stainless steel rods, stepper motors, microswitches, or microcontrollers.
posted by eriko at 8:20 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

3D printers seem to be struggling to find a "killer app".

Right now it still seems like ten years ago - rapid prototyping seems to be the only thing they're any good for. The difference today is that the technology is more accessible, but other than making fancy gaming dice, I still haven't seen much that lends heft to the promise.

(And I say that as someone who just logged into UPS to check the tracking on a shipment of my work about to arrive in the mail as full-colour 3d-printed objects)

I guess dental crowns definitely count as a killer app. CERAC is currently just making people a shitload of money, but insurance companies will eventually get wise and then it will become a more disruptive technology. It's not additive printing though, it's CNC milling.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:24 PM on December 7, 2011

Friend of mine just got a Thing-o-Matic. Actually took a few vacation days to put it together -- it's not an afternoon project by any means. I haven't seen any output from it, though.

The major problem with 3D printers seems to be the limited materials you can use for printing; the 'ink', as it were. But as more and more of them get built, it seems to follow that there will be a market for different types of materials, depending on what you want.

Also, once you have a 3-axis movement control system, it ought to be fairly straightforward to swap out the extruder for a milling or router head, so that you can cut into a block of raw material rather than lay it down piece by piece. Depending on what you're looking to make, that might make more sense as a construction method.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:30 PM on December 7, 2011

I would love a rep-rap or makerbot. I can afford one. I have the technical know-how to assemble one and operate it.

I just can't think of any good use for it, that would be superior or cheaper than just emailing the file to a fabrication shop and having it produced on industrial machines.

I'm sure I'll think of something.

Maybe I can hack a variant that builds with two materials. That would open up some options.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:31 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

CERAC? Insurance?
posted by stratastar at 8:32 PM on December 7, 2011

Killer app for 3D printers: card skimmers. Unfortunately.
posted by mrbill at 8:33 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, once you have a 3-axis movement control system, it ought to be fairly straightforward to swap out the extruder for a milling or router head,

Well, not really with these devices. Routers and mills are built for immense stresses in the frames and head. The reason these homebuilt printers are affordable is that they can be flimsier in a lot of different places. I agree you could mill foam, but not wood or metal without courting almost certain disaster. :-(
posted by -harlequin- at 8:35 PM on December 7, 2011

CERAC? Insurance?

Dental crowns used to be crafted by hand by skilled technicians, costing a lot of money, and that's still done, but more and more are done by CERAC now every year, often entirely in the dentist's clinic. CERAC is a 3D scanner that goes in your mouth, scans the tooth, sends it to a computer for adjustment by the dentist, then goes to a computer milling machine which cuts the new tooth out of a ceramic block. Tooth is then baked for 45 minutes until it's enamel-hard, and then placed in mouth.

A crown used to cost $1500 and two weeks to create. Now it costs $150 and two hours.
For cosmetic work, a specialized technician is usually better than a dentist at colour matching the crown, but that seems to the last remaining advantage of getting the crown done at a lab. (Besides which, many labs are using CERAC machines)

But because labs are still making slightly more than 50% of the crowns, the normal price of a crown is set by the traditional price.
At some point in the not too distant future, I expect US health insurance companies will start setting their default payout for a crown based on costs for a CERAC crown. At that point, I guess a lot of labs will switch to CERAC, some technicians will have to find other work (CERAC operators?), and traditional crowns will presumably reposition themselves in the market as specialist and cosmetic services.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:46 PM on December 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

(Disclaimer: I'm not part of the US dental or insurance industry. I'm not an expert on it, and I don't think highly of it.)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:50 PM on December 7, 2011

My dad and I recently put together a Cupcake Ultimate (previous generation of Thing-O-Matic) picked up during a Father's Day sale. It was fun to mess with, but its limitations mean it's not yet quite "Earl Grey, hot" territory. Here are some observations:

* Watching the thing in operation is mesmerizing. When properly calibrated, the nozzle lays down strings of plastic with precise control, and it's satisfying to see.

