Jan 28, 2016 | By Andre

We live in a world in where the consumer grade FDM based 3D Printer market is fast approaching the point of over-saturation. This is by no means a bad thing as choice and competition can only lead to better and more innovative products over time. This said, it also means there is a lot of repetition and at this point I only get really excited when I see a 3D printer that has a completely unique approach to both design and function.

A recent EEVBlog video showcases David’s rPrint 3D Printer and wow, his creation is really thinking outside of the box (or in this case, the bubble).

David is an Australian university student that has been building a 3D printer for his capstone thesis project for the last 7 - 8 months around the clock. Well, if you subtract the two jobs he kept to pay for the $12,000AUD prototype, and another large project hinted at that is. Asked whether he kept a regular schedule during this stretch he laughed before confessing he'd sometimes work upwards of 18 hours a day on his machine.

In the short term, his efforts have been rewarded after winning the innovation prize for his thesis. Although, he has said that "most people don’t finish stuff at all" and grudgingly admitted that he went over and above the requirement for the project before suggesting that most end up with an adapted pulley-system or piecemeal component for a more complex system. David, on the other hand, made the entire complex system himself.

And I do mean the entire system. This includes the world's lightest direct drive extruder head, Sarrus linkage build plate, linear rail guides, PMMA plastic bubble enclosure, his own custom controller, gcode interpreter, and highly optimised C++ string libraries. As an advocate of the open-source world (he plans on releasing designs once everything is “perfect”) he realizes that “most 3D printers are fairly derivative,” adding that once “you’ve seen one Delta, you’ve seen most of them, once you see one RepRap, you’ve seen 50% of them and the rest of them are just slight variations on the theme, so I pretty much just threw everything away.”

So what exactly makes David’s rPrint 3D printer unique?

Visually, the first thing anyone will notice is the space-aged looking bubble casing around the machine. David suggests that nobody out there other than those making “1970s toasters and strange aquariums" use follow his bubble approach. Beyond being aesthetically pleasing, the case does have important, practical benefits as well. The enclosure (which has a removable latch opening at the front) prevents room drafts and allows temperature control thanks to rear facing fans that can be sped up or slowed down depending on the desired internal temperature.

From there, a lot of emphasis was put on the custom extruder. Weighing in at 100g, David suggests it is much lighter than anything else out there today by noting that the Nema17 motors that come standard on most extruders weigh 200g alone. The design is based on a direct drive system so to minimize slack and elasticity while extruding, comes complete with a positional filament feedback system to control flow rate as well as for machine tuning purposes. He emphasized that he went with a single extruder design over a dual-extruder because the machine is meant purely for prototyping. He goal was speed and quality first, everything else a distant second.

The build-plate is kept in place by a unique Sarrus linkage system that's designed to keep the bed level, as David puts it, “by using a bunch of hinges.” The bed itself is made of borosilicate glass along with an option to be heated. Other custom features include a unique pulley and linear slider system designed to minimize resonant frequencies to allow for quiet printing and his own highly optimized gcode interpreter.

All said, the 3D printer is still in its development stage. While extruder tests went well in a controlled environment, he admits lots needs to be done before showing off any completed 3D prints. But, he doesn’t seem to worried considering his primary goal has always been reliability and speed; and the torture test he previewed at the start of his presentation video suggests no positioning was lost after running at maximum speed.

The big question that might now be simmering on your mind is how and when can I get an rPrint 3D Printer for myself? Well, unlike just about everybody else these days, he doesn’t plan on going the crowdfunding route. Suggesting that if he had over 1000 interested people, he would go the more traditional method and acquire a bank loan and sell the units as production completes. While this can be seen as a much riskier endeavour, David doesn’t like the idea of taking people’s money with nothing but a cloudy time-line in place.

When pressed on the cost, he said that the numbers have indeed been crunched and a final price of between $2,500 and $3,500 AUD is realistic (with the parts themselves coming in at $1,400). Realizing this won’t be the cheapest 3D printer out there, he again noted that the aim for the rPrint 3D Printer has always been toward the high-end.

So far the response by the tech community has been very positive. Most comments in the EEVblog forum are full of praise for the printer itself, but also his seemingly endless knowledge, charisma and charm. And if you know anything about the standard internet forum, that’s saying a lot.

Before I close I do want to touch on his personality a little. He is a firm believe in the open-source community, sounds eerily like a young Elon Musk, and is quick witted and funny, with a contagious laugh to boot. Of course, personality isn’t a prerequisite for designing the perfect 3D printer, but it certainly goes a long way if he does end up ramping production and selling the rPrint 3D Printer.

What else can I say but if you are at all interested innovations in the 3D printing field, go check out the above video. I’ve never been so thoroughly impressed by a 3D printer that has yet to officially 3D print anything. David suggests a website with more details is still to come and I’m sure I’ll be one of the first to go check it out when it arrives.

 

 

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