The RepRap project was one of the reasons Making has become such a popular pursuit today. It is definitely the reason why 3D printing took off. It’s where Makerbot and Ultimaker first started.
There is a good reason for the phenomenal growth of desktop 3D printing. It began with the most experienced RepRap community members. Almost all of them turned around and helped the less experienced members to progress with the hobby. This free education in new techniques was very popular and a huge growth driver. More and more educators arrived to teach larger and larger waves of adoption.
But as desktop 3D printing proliferated, it forgot how important that user education was. Rather than RepRap.org making 3D printing easier to get into, 3D printing companies started making it cheaper to get into instead. The common cause of learning through doing and sharing was lost.
Desktop manufacture is still an immature technology. If we reclaim that original principle, then there is a way to progress beyond 3D printed trinkets, into 3D printed food, clothing, tools and electronics. And all with the one modular platform. It’s going to be a long project, and new user education is at the centre of it.
There are several reasons a 3D printing start-up like 3Distributed would choose Patreon as a source of funding over traditional capital investment. First of all, our skill-set is hardware, prototyping and 3D printing. Creating functional stuff is what we're good at, while business strategy is very important, it is another skill entirely. Time is limited, so let's focus it.
Second, it’s a very direct way to finding interested users who can validate, critique and refine the project and the ideas behind it. Compare that with cold calling secondary school teachers and bidding for their precious time. Which one is the more intelligent way forward? Teachers will catch up with us when they are ready.
Third, open source hardware is a red flag to investors. There is no intellectual property that can be sold. That diminishes the expectations of a return significantly. The open source hardware status is one of the RepRap Intro’s long term strengths. It will keep the platform from becoming obsolete and undifferentiated. There’s no reason to trade it in for short term gains.
Having said that, the whole point of this project has always been to put a highly curated 3D printing experience in a box, on a table, in front of a student. That way they are most likely to enjoy 3D printing and stick with it. The way 3Distributed start to ship 3D printer kits will resolve itself in time. It might grow organically, or it might need some help. Perhaps it will require Kickstarter, Crowdcube or a suitably motivated investor.
Typically, open source hardware is shared casually. It then improves organically. And sometimes without a clear direction. To us, sharing incomplete or non-functioning work has always felt like a cop-out. It's a bit like saying 'here, it's your responsibility to figure things out now'. So what you save in money you spend in time, figuring things out. There is a greater level of professionalism required if one is to take a product to market and please real customers.
Another common problem with open source hardware development is the technically minded author who can’t see their work from a layperson’s perspective. Someone who doesn’t understand their product’s user is not much good.
So the RepRap Intro has been closed source during development. During that time we attempted to finalise a working version and finalise the corresponding assembly instructions This means it is as usable as possible after publication. Development work won't stop then. The latest 3D printer prototypes work nicely, but the instructions need another draft. Stay tuned.
Recently a customer asked us a really good question: "I'm looking for a 3D printer that has a better performance than my current machine. I want it for printing scale model scenery. How variable is the 3D printed output from a RepRap Intro kit, if it is built by a beginner, compared with the output from one built by a professional?" - Andrew, Swindon
We've edited our reply to suit a wider audience:
Thank you for your email, this is a really great question. The print quality of a RepRap Kit does indeed rely on your attention to detail during assembly and operation. This is the same for all machines - those made in factories or at home. The more decisions you offer to the operator, the more they must understand and control in order to make their machine perform well.
What we did, when designing the RepRap Intro, was bring the 'attention-to-detail' requirement down as low as humanly possible. We did this with some simplifications, and by teaching you best practice as you build the printer in several intuitive ways,.
First of all, as you probably noticed, the assembly instructions are presented as removable infographics right on the 3D printer frame panels themselves. This is much more intuitive than referring to small print in a separate technical manual. The kit also comes neatly laid out in helpful component trays. Everything you need is available, step by step, right when you need it. We've even compiled an optional assembly audiobook, to explain additional details about each component as you build them. 'How tight should the belt be?' 'what am i listening for as i move carriages around?'. Finally we've also protected the electronics and greatly simplified them too. There are only six cables to plug in. All the cables are over specification and well shielded from RF interference. The plugs are a well tested rugged design, which will last for thousands of cycles. It's just as well, because we want you to enjoy your first assembly experience so much that you do it all over again. And again. And again, with the upgrades and accessories that are available now, or in the pipeline.
The result of all this design work is to ensure the machine you build, is built as soundly as the machine built by one of our very own 'botshop gnomes'. It also kickstarts your 3D printing knowledge base
, giving you the know how to handle the little hiccups as they happen. All that translates into 3D printed parts that look as good as they can do, regardless of your skill set. If you'd like to take another look at our RepRap Intro 3D printer Assembly project,
image credits: craine.im [ please also take our survey
So we've just launched our pre-order for a simple and engaging new take on the self-replicating 3D printer kit. This project is our first step towards reinventing the studies of design and of engineering.