* Getting the machine calibrated is a sort of black art. There are default settings, but you will probably need to follow one of the many calibration guides, each with a different take on the process. You will print and measure many hollow boxes, solid boxes, and other shapes in an attempt to get the perfect print.

* ABS contracts when it cools. This can be a problem because the bottom of the object tends to curl up, and then it no longer sticks well to the platform. If it doesn't stick, the nozzle may bump into it, and eventually it works loose and strings of plastic fly everywhere. You need the Heated Build Platform and lots of blue painter's tape to mitigate this. Unfortunately the conveyor-belt thingie (ABP) that lets you print lots of objects unattended doesn't give you the best print.

* You are pretty limited by geometry. Each layer has to support the next, and the automatic support-building feature is a bit dodgy. Simple convex shapes work best. Compare with a commercial system like the ZCorp which can print interlocking parts with ease.

* Making printable 3D models is actually pretty hard. You aren't going to necessarily take a random 3DS file and get it working -- the mesh has to be manifold (one surface, no holes). I like OpenSCAD. Solid modeling guys should have a head start with their more mature tools.

I like the idea of making real things (and bigger things, out of different materials), so I'm planning to check out the Zen Toolworks kit as well. A laser cutter might also be fun, and not just to slice pizza.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:52 PM on December 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

super interesting, thanks!
posted by stratastar at 8:58 PM on December 7, 2011

A laser cutter might also be fun, and not just to slice pizza.

Wasn't it a William Gibson novel where someone uses a water-jet cutter to slice pizza?
posted by mrbill at 8:59 PM on December 7, 2011

Wasn't it a William Gibson novel where someone uses a water-jet cutter to slice pizza?

Yes, it was "Count Zero":

"Then Bobby got the picture, and the universe reversed itself sickeningly. The lamp was suspended from the ceiling, the ceiling was mirrored, and he was the doll. He seemed to snap back on a long elastic cord, back through the red honey-combs, to the dream room where the black girl sliced pizza
for her children. The waterknife made no sound at all, micro-scopic grit suspended in a needle-stream of high-speed water. The thing was intended to cut glass and alloy, Bobby knew, not to slice microwaved pizza, and he wanted to scream at her because he was terrified she'd take off her thumb without even feeling it".

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:05 PM on December 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

3D printing is pretty sweet. I have a set of figures here that were printed by shapeways, only a dozen of them exist in the whole world outside of a computer. Years ago someone could have whittled them or sculpted them out of clay, but now I can hit 'print me another one in sterling silver' and have it sitting on my desk in two weeks.

The 3d printer I was lusting after for a while was the Ultimaker, which has some European design sensibilities and has a somewhat larger printing area than the Thing-O-Matic. An example of where this is going could be the Hyphae lamp. Each one is grown in a simulation, and every one is unique. Granted, this is art for nerds, but it's continually getting better. (Bonus neat arty-application: kinects + 3d printers = instant souveniers.)

Today you can stand on a pad at your local pharmacy and Dr. Scholls will recommend you a set of foot inserts. It won't be long before it just prints them for your exact feet. Charles Stross's latest near-future book, Rule 34, has underground 3d printing of repair parts as a major theme, and it's already happening with baby strollers. I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years knowing someone who has a 3d printer will be like knowing someone with a fax machine used to be. Sure, you don't need one all the time, but every once in a while it's nice to have one available.

