But the roots of the 3D printing industry have always been in the maker community, going back as far as 2005 when the RepRap Project was founded by Adrian Bowyer. The goal was to develop an open source design for an inexpensive and self-replicating FDM 3D printer, and over the years it has produced hundreds of variant designs, upgrades and evolutions including the original Darwin design, as well as the popular Mendel and Prusa Mendel variants.
When Swiss maker Sébastien Mischler decided to create a RepRap 3D printer workshop at his local maker community, he naturally looked to a pre-existing RepRap design. He started with the Prusa i3, which is a very affordable and widely adopted design, making it relatively easy to source parts and assemble. But he quickly noticed what he considered drawbacks to the design, notably an unstable Z axis. He tried to stabilize the axis with some simple threaded rods, but he found the need to constantly adjust, and readjust them frustrating and ultimately a waste of time. So he decided that since the i3 design required CNC milled parts anyway, he may as well take full advantage and machine as many of his own parts as he could.
Having already built several variations of RepRap designs Mischler set out to create his own 3D printer that would solve all of the problems that he found troublesome. He started by seeking out videos, images and build logs of all types of 3D printers. He decided that he wanted to keep the design simple, focus on rigidity and avoid any 3D printed parts that could be fully integrated into the design of the printer’s frame. Once he had all of his ideas and research material organised, he did a hand drawn sketch of the design for his iTopie 3D printer and then ultimately turned to SketchUp. He designed the CNC components and generated the G-Code using CamBam.
“If you have access to a CNC, [the iTopie costs] approximately $400. But it can be less or more, depending on the desired final quality. Today there are a lot of providers, take your time to choose yours, looking for information on [the RepRap forums] and ask if you can not find, and eventually share your sources if you find better,” Mischler explained.
The iTopie RepRap 3D printer has a generous envelope of 390 x 440 x 440 mm with a respectable print volume of 200 x 200 x 230 mm. Mischler said that he generally prints at a printing speed between 60mm/s and 80mm/s for any high-quality parts, and while it can reach higher speeds the extruder tends to not be able to keep up on anything over 100mm/s. He said that the iTopie is capable of easily printing layers with a resolution of 0.2mm down to 0.1mm. He is certain that it could handle even higher resolutions, but it would slow down the print considerably so he’s found himself too impatient to test it. However, Mischler believes that printing speeds and resolutions are a lot more difficult to determine than most printer manufacturers lead you to believe.
“Resolution, speed, etc., too often I read nonsense about it. I must be honest and say that it depends on too many factors. The quality of materials is essential and all I can tell you for sure is that you have nothing good with low-end hardware. This does not mean it does not work! it just mean you would not have the same results,” Mischler said.
Overall Mischler said that he is quite happy with how his iTopie 3D printer came out. He says that its strengths lay in a simplified assembly design that automatically aligns, requires fewer 3D printed pieces resulting in more stability, and a construction time that can be counted in hours rather than days.
We first heard about the iTopie back in December, and since then Mischler has decided to “increase the visibility” of the printer by posting its files on Thingiverse, which he accepted as having been “inevitable” for the design. The machine looks sturdier now with its machined housing, as well.
You can read more about his 3D printer design and find all the downloadable files over on Thingiverse and then head over to our iTopie RepRap 3D Printer forum thread at 3DPB.com to let us know your thoughts.