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Why You Should Build It Yourself

It didn’t take much to convince me, once I saw the vision behind RepRap–the Replicable Rapid-prototyper It was a robot that was intended to clone itself! What a simple, but hugely extendable vision!

I bought into the idea immediately.

I saw that I needed a 3D-printer to print the parts I was determined to design in order to build my own machine that would clone itself. Being retired, I was concerned about cost as well as capability of the machine I would buy. But I also realized that putting together a kit would help me understand the underpinnings of the technology (while saving some money).

So, a kit it was. After looking around, I decided on a small, inexpensive, 3D-printer kit. It was a Printrbot Jr in kit form. It had a working envelope of only 135x115x100mm (5″x4.5″x4″). From previous experience though, I knew that the vast majority of parts made were small parts. I felt I could design within this constraint. I got the 3D-printer and soon had it working. Umm, not so well though. At first, it was delivering undefined blobs of plastic. No matter. A little work with calibrating the machine and all was well.

“Well and good,” you say, “but engineers and technicians don’t put kits together. They design and make the parts. Then put them together. They go deeper.”

Ahh. Good point. (A little plug here). What offers are the designed parts. You make them (3D-print them from the files provided), buy the other precision parts that are spelled out in the Bill-of-Materials, then put them all together. Directly to the point above, the idea is to develop a fuller range of deeper skills. You’ll be assembling the mechanical components, wiring up and testing the electronics, configuring and loading the firmware and software, and making those “tweaks” needed to give yourself a finely-tuned machine–and a lot of pride in what you accomplished. The “HowTo” documentation for all this is complete–and a point of pride for Finix Systems.

Back to the story.

3D-design software was the next challenge. Fortunately, there was a good choice in OpenSCAD–a free-for-the-download 3D-CAD program A particularly good first programming language (technically, a modeling language) in that you can visually see the object you just programmed. OpenSCAD converts the parts designed right into the files you can then print.

As part design progresses, a designer will see avenues to make a feature do more than one thing. In seeing the detail of how the parts go together, S/he might also see how to eliminate some parts, and how to combine others to give a more elegant design. This trait of insight->invention is true of all the disciplines common to robotics and 3D-printing–mechanics, electronics, programming.

Once the first prototype is built, a designer will likely see easy-to-do extensions, making the machine ever more capable.

An engineer does more than sit behind a desk noodling. S/he spends time deciding on the parts needed, then more time on the Internet looking for and buying those parts. Even deciding between competing suppliers.

Speaking of the Internet: when you have problems–and even very experienced techs and engineers have problems, the Internet is your best friend. A solid method to searching and quickly finding solutions is a great skill to develop.

A budding technician or engineer will be developing the skills needed to go further. And there is always further. Wiring, assembling, soldering, measuring with both mechanical and electrical measurement tools are skills developed to last a lifetime. Even selecting new tools for value vs. cost is a valuable skill.

Helping you to build useful and modern skills is what we do. Give us a try at

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