Jun 11, 2015 | By Alec

While 3D printers are rapidly coming down in price over the last few years, this development has almost been exclusively limited to FDM 3D printers. Anyone looking for higher resolution prints is unfortunately forced to pay big bucks for a machine relying on other technologies, though there is a third option as well: build your own machine. That is exactly what Instructables user matstermind has done, a young student from Fort Wayne, Indiana. For just $60 for parts and a good pile of LEGO and K’nex parts, he has built a very cool looking SLA 3D printer that is also capable of excellent results.

To clarify, SLA printing (or Stereolithography) revolves around UV lighting to harden liquid resin. But fortunately, SLA 3D printers aren’t the only commercial devices to project UV light, as DLP projectors do the same for a fraction of the price; a decent one will set you back about $50 to $60. And that is exactly what matstermind’s Chimera 3D printer is all about (so you might call it a DLP 3D printer, rather than a SLA 3D printer). ‘I have been on a hunt for the past several years to find a cheap and simple, yet moderately high resolution 3D printer. I had 3 different 3D printers partially constructed when I heard about the amazing technology of DLP Stereo lithography (SLA) printers,’ he explains. ‘I have finally found enough parts at the right price to construct a fully functional printer capable of amazing quality with spending less than $100.’

Why can it be made so cheaply? Well that’s because top down DLP 3D printers (which feature the resin tank above the build platform) feature few moving parts. ‘Top down DLP printers in their simplest form have only one axis of motion, a video projector, and minimal electronics. They do not require a heated or perfectly level bed, there is never a clogged or wrong temperature in the extruder as it does not use an extruder. And the resin used has a comparable price to FDM printers,’ matstermind explains. And the name Chimera refers to a mythological creature made up from three different animals, which this machine consists of projector, some toys and some firmware. Easy.

What’s more, matstermind has graciously shared his designs with everyone through a very detailed Instructables, so if you would like to get your hands on the cheapest possible DLP 3D printer, this is your chance. Just beware that this isn’t an easy build to do, and that UV lights can cause blindness and burning, so proceed with care. If you would like to take the plunge, you can find the full tutorial here. But as you might have guessed, it doesn’t contain a whole lot of parts: a DLP projector, a computer disc drive laser deck with stepper motor, the cheaper Arduino UNO, an Easydriver v.4.4, some tools and wires, and the ability to make a circuit board.

The most important of these parts, obviously, is the projector. ‘There are many projectors out in to market today. There are a few projectors i see referenced as being used for 3D printers, namely the the dell 2300 and 2400, and the infocus 2104. But in theory any DLP projector can work as long as you keep a few thing in mind when choosing a projector,’ matstermind clarifies, though do make sure you get a DLP projector, rather than an LCD machine, and one with a high enough resolution. Matstermind went for a mitsubishi XD221u projector with a resolution of1024x768 pixels, so aim for that area. To make this suitable for 3D printing, key is modifiying it for close distances and removing the UV filter. ‘Making it cure the resin faster is easy, just remove the filter (glass square) on the front of the bulb,’ he says, though obviously closely follow his tutorial to avoid blinding yourself.

The Z axis, meanwhile, consists of a laser deck assembly from a computer disc drive, as is common with homemade 3D printer, while the build platform is simply thick aluminum sheet taken from the back of an LCD monitor. What could be cheaper? What’s more, just about anything can be used as a resin tank, as long as its waterproof and leak free, slightly larger than the build side and doesn’t dissolve when in contact with resin.

All of that is carried by an cleverly simple and very cool looking body: a mixture of LEGOs and K’nex. You might wonder, why not just use LEGOs while you’re at it, but as matstermind explains, this isn’t as stable as you might think. ‘While LEGOs could be used, I've found that interlocking bricks are not good for large and stable structures. So I turned to the other "toy" that can make large, lightweight, and sturdy structures, yet has a similar flexibility for alterations to the design as Legos do, and that is K'nex,’ he says. At least it helps the aesthetics, if anything.

The machine itself is run by an Arduino UNO, which is plenty powerful for controlling the single axis of this cool DLP 3D printer. ‘I etched a shield for the Arduino, which I designed in Cadsoft EAGLE. But if that is not something you are able to do, fear not! the schematic is simple and can easily be made on a breadboard. If you want to put a little more work into it, you can program an ATMega328p chip with the firmware and etch an all-in-one board whose design is included in the files attached,’ matstermind explains. As firmware, he has chosen GRBL 0.9i., which he has found is the best for DIY 3D printing, and runs the open source Creation Workshop software on it. ‘Out of the many open source software options that I looked at, only Creation Workshop by envision labs seemed to provide the compatibility and customization options that I required,’ he explains.

While all of this seems fairly straightforward and simple, the actual tutorial will cover a whole lot more steps that can be quite difficult to complete. Calibration and testing, meanwhile, can also be a bit of a nightmare. Nonetheless, it’s a relatively easy machine to build as far as DIY 3D printers go, while it also looks very cool and is much much cheaper than a store-bought alternative. Check it out!



Posted in 3D Printers



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Dan wrote at 6/24/2015 3:09:48 PM:

There is no s in LEGO!!!!!!!!!!!!! its just LEGO plural or singular.

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