Print It Forward

Print It Forward


A few months ago, I started the journey of building a Mini Kossel delta style 3D printer. The Mini Kossel is a RepRap open source hardware design that is the result of the hard work of Johann Rocholl. Since Johann released his initial designs in the summer of 2012, the design has been forked 52 times and many derivative designs have been based on it including several recent Kickstarters including the Kossel Clear, the OpenBeam Kossel Pro, and the Deltaprintr. Johann’s Mini Kossel project is a real open source success story.

Back to my journey…  Johann’s design primarily focuses on the printed frame pieces that connect aluminum extrusions. So, the first question for someone building their first printer is “how do I print parts without a 3D printer?” It’s the classic chicken & egg problem.  Fortunately, I have a good friend with a 3D printer and all I had to do was buy some PLA, take him out for lunch, and the parts were in hand. Problem solved. But for many, it may not be this simple.

The primary source of support for building a Mini Kossel is the Delta Robot 3D Printers Google group. The members there are very knowledgeable and generous. After spending some time there during the construction of my printer, I discovered a wonderful thing.  Johann realized that making a Mini Kossel was a problem for people who don’t have access to a 3D printer and he started a “pay it forward” offering to encourage people to build a Mini Kossel. He offered to print and give away a free set of Mini Kossel parts to an undetermined number of people if they promised:

  1. To complete your Mini Kossel and tune it well.
  2. To print two (2) Mini Kossel kits and also give them away for free.
  3. To make your recipients agree to the same rule.

It was a brilliant and generous move by Johann and a strategy that has worked. The “free printed parts” thread is one of the busiest on the forum. Although, you rarely see Johann in the thread anymore the parts continue to be printed and given away by other members and recipients. The plan worked marvelously. Although I didn’t actually receive my parts through the program, out of thanks for his work I recently delivered my first set of free parts. It was great to be able to give back.

So, now you want to build a Mini Kossel? What should you do to get the printed parts? The best solution is to find a local person with a printer who can print the parts for you and give you some guidance along the way especially if you’ve never built a 3D printer before. The other option is to check eBay or other 3D printer sources for printed parts. If you want to get started quickly, this may be your best option.  However, if you aren’t in a rush and want to get in line for some free parts then check out the pay it forward program.

A couple things to consider before you sign up for the program.  First, building a Mini Kossel requires an investment of about $700.  If you’re not committed then don’t ask for the parts.  Also, there’s no single source for all the other parts that you’ll need.  So, gather most of your other parts before requesting your free printed parts.  This will let the community know that you’re dedicated to finishing before they devote time & material to printing your parts.  The quality, color, and actual parts that you will receive may vary.  Beggars can’t be choosers.  If you don’t like them then you can always print what you want once your printer is working then give away your free set as your first pay-it-forward set.  Finally, although Johann’s initial parts were completely free including shipping, community members may ask you to pay for shipping, plastic costs, or both.  Don’t complain.  It’s still a great deal.

This is a great program. If you’re starting an open hardware project, consider imitating it. Pay it forward!

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I'm a software architect by day and maker by night. Most of my making revolves around woodworking, electronics, and the combination of the two. I'm also the founder & president of NashMicro - the Nashville Microcontrollers users' group and the father of three future makers. Follow me on Twitter as @ianlee74 or for the most recent news on everything Gadgeteer, follow @gadgeteerin.

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