Decommissioning Makerbot Cupcake

This was the first 3D printer I ever had


This picture shows the machine after its last Frankenstein operation circa 2011.  I purchased it as a kit in the first place so that I could ultimately create some simple objects like this: to connect drinking straws so that my daughter and I could construct objects like geodesic domes.

Well, this machine never printed more than one or two objects in it wacky storied life until it was replaced with the original Up! machine, which just worked out of the box.

Those were heady days in the 3D printing industry.  RepRap, and the notion of printers printing parts for themselves was still an ideal, and the likes of Ultimaker, Zortrax, and even Prusa, were just glimmers in their creators eyes.

The hotend for this thing (that mass of acrylic and steel sitting on the 5″x5″ platform in the middle there, probably weighed nearly a pound, consumed 3mm plastic, and just didn’t really work.


All those nuts and bolts, tons of acrylic, funky resistors, an even a piece of delrin.  It was all well intentioned, and all very experiemental, and it all just didn’t quite work for me.  Compared to a new modern extruder/hotend combo, this might seem relatively stone age, but it did have all the basics that we take for granite today.

I’m happy we built this machine.  It was a great bonding experience, and it was then that my daughter and I cemented ourselves as ‘makers’.  We went to a MakerFaire, played with electronics, sewed leds into a dress, and generally carried ourselves into the modern age of making.

I have since purchased an original Up!, an early prusa mendel, original ultimaker.  Then I jumped into another realm with a ZCorp 650, ZCorp 660, then back down to earth with an Afinia Up Box, and lately Type A Machines Hub, and Prusa i3 MK2.  That’s a lot of plastic, powder, glue and frustration right there in all that madness.

I purchased the first kit to make a little something for me and the daughter to play with.  I’ve since explored the various ways in which these devices may or may not be utilized in the real of custom on-demand manufacturing.  That journey continues.

This cupcake was both fun and frustrating as all heck.  I’m a bit nostalgic to see it go, but now that it’s real value is in the various M3 screws and nuts, I’m happy to have let this particular nightmare in our printing history go.

RIP cupcake.  You served us well.


3D Printer – Prusa i3 MK2, first impressions


I wasn’t really looking for a new 3D printer, the Afinia H800 in the garage has been doing duty for the past year, and it’s been fine.  I have generally liked the Up! printers over the past few years, primarily for their ease of use as it relates to support material removal.  I recently took a look at a couple of reviews of this latest Prusa i3 MK2.  Prusa is a well known name in the RepRap community, and I built an earlier version of a Prusa machine, before he actually created a company for them.  That earliest experience (circa 2011) was very raw, and typical of the machines of that day, it wasn’t that great compared to the Up! of that day.

This new one caught my eye for a few reasons.  Number one is the auto bed leveling.  It has this probe thing checks 9 spots on the bed for distance and whatnot.  It does this check before every print, so it stays accurate no matter what.  Then there’s this ‘live z adjust’, which essentially is a micro adjustment that tells the distance from the probe tip to the tip of the hot end.  This allows you to really find tune the first layer of filament as it’s being deposited on the bed.  That’s really great.  It makes height adjustment really easy, as compared to trying to slide a piece of paper under the nozzle, and doing mechanical height adjustments while you do it.

There are two things about the bed that make it especially nice.  First is that the bed itself is the heated element.  There’s not a separate heating element and then the bed.  The bed is the heater.  The bed is covered with this PEI material, which seems to be better than build tak, which I use in the Afinia machine.  So far, I guess it works.  If you really need to get super sticky, you can use a glue stick, for printing PETG or Nylon I guess.  Haven’t done that yet.  After Z height adjustment, I have found that PLA sticks just fine.  I did notice curling at the edges on a few prints though.  I’ll micro adjust some more, and it should be fine.

I purchased the pre-assembled machine.  I noticed right out of the box there was a slight problem.


Those 4 zip ties are meant to be holding the linear bearings in tight to the orange carriage.  In my case, all six of them (4 on the top bearings, 2 on the bottom) were broken.  At first I thought “oh, exercise for the reader, I’m supposed to put this final bit together”, but no, they were just broken, and needed to be replaced.  The box comes from the Czech republic, so somewhere along the line, this carriage must have really been tweeked to put enough pressure on these ties to cause them to break.  No matter though.  I had some zip ties left over from the PC build, so I was able to repair and replace.  I did not notice anything else out of whack, so I went ahead and started printing.

One of the other reasons I went with this printer is the supposed support in Windows 10s 3D Builder application.  I haven’t actually gotten that to work yet, but I should be able to print directly from whithin Windows without requiring any additional software.  That will be nice, as then I can stay within the sweetness of that Windows app.

