Rapid Prototyping 3D Printers: RepRap and Co

What a coincidence. A few days ago I was musing how awesome it would be if 3D printers would be as readily available as normal printers and everyone could start printing own stuff.

Then I read some totally unrelated blog post which had a cross-reference to some build-it-yourself site which in turn had a cross-reference to a print-it-yourself blog which mentioned the RepRap project.

RepRap is intended to be a Replicating Rapid Prototyping System. The goal of this project is to have a 3D printer that is able to replicate itself by producing its own parts and have humans assemble it. This currently doesn’t fully work, but the new RepRap Version Mendel (successor of the first version called Darwin) is able to print approximately 60% of its parts.

A printer that can replicate itself may be cool. But RepRap is cooler than that because it also allows you make things apart from itself. You can create a 3D model in your favorite modeling tool (if any) and have it print it. You can even download stuff from websites like Thingiverse and print it. Just download a coat hook and print it. Isn’t this awesome?

As far as I know, there are three main ways to get the parts for building a RepRap:

  1. The way that is the spirit of the project: Get someone to print all the printable parts for you, buy the rest and build it
  2. Since getting someone to print the parts for you currently is the hardest part (how many of your friends own a RepRap?), the second most reprappy way is to build a RepSTrap machine. It is a RepRap bootstrapper, a simplified 3D printer to help you print the parts for a real RepRap. Then continue as described in option 1
  3. Since option 2 is probably only for people who get bored easily (kidding), buying a RepRap kit is another option.

The whole “where the hell do I get the parts from” question is detailed here, along with a lot of answers.

There is a variant of option 3 which is worth being mentioned because it is an outstanding project itself. It’s called Makerbot. It is probably the easiest to assemble and is also constantly improved. They also started an interesting test for crowdsourced production. Makerbot has a smaller printing area (10 cm x 10 cm) than Mendel (20 cm x 20 cm) but I believe that Makerbot could be used to print Mendel’s parts. Someone also mentioned that printing large things gets difficult quickly, so Makerbot sounds like a really good time-money-flexibility trade-off to get into this 3d printing business.

Still, I hope that there will be kits for Mendel just like they exist for Darwin today. The whole idea seems to be really exciting. Anyone else feeling alike?

Windows Recovery CD – Never Leave Home without One

Yesterday I felt the strong desire to have a bootable Windows Recovery CD. There was a nagging feeling for the past years that I better had one, but another nagging feeling told me that it would probably take around 4 hours to make one. Until yesterday, the second nagging feeling always took precedence over the first one.

This suddenly changed when my computer went for a quick reboot and never came back. As far as I am concerned, this was without any reason since we did not have an argument previously. So I was caught by surprise and needed to get my files from my HDD before attempting any repair using disk images.

First, I tried Reatogo (German Domain) but it complained that I was trying to build a bootable XP CD from a Windows7 environment. This was when my second nagging feeling told me “See?”.

UBCD4Win to the rescue! Like Reatogo, it is also utilizing BartPE and states to make it very easy to build a CD.

Which it was. But when I saw the huge download (200+ Mbyte) I heard the “See?” again. Downloading and installing took some time because the installer calculated checksums to verify every file after installation. But essentially, it boils down to:

  1. Download UBCD4Win
  2. While waiting for the download, copy the contents of your Win XP CD (that’s right, also the hidden and system files) to a directory of your choice WITHOUT blanks in it
  3. Install UBCD4Win, again into a path WITHOUT blanks in it
  4. Let the installer verify all the files when it asks you to
  5. Run UBCD4Win and point the first browser dialog to your copied XP files
  6. Optionally tweak the plugins to get latest virus databases and install Firefox as your browser of choice
  7. Run it

Things I’ve learned:

  • Creating a bootable CD is not that hard thanks to the guys who put a lot of work into making it easy. Much appreciate.
  • Once you have all the prerequisites (a tool like UBCD4Win, your XP CD) most of the work is waiting, actually.
  • UBCD4Win can talk to external USB drives, provided you plug them in prior to booting.
  • UBCD4Win only talks about Win XP SP1 and SP2, but it worked perfectly with SP3 as well.