This week was arguably one of the most interesting weeks of the course. It was the “Build a 3D Printer” event hosted by Ultimaker.While the main focus of the event was to build a 3D printer kit, I, along with Toheeb, Reid, and Elaine, instead working on upgrading one of the printers from the to the Ultimaker 2+ (from the regular 2). This upgrade consisted of a completely new extruder and feeder assembly, along with new quick release clips on the bed. According to the rep from Ultimaker at the event, the 2 was such a popular printer and there were only minor problems people faced, it made more sense for an incremental improvement instead of unnecessarily overhauling the design. The 2+ was this improvement, and all existing Ultimaker 2’s are upgradable.

The actual upgrade process revealed a lot about the inner workings of the printer since we had to disassemble it fairly significantly. We got to see all the stepper motors and actually replaced the one used for the feeder. Then we pulled the entire extruder assembly off and installed the new one, and connected it to the logic board. The most surprising part of the whole process to me was how upon removing the logic board I saw that the microcontroller used was an ATMEGA328P, the same one used in an Arduino. (Meaning that the board was essentially a custom, special purpose Arduino). Talking with the rep Mark, I learned that the firmware was actually open source, and theres a pretty healthy community of modders writing custom firmwares for the platform. The board actually supports more connections that the printer uses, so there’s a lot of interesting functionality that could be added.

Overall, I feel that this exercise provided great insight into the actual workings of the printer, and the design ideology that goes into it. This device is made for makers, and as such, is meant to be tinkered with. It’s not just a black box that turns STL files into a physical object, but rather a platform that encourages you to tailor it to your specific needs.

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