Building the RepRap Prusa i3 3D printer


A couple of weeks ago I attended Open 3D Engineering‘s first ‘Build Your Own 3D Printer’ workshop at Fab Lab Berlin to find out a little more about the process of 3D printing in general and the RepRap project in particular. I didn’t have the money nor the need to actually make my own printer, but there are a handful of things I would like to 3D print, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more. While the 11 participants were untangling cables and programming microcontrollers, I was sticking a camera in their faces and asking stupid questions, mostly along the lines of ‘what does this button do?’ or ‘is that meant to snap in two like that?’

Occasionally I did actually get some hands-on experience, wielding big dangerous tools like hex keys or tweezers, but mostly I was there to watch and learn. I am currently building a machine of my very own though. As I said, personally I don’t have much interest in owning my own 3D printer just yet, but something slightly more suited to my lifestyle is a programmable open hardware camera slider. There’s also only one axis to worry about…

So I’m starting to put it together and 3D printing the custom parts with Bram, I’ll keep you posted – hopefully there will be some nice fluid time-lapse / stop motion / motion-controlled video footage in the next few months.

just waiting on a few more parts…

 

In the meantime, here are a few thoughts, theories and questions on the RepRap project:

To me, and many others, what is truly fascinating about RepRap is not just the sci-fi nature of converting bits to atoms. It’s not even the decentralised open source collaboration of the project. It’s the process of evolution in action and the exponential growth which can only come from a self-replicating machine.

To understand the thoughts behind the project, read Adrian Bowyer’s ‘Wealth Without Money‘, a short manifesto of sorts originally published in 2004, which lead to Bowyer creating the first RepRap printer in 2008.

In addition to founding RepRap, Adrian Bowyer’s other great life achievement has been making it into the 2013 Open Source Swimsuit Calendar

 

Further reading on a different aspect of the RepRap project: developer Erik De Bruijn’s Master’s thesis “On the viability of the open source development model for the design of physical objects – Lessons learned from the RepRap project“[pdf]

You might wonder how anyone has time to develop 3D printers and earn a living at the same time – contributors aren’t paid to improve RepRap machines, and as the designs are open source, nobody can claim a commerical monopoly on their designs. So how do they make a buck? Is Adrian Bowyer flipping burgers part-time?

There’s no commercial company pulling the strings behind RepRap, although many of the people deeply invoved in the project have ended up using their expertise to start their own companies or otherwise work professionally around the project, providing an interesting look at the business models which arise without a commercial monopoly.

Adrian Bowyer’s company RepRap Pro, for example, makes and sells RepRap kits and provides training in 3D printing, benefiting from his experience and status within the RepRap community. Josef Prusa, designer and namesake of the Prusa i3 we were building, has written a book called  ‘Getting Started with RepRap‘ in addition to running workshops and offering 3D printing consulting. Erik De Bruijn’s commercial project, the Ultimaker 3D printer, is one of the most popular domestic 3D printers and was recently rated ‘Most Accurate’, ‘Fastest’, and ‘Best Open Hardware’ in Make Magazine’s in-depth test of 15 3D printers. There’s also a growing ecosystem of parts, electronics and filament supply specialists around the project.

One interesting point in de Bruijn’s paper is that the RepRap community is doubling in size every 6 months (or was, in 2010 – have any further surveys been made?). It made me wonder about the diversity of people getting involved. In his survey de Bruijn looked into demographics based on education, age and background, but one thing you may notice from the workshop video is that all participants were male. I’ve tried to find information on the level of participation by women in RepRap or 3D printing, but haven’t come across much. RepRap is basically at the intersection of two very male-dominated fields, mechanical engineering and free software, so perhaps it’s not surprising that (to an outsider, anyway) there isn’t much visibility of women in the project. Are there many high-profile women in this area? Has there been much discussion of the subject? Got any links to articles?

Open Source Undies brainstorming session

Last Monday we had a little get-together at Open Design City to discuss some of the issues of clothing production & consumption, and work out how open source-influenced methods could improve the clothing and fashion industry.

2 hours, many cups of tea and a plate of cookies later and we had come up with a few interesting ideas, and 2 concepts for how a better-clothed future might look.

Each person was asked to think of and draw, make, or write down a visualization of 1 or 2 core problems in the way the clothing industry works today. We each presented our thoughts to the group and discussed them.

Some perceived problems:

  • Everything / everyone looks the same in many parts of the world (fewer independent clothing producers, more large brands, leading to a loss of personal/local/national identity)
  • There’s a lack of information for the public about processes / manufacture / costs of clothing
  • Clothing can be overpriced due to ‘paying for the brand’ / or it can be underpriced – the costs saved for the consumer are pushed onto the environment, or the people working to produce the clothing.
  • Lack of quality garments at affordable prices
  • Slippage of industry standards – pay less, get lower quality?
  • Materials – problems with environment/climate/waste . High pesticide use in cotton industry, for example.
  • Simplicity in clothing – sometimes no ‘simple’ option is available.

