It’s a combination of the kid in me and the maker in me but getting a 3D Printer has been on my short list of things I want to get for years now. I’ve spent a lot of time with things like my plotter designing and making my own stickers as needed. Frankly though 3d printer always felt a little unobtainable both because of the cost and because it seemed like you might need an engineering degree to build and maintain one. Well a few months ago my interest was renewed and I decided that I was going to get one and from then on I spent day and night learning as much as I can, reading anything and everything. I had a few printers in mind but couldn’t decide. One of the companies I was keeping a close eye on was SeeMeCNC, they had been involved with printers for custom PC builds with DarthBeavis, on the Vanilla Ice Project, and even involved with PDXLAN. The problem was for my first printer at least; I wasn’t really looking for a build it yourself kit. I feel capable of doing that, but I just really wanted to dive into it quickly rather than a long build time prior. The other problem was even in the kit form their printers were a bit higher than I was budgeting. Well when looking at them I found out that they are actually within a drive away and I reached out about visiting. It just so happened that they were also introducing their long awaited Eris, a smaller, cheaper, and more portable model that comes factory build. I went and visited their factory and picked up the first Eris and have been getting a feel for it all. Today I’m going to give a quick run through on what 3d printing is all about, go over my visit with SeeMeCNC, then tomorrow I will dive into the Eris and my overall experience with it.
SeeMeCNC visit and 3d printing rundown
Written by: Wes
Pictures by: Wes
Amazon Link: HERE
What is 3D Printing
Before we jump into this I do want to be clear. I am in no way an expert in 3d printing. Like I said before this is my first printer and like a lot of you I’ve been learning as I go. I’m going to give a general run through on it but if you are interested I would highly recommend spending more time reading into it.
There is a wide variety of types of 3d printing and the materials they work with are just as wide. For our proposes today we are only focusing on what most people think of when you talk about 3d printing, printing 3d objects in plastic. In that space there are three main technologies. The first is Selective Laser Sintering aka SLS, this process uses a plastic powder and a laser that molts the powder together to make your part. This isn’t really a consumer level technology. Next is stereolithography, aka SLA. SLA is really interesting and is growing in popularity in the consumer market. The way this works is a UV laser or a projector shoots up under a vat of resin. The third and by far the most popular method is fused deposition modeling aka FDM. FDM uses a plastic filament that is fed into an extrusion nozzle and it is heated up and extruded into small lines to form layers.
FDM printers are basically what most people think about when you talk about 3d printing and when I set out looking at printers is it the technology that I was focused on. Most of the printers on the marker have revolved around the open source community, specifically the RepRap project. This was originally an initiative to develop a low cost 3d printer that can print most of the materials to replicate itself.
There are a lot of FDM designs but there are two variations that you will run into when looking at consumer printers. At their core every FDM printer needs to be able to move on X, Y, and Z axis. The most popular type is a Cartesian 3d printer. These have a square print bed and for the more post you will find models were the extruder moves in X-axis and Y-axis and then the print bed moves in Z-axis. There are other variations on this design that have the print bed not moving at all, or sometimes in X or Y. The other design is called a Delta 3d printer and this is what SeeMeCNC focuses on. Delta printers have a circular print bed that never moves. This design uses three posts with three sets of arms (one per post) that, each arm moves independently and they are all attached to the hot end. Delta printers started from the Rostock prototype on RepRap and there have been multiple variations on the design from there.
Delta printers are unique even in the 3d printing community and you will find that most manufactures that are selling budget friendly printers stick with simpler four post designs. All of the variations have their own pros and cons. Deltas for example typically have a smaller base area but make up for it in height. They can run faster because there is less weight in the hotend design with the separate extruder and in my personal opinion they are cooler to watch.
At its simplest form 3d printing is basically like decorating a cake. You have a nozzle and you heat up the plastic in the hot end until it is similar in consistency to icing and the extruder pushes plastic filament into the hotend to force plastic out of the nozzle. All the while your printer is moving in all three axis to lay down the plastic in the design you are looking for.
There are a variety of plastics that you can print with modern printers. The two base plastics you will find are PLA and ABS. PLA is organic, based on renewable resources, such as cornstarch, sugar cane, tapioca roots or even potato starch. PLA is tough but can be brittle, in other words it will hold strong but then break not bend. It prints at a lower temperature and it does not require a heated print bed. This makes it the easiest to print. ABS is petroleum based and non-biodegradable. It prints at a higher temperature and doesn’t hold heat as well as PLA when printing so it typically requires a heated print bed and sometimes an enclosure as well to get the best prints. ABS is more durable than PLA due to its slight flexibility and resistance to heat. There is a wide variety of other materials as well that we can’t really get into here like nylons, flexible filaments, wood, and even carbon.
So what is a printer going to cost you? Well with very few features and questionable quality you can get cheap printers starting at around $200 and the sky is the limit from there. Commercial applications run up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Generally, though most consumer designs are in the $350 to $2000 range.
