Approximately four hours west of my base in Cleveland, a straight shot down Interstate 90, is the town of Goshen, Indiana. It’s a small, quiet town, one I knew nothing about when I arrived there on Friday evening. It may not be New York City, but for one weekend every year, it’s the center of the universe for a large part of the 3D printing community. It’s the home of Midwest RepRap Festival (MRRF), the biggest gathering of the RepRap community in the world.
As soon as we stepped through the doors at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds, the energy was obvious – and so was the level of knowledge and talent among the exhibitors busily setting up their hardware. A walk around the large room showed 3D printers both large and tiny; I almost missed the biggest, a ceiling-height delta machine from SeeMeCNC that almost looked to be part of the room’s architecture.
A lot of MRRF is about hacking. People show up to show off what they’ve created and what they’re working on, and much of what they’re working on involves the 3D printers themselves. One of the most impressive things I saw was brought by a young man who hacked a binder jet 3D printer to print with glitter. Regular, loose craft store glitter. Glitter is just aluminum-plated PET, he told me, showing off an assortment of glittering red skulls and tiny benchies. The prints crumble easily if touched, so he preserves them in resin. The 3D printer was entrancing to watch, with its shimmering print bed.
Others displayed 3D prints that showed off the capabilities of their hardware, as well as their own ingenuity and talent. One man had a 3D printed sphere filled with water; he simply poured water into it halfway through the print and then let it finish. Another exhibitor displayed a massive dragon six years in the making. There were a few dragons in attendance; Spectra3D‘s booth featured a huge 3D printed dragon’s head that actually smoked at the nostrils. The dragon’s name is Todd.
Jason Preuss, whose 3D printed dome clock caught quite a bit of attention a few years ago, was back with an even larger clock that dwarfed many of the attendees walking past it. IC3D drew many people to its booth with a large vacuum forming mold – not to mention a life-size stormtrooper helmet. gCreate showed off its large format gMax 3D printer as well as several of its creations, including a flexible airless tire and a sheet of 3D printed chainmail.
Materials were prominently on display, too. It’s amazing to see how far multicolor 3D printing has come in a relatively short period of time. Multicolor 3D prints were everywhere, including some unique approaches to multicolor 3D printing. Filablend was there with its tricolored filament – it’s essentially three different colors smashed together into one strand, resulting in prints with a beautiful variegated look. The company had a lot of fans at the convention; everywhere I looked, exhibitors were churning out prints with Filablend’s distinctive blended appearance.
I’ve attended a few trade shows and conferences, but MRRF was, I think, my personal favorite. It wasn’t just the sense of community, which I’ll talk more about later, it was the level of talent and creativity coming from the individuals and small companies that made up the exhibitors. This is where so much of 3D printing began – with the hackers who experiment just because they can, and end up adding something of great value to the 3D printing ecosystem.
In short, if you’ve never been to MRRF, you should remedy that. The show will be back next year, but before then, you can always check out East Coast RepRap Festival, taking place in Maryland this June. It may not be as large, being a first-time event, but if it’s anything like MRRF, that will probably change quickly.
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