Other than the broken ties, this machine is a good basis for playing around with a lot of stuff.  Filament loading and ejection is nice and easy, and Prusa now has a multi-color option they’re experimenting with.

At roughly $900 shipped, this printer might make for a good solid inexpensive and reliable option to build a print farm of perhaps 6 printers.  At this price, I could put together 6 printers for roughly the price of a single Type-A machines printer ($5,000).  That would give tremendous print capacity, and a solid high quality no-nonsense printer to boot.

We’ll see.

Supporting the Next Industrial Evolution

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away… I was in business with my brother.  We did software, on odball platforms such as NeXT and BeOS, until I left for a job in the Pacific Northwest.  In the past couple of years, we have been having discussions about the economy, and where jobs have gone, and what can be done to create new jobs.

One of the thoughts that I’ve had on the matter is that certain types of jobs are rapidly disappearing, like heavy manufacturing.  A lot of these jobs are disappearing because of automation, or shifting labor rates, or shifting raw materials, or simply the needs of societies are changing.  Moving out of coal, more into natural gas, so less coal miners needed.

One of the things that’s been changing most recently is what I’ll call the democratization of manufacturing.  When you can purchase a “computer” for $250 (lastest Samsung ChromeBook), and you can purchase an assembled 3D printer for less than $1,000, you’re suddenly got in your hands the tools to begin micro manufacturing.  You can both create the appropriate design files, and with a reel of plastic, you can print off your own versions of things, locally.

This sort of scenario is being played out time and again in Maker Faires, NYTimes articles, Wall Street Journal and the like.  There is a lively community of makers in the world, and they’re all kind of chanting in the same way “We want to make our own stuff”.

One aspect of the maker community that is true for me is that my design skills are somewhat limited.  I’m not a SketchUp user, nor will I ever master SolidWorks, or anything remotely like that.  But, I know people who are experts in that stuff.  I’m an expert in certain kinds of software development.  Of late, I’ve been focused on things related to cryptography, identity, and network services.

What does this have to do with democratization?  Well, it occurs to me that the way the world is headed is more about mash ups of different skill sets, combined with a proliferation of relatively inexpensive manufacturing tools.  Once anyone on the street can get something designed to their specifications, and get that object manufactured within a reasonable amount of money, and a reasonable amount of time, we will be engaged in a new paradigm for manufacturing.

My brother’s latest venture (without me) is the pursuit of a first step along this path.  His company (Adamation) is a design firm, which is focused on the rapid development of customized products that can be rapidly manufactured.  By ‘rapid manufacture’, I mean 3D printed in most cases, at least to start.  They’ve just launched their new web site, which is a collaboration of artists from the gaming industry, along with visual artists, web designers and the like.

What they have to start is a series of completely original figurines.  There are 20 new figurines in total, which are bunched into 4 groups, with 5 characters in each group.  Each group has a unique story, and all the characters have individual bios.  You can go to the site, click on stuff, see some visuals, rotating animations, and the like, and ultimately make a purchase.

Now, I think this is really cool, not just because it’s my brother doing it, but because this is how I think goods should be.  Right now, each of the figurines comes in 3 different poses, but I know they have plans to allow the user to customize them further, creating a figurine that is as unique as the user desires.  This is customized manufacturing.  The figurines are printed ‘just in time’, so there’s no inventory.

I could gush on about these things, but I’ll just encourage you to go check out the site if you’re interested in such things.

This does bring up another thought in my mind though.  There are a lot of people thinking about how best to bring about this industrial revolution.  There are tons of little companies working on 3D printers.  Lots of people working 3D printable models, and lots of individuals dreaming about how to pull it all together.  The pieces are out there.

When I look at the current landscape, I see things like small electronics companies (SparkFun, SeeedStudio, AdaFruit), and their ability to crank out small scale electronics kit.  Then there’s the oh so popular for the moment Raspberry Pi, which brings some compute to the table.  Then there’s tons of people focused on creating cases for electronics, and these 3D printer people, who can make just about anything to pull stuff together.

Perhaps what’s missing is the spark, a true vision to help guide things.  Perhaps there’s some amount of funding that needs to be flung into some of the dimmer corners to bring out true innovations.  Some of this happens with KickStarter projects, but there’s probably more to be done.

I was happy to help my brother get started in this little venture by providing capital so that he could purchase the means of production.  Not a fortune, but more than I had in my piggy bank.  Perhaps what’s needed here is more people coming together collectively to fund the creation of new design firms, new design software, new micro manufacturers.  Just a thought.

At any rate, I’m happy my brother’s company has reached the stage where they can start talking about it openly in the world.  I’m sure it will be a success, or at the very least, very provocative.