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3D Printed Mannequins, R2-D2s, Guitars, Drag Racers, & More at MRRF 2023

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I’ve heard about it for years, but this summer, the stars finally aligned and I was able to attend a much-lauded 3D printing event in Goshen, Indiana: the annual Midwest RepRap Festival, or MRRF, pronounced Murf. It is the world’s largest gathering of 3D printing enthusiasts and makers, all packed into one huge building on Elkhart County’s 4-H Fairgrounds. It was refreshing to be in a room filled with people who were just making, showing, and sometimes selling, really cool stuff, and LOVING it. It was about as far from the big corporate trade shows as you can possibly get, and I was all in. There’s no cost to attend, and no need to register, unless you’re a sponsor or exhibitor. As we were neither, my friend and I walked right in, wrote our names on badges with colorful Sharpie markers, and surveyed the scene.

Hobbyists and Professionals

I immediately ran into Frank Howard, Sr. Automation/Application Engineer at AddUp Inc., who summed MRRF up perfectly: there are “mostly hobbyists, but a smattering of pros” in attendance. For instance, event host LulzBot had a booth, as did Polymaker and MRRF sponsors Creality and Prusa Research.

Howard had been before, so I asked him the best way to tackle the room. He said to start on the outer edges and work our way in, so we started doing just that.

Cocoa Press

The first booth we stopped at was Cocoa Press, which recently announced that its chocolate 3D printer is available for pre-order, with the DIY kits shipping this fall and the printers themselves shipping sometime in 2024.

The Cocoa Press has capacity for 70g of chocolate per cartridge, a 0.8 mm nozzle for precise extrusion, Marlin firmware for advanced control, a dual heating system, and a 140 x 150 x 150 mm build volume. While 3D printing chocolate may sound messy, the printer is easy to clean, with chocolate only touching four parts, each of which is easily removed for washing in the sink.

I was told at the booth that the printer, which has a total footprint of 365 x 315 x 700 mm, can print both milk and dark chocolate. The beta version was set up at MRRF 2023, and I also learned that some of the beta testers would be receiving their printers at the event. It’s only $100 to reserve the DIY kit, with the full cost coming in at $1,499. The professional package starts at $3,995, and reservations will open early next year.

Elleon Engineering

We got distracted by, and ended up following, an amazing 3D printed version of the Star Wars Sandcrawler, the giant transport vehicles used by Jawas in the deserts of Tatooine. It was rolling slowly up and down the aisles, and ended up back at the booth of Elleon Engineering, a small engineering firm specializing in web applications, embedded systems, AWS & Azure Cloud Services, and more, including 3D design and 3D printing.

Elleon had created the incredibly detailed Sandcrawler, which even came with Jawas and other Star Wars characters that had been made to scale!

That wasn’t the only thing Elleon was showcasing at its booth—owner and founder Chris Bennett showed us a fully 3D printed mannequin, modeled after South African rapper Yolandi Visser. She’s a member of the rap-rave group Die Antwoord, which is part of the South African counterculture movement known as zef.

The mannequin was printed using FDM technology, and Bennett said they’re going to change her wardrobe for MRRF 2024, so people understand at a glance exactly what she is.

“We’re going to get a shirt for her next year that says, ‘I’m 3D printed,’ because nobody gets that she’s printed,” he said. “Somebody actually thought we were selling sports clothes!”

Bennett very kindly took the mannequin’s head off so I could see “the size of that support material,” and explained that it also took a lot of sanding and priming to get the mannequin’s final look perfect.

3D Printed R2-D2

As you may have realized, I’m a big Star Wars fan. So when we saw a fully 3D printed R2-D2 at another booth, we had to stop and take a look.

The fan favorite robot was created by Michael Baddeley, who recreates screen-accurate props, models, masks, and robots, along with all of the necessary supporting functioning mechanics and electronics, as you can see above. He operated R2 with a gaming controller, and the robot made all the classic sounds from the movies, even playing part of the famous Cantina song.

Baddeley used three different CR-10 platforms from Creality to print the parts—the CR-10, CR-10 S2, and CR-10 S5—and approximately 30 rolls of filament. While most load-bearing parts were printed using ABS, all the non-load-bearing parts were made with PLA+, and TPU was used to print the tires and omni rollers. He was also quick to point out that “mistakes were made” during the build, showing pictures of some larger, multi-day print jobs that either failed or were not up to snuff. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again!

DigitalDragon72

I’m also a big fan of Edgar Allan Poe, so I had to check out this cool 3D printed raven on a branch. This was at the booth for DigitalDragon72, aka Luke Ingerman, a self-described tinkerer who enjoys maker activities like 3D printing, CNC, cross stitch, and gardening.

He has over 13 different 3D printers, including the Prusa MK3S, and told me that the raven had been printed with a 10% infill on a Bambu Lab P1P, which was busily printing a koozie at the other end of the table.

I learned the names of some of the 3D designers DigitalDragon72 supports through membership programs, including Clockspring 3D, 3dprintbunny, Hex3D, Wekster, and more.

