tom callaway (spot) wrote,
tom callaway

Fedora at Midwest Rep Rap Fest 2015

I attended Midwest Rep Rap Fest 2015 this weekend, in Goshen, Indiana. Goshen is about 45 minutes outside of South Bend (the nearest regional airport). This part of Indiana is noteworthy for a few reasons, including the fact that Matthew Miller, the Fedora Project Leader, is from there. It also has a very large Amish population, which makes it one of the few places I've attended a conference where most of the local businesses have a place to tie up your horses. The Midwest Rep Rap Fest is an event dedicated to Open Source 3d printers (and their surrounding ecosystem). The primary sponsor of the event is SeeMeCNC, a local vendor that makes open source hardware delta 3d printers. A Delta printer is a 3d printer with a circular stationary bed. Attached to the bed are three vertical rods which serve as tracks for three geared motors. The motors move up and down the rods, and are connected to a central extruder which hangs down the center. The extruder is moved in three dimensions by moving the supports along their tracks. Watching a Delta 3d printer do its thing is pretty amazing, it seems to dance like a trapeze artists as it dips and swoops to print the object.

The Delta type of 3d printer was the most common printer at the event, many people had either bought SeeMeCNC printers or had built their own off their open source design. The SeeMeCNC team brought their super-sized Delta, which they think is the largest Delta printer in the world. It was easily 30 feet tall and barely fit in the building we were using (which is saying something, because we were in an exhibition hall at the local state fairgrounds). The owner of the company decided to see how big of a Delta printer he could build, and this was the result!

The printer used a shop vac to blow plastic pellets up a plastic hose into the giant heated end. Originally, they were trying to print a giant model of Groot (shown in progress in my picture above), but they had to leave it running overnight on Friday and when we came back Saturday morning, the print had failed because it had run out of plastic pellets! Later on, they printed a very large basket/vase with it (after fixing it so that it wouldn't run out of plastic).

Fedora had a table in the main room. I brought two open source 3d printers from Lulzbot and controlled them both from my laptop running Fedora 21. My larger printer, the Taz 4, was configured with a dual extruder addon, and I spent four hours on Friday calibrating it to print properly. On Saturday morning, I printed my first completely successful dual color print, a red and white tree frog!

The eyes didn't come out perfect, but it all came out aligned and in one piece. Several people offered me tips and advice on how to improve the print quality with the dual-extruder setup. One of the nice things about the Rep Rap fest was the extremely friendly nature of the community. Everyone was eager to help everyone else solve problems or improve their printers/prints. I used Pronterface to control the Taz 4, since it was better suited to handle the dual extruder controls.

My smaller printer, the Lulzbot Mini, was controlled with Cura-Lulzbot (a package which got added to Fedora a few days before the show!). Cura has a very fast and high quality slicer, but with less options for tweaking it than slic3r (the traditional open source slicing tool) does. 3d printers depend on a slicing tool to take a 3d model and convert it into the GCode machine instructions that tell the printer where to move and when to extract plastic. Cura also has a more polished UI than Pronterface.

The Lulzbot Mini is able to self level, self clean, and self calibrate, which almost eliminates the prep time before a print! One of the vendors at the show was Taulman, who is constantly innovating new filaments for 3d printing. They announced a new filament the weekend of the Rep Rap Fest, 910, and they gave me a sample to try out on the Mini. The Mini can print filaments with a melting point of 300 degrees Celsius or less, so it was well suited for the 910. 910 was interesting because it was incredibly strong, almost as good as polycarbonate! It was also translucent, which made it ideal for me to finish a project I've been working on for a long time: my 3d printed TARDIS model!

I printed four window panels and a topper piece for the lantern on the roof. A few other people had TARDIS models (including one that had storage drawers inside it), but mine was the biggest (and I think, the nicest).

