The smell of plastic and ideas hung in the air…

This past Saturday I went to a meetup of 3D printer owners, users, enthusiasts, and folks who are just plain interested in the topic. The event was put on by Make:Seattle/Eastside and took place at the awesome StudentRND facilities. The meetup was a special one because it brought together a varied range of 3D printers so that people could get a first-hand, up-close look at different makes and models, learn about pros/cons of each, and share in a wealth of experiences. And to see the Rostock delta robot printer. πŸ˜‰

In this day of being social by sitting at home and getting online, it’s still nice to be able to talk to folks in-person, to be able to do filament swaps, or just hold something in one’s hands to understand it better. So when I saw that there was going to be a meetup, and they were focusing on 3D printers, I had to make sure I cleared my calendar and attended.

3D printer meetup attendees

Meetup attendees viewing a presentation on DIY 3D printing.

The turnout was great, IMO, for a weekend meetup, having 30+ people with 6-7 of them being young kids. While in a few cases the parents were the ones there to see the 3D printers, the kids couldn’t resist playing with the cool toys and bracelets and things that were printing and on display. There was a presentation given on DIY 3D printers — a basic introduction to the concept, how they operate, resources available to learn more, and so on. It was a great introduction for folks new to the 3D printing world.

Some 3D printersThere were dozen or so 3D printers including Ultimakers, Mendel Maxs, Replicators, Thing-o-Matics, Cupcakes, Rostock, and one made out of scrap wood (more on this later). And, to my surprise, besides Johann who created the Rostock, there were several other 3D printing “celebrities” there — Emmett, the creator of the famous Heart Gears and various permutations, and a woman who I knew of because her horror story postings on the Ultimaker forums were memorable and what helped me avoid buying one ;-). It’s really cool to know that these folks are local; there is a wealth of knowledge just outside my door and they are all into meeting up and sharing. Excellent!

scrap wood 3D printerI mentioned that there was one 3D printer that was made from scrap wood. When the gentleman brought it in (sadly, I forget his name… Adam, Andy… Bowers, Bowden… I really need to carry a notebook), folks had a “what is that?!” moment, but also were immediately drawn to it and started asking questions. Basically, it was a couple of long slats of wood with some smaller pieces glued together to hold the motors, some metal tubes to let filament through, and two telescoping arms that held the printhead at the end. The DIY-ness was apparent, with large chunks chiseled out, a mass of electronics screwed onto one of the slats, and pieces of tape here and there, but the ingenuity outweighed any lack of woodworking craftsmanship. πŸ™‚

In speaking to the gentleman about his design, he explained that several years ago he was working with automated testing machines for cell phones — ones that would repeatedly move here or there and press buttons on devices — and that he was personally interested in the then infancy-stages of DIY 3D printing, and thought “I wonder if I can put a printhead on the end of one of these testing machines”. Genius!

He assembled his first version from some servos and “bits and pieces of wood and electronics laying around his garage” (I’d love to see his garage!). He said it didn’t quite work right, and eventually bought some stepper motors and other gear to make a version that did work. He got to the point of extruding and moving the arms, but had some heating issues and never got final calibration. He figured that since we hadn’t worked on it for a couple of years, he’d release the design into the wild as open source. Let’s hope we see it on Thingiverse πŸ™‚

We had a really good, though short, chat about being inspired by things around us and using that inspiration to make something new. I think this is a powerful concept, one that I go on about all the time, and one that is really important for the young folks growing up with this amazing technology. Don’t just think the things on Thingiverse are the only things out there — imagine, design, and 3D print your own!

What was fun about this 3D printer was looking at it with the Rostock in the background: you could see a sort-of family resemblance — both assembled with pieces of wood and zip-ties, both very tall, both had a radical design unlike anything else around, and both the physical manifestation of someone’s imagination. In a sea of Makerbots and Mendels, these seemed so futuristic, so sci-fi.

Johann and his Rostock 3D printerThe Rostock printer that Johann designed and brought to the meetup was of course a hit; it was the first thing you saw when you walked in (that, and the crowd standing around it). It’s always hard to get a feel for scale when you see things only online, and this was no different — it wasn’t as big width-wise and depth-wise as I thought, but it was taller than I imagined. It was quiet and fast. Johann used the command-line to drive it, so no fancy GUI tools yet πŸ™‚

Johann was very gracious in answering any question that folks threw at him, and really making his vision accessible to all levels of user. I shot some video of the machine in action, along with Johann answering some questions about the way it works.

By the time I needed to leave, I hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to many folks. I’m looking forward to future Make:Seattle/Eastside meetups, especially if they get one started strictly around 3D printing. (They handed out survey forms to see if this was a good idea, and I hope the results were positive).

If you see a 3D printing meetup in your area, GO! You never know what you’ll see and who you’ll meet.

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