The industrial additive manufacturing (AM) boom has taken off, but desktop 3D printing was, in some ways, left in the dust when consumer AM was dumped or neglected by many of the big brands. Those manufacturers that stayed in the game, like Ultimaker and MakerBot, refocused toward the educational and professional segments. As a result, we’ve seen increasing numbers of large companies adopt their machines for making jigs and fixtures for their production operations.
Meanwhile, open-source 3D printers aren’t flourishing at the same rate as they did circa 2012 to 2014. Prusa seems to be the dominant name in that space, but where are all of the enterprising makers working to make 3D printing as useful, accessible, and affordable as possible? Joe Sinclair, founder of Verde Mantis, believes we may be witnessing the inklings of a second renaissance in the open-source 3D printing space. And he hopes his company will be an important player.
By partnering with the Spaghetti Detective (TSD), Mantis has introduced a new level of quality control not before seen in open-source 3D printing. The $999 Mantis 3D printer, which already comes with a built-in camera and Raspberry Pi, will now feature TSD software pre-installed. This means that users can instantly begin relying on TSD’s machine learning algorithms to catch when the printer begins putting out plastic spaghetti.
As discussed on a recent episode of the 3DPOD, TSD runs continuously on a computer server and uses a printer’s webcam to monitor the printing process. If it detects a print failure, it automatically pauses the machine and sends the user an alert over text or email. Users can then cancel the print altogether or make some adjustments and continue their work. The plastic spaghetti generated from failed prints that continue uninterrupted can not only waste material but can also damage the printer or result in a fire hazard.
The software is free for users with just one printer or who don’t print often, making it possible for them to monitor their machine. Those with more systems can pay to monitor more machines: $4 for one printer that prints frequently and $2 for each additional system up to five. Specialty rates are available for printshops with print farms of more than five printers. While paid accounts can access frame rates of 25 per second for 50 hours of monitoring monthly, the free account can only monitor 10 hours of printing at a rate of 10 frames per second.
Joe Sinclair explained that the vision of Verde Mantis gelled with that of TSD. His firm focuses on building 3D printers that are as easy to use as possible and hopes to continue down that path by implementing greater automation.
“We created a software that comes with our printers, where all a user has to do is upload an STL and the Raspberry Pi automatically repairs, orients, and places the STL on the build platform and automatically slices it. It loads the machine code and sends it to OctoPrint. In the background, the printer heats up and levels automatically, using an inductive probe to measure nine points on the bed. So that way, users don’t have to perform the old-school, paper tests to get the bed level,” Sinclair said.
“We tried to eliminate as much of the learning curve as possible, but, as you know, that’s not the easiest thing in the world to accomplish with 3D printers, with so many variables at work,” he continued. “When speaking with Kenneth [Jiang, founder of TSD], his vision of how to make it so that 3D printers are as smart as possible in terms of error detection paralleled our vision of how to remove the barriers to 3D printing to make the widest audience possible. Those visions very much aligned. I think there’s going to be a lot of future collaboration with them to that end.”
This means that, if TSD is able to incorporate some sort of closed-loop control into its software, Mantis 3D printers could be among the first to implement that technology. In the meantime, Mantis systems appear to be some of the easiest to use right out of the box. And Sinclair’s goal is to make the company as open source as possible.
He explained that not everything is open at the moment because the company wants to improve the firm’s software before releasing it to the public. However, all of the hardware can be purchased off-the-shelf. Users can also modify the system, modify the slicer or OctoPrint settings, as well.
Though desktop technology is the type that will be most widely adopted by consumers, it’s important not to forget the printer farms that could be established for batch production. Executive Editor Joris Peels continues pointing to the low overhead of setting up a print farm and, with the automation being introduced by TSD and Verde Mantis, these firms would have a leg up in terms of quality control and throughput. It would be interesting to see these two businesses look into ideas from Voodoo Manufacturing, Authentise, and AMPC Solutions to see how such concepts as networking printers, tracking machines, and more can be used in a low-cost and open source manner.
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