One of Fedora's neighbors was mUVe, an open source SLA 3d printer. SLA 3d printers use a liquid resin and a DLP projector to make incredibly accurate 3d models that would be difficult or impossible to print on other kinds of 3d printers. It seemed like everyone was printing the same Groot model at the event, and they printed one that came out looking incredible. The inventor of the hardware was working their table, and we talked for a while about the importance of open source in hardware. He felt strongly that it was mandatory for him to release his work into open source so that other people could innovate and improve upon the designs he'd created. The mUVe printer was one of the largest SLA printers I've ever seen and the quality of its prints was amazing. The biggest downside is the complexity, it involves chemicals in the resin and in curing the prints once they have finished, but in my opinion, it was worth it. The cost was in the $1500-2000 price range, but he said he's working on something awesome that will bring that cost down. They used Creation Workshop to slice and control their printer, which was new to me, but it was also open source. It's C# though, but I want to see if I can get it working in Mono on Fedora. (They were also in the greater Detroit area, so I encouraged them to come out and demo it at Penguicon!)

Another neighbor had 3d printed an amazingly intricate "home clock". They had used a famous woodworking pattern, converted each of the pieces to a 3d model, then printed them. Each piece was then smoothed and attached together. The only piece they didn't print was the clock at the center! On the table, the top of the clock was taller than me (and I'm 6'4"). It didn't look 3d printed, it looked too nice! It took them 3 months to print it all. The owner said that if you're able to cut this model from wood and assemble it properly, you're considered to be a master in their community. Everyone was definitely in awe of it in this community.

It seemed like everyone showing off something at this event had a clever hack of their own. Some people were creating amazing models, some people had built new open source printers. One printer had color changing LED strips attached underneath it which changed from red to green to indicate the progress of the printing job. Another printer had a Raspberry Pi with camera wired into it so you had a "printer's eye view" as it printed. There was a custom 3d scanner designed to scan people's heads and torsos to make printable busts. There was even a printer that looked like some sort of industrial robot gone mad! The one thing these all had in common? They were open source. No one here was questioning open source, it was just the way they operated, sharing what they knew and building off each other's successes (and failures). There were a few MakerBot Replicators, but all of them had been hacked in some way.

Attendance at this years event was both up and down. There were more people and companies exhibiting at the event, including Texas Instruments, Hackaday, Lulzbot, Taulman, and Printed Solid. Printed Solid was giving out free samples of some amazing ColorFabb filament. I came home with some BronzeFill (prints into a bronze like material that when polished is heavy and shiny), a new flexible filament, and some carbon-fiber infused filament! They also had some really fantastic glow in the dark filament, but no samples of that were available (and I didn't have the spare cash to buy a full spool). General attendance at the event was about 750 people, which was down from last year (around 1000). The general consensus was that the event wasn't doing all it could to advertise itself, and the location wasn't exactly optimal (45 minutes from the nearest regional airport, almost 2 hours from a major airport). The majority of visitors were local to the Indiana/Michigan area. The event staff said that next year they plan on rebranding the event to a more general FOSS 3d printing event (not limiting themselves to the Midwest region of the US). I think that is the right decision, since they are the only open source 3d printing event that I'm aware of, and I'd really love to see them grow into something bigger and more accessible.

Oh, did I mention we had a celebrity at the event? Ben Heck was there with his Delta printer! He's built a pinball machine. I might want to be him a little bit (but I'm not). He was very friendly and cool, spent a lot of time talking to the other makers and attendees.

Thanks to Ben Williams, Fedora had a very nice booth setup. We had our Fedora tablecloth and lots of stickers to give away. I brought a good sampling of models I'd printed with Fedora and my 3d printers, and I had a lot of good conversations about using Linux and open source to power 3d printing and 3d model creation. My coworker (and celebrity writer) Brian Proffitt stopped by on Saturday and helped out at the table for a while. I was supposed to have Fedora 21 media to hand out, but the promised shipment never arrived. The computers there were a mix of Windows and Linux, very few Macs in this community. Several people were using Fedora, but most of the Linux instances were Debian.

The Fedora event box needs a little love, there wasn't very much in it that was useful anymore. The OLPC in it is very old now, and since the current OLPC hardware runs Android these days, it isn't as "cool" as it used to be. I restocked it with Fedora bubble stickers, but it probably needs a plan to revitalize it.

All in all, it was a very fun weekend event and a great opportunity to connect with the open source 3d printer community. I think it is the responsibility of Fedora (and Red Hat) to reach out to the maker communities and help them be open source in their own ways, and this was an excellent opportunity to do exactly that. Is there a Maker event happening somewhere near you? You can sign up to represent Fedora at that event like I did at MRRF: Fedora Event Calendar
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