New Maker Group: Michigan RepRap Users Group
Maker Works recently started hosting another maker group: The Michigan RepRap Users Group. During their meet-ups, they work on their rapid prototyping machines and share knowledge and projects. They meet the 3rd Saturday of every other month from 12pm-4pm: This Saturday March 17, then May 19, July 21, September 15, etc. The following is an interview with Nick McCoy, one of their founders. Nick got into rapid prototyping machines only a few years ago. If you are unsure what rapid prototyping is, read the interview and check out the fun links provided at the end. Then show up on Saturday afternoon from 12pm-4pm for their 'BUILD' session! All are welcome!
When was the group formed?
We were formed in the summer of 2009. Initially, we only met once every few months. We started meeting at members houses, but more recently we tend to try and find a space, such as Maker Works when we meet. This is the first time we have had meetings at a regular schedule.
What is the intention behind the group?
The goal of the Michigan RepRap Users Group is to increase the number of people who build 3D printers. Primarily this is by helping people who are doing it, but we also want to spread the word to find new people who are interested in building them. Our philosophy is that if more people are building them, there will be more innovation and we will get better ideas for how to build our own 3D printers. We are open to both the RepRap community, centered around designing an open source 3D printer and the many kits that have developed in the last three years, such as the Maker-Bot kits.
We are a local community associated with the larger RepRap community. The philosophy of the RepRap community is "Wealth without money". The idea is that if we share knowledge about how to manufacture goods at a desktop scale, we can improve the quality of life for everyone. The RepRap community is primarily focused on 3D printers, but there are lots of offshoots into other ideas. One goal in particular is to create a machine that can create other goods and can also create itself. The reference 3D printer design is called Mendel. It has some off-the-shelf components and lots of custom components that can be printed by a Mendel. The only custom components that can't be created by a Mendel are the electronics.
How did you find people to join? Or how do people find you?
Initially, we made posts on the RepRap forum looking for local people who are interested. We have gone to the Detroit Maker Faire the last couple years and have found a lot of interested people there. We have a forum at https://groups.google.com/group/reprap-michigan which is where we organize. We have no formal membership: People are free to participate on the forum or at the meets at any time.
How did you personally get interested in building a rapid prototyping machine?
I read a blog post about some of the open source designs and was immediately interested. The concept of how they worked didn't seem too complex and I decided to give it a shot. At that time I spent most of my time reading about it on the RepRap forums. A few months later, Tim and Devin who were also interested met and decided to create the group to find other interested people. They mentioned the group on the RepRap forum and I met up with them and a few other people who were interested.
Where did you learn how to make one?
I got the designs from RepRap.org and asked any questions I had on the RepRap forum. I learned a lot of stuff along the way. The first thing I did was build the electronics. At that time, I had never soldered anything in my life. Now, I am reasonably comfortable with simple electronics design and programming microcontrollers. I also hadn't had any experience with designing mechanical systems, but now I have some ideas about constraining motion and building linear axis. The RepRap design has progressed since I built my first machine and it has been very interesting to see how people overcame the stuff I struggled with by improving the design.
Where did some of your members learn how to make them?
RepRap.org is really the home of the knowledge for this community. They have a Wiki, forum, email list and an IRC room. The wiki contains build instructions for many different designs of 3D printers. Our local group exists mostly to organize meetings and promotions.
What are your members' backgrounds?
I am a software developer. Tim has done a lot IT and software work at a Tool & Die shop. Devin has done biomedical engineering work. Most of our members have a lot of interest in robotics and engineering.
Where do you see the future of rapid prototyping machines headed? Personal use vs. Industry use?
I believe personal use will increase dramatically in the next 10 years. It already has seen an amazing growth in the last couple years. Right now, the RepRap design requires a significant amount of time to learn in order to build it and then it is only capable of creating plastic parts. I think both of those are going to change. The newest designs are already far easier to build and get running than the design I built three years ago. At some point, they will be so easy to put together that everyone who wants one can have one. I also think they will eventually get new capabilities. Focusing on the replicating part, I think they will get the ability to manufacture electronics and assemble multiple parts together. These are not easy things to achieve, but the community is very large and there are currently a lot of people thinking about it and making small improvements all the time.
The name RepRap is short for Replicating Rapid prototyper. Many people in the community think this is incorrect because the goal is to create a machine that is capable of building functional parts on a small scale, not just prototype parts. This goal is something that sets us apart from the industrial 3D printers. We want a 3D printer in every house so that physical items can be shared and copied similar to what happens with open source software today.
To find out more about rapid prototyping machines and for project ideas, check out these links.