It’s funny, as I travel to various technology conferences and shows, ranking up there with “Why would anyone want a 3D printer?” is a question I find myself being asked way too often,”When will we be able to 3D print a 3D printer?” The funny thing is that nearly everyone who asks that question is doing so in a sarcastic, smart ass way. I usually laugh and tell them in a nonchalant manner that they already can. The Reprap movement continues to build on this idea, and in the process has put affordable 3D printing into thousands of individual hands.
It’s not only 3D printers people are printing, however. In fact, an electrical engineering student from LeTourneau University, named Tyler Alford, has taken 3D printing to a whole new level. Alford, who currently works in an university lab building and maintaining 3D Printers, has already printed and constructed a RepRapPro Huxley, a Rostock Mini Pro, and a homebrew cartesian similar to the Taz 4. Boredom has led him to think outside the box, as he explains to 3DPrint.com:
Instead of 3D printing another 3D printer, a technology he obviously already had more than enough access to, Alford decided that he needed a laser engraver. Rather than running out to a store, or searching online to buy one, he decided that he’d try and 3D print one. Yes, 3D print a Laser Engraver!
As he began researching ways in which he could 3D print and assemble such a machine, he stumbled upon one very interesting Instructables project.
“I already [had] many of the parts, so I decided to try it. I decided to 3d print the frame, so I pulled out a couple of DVD carriages, took some measurements and went to work in SolidWorks”, Alford told 3DPrint.com. “After a couple iterations, I ended up with the design you see here.”
The engraver’s frame was printed on a modified Rostock Mini Pro from 3DPrinterCzar. Alford told us that he had initially started off printing it with ABS, however, he found that it warped too much. Because of this he turned to MatterHackers’ PLA Pro material, which worked out much better. The entire frame took just 6 hours to print.
Now it was time to turn his attention to the components. Alford wanted to keep things as simple and affordable as possible. The design he used relies on two axes, one which is responsible for holding the laser, and the other to hold the plate. The brain behind the machine is an Arduino UNO, and he was able to pick up two EasyDrivers and a Laser housing on Ebay for a total of just $10. Since the laser, which he pulled out of an old DVD drive, draws more power than the Arduino UNO can supply, he was forced to put it on its own isolated circuit, an LM317 based circuit.
“In the end the entire project only ended up costing me about $15.00 as I already had the Arduino and DVD drives, and I pulled the laser diode from one of the DVD drives,” explained Alford.
For those of you without any of the supplies mentioned, they can all be purchased for close to $50, making this not only one of the coolest laser engravers I have ever seen, but perhaps one of the most affordable as well. Alford has put his design on Thingiverse for those interested in trying their hand at this project. If you do, please fee free to post your experience and a few images or videos in the 3D Printed Laser Engraver forum thread on 3DPB.com.