Incubator break: 3D printed detour

This stage is where everything went sideways. I was not making significant progress on the incubator for 2 very distinct reasons:

  • On the electrical front, I continued to not know anything and was losing motivation. I couldn’t figure out the right direction to go, I was spending money on components, waiting ~6 weeks for them to arrive, then figuring out I had made some mistake or misunderstood what I wanted or not realized there was a better way.
  • On the mechanical front, making stuff is HARD. Designing mechanisms really does take time and experience. Making things with wood is imprecise unless you have a lot of knowledge and skill, which extends to both how to work with wood and the wood itself. Making things with metal is expensive, daunting and messy. 3D printing is pretty much the holy grail for things like this – clean, cheap, easy, and sharable.

That brought me to a point where I finally decided to buy a “real” 3D printer.

3D printer!

I had been interested in 3D printing for ages. I had been peripherally following it since it became “mainstream” with the RepRap project (I started paying attention ~2007). It was always a bit out of reach because I had none of the skills or money to dive into it. On the other hand, it always felt like in some alternate universe I would have been right in the midst of it. Regardless, I had wanted a 3D printer for ages. I had personal experience with one in the past, but it wasn’t a good experience.

The M3D Micro came along ~2014, and it was SO cheap that it seemed like a good opportunity to figure out if I wanted to save up and buy a nice one or abandon the whole idea. My wife and I bought one, and while it was interesting it was also a complete piece of garbage. Now that I know more about 3D printing, I wouldn’t even give it to someone for free – there are virtually no quality components in the whole thing. It put me off so much that I didn’t look at 3D printing again until I was staring down the barrel of this incubator project.

Do not buy this. If you see one on the ground, consider not even stopping to pick it up.

With an actual use case (mounting things, building cases/enclosures, gears, connectors), I was ready to reconsider 3D printers. The “go-to” printer at the time was the Prusa MK3. It was a little expensive, but had thousands of great reviews. I went for it, and proceeded to spend ~a year getting completely distracted by 3D printing.

The progression of 3D printing I found was:

  1. print out all sorts of random desk baubles and tchotchkes (low poly Pokemon , succulent pots, etc) while you’re getting an understanding of printing.
    • this helps build out the very practical “how does something go from a file to an object” as well as what polymers exist for printing, what their trade-offs are, how things can fail etc.
  2. print out some useful things
    • all the sudden you find out you can print a hinge, or a clip or a vice or something does something. For me, the big eye opener was cases for Raspberry Pi models and custom gears
  3. design something custom
    • the printing itself is no longer the barrier, it’s CAD skills. The world opens up as you can now attach anything to anything with a custom, perfect fit mount. You can build gear boxes with a coupler that fits whatever random cheap motor you’re able to find, powered by a PSU that’s safely enclosed within a custom printed case and mounted robustly without having to drill or tap or cut.

With that said, I picked up a Prusa MK3:
Buy this!

It’s roughly the #1 most enjoyable thing I’ve ever spent money on. Upon spending ~1100$ CAD (after shipping/taxes/exchange rate), the only thing I regretted was not buying it sooner.

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