My little maker heart is full after spending 48 hours at the 5th Annual Midwest RepRap Festival (aka MRRF) In Goshen, Indiana. Yes, over 1,000 people from 18 countries around the world made their way to the 4-H Fairgrounds in a tiny town (where Wal-Mart has horse and buggy parking) to geek out over 3D printers.
Full disclosure, I do work for MatterHackers, and most of my time was spent in our booth (spreading the word about NylonX and the Envision The Future Design Challenge) but I am also a huge 3D printing geek who reads 3DPrint.com religiously. So when I wanted to share a few tidbits about the event I looked to a publication that has kept me informed about the industry I love for years.
My biggest takeaway from #MRRF17 (which I hear was trending on Twitter at #3 for a moment) is that the 3D printing community of makers, manufacturers, retailers, hobbyists, professionals, students, and tinkerers is what started this movement, and what continues to push this technology forward. My first question to those who visited the MatterHackers booth was not, “Are you using 3D printing?” like most tradeshows, but “What are you using your 3D printer for?” Maybe 5% of people replied that they didn’t have a printer yet, or they were still building their first kit. Everyone else lit up at the chance to share what they have been creating and why they love it. While it was a long 48 hours, it was impossible to feel tired with that kind of enthusiastic and positive energy coming from everyone.
I met and spent quality time with people who I watch on YouTube and interact with on Twitter (@3DPGirl), and admired creations by fellow 3DP revolutionaries who will most likely be responsible for the innovation we see in desktop additive manufacturing over the next 5 years. I am here to report that our 3D printing community is amazing, inclusive, fun, respectful, inspiring, and full of big silly love for this technology and how it is changing the world for the better. It was epic.
Now look, I’m not the most technical of 3DP enthusiasts, and there’s NO way I could touch on all of the incredible projects, companies, makerspaces, and technologies in that massive room. But I did take a few notes on the stuff that struck me as particularly rad. While in no way exhaustive in any shape or form, here’s what MRRF was like through my eyes.
MRRF was started in 2013 by Steve “Part Daddy” Wygant and John “Oly” Olafson from SeeMeCNC, which is headquartered in Goshen. It started as a small gathering of hardcore early adopters of the RepRap community. While it’s grown some every year, this year marked a real shift with attendance DOUBLING from 2016. The show is free to attend, and anyone is welcome to grab a table and show their projects at no charge. Companies who want to exhibit are asked to chip in for costs of the show by becoming sponsors at a meager couple of hundred dollars for tables (larger shows charge up to $6000!) MRRF had 38 sponsors this year, including Ultimaker, LulzBot, E3D, MatterHackers, Printedsolid, Google Making & Science, Prusa Research, and more.
YOUTUBE CREATORS AND ONLINE COMMUNITY – IRL
What made MRRF so special is absolutely the community. As you probably know, YouTube has become a fantastic source of 3D printing information, reviews, and project ideas. From what I could tell, the sharp uptick in attendance for MRRF this year was largely attributable to appearances and promotion by popular YouTube creators like Barnacules Nerdgasm, Joel Telling (3D Printing Nerd), Daniel Norée (Open R/C Project and designer of the ubiquitous “Benchy” model), Chuck Hellebuyck (CHEP Filament Friday), and others – including Josef Prusa himself, who is not a YouTuber of course, but a huge personality in the space who came all the way out from the Czech Republic to be with his most passionate users.
Witnessing the power of these personalities and their real life influence first-hand is astonishing. Joel live-streamed from the car on the way to MRRF for 5 minutes (we gave him a ride from the airport) and over 100 people logged in to watch. At the event, I had at least a dozen people recognize me as “the girl in the backseat of Joel’s livestream”, and one person say they were on the fence about attending until they saw Joel on the road and decided to come give him a high-five (his signature greeting). The crowd to meet Barnacles after his talk Saturday evening was 30+ deep, and the fact that he took the time to chat and take selfies with everyone all weekend is a testament to why he has over 850,000 subscribers. There were other YouTube creators present as well, like The JATMN (Dustin – who also moderates the 40,000-plus-member 3D Printing Facebook group), Lauren from Abuzz Designs, and others.
Chuck set up a booth with some of his projects, which incorporate 3D printing and electronics. He told me he was there to connect with his subscribers in person, but also to better gauge the direction they would like him to take with the videos on his channel. Online, people comment that they would like to see more electronics in his videos, but Chuck wanted to see body language and facial expressions when indicating interest rather than relying on comments on a screen.
ANCIENT ANTHROPOLOGY SPECIMENS
Last year I did a phone interview with Darryl R. Ricketts, M.S., Adjunct Anthropology Instructor at Indiana University South Bend. I was thrilled to see his work fist-hand at MRRF, as were many others judging by the consistent crowd around his table.
Ricketts is translating 3D scans of an ancient skull and jaw artifacts into .stl files that his students can 3D print in the classroom for more hands-on learning. He also prints fetal reproductions of CT scans and sells them on Etsy. Research has shown that tactile models in the classroom increase retention significantly, so this is a brilliant use of the technology.
3D PRINTED GRANDFATHER CLOCK
Jason Preuss used his woodworking background to scan patterns and create files to 3D print and assemble a grandfather clock that looks like it was lovingly carved by hand. The fact that incredible skill and craftsmanship goes into his work is undeniable, but the brilliance of using 3D printing here is that it’s infinitely repeatable without much additional effort by the artist. It would take weeks to make another one using traditional methods, but with 3D printing, once the file is done it can be printed, assembled, and painted in days. He is also creating color prints using an innovative layering technique where he designs each layer by color, and pauses the print between layers to change filament to the appropriate hue. The results are gorgeous.
FILAMENT TESTING PRESENTATION
Daniel Blood, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Valparaiso University, presented riveting in-progress filament research. His students have run thousands of tests on ABS, PLA, PETG, Nylon, and NylonX for strength, rigidity, and even how temperature and extrusion speed affects the heat transfer rate on different nozzle diameters and materials. The full report will be published on MatterHackers.com in the next few weeks.
Other popular projects included SeeMeCNC’s 3D printed guitar and violin (which were played by musicians of varying talents all weekend) and Jim Carter’s 3D printed GM LS3 6.2L engine model (Thingiverse #191180 by ericthepoolboy) -which took 254 hours to print, build, and make move like a real engine.
The 3D printing community is definitely going strong, and if 1000 enthusiasts are willing to gather in “the middle of nowhere, Indiana” (SeeMeCNC’s words – not mine) there is no telling what this passionate group of makers will do next.[All photos: Mara Hitner]