I built the cheapest 3D printer available online so that you don’t have to: iNSTONE Desktop DIY (review)

How cheap can a 3D printer be and still function? Although they seemed plucked out of science fiction, there’s not really that much to these machines. A few stepper motors, some switches, a control board, a heating element, and a nozzle are really all you need. It’s the software, and the expiration of a bunch of patents, that kicked the 3D printing revolution into high gear.

Is it possible to assemble the right collection of components to make a functional 3D printer for less than $100? iNSTONE thinks you can, and they are not wrong.

Behold, the iNSTONE Desktop DIY.

iNSTONE Desktop DIY. Photo by Author.

This is the best printer you could build for $99. It’s terrible. I love it. You absolutely should not buy it.

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The ongoing search for an inexpensive, field-ready 3D printer: Monoprice Select Mini (review)

Monoprice, the king of rebadged 3D printers, has two entries in the sub-$200 printer category. We already dug into the guts of the Mini Delta, a great little delta-style printer, and now it’s time for the Monoprice Select Mini! This is a pretty standard cantilever printer, with the x-axis tied to the print bed and an y-axis connected by a single support to a moving gantry. It’s basic, but solid, with a bare-bones set of features that gets the job done.

The Monoprice Select Mini is currently for sale on Amazon for $189. I got mine in white because every other printer manufacturer has decided that you can have whatever color you want as long at it’s matte black.

Monoprice Select Mini. Photo by author.

There is also a Select Mini Pro which, since this review series started, has been discounted to $199. It does look like it has some nice features that make it wort the extra $11, including an automatic bed leveler, magnetic build plate, and touch screen. The budget for this series is blown, but if Monoprice wants to send us one *hint hint* I’ll be happy to put it through the wringer.

Monoprice is a rebadger, as we explained in the Delta review, and this printer is identical to the Malyan M200, which itself seems to be an improvement on the Infitary R100.

This is the only printer in our series with steel construction, so I have high hopes that it will stand up to the abuse I’m about to heap upon it.

For an explanation of our testing protocols, please see: We’re gonna beat the heck out of these machines: The search for the best dirt-cheap 3D printer for fieldwork.

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The search for an inexpensive, field-ready 3D printer continues: Anet A6 (review)

One of the reasons 3D printing exploded seemingly overnight a decade ago has a lot to do with the RepRap project, an initiative to build a fully open-source and largely 3D-printable 3D-printer. The idea of a machine that could replicate itself was pulled straight from the pages of science fiction, and yet, here were machines–janky, kludgey, barely functional, machines–assembled from parts clearly fabricated by those same machines. They were conceptually impressive, but not a particularly awe-inspiring sight to behold.

And then came Josef Průša and the Prusa Mendel.

Affectionately known as the Ford Model T of the 3D printing world, the Prusa Mendel was the first of the open-source 3D printers that was designed to be easily mass produced. It looked good and it ran great. Released under an open-source license, it was replicated and iterated on a massive scale. That didn’t prevent Průša from building a successful company. The current Prusa i3 MK2 is among the most successful desktop 3D printers in the world, and certainly one of the best.

There are a lot of Prusa i3 clones.

Clocking in at $197.69, the Anet A6 is the most expensive printer in this review series. It’s also the biggest, with a massive 220mm by 220mm by 250mm build area. It’s an upgraded version of the popular Anet A8, with a larger build volume and a better user interface, but not much else. From reviews, this printer seemed like a solid representation of what you can get at the top end of the menagerie of sub-$200 Prusa i3 clones. It (and its smaller A8 brother) certainly have the fan-base and hacking community to support its reputation.

Anet A6, working hard. Photo by author.

This acrylic-framed beast ships as a kit, so expect to spend half a day putting this printer together.

If you’re going off of dollar per cubic millimeter, this is the best bang for you buck by a wide margin. And that’s about the extent of the good things I have to say about this machine.

For an explanation of our testing protocols, please see: We’re gonna beat the heck out of these machines: The search for the best dirt-cheap 3D printer for fieldwork.

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The search for an inexpensive, field-ready 3D printer: Monoprice Mini Delta (review)

Monoprice is an interesting organization. They’re a rebadging company that seeks out unbranded or off-brand products, makes a few tweaks, and then sells them to secondary markets under their own brand. They made their mark in the early 2000s selling good, cheap cables and have expanded from there. You can find headphones, cookware, cables, computer accessories, and, of course, 3D printers, under the Monoprice label. But that doesn’t mean their products are cheap knockoffs. Monoprice has a reputation for finding quality equipment.

The Monoprice Mini Delta is a rebadged Malyan M300. From the specs, it doesn’t look like Monoprice changed anything but the logo, and that’s a good thing. Malyan printers have a great reputation.

This is a delta printer, which means rather than having independent X, Y, and Z-axes, three identical stepper motor arrays work in tandem to control the position of the extruder while the bed itself remains stationary. It uses a Bowden-style extruder that keeps the weight on the printhead down. It has an aluminum frame with steel structural elements. The relatively small circular print area is 110 mm diameter by 120 mm height. Controls are integrated into the printer and it allegedly has WiFi capability through an app.

The Monoprice Mini Delta is available on Amazon for $159.99.

We’re going to make this little printer suffer.

For an explanation of our testing protocols, please see: We’re gonna beat the heck out of these machines: The search for the best dirt-cheap 3D printer for fieldwork.

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We’re gonna beat the heck out of these machines: The search for the best dirt-cheap 3D printer for fieldwork.

What makes a good 3D printer for field work? It needs to be reliable, it needs to be durable, it needs to be reasonably portable. It also needs to print good, strong parts with decent resolution. They don’t have to be pretty, but they do have to work.

