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How I built a RapMan 3D printer from scratch

Albert Filice | July 9, 2013
3D printing technology is growing rapidly--it's crawling out of its niche marketplace and showing off how useful and cool it can be. Hell, you can even buy a 3D printer at Staples nowadays. To keep on the pulse, I felt it was time for aggressive expansion into this field: We needed our own printer to use in the TechHive labs. I wanted to learn exactly how a printer worked, so I built one myself instead of purchasing a pre-assembled model.

3D printing technology is growing rapidly--it's crawling out of its niche marketplace and showing off how useful and cool it can be. Hell, you can even buy a 3D printer at Staples nowadays. To keep on the pulse, I felt it was time for aggressive expansion into this field: We needed our own printer to use in the TechHive labs. I wanted to learn exactly how a printer worked, so I built one myself instead of purchasing a pre-assembled model.

Is building a printer from a kit easy? No, but for me, that's part of the fun. I didn't know what exactly I was getting into, but I knew I was more than a match for whatever a kit could throw at me--my over confidence was my weakness. Here are some of the trials and tribulations that come with building a 3D printer from the ground up.


Oh mysterious box, what mysteries do you hold?

Getting organized
Before tackling my first build--a RapMan 3.1 3D printer kit from BitsFromBytes--I peeked ahead to see what my final result should look like. When complete, the printer is cube-shaped. Steel rods make up the edges, and flat acrylic pieces clamp them together using dozens of screws.

Although the RapMan 3.1 has been discontinued for some time, the parts are up to date, and the printer is compatible with all current open-sourced software. Its instructions were long and somewhat vague at places, but that didn't discourage me: When I got stuck, I turned to online forums and IRC chats for tips.


A portion of the kit, laid out after a couple hours of poking around and minor assembly.

I didn't want to open anything until I needed it, so I laid out all of the pieces and set aside the parts I would need for the first stage of the assembly process--including various acrylic parts and an organizer tray full of nuts, bolts, and various other small pieces--and put the rest away for the time being. I used sticky notes to keep track of the parts, since some of them differed only very slightly from one another.


Assemble. Label. Repeat.

The build process
Building the printer proved to be more complex than I anticipated. I spent a couple of hours a day over a week tinkering with it, assembling this printer piece-by-piece and adjusting things as needed. The build time and difficulty will, of course, vary from printer to printer.

With the RapMan, I started with the main support body. Assembling the bottom bracket--the base on which the rest of the printer stands--proved to be a bit tricky. This part needs to be perfectly squared in order to assure that the printer is sturdy (so, you know, no pressure or anything). I constantly swapped leveling guides from side to side to mark my progress.

 

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