Monday, March 28, 2011

The RepRap Options

I came across the RepRap project about 2 months ago and I have wanted to build my own 3D printer ever since then. As an electrical engineer there are so may things I could use my own printer for. The last month or so has been filled up with research and tough decisions.

As I'm sure is true for many people who want to get started building their own, things were quite overwhelming for me when at the beginning. The first question is, where do I start? There are three versions of the Mendel, which one do I choose? There are three stable versions at the writing of this post, the original Mendel, the Huxley Mendel, and the Prusa Mendel.

The Original

The original Mendel has a plethora of documentation and information all over the web. This is the second generation RepRap (as far as I understand it), the first was the Darwin. The original Mendel is the largest of the three and also the most expensive. At first I wanted to build the original Mendel since it is well, the original Mendel! I start doing research and quickly became confused with not only the RepRap lingo, but also confused with all the different options for building just the original Mendel!

Being so overwhelmed led me to one clear conclusion. I needed a kit so I did not go crazy and spend lots of money on something that might never work. The problem with buying a Mendel kit, is that you can't find one under about $900 (including shipping). That is WAY over my budget for any hobby project! At this point I almost gave up.

The Huxley

The Huxley Mendel is the first major new version of the Mendel and is currently the smallest Mendel you can build. The I read, the more excited I became; the Huxley seemed like the perfect way to introduce myself into the world of RepRap. The nicest thing about the Huxley is that there is a complete kit from TechZoneCommuniations that many people seem to have success with. This kit is significantly less expensive than the Mendel kit and turns out to be approximately the same price as if I built the Mendel on my own without a kit. I was still too scared to dive right in without a kit since I was not any closer to understanding all the lingo and whatnot.

The Huxley is very small, which is great if you do not have much room; the downside is that the print size is not as large as the Mendel. That being said, you can use a Huxley to print all of the printed parts needed for a new Mendel! Great! There is now a clear upgrade path! I still not ready to spend the $730 (including shipping) for the kit though. I wanted to learn more.

The Prusa Mendel

Enter the Prusa Mendel. A few weeks went by where I was very busy; then I had some time and started doing as much research as possible. I started to understand all the terminology and the whole process of building a RepRap. I think it is very important to understand the whole process before you go ahead and buy a kit since they are so expensive.

I saw that many people were having great results with the Prusa and it seemed like it printed with higher speed and accuracy than the other two Mendel versions. The documentation was also significantly less fragmented in my opinion and it seemed much easier to build than the other two versions which to me were still such an unknown.

The most important aspect of the Prusa is it's simplicity and price. There have been many modifications made to the Prusa making it cheaper and easier to build. The cost of the printed parts are almost half that of the original Mendel. Sadly the only Prusa kit available is at MakerGear was is out of stock and it is almost as expensive as the Mendel kit!

Lastly the most important thing I found about the Prusa Mendel is that there is an SAE version that is also well documented and seems fairly easy to get parts for. This is makes things significantly easier since I am in the US and SAE parts are much easier and cheaper to find.


Well, at this point I am thoroughly torn between two options; building a Prusa from scratch or buying a Huxley kit. I am still a bit unsure of building one from scratch but since I can build an SAE version I am a bit more at ease with trying. The kit seems like the more certain option, but it is a lot of money for what is in my opinion, the least desirable Mendel version out of the three.

Till next time...