Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

There is always a catch

After building several RepRap 3D printers and getting involved in several user forums about the matter I realized I was helping out other people building the same stuff I did a while ago and having a good time too. One of the good things about Open Source Hardware is that designers encourage people to build their designs whether they buy anything from them or not.

I am helping out the people who try to make FabLab Valencia a success and a workshop for building 3d printers seemed like a good fit. I have never done an activity like this before and the logistics seemed like a nightmare that rather was other people's problem. So the plan was: I do the teaching at the workshop and we use some ready made kit for building Prusa i3 models.

Just to be sure [I do not want to disappoint dudes that are shelling out almost $1,000] I decided to do a test run with one unit of the kit we have selected from a local manufacturer. That business was so brand new that ours was one of the first invoices they have ever made. Test run with a couple of students not familiar with the stuff was twice the estimated time, partly because of some poor choices in the kit's material and partly due to not having all the electric connections ready. I reckon you want to have all components properly wired, with the sockets already installed.

A couple of details were a deal breaker to me: Prusa i3 single frame calls for M3 tap holes, a through-hole and a nut is not a good substitute. Besides, the quality of some of the printed parts were substandard, some of them so warped they were unusable. I do not want to be facing an audience all of them having trouble just because parts do not fit.

So what I did was to go against my common sense and to build our own set of parts for the workshop. First thing on the list was to get hold of Josef Prusa (of RepRap 3D printers fame) to see if he was able to source us some parts. Actually that was my second thought, as I first contacted one fellow reprapper to see if he could provide me some aluminium frames for the printers. But I later thought supporting designers like Josef would be better ever if we have to pay a little bit more. To be honest Josef's frame was more expensive  (higher quality too) but he made us a bundle with other components, like his Prusa nozzle and stepper motors that meant a good deal for us in the end, and a very good value for our customers.

Most of the metal parts and other supplies are here but some of the electronics are still traveling from China. During the last two weeks I have been busier than ever just because sourcing all the different components is not an easy task, and if you have a hard deadline as we do, it is even more stressing.

And now, when most of the orders are here or in transit, the last part of the job is still behind us: we wanted to provide quality printed parts, so let's print them too. Right now, instead of a stereo playing some music I have the soft noises of an old Prusa printing ABS parts in my office.

So the closing remark is that an adventure that seemed like an easy task became a much more demanding task. I hope the people attending the workshop will go home with a cool and shiny 3d printer. On the other hand, I am already being asked if a new edition of the workshop is planned anytime soon :-)