If you're anything like me, and haven't come out from the workshop in a while, you might want to take note. There is less than a week until Christmas. I know, I was shocked too. I mean are you kidding? This year just flew past. In the past year, SparkFun has attended numerous MakerFaires throughout the country. We spoke at conventions and held talks all over the world discussing open source electronics. We taught at schools and even managed to visit some hackerspaces along the way. At all of these events, we've had the pleasure to meet a lot of wonderful people that keep coming back to read our blog and check out the endless supply of widgets that our Willy Wonka-esque factory pushes out. Without you guys we couldn't be here. Thank you!
Due to all this wonderful support, we have also been fortunate enough to get some of our large scale tools up and running this year. We have added a vertical mill, a laser cutter, a pile of parts that may some day grow up to be a Rep Rap, and most recently we added a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D Printer to our ranks of tools! Like I said, a lot has happened here at SparkFun this year. And now it's almost over. It's time to head to the stores, and brave the crazy last-minute Christmas shoppers. Yikes!
With that said, likely you, or someone on your shopping list is a maker, a creator, or an artist. You might be asking yourself "What can I get for them this year?" Maybe they have the latest Arduino. Or perhaps you went one step further and got them the SparkFun Inventor's Kit. Maybe they have a workbench that was just furnished with a fancy new tool kit. Or they just finished the last of the DIY electronics kits from SparkFun. What if I told you about the gift that keeps on giving? I'm talking about a 3D printer. These things can print happiness! Well, that might be an exaggeration. But they can print just about anything else.
The guys over at Maker Bot have created an impressive product. The Thing-O-Matic is a fully automated ABS extrusion based 3D printer. The printer comes in a kit form so there is plenty of fun to be had during Christmas break putting together this present. The skill level required to build the Thing-O-Matic ranks in the intermediate range. It's nothing you can't handle. The team over at Makerbot have worked up a great set of directions online to get you going. And the kit includes everything you need to build and begin printing.
Once your bot is built, there is a site called Thingiverse where you can download and share all the 3D models you could ever want. You can even learn how to make your own models and start printing custom designs!
I had the pleasure of building and calibrating our MakerBot. It was a blast putting this thing together. Like many people before me have done, I took a little extra time in the build process to work on customizing the casing of our MakerBot. Being an electronics company, what better to decorate it with than circuits right? I etched a SparkFun flame and circuit traces into the front and back of our case.
Once embellishment was done, it was time to get down to actually putting this thing together. Your new ThingOMatic will show up in one box filled with many smaller boxes containing many small parts and pieces. I won't lie, it was a little overwhelming at first. Take your time. Familiarize yourself with what you have in front of you. Settle into the boxes and make sure you have everything. Then begin your build. You'll thank yourself later for the extra time spent early on planning and organizing.
It took about 4 days for me to physically assemble the device. That was while at work doing Tech Support duties and building the printer on the side. I would say 6-10 hours is a fair guess on time it took. Once you have your ThingOMatic built, it's time to download ReplicatorG. This is the software you are going to use for calibration and printing. Once calibrated, you should give the calibration cube a print to test the system. If everything prints correctly, congrats! There are other example files you can print directly from ReplicatorG or you can head over to Thingiverse and pick something fun out. If something happens to not work right, Makerbot has a top-notch tech team (thanks Ethan!) who can help you out when you get stuck.vThere are also forums and build groups that can help out.
Makerbot is clearly doing something right. They have put together a nice product. They provide high quality support to their customers. They are working to build a community of makers who share and create together. If you are looking for something new and exciting - something that creative makers on your Christmas list will love - check out Makerbot Industries.