Last year, if you asked me what the absolute best 3D printer for field work was, I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell you it’s the Printrbot Simple Metal. This little beast has traveled the world with me, gone to sea, and taken an absolutely massive beating. And it’s still my main workhorse. At $600 plus a lot of custom modifications, it’s still the best deal in terms of quality, cost, and reliability out there.

If you can find one.

My Simple Metal, with the famous 3D-printed computer driving the 3D-printer that 3D-printed that computer.

Printrbot went out of business last year, due in large part to the proliferation of cheaper machines that have pretty good quality. The company sat in an awkward niche, too expensive for entry-level consumers, not quite up to par for people looking to drop several thousand on a professional machine. As important as it is to me, “can you kick the crap out of it and drop it off a boat?” is not a criteria that rates highly for most people who want a low-cost machine that will sit comfortably on a desk forever.

But that puts me in an tough spot right now. Conservation Tech, especially low-cost, open-source conservation tech, is booming, and we need machines that work in the field on the budget of a conservation biologist. I couldn’t tell you what the best cheap 3D printer on the market is right now for people who need it for field work, travel, or just want a tough machine that works and doesn’t cost much.

So I’m going to buy a bunch, beat them to hell, and figure it out.

The Southern Fried Science Ultimate 3D Printer Review Process

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The 3 best ocean books for toddlers, as selected by a very ocean-savvy toddler

It’s been almost exactly a year since I selected the 5 best baby books to launch your child’s ocean education. Since then, our expert judge has gotten a bit more discerning and a lot more opinionated. As a family of marine scientists, our massive library of ocean-themed children’s books, some amazing, some not-so-amazing, seems to grow exponentially.

After critical review by two PhDs in Marine Science and Conservation and one very perspicacious toddler, for both scientific accuracy and pure delightfulness, here are our top 3 children’s books to get your toddler thinking about the ocean.

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The Holy Grail of the portable hardware-hacking lab: A cordless soldering iron that actually works.

This is a mess. This isn’t even everything I brought for Make for the Planet.

All electronics kits are not created equal. Between the OpenROV, Oceanography for Everyone, and hack-a-thons around the world, my work has taken me out of the lab and into the field, fantail, and classroom to build instruments, hack oceanographic equipment, and train next generation of open-science oceanographers. This has placed a huge new demand on my standard kit, a collection of electronics and hardware tools and components that allow a creative maker to build anything, anywhere. Portability is key, but portability comes with it’s own challenges, especially for that most vital of electronics tools, the humble, powerful soldering iron.

A good soldering iron is absolutely critical to the kinds of projects and workshops I run. Without it, we can to the delicate electronics work necessary for getting a piece of equipment working in the field. But traveling with soldering irons is a nightmare. These high-wattage devices don’t always play nice with local electrical infrastructure. Even using the *right* power converters we’ve blown fuses and burned out power supplies. In the best case scenarios, the irons just don’t produce enough heat to get the job done. In remote regions, local options are often non-existent. When we go, we bring everything with us.

There are portable soldering irons, but they have their own problems. Gas-powered irons require a fuel source that may not be easily obtained and are not always welcome on flights. They also lack the fine control we need. Electric options tend to be of the “cold heat” variety, which is a poor tool for circuit board work and can generate a current that burns out components and shorts your project. Heat-based electric soldering irons are weak, short-lived, and often utterly ineffective. I resigned myself to lugging large soldering stations around the world, hoping for the best when it comes to finding an adequate power supply.

And then I discovered the Hakko FX-901Read More

Trying to debunk the aquatic ape hypothesis… or not. Or the day I tried to defend David Attenborough.

The so-called aquatic ape hypothesis is one that has attracted a lot of attention and much derision. In 1960, British marine biologist Alistair Hardy posited the idea that humans might once have had an aquatic phase (or more accurately a semi-aquatic phases, spending some time in a watery habitat but a significant amount of time on land). This was picked up highlighted in popular zoologist Desmond Morris’s book The Naked Ape . However, Elaine Morgan was one of the the hypothesis’ main promoters, writing a book called The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis . There have been several debunkers of the hypothesis including Southern Fried Sciences’ own David Shiffman although Jim Moore’s website is probably one of the most comprehensive debunking sites for the hypothesis . Today Alice Roberts and Mark Maslin posted a critique of the aquatic ape hypothesis, mostly in response to a new BBC radio series The Waterside Ape which is being presented by David Attenborough.

attenborough

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5 best baby books to launch your child’s ocean education.

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As a few of you have noticed, we recently added a tiny new member to our little ocean outreach empire. A new baby opens up a chance for us to explore a whole new world of ocean-themed content tailored to our newest explorers. As a family of marine biologists, we very quickly accumulated a massive library of ocean-themed baby books, some amazing, some not-so-amazing.

After critical review by two PhDs in Marine Science and Conservation, for both scientific accuracy and pure delightfulness, here are my top 5 baby books to get your ocean education started off right.

biggestI’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry.

Sherry must have written this book specifically for me, since Sizing ocean giants: patterns of intraspecific size variation in marine megafauna is already my most widely distributed paper. I know a few things about giant squids. I really love this book. The art is colorful and engaging. The story has a hilarious twist. It’s grounded in real ocean critters (though there’s something funky going on with that jellyfish). And there’s an important lesson about hubris and trophic position in marine food webs.  Read More

Book review: the marine mammal observer’s handbook

I agree with Dr Phil Clapham, who provided the forward for the “Marine mammal observer and passive acoustic monitoring handbook” (by V. Todd, I. Todd, J. Gardner & E. Morin): the title is a bit of a mouthful. Therefore, I will refer to the book by the abbreviated title above. That said, this is a really useful book that I’ve found myself reaching for on several occasions when needing to look something up.

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