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Editor’s Pick: Customizable 3D Printer Has Open Architecture

Dear Desktop Engineering Reader:

This sounds way cool.

The LulzBot brand of Aleph Objects has released the AO-101, a low-cost, desktop prototype/short-run 3D printer. I mean low-cost. Pricing starts at $1,725. Better though, it’s customizable, and it fits pretty much anywhere, yet it still offers a respectable 7.9 x 7.5 x 3.9 in. print area and 0.0029 to 0.029 in. layer thickness. It’s fast too, with a top-end speed of 7.9 in./sec.

Let’s talk customizable. Aleph Objects calls its operating philosophy Libre Hardware. What they mean is that users like you “should be free to use, learn from, and improve the hardware and software you use.” So, neither the hardware nor the software is forbidden territory for you to get into and modify. For example, you can find the source code online easily. A second significant thing that Libre Hardware means is that you get to avail yourself of all the neat stuff that emerges from the tinkering of an open user community. An added bonus of Libre Hardware is that you shouldn’t have any license update hassles as time marches on.

So, what is the AO-101 3D printer? It’s not a sleek thing that looks like it was the prototype of a European phone booth. It’s an open architecture box, so you can see all the stepper motors, nozzles, pulleys, and whatnot right in front of you. And, of course, open architecture means that you can swap in new hardware if you’re wont to fiddle with those things or if something new develops from community feedback.

The AO-101 is small enough to fit easily into your garage or basement workshop. Diminutive size, open-air architecture, and its unboxed 18-lb. weight do not seem to detract from the system’s ruggedness at all. Check out the picture in today’s Pick of the Week write-up of some guy standing on the printer to see what I mean.

The AO-101 is delivered ready to get printing. It comes with a toolkit, a step-by-step manual, 5 lbs. of ABS filament printing material, and three sizes of print nozzles. Its power requirements are simple 110-220 VAC. Speaking of print materials, the company says that with a few simple modifications you can use polycarbonate and experimental stuff like wood filament and glow-in-the-dark materials.

Simple modifications, decent specs, and variants on the word experiment such as crowd-assisted development seem to be the AO-101’s key takeaways. Well, the price is an eye-opener too. A good workstation costs far more.

Still, the intriguing part of all this for me is that the AO-101 3D printer could be the small shop’s leap in the water to see if 3D prototyping can really revolutionize their design processes or if they have the gumption to get into doing some short-run custom part building. And for you tinkerers, your home and your office could have a new tool to experiment and work with and a community to share ideas and innovation.

You can learn more about the AO-101 3D printer from the LulzBot brand of Aleph Objects from the link over there. Make sure to take in the video. Also download the brochure. It’s written with an attitude that will appeal to many an engineer. Good stuff.

Thanks, Pal. — Lockwood

Anthony J. Lockwood
Editor at Large, Desktop Engineering

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About Anthony J. Lockwood

Anthony J. Lockwood is Digital Engineering's Editor-at-Large. Contact him via de-editors@digitaleng.news.