We then asked how ‘open source’ development, systems or ideals could change the industry:

  • Open Shapes – patterns? Freely distributed and available for modification/adaptation
  • Open source scientific development of materials
  • Use of personal fabrication – 3D printers, laser cutters
  • Transparency in production – costs, waste, environmental impact…
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Learning skills that were previously commonplace. Learn to repair, reuse, create and modify.
  • Reducing costs of production? Or maybe improving efficiency? (not in $ per garment, but in number of garments produced.)
  • Allow for individual alterations or personalisation.
  • Clothes swapping and other forms of distribution.
  • One perceived problem with self-manufacture would be the problem of having too much choice… for example, a 60-item restaurant menu is not better than a well thought-out 5-item menu. Some kind of curating of designs would be necessary.

We then split into 2 groups and settled on two core issues we would like to work on, and then brainstormed various solutions, before focusing on one concept to present to the other group. These solutions were not restricted to open source ideas or open hardware. Group 1 fleshed out the workings of an online platform, and Group 2 came up with a physical repair shop and linked online network.

Group 1

 

Group 1’s plan investigated the various aspects of an online platform to share and modify designs, whilst also thinking about other alternative clothing economies: repairing, hiring, and swapping clothing.

OS Undies Group 1 brainstorming.pdf

 

Group 2:

Haute Couture designers play an important role in setting the fashion pace. They don’t entirely dictate people’s tastes but they do determine a lot of what appears in magazines and high street shops. These high street shops and big brands contribute the most to what clothing is seen on the streets, though people can (and do) go their own way and create their own styles.

One problem we particularly focused on was the throwaway nature of fashion and consumerism. With the high rate of change, and the push to own ‘in-season’ garments, clothes are dismissed and discarded within a year of purchase. Due to this rapid cycle, and in order to save money, clothes are not produced to last.

Through our discussions, we drew two conclusions:

  1. People are less willing to throw away clothing that has a story or some kind of personal connection – perhaps it was a gift from a friend, perhaps knitted by grandma, perhaps you designed, made or personalised the piece yourself.
  2. Repairing damaged or worn clothes is often seen as something done by poor people, wearing obviously old or repaired clothing has a negative connotation.

So we decided our aims would be:

  1. Involve people in their garments
  2. Make repair beautiful

Our final concept took two different paths: a physical shop and an online platform.

We envisioned a chic downtown shop in the fashion district – it would have all the elements of a Saville Row tailor, but rather than designing or manufacturing clothes, the focus would be on bespoke, tailored repair. Elegant, creative patching with ornate stitching.

Prices would be high – by repair standards – but you would have the experience of a personalised tailoring service without having to buy a whole suit. Luxury for the economic crisis…

The decision to aim at the high-end market is to try to shake free of some of the negative connotations of repair.

Customers would bring in their damaged garments and discuss the repair with a skilled artesan, they’d pick out fabrics based on colour, texture or weight, decide on a stitching pattern, and create a new identity for their article of clothing.

People love to have stories to tell about their objects – rather than trying to hide the damage, a beautiful patch highlights the life of the garment, makes it a one-of-a-kind, and allows the wearer to tell others about either the wild night when the damage occurred, or the experience of having a high-end repair created for it.

The scourge of the regular casual cyclist. A sub-crotchal blowout destroys an otherwise functional pair of jeans. Not a cool, rock’n’roll place to have a gaping hole.

By sharing the methods, successes and failures of this shop with the online public, it becomes an open franchise, replicable in other cities.

The other part of Group 2’s concept is an online space where you would find tutorials and information about different stitching techniques, and the best ways to patch certain areas or materials. People could share photos and instructions for their patches, post the stories behind the material used, or the rip itself.

In this way the process of repair becomes more valuable, respected and widely circulated, and a long-lasting, personalised garment gains value over something new and mass-produced.

Thank you so much to Annelisa, Brian, Julia, Cathrin, Angel, Sergio, Mei, Judith and Rosa for all the help, good times, great ideas and interesting discussions! We’ll have a practical workshop in a couple of weeks with some people who actually know how to sew. Updates to come!

Some more interesting links to check out in this area:

Robis Seidran Koopmans, (who is using open source 3d programs and techniques in fashion) also gave me this tip: Susan Spencer has been (or had been?) developing almost exactly the hypothetical program I mentioned in my first post. I’ll get in touch with Robis and Susan soon and talk about their experiences.

A group at Cornell has been doing mind-blowing research into stitch meshes.

I don’t know if these are quite right for me, but Open Source shoes are almost a reality at the Barcelona FabLab. Check out their video, and if you like it, you’ve still got 6 days to support their project or order your own open source shoes!

The idea of open-source undies did not inspire my oft-nude friend Robbie to put any clothes on, but it did inspire this lovely cartoon:

Open Source Hulk by Robbie Neilson

You will have noticed that there’s no video this time… ah… technical difficulties… most of the photos in this post are stills from the video we shot at the workshop (thanks for the help, Rosa!) but the post-production side of things has grown complicated. The state of open source non-linear-editing software is a big but necessary hurdle for me to deal with. There has been much exasperation, and plenty of gibberish hurled at the Terminal window.

Can any of the more technically-minded amongst you help me:

a) create the right proxy files from Canon H264 footage for importing into Kdenlive

b) convert Canon H264 footage to an intermediate editing codec for use in Cinelerra (tried various versions of MTS / MKV so far…)

c) stop OpenShot from crashing the moment I try to do anything complicated?

There will be a more in-depth look at my first month with open source software soon. I’d like to have a happy ending to my editing struggles first though…