Also at the table was the impressive FAE DRAGON, a modified Voron 2.4r2. The printer build was supported by Tensor3D, and the majority of the mod pieces were printed in Polymaker ASA Purple, with an accent color for the smaller pieces of Sparta3D ABS Sparkle Fluorescent Pink. He actually won the printed parts at the inaugural Rocky Mountain RepRap Festival (RMRRF) in April, and used Tensor3D branded linear rails, as well as a motion kit and fastener kit from Tensor3D. The FAE DRAGON was one of many impressive modified 3D printers we saw at MRRF 2023.

Loubie3D

Ingerman wasn’t the only one at MRRF 2023 using a desktop 3D printer from Bambu Lab. Well-known 3D model maker Louise Driggers, better known as Loubie3D, was actually being sponsored by the company at MRRF 2023, and both the X1 Carbon and the P1P printers were operating at the booth.

I spoke with a man at the booth whose nametag read “John D. Loubie3D,” who explained just how easy the printers were to use.

“In fact, if you know nothing about printers, you do better with it, because you don’t second guess it,” he told me. “All the problems we’ve had with it were mistakes of our own making, by not following the directions.”

Wooden 3D Printer

Another thing that caught my eye was a wooden 3D printer, which was designed by Purdue University engineering undergrad Edward Stuckey, who also goes by DrGlaucous. He told me that it took him several months to design the printer, before he went to Menard’s and purchased six pieces of inexpensive, low-grade particle board with which to build it. The “Take Two” prints parts out of ABS, and Stuckey pointed to a hose on what appeared to be a Nerf contraption at the other end of the table, telling me that he’d printed it on the Take Two using ABS.

He had all kinds of other neat things at his booth as well, including a MIDI-controlled music box and a MIDI-controlled violin.

Tiko & Guitar Hero

One of my favorite things at MRRF 2023 was playing the Guitar Hero video game on a 3D printed guitar. I didn’t even notice it at first—my attention was caught by a Tiko unibody 3D printer, which I’d never actually seen in real life before, as it came to a rather disastrous end back in 2017. I spoke with Simon at the Lestrade Games booth, who said he was one of the lucky ones because he actually had his Kickstarter printer order fulfilled, likely due to the fact that he was posting updates about the printer on his YouTube channel. He said Tiko’s technology was great for 2015 when the printer was initially launched, but that many people who have them now are working out their own mods to make it work better.

It was then that I noticed two 3D printed guitars at the booth, next to a computer screen with Guitar Hero pulled up, and I knew I had to try one out. It’s been many years since I’ve played the game, so I chose Easy mode to play one of my favorite 80s tunes. This was wise, as it took me a few bars to remember how to operate the guitar controller.

I’ll spare you the video of my poor performance of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” but suffice it to say, I won’t be winning any games of Guitar Hero in the future.

Filament Sales

There were a lot of booths selling 3D printer filament, with many offering special MRRF deals. Cookiecad, which turns 2D designs into STL files for cookie cutters, cake toppers, embossers, stamps, stencils, and more, was selling filament, and GreenGate3D, a New York-based 3D printing service, was offering discounts on its 100% recycled filament; plus, every purchase included free stickers.

Hobart, Indiana’s TH3D Studio was selling filament at its booth, as were IC3D from Dublin, Ohio, and Protopasta. Troy, Michigan-based Polar Filament had some really cool glow-in-the-dark filament on display and for sale. I’m sure there were other booths selling filament as well.

Death Racer Match & RC Car Drag Racing

The end of the day, at least for us, brought many attendees outside to see two smaller events, the first of which was the Death Racer Match. We missed the beginning, but as far as I could tell, people had 3D printed small, plastic, RC Battle Bots. Surrounded by a ring of cheering onlookers, these were duking it out in the parking lot, controlled by their makers in the crowd.

I’d never heard actual 3D printing trash talk before MRRF 2023. But as the competitors rammed into each other, flipped other vehicles over, and even shot Nerf darts, people were loudly cheering for their favorites, and hilariously jeering against others.

The energy at the 3D printed RC car drag races was also high. I especially loved how kids from the crowd were invited to start each race; it really highlighted how much of a family-friendly event this was.

We only watched a couple of heats, as we had a nearly 4-hour drive back home. One of the competitors in the first matchup was a young girl who had actually won her car that day at MRRF. She had never raced an RC car before, so the crowd was extra encouraging, though it didn’t stop her vehicle from careening off into the crowd early on.

All in all, it was a really great day. Being around that kind of creative energy is incredibly uplifting—people were so excited to talk to total strangers and say, “Hey, look what I made!” I enjoy the big trade shows like RAPID+TCT and formnext as well, but the vibe was just so different at MRRF 2023. To spoof off of Taylor Swift, makers gotta make, make, make. I hope I can make it to MRRF 2024 next summer!

Take a look at some more of my MRRF 2023 pictures here:

Printed on a Mimaki 3DUJ-2207

Made by zakdesign

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