Typically, the only time I have the chance to visit with companies that we work with is at CES or at an editor’s day or event that I’m sometimes invited too. There are also a few chances at LAN events as well from time to time. As I mentioned in the opening, SeeMeCNC is fairly close by for me. That is of course relative, they are about an hour and 45 minutes away, but when you sometimes drive half that just to get dinner or to go to a store it is really close. In fact, they are closer than DXRacer and SteelSeries whom I’ve also visited. Anyhow with that in mind working with them or not if I picked up a SeeMeCNC printer I wanted to visit them and check out their facilities.
After talking with Steve, AKA PartDaddy, I got word that the first Eris’s would be finished on a Friday and I left right away. The drive to Goshen Indiana went by smoothly and right before you get into town you can see the large SeeMeCNC sign in bright blue as well as a smaller sign in front of the building. Honestly when I left to visit them I really had no idea what to expect other than a few things I recently saw on the Science Channel when they also visited. Well they are in somewhat large metal building. I guess in my mind they would be a little smaller because when I got in I commented about it being larger than I expected and they all got a kick out of that. This was funny to them because SeeMeCNC is literally bursting at its seams, the building is packed full. The building has a very complete machine shop, offices, and is even taking advantage of a second story for assembly.
I kind of expected maybe one of each machine but they have rows of multi tool CNC machines, laser cutters, and injection molding machines. They even have a robotic arm back in the back corner. It all hardly leaves room for the rows of shelves holding parts for their 3D Printer line and the racks of filament.
Anyhow when I got to the shop I found Steve on the CNC. He had actually kicked the normal guy who runs the machines off and was working on making a few last second changes to the heatsink for the hot end of the Eris. So as I took a few photos around the shop and talked with him it was really cool to see them actually finishing the last part. Once done Steve introduced me to Oly, his co-founder and VP.
We went upstairs where they literally had Eris’s stacked up and covering the floor, ready and waiting for the hotend to be installed. We grabbed one and went down to Steve’s office where he put everything together and then all three of us went outside to take a picture of the guys with their newest printer! Don’t let them full you, they didn’t need the sun glasses they just wanted to look like badasses.
We even took a look at the injection mold area where a lot of the parts for the Eris are made. They had actually just finished up a few changes on the molds for the ducting that goes around the hot end to distribute the airflow across the heatsink as well as out three different outlets for even airflow onto your print.
So during all of this I did get to hear a little more about the history of SeeMeCNC. As it turns out they started out as a full on machine shop that opened up back in 1996 called Blackpoint Engineering. During that time they produced medical instruments then later moved to motorcycle and paintball parts. Well back in 2011 things slowed down and in order to keep the staff on hand they started looking at other options. Leaving a bunch of talented people in a completely stocked machine shop led to them dabbling in designing a 3d printer and things really took off. That is when they renamed to SeeMeCNC.
One thing really stood out to me when talking to Steve and the guys. This is a crew that is really passionate about what they are doing. I don’t blame them though, when things slowed down they had a once in a lifetime chance to just do what they enjoyed and SeeMeCNC is what came out of it. I ended up being at the office a LOT longer than I think any of us planned because Steve and I spoke a lot about the open source community that has helped SeeMeCNC (and all of the other 3d printer manufactures) grow. Both Oly and Steve find it extremely important to keep the books open so to speak by uploading most if not all of their hard work up online for community members to have access too. In fact, the hotend in the Eris was uploaded as soon as they finished up the design. The open source community and SeeMeCNC have a symbiotic relationship where by pooling their ideas and resources it helps overall development grow even quicker. MakerBot for example started from that same community and later on decided to drop open source completely and even went as far as trying to patent designs made by community members. This hasn’t really turned out well for them with them recently moving production.
When wondering around the building I was especially impressed with the entryway. There are shelves of 3d printed objects all over the place, a rack of a few filaments for visitors who need their fix, and a few printers waiting to be picked up as well. Both printers caught my eye because one is one of the new SeeMeCNC DropLit v2’s a resin based 3D printer. The other printer was a factory assembled Rostock Max v2 but it is built to custom specifications for an additional height. Around the room the 3d prints that really caught my eye were printed by their “Part Daddy”, a 16 foot tall custom built printer. These prints are as tall or taller than me like the large rocket. Seriously I don’t know why I need it, but I need one of these giant rocket prints lol.
I took a peak in their design room where I found the original Eris sitting as well as the DropLit v2. Steve gave me a quick rundown on the DropLit v2. The condensed version is that it uses an HD projector to project each layer up into a vat of UV reactive resin. To do that they use a standard Mini-RAMBo controller just like the Eris and to get the projected image it also uses a Raspberry Pi 3. Hopefully I will get the chance to revisit and maybe see one in action in the future.
Lastly before we boxed up our Eris we took a trip up into the parts room. This is where the assembly happens as well. As expected everything is sorted out and inventoried. While I was up there I did find a stack of Matter Control Tablets and an entire box of Raspberry Pi 3’s. When Steve opened up the box of Pi’s I had a hard time not reaching in and snatching one up!
Once both Steve’s wife and my wife were both asking us why we hadn’t left yet I finally grabbed a few filament colors for our testing and packed up our Eris and hit the road! I of course had to rush home so I could dig into everything properly and start printing right!?