If I could ever clear the junk out of my garage I might consider asking the wife for permission to get a blackFoot CNC machine. Honey, we could totally save money on our next couch by making it ourselves...
posted by jeffkramer at 9:38 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do they rate weasel kits? 'Cuz those things are cute.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:09 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, once you have a 3-axis movement control system, it ought to be fairly straightforward to swap out the extruder for a milling or router head

That seems to be the basic idea behind the Microcarve: it's a three-dimensional motion platform you can use to set up whatever CNC system you want.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:11 PM on December 7, 2011

I love Make and I love the kits they sell at Makershed, but I feel weird about paying Make $6.99 for a rated PDF catalog of kits they sell at Makershed.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:30 PM on December 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I should have read the first couple comments more closely. b1tr0t already made my point, and the important linky storybored mentioned afterward somewhat redeems Make.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:41 PM on December 7, 2011

I love Make and I love the kits they sell at Makershed, but I feel weird about paying Make $6.99 for a rated PDF catalog of kits they sell at Makershed.

That's pretty much par for the course with Make. They charge $9.99 for pdf back issues of Make, too. Ten bucks. For a pdf.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:42 AM on December 8, 2011

Make is currently running a Kit a Day giveaway, where you might win for yourself one of these magical machines.
posted by Runes at 6:53 AM on December 8, 2011

In other news, Jameco has decided to start having reasonable shipping rates.
posted by griphus at 7:23 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jeffkramer, I had no idea the field of 3D had taken off as much as you've shown through your links. thx for the links.
posted by storybored at 7:54 AM on December 8, 2011

The thing-o-matic makes stuff out of ABS. You feed in a spool of ABS filament.

Following your link to the first product, b1tr0t, I see it costs $55 for a 1-kg spool of the stuff. Wow. NOT appealing!

I wonder if this is possible with acetone-softened styrene (which would have issues with drying, but a forced-air flow could help), or a cheaper thermoset plastic. Styrene itself has a 100-C flow point, and a 240-C melt point; I'm not sure where in that range it would readily bind to already-cool, previously-laid styrene (which is essential for a 3D make). Styrene is essentially free, since it's readily found in waste styrofoam.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:10 AM on December 8, 2011

I wonder if this is possible with acetone-softened styrene... or a cheaper thermoset plastic.

It's possible with anything. There are open-source 3d printers whose ink is a sack of sugar, which is incredibly cheap.

ABS is often preferred because it's a very strong and very durable thermoplastic, so the results are product-strength items and it's useful to a wider range of people. My impression is that this has allowed the hobbyist community more focus on polishing a reliable low-cost extrusion system, rather than only offering a wide range of half-assed still-in-development ones (which was the situation not too long ago).

$55/kg may be of limited use for production, but quite workable for a hobby. Home 3d printers are still in the hackerspace, they're not ready for the consumer space.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:52 PM on December 8, 2011

"enjoy being the first on your block to live in the cutting-edge personal manufacturing future of tomorrow!"

While you're waiting for it to arrive, read Doctorow's Makers, so you'll be all ready for tomorry-morry-land.
posted by Twang at 4:08 PM on December 8, 2011

It is nice that Make has been able to distribute kits from BleepLabs, Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, and AdaFruit in addition to their own original projects. The Ice Tube Clock Peggy 2 LED boards are two of the coolest/nicest looking projects I've ever assembled, and great demonstrations of what you can accomplish with only passing familiarity with soldering and electronics, if you have the patience to invest. The Peggy 2 kit, in particular, is handy for demonstrating how LED matrices can work - if you're willing to endure the grueling experience of soldering 625 LEDs for the maximum blinkenlights experience.

To editorialize for a moment - this is such a great time to be an electronics hobbyist, especially now microcontrollers are so accessible. Folks who have minimal programming experience on a typical PC can translate that skill into programming Arduinos, and these kits are even accessible for total non-technicians but can help demonstrate basic concepts. I rue every crappy Radio Shack 8000-in-1 kit I ever bought, now that I know what I could have learned with a few cheap chips and basic components.
posted by gyges at 5:35 PM on December 8, 2011

I wonder if that Strandbeest kit is assembleable if you don't understand Japanese. (the booklet is supposedly in Japanese).
posted by nat at 8:38 PM on December 8, 2011

« Older The Sweet side of fantasy art... farewell   |   The Orchestra Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments