People have built 3D printers out of some pretty surprising things, like Legos and K’nex, for example. I never would have thought to do what Tropical Labs did, however. The Washington, D.C.-based electromechanical systems lab specializes in custom electronics, which we first saw last summer when the company introduced the Mechaduino, an open-source, low-cost, Arduino-compatible industrial servo motor, through a successful Kickstarter campaign. Around that same time, Tropical Labs was also augmenting their production capabilities by building a delta-style 3D printer out of a coffee maker, of all things.
The company documented their creative and thrifty idea on Hackaday, where the Mechaduino originally made its debut.
“There are many DIY 3D printer designs available on the internet,” the company explains. “While there are dozens of designs out there, almost all of them require precision rails/bearings. Most printers require two precision rails and at least three linear bearings per axis, for a total of 6 rails and 9-12 bearings. Even so called ‘delta’ printers tend to actually be linear-delta machines, requiring just as many rails/bearings. It’s these precision components that really drive the trade between price and precision in a DIY printer.”
Tropical Labs entirely circumvented the need for linear rails and bearings by using a Clavel positioning system – the original delta robot design. Three stepper motors move the extruder in a delta configuration using nothing but rotational motion and simple links. The print bed, meanwhile, is already built-in in the form of the coffee maker’s hot plate. To build the printer, Tropical Labs needed only 11 components:
- Coffee maker, obviously – Tropical Labs used an old Norelco 12 model they found at a thrift shop, but any coffee maker with a hot plate should work
- Arduino Mega 2560
- RAMPS 1.4
- A4988 Stepper Motor Driver Carrier
- Nema 17 stepper motors (Tropical Labs used 0.9 degree)
- Home switches, optical or otherwise
- 3D printer hot end/extruder – again, any kind will do; Tropical Labs snagged theirs on eBay
- 12V power supply
- Solid state relay – Fotek SSR-40 or similar
- Ball joints
- 4-40 threaded rod
The company is still in the process of adding full instructions to Hackaday and to their website, but according to Tropical Labs’ Joe Church, the print bed temperature is regulated by the solid state relay that controls the power. The stepper motors control the delta mechanism, and best of all, the completed machine is multifunctional.
“The coffee maker itself did not need to be modified, so you can actually slide the delta assembly off and make a pot of coffee!” Church says in a Hackaday comment.
“We’ve also built a second, larger delta printer where the steppers are geared down 5:1 with GT2 timing belts,” he adds. “Next up, we will be building a closed-loop version featuring our Mechaduino stepper based servo motors!”
No word on whether Tropical Labs will be marketing their coffee maker printer at any point, through Kickstarter or otherwise, but the design will remain fully open source (“Please steal our idea!” the company says on their website). In terms of firmware, they used a modified version of FirePick Delta version Marlin. Keep an eye out for additional details and instructions on their website and on Hackaday.
Tropical Labs also created a 3D printer out of a picture frame; this is a truly creative and fun company that clearly knows its printer mechanics. As you can see below, the coffee maker 3D printer prints quite well.