Jun 1, 2014

In the Spring of 2012, the Virginia Tech DREAMS Lab unveiled the DreamVendor, the world's first 3D printing machine. The DreamVendor is the brainchild of Dr. Chris Williams, Director of Virginia Tech's DREAMS Lab, and student Amy Elliot, who led the design. The DreamVendor is an interactive 3D printing station for Virginia Tech students to enable them to quickly fabricate prototypes for their academic, and even personal, design projects.

"We wanted an experience where someone could walk up and use a 3-D printer without having to worry about anything besides loading a file and selecting 'Print," Williams told Wired.

Dr. Chris Williams, Director of Virginia Tech's DREAMS Lab

In the Fall of 2013, the DREAMS Lab tasked a team of 8 Virginia Tech mechanical engineering students with creating the next generation of the DreamVendor for their senior design project. The result is the DreamVendor 2: a completely new system designed from the ground-up specifically for the 3D Printing vending machine application.

Instead of relying on off-the-shelf, closed-source printers – which can be difficult to maintain and repair – the DreamVendor 2 is driven by a heavily modified Kossel Deltabot-style extrusion printer. "This eliminated dependence on any specific 3D printer OEM, since all of the printer's parts are either purchased from a common supplier or are custom-designed and 3D Printed." Williams explained.

"From our extensive experience with the first DreamVendor, this new design focused heavily on making the machine easy to maintain." Williams said. "One embodiment of this is that the entire extrusion head assembly is attached via a series of magnetic ball joints (inspired by Werner Berry's Berrybot3D design), all data is sent via a single Cat5 cable, and high current power is provided via a single cable with a TX-60 quick-connector. With this, print head assemblies can be swapped out almost instantaneously, reducing downtime and allowing for easier maintenance."

According to Williams, the DreamVendor case has been redesigned to enhance modularity and portability of the system. With a triangular shape, multiple DreamVendor "modules" can be connected to allow the kiosk footprint to adapt to its installation location. And – because of the significant number of requests for the DREAMS Lab to bring the DreamVendor to schools, museums, and other exhibitions – the case is able to be broken down into portable components for easy transport.

In addition to a completely new printer format, the entire user-interface has been reimagined. Users now bring their STL files on a USB drive to the DreamVendor 2's touch-screen user interface (only one is needed for up to four DreamVendor modules). After swiping their student ID card, they can select the STL file that they would like to print, as well as scale/rotate/translate the part. They then select on which printer they would like their part created (depending on their color preference, or their desire to have the part created on the printer with the shortest queue line). The system will send the user an automated email message informing them when their part has started printing and when it has finished printing. Once the user's part is finished printing, the heated build plate is actively cooled, and the part is ejected via an innovative parallel kinematic scraping mechanism. The user can then retrieve their part from the bin housed behind the main face of the case.

Williams said that since its release in 2012, the DreamVendor has been a tremendous resource for the students of Virginia Tech. From first-year to PhD students; from engineering to history majors; all have used the vending machine to create something that would otherwise be nearly impossible to do. It has motivated students to learn more about computer-aided design and 3D Printing, and has engaged them in a new realm of possibility where creating something new is as simple as pressing a button. More info on educational impact can be found here. We look forward to seeing what the new version brings!


Posted in 3D Printers


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Paucus wrote at 6/1/2014 2:12:28 PM:

Exellent application, seems well done. All schools should have one like this.

Chris wrote at 6/1/2014 12:30:34 PM:

Does anyone have a link to the design files? I'm assuming it's open source?

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