Every year the UK workforce faces a shortfall of over 81,000 people with engineering skills. To meet the shortage would mean doubling the number of entrants into engineering courses across all levels of qualification. The engineers at 3Distributed have taken up that challenge. Traditionally the study of engineering has been a largely abstract, theory based exercise. The RepRap Intro Assembly Project turns dry, academic study into a creative, practical and personal exploration. Exploration is done with physical, functional, 3D-printable prototypes. Many are upgrades for the original 3D machine. Testing these parts generates feedback that students don’t get from discussing ideas alone. The student learns from their mistakes and improves upon their assumptions. 3Distributed believe this learn-by-doing exploration results in better learning outcomes for a student. It demonstrates the relevance of engineering on their terms, rather than as preparation for an end-of-year test.
So what’s so special about this kit?
No more boring user manuals, just learn by doing! Step-by-step assembly info-graphics, printed directly onto the 3D printer frame itself, guaranteed to engage all aptitudes.
Active development on a long tail of upgrades and accessories! Avoid obsolescence with a 3D printer that can stay current to desktop 3D printing technology.
Greatly simplified electronics, only 6 wires to plug in! Keeping it very simple so first experiences are much less frustrating and much more positive.
Colourful customisable LED bling! Bringing 3D printer operation alive with an informative, entertaining display.
"No one debates 3D printers are a revolution, on course to redefine how we live. General purpose creators will eventually become as ubiquitous as general purpose computers are today. What we at 3Distributed are interested in though, is the simple desktop 3D machine. This is for two reasons. One, It’s all a designer needs to begin testing their ideas quickly, in a practical context. For example: design-for-construction or design-for-manufacture. Two, it is a vehicle for almost all the major engineering disciplines. (Structural, Mechanical, Electrical, Systems, Software and Materials science) So we are building the platform that capitalises on those two educational merits. Over the longer term we see it delivering real multipliers for how students learn, for how 3D printing technology matures, and for the Creative Commons as a whole.”
- Neil Gordon CTO@3Distributed
During the design and development of the RepRap Intro, we used 3D printed components for testing our ideas as prototypes. The final kit ships with 3D printed plastic parts too. We chose to do it this way for several reasons:
- It's a great way for novice users to build up a picture of what desktop 3D printing is capable of. The mechanical components fulfil functions and have a complexity that you don’t find in the commonly printed statues and trinkets. Using 3D printed components in a functional context will help inform or inspire you when you start to design ideas of your own.
- Along with the RepRap Intro Boxset, you get a copy of the kit in digital form as 3D models. You can import these models into a 3D editor, modify them and then print them out on your RepRap machine. You can then install your newly printed components and test them out personally. In this way the 3D printer becomes a great tool for upgrading itself. Perhaps with modifications you've made, or with modifications made by us, or by others.
- As a new hardware startup, we have to be clever and efficient where we can be. 3D printing has opened up real savings of time and money in the product development cycle. New ideas go from meeting room sketches to working machinery in a matter of hours. So we can begin testing and learn what works by planning and doing, immediately, rather than waiting for a manufacturing contractor.
- We also want to be able to improve our existing products just as soon as we can, directly following customer feedback. In-house 3D printers allow us a flexible, just in time approach to manufacture. So we will take advantage of this, to offer bespoke hardware – as a service – with well tested designs, on demand when you want it. Think Dell.com for desktop 3D hardware.
Clearly, In-house rapid-prototyping already makes sense from the perspectives of designers, learners, makers and small scale manufacture. And it's looking likely that it's how things will be done in the future. So please join us, on our first step, as we help each other learn and collaborate.
If you’ve visited the RepRap Intro product page already, you’ve seen the list of upgrades and expansions we already have in the pipeline. There is more information available on the RepRap.org wiki, on the RepRap Intro machine improvements page here. So please join us in this product launch beta, as we re-imagine the potential of machines that make. Or if you’d simply like to be kept up to date on RepRap Intro development, please sign up for our newsletter.
The 3Distributed team
There are many issues to overcome as we scale this business, but one that I was NOT expecting was 3D printed PLA parts melting in transit to customers. Below is an image of a gear that melted in the post on the way to Australia. For those concerned - a replacement will be in the post end of today.
My first thought was we must have printed it wrong and it warped during the print, but when this happens the top layer remains at the correct height, and the layer below appear squished. Here you can see that the whole side of the gear has been bent.
Anyone else seen this issue?
To be clear, we are responsible for the items until it is delivered in the post. If any parts are bent or broken on arrival we will send replacements free of charge.
I am proud to announce that we now have a large range of filament materials available exclusively through our website. Please check out our filament section!
Premium filaments (less warp):
Nylon (we have always stocked Taulman Nylon, but we now also stock a new blend)
If you are interested in testing our new materials please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to become a materials tester.
Many of you have been asking for soluble support material (e.g. PVA) - this is coming but is difficult to manufacture correctly so we are still testing.
Due to high number of requests we have now added listings for both Printrbot and Rostock plastic parts.
A few of you have been asking about nylon 1.75mm - unfortunately we have been out of stock for over a week now and this is entirely my own fault. We have another batch arriving through customs as we speak so I expect to be in stock again by the end of next week.