3D Printers

The Third Way: A 'Snap Together' 3D Printer

On one side of the home 3D printer spectrum are self-assembly from the RepRap and [email protected] projects, on the other are the MakerBot, Ultimaker and kin’s range of pre-assembled commercial printers. Putting a self-assembly 3D printer together is possibly not something most people will do outside of education: it’s not easy. Finding a third way, where the cost and learning benefits of self-assembly take a step towards the plug-and-play ideal of pre-assembled printers could be a breakthrough. Possibly fulfilled by Snap 3D. Let’s take a closer look.

The printer’s looks are dictated by its key innovative trait: no fasteners are needed. Assembling a RepRap is a process awash with washers and nutty for nuts, something that is a fantastic learning experience but a headache for those not interested in, or able to put some time into learning the skills required.

Let’s not overlook that the main interest by the political establishment (See for example: US governmental reference, UK governmental reference) in home 3D printing is just that very notion, that making skills are manufacturing skills, and manufacturing is at a deficit in many service-based and information-based economies. Whilst a MakerBot in every school in the US is a wonderful aim with many benefits, it’s not going to teach the skill set that a self-assembly printer could. The snap-together design by Snap3D thus has pertinence beyond mere convenience.

The significance explained, onto the printer.

Snap3D has a wonderful looking 3D printer. Whilst the amazing machines that were the first RepRap printers looked a little like an electronic Frankenstein to many (although personally I think they look great), Snap 3D has created a form that resembles pretty much what the generic stereotype for a home 3D printer now is: a tidy cuboid frame with internals open for the world to see.

Snap 3D PrintersThe Snap 3D Printer has a heated print-bed. For newcomers to 3D printing here, a heated build platform improves printing quality by helping to prevent the material distorting, generally referred to as warping. As extruded plastic cools, it shrinks a little. When this shrinking process does not occur throughout a printed part evenly, the result is a warped part. This warping is commonly seen as corners being lifted off the build platform.

3D Printing WarpingA heated bed allows the printed part to stay warm during the printing process and facilitates a more even shrinking of the extruded material as it cools below its melting point. Heated beds usually yield higher quality finished builds with materials such as ABS and PLA. It’s worth noting that Nylon, another widely used extrudable material does not have the same issues. An excellent blog post regarding nylon can be found here, in the context of amazing full colour prints.

Build area’s dictate the size of the object that a 3D printer outputs. In the early days of the new wave of 3D printing most build area’s tended to be around the 15 x 15 x 15 cm mark (6 x 6 x 6 inches) — this is sufficient for many hobbyist requirements, and indeed the self-replicating aspect of RepRap printers, which was the onus of the point. However, as the audience of interest regarding home 3D printing has flourished, the needs and wants of home 3D printer owners has grown. For rapid prototyping applications a larger build area is a great appeal, as can be found in popular examples such as MakerBot’s Replicator 2 and 2X. For many household repair potentials, a larger build area is a must. The Snap 3D has a fairly spacious 20.32 x 20.32 x 20.32 cm (8 x 8 x 8 inches) build area.

Snap 3D Printer LCD control panelOther features include an LCD control panel, Sanguinololu open-source electronics, open-source software (Repetier / Pronterface / slic3r) and a handy micro SD input.

The crowd-funding project details are vast, showing everything from the design process to where the parts are cut. This author applauds the shear openness of the campaign, which is of providence regarding the risk element of backing a crowd-funded project and also makes the majority of products a person could purchase at a store look like a mission in secrecy.

Earlier this year in the UK and EU a food scandal rocked the population as it was discovered that a wide variety of supermarkets were stocking food products with horse-meat in them, needless to say without marking them as such. For those who may take exception to the ‘low quality’ of low batch production over Fordist mass production and the ‘uncertainty’ of crowd-funding, the point here may be that start-ups producing crowd-funding campaigns with a large amount of openness (something that open-source allows in particular given that no-one is trying to hide away how something is done or prevent others from building upon their breakthroughs with large amounts of broad patents) are actually far more reliable than the products we take for granted as being of good quality from currently more conventional production methods.

Onto those specs in full:

Snap 3D Printer Specs

  • The build volume is big: 8x8x8 inches
  • ABS, PLA, Nylon 3 mm filament
  • 100 micron layers resolution
  • Stand alone with microSD input
  • LCD panel with control interface with pause and reset buttons, navigation buttons
  • Heated bed for ABS: Helios bed
  • LDE light
  • Easy and fast to assemble
  • Software: Repetier, Pronterface or slic3r

The extremely open and detailed crowd-funding campaign for the Snap3D can here found here.

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