Greetings from the New York Maker Faire, a magical weekend where the creative, innovative, and downright strange denizens of the Maker movement come to admire each other's work and swap ideas for their next project. Besides being one of the few places on the planet where you can watch digital hipsters, tattooed steam-punkers, and savvy hacker-preneurs racing each other on radically-modified electric kiddie cars, the Faire is a wonderful place to take the pulse of the 3D printer community.

Maker Faire race
It's Vikings vs. Steam Punks at maker Faire as they pilot radically-modified Barbie Corvettes, fire trucks and other battery-powered kiddie cars in a 50-lap endurance race.

Happily, all indications at the former site of the 1963 World's Fair are that the pulse of the desktop manufacturing revolution is stronger than ever. In addition, a careful look at the remarkable machines, materials and technologies appearing at this year's event uncovered several important trends which will define the industry's next phase of growth.

Beyond the MakerBot Paradigm

One of those trends can be found in the growing diversity of the 3D printers on display at Maker Faire, a sign that the fledgling industry has matured sufficiently to move beyond clever variations of the 1st-generation architecture, characterized by machines like MakerBot's pioneering Thing-o-Matic.

While MakerBot/RepRap-derived designs still crowd the tightly-packed aisles of the 3D Printer area, the fresh approaches evident in many machines indicate the presence of an increasingly diverse market ecology.

Many of the newer printers still borrow heavily from traditional screw-and-belt drive XYZ designs but re-think one or more elements in search of lower cost or better performance. One nice example of this incremental evolution is Deezmaker's Bukobot, whose simplified drive system replaces traditional cog belts with an aircraft-grade synchromesh steel cable drive for better repeatability than most low-cost units. Both the Bukobot and its smaller sidekick, the Bukito, are open-source designs featuring a custom nozzle that handles a wide variety of materials and a highly-rigid frame system that makes them rugged, versatile and affordable.

Deezmaker's Bukobot
Deezmaker's Bukobot close-up. (Courtesy of Bourne Digital)

EZ3D also followed an evolutionary approach for most of their Phoenix printer's design, although its evolution occurred in larger steps. At first glance, it looks like a typical frame-based extruder drive until you notice its unique drive system which uses a suspended belt mechanism to move the print head along the Z-axis instead of the usual lead screw. This dramatically reduces the variations in extrusion thickness (i.e. "ripple") often caused by small imperfections and variations in the lead screw's pitch. EZ3D's innovation is also evident in their software which helps users to manage their filament by grouping STL files into logical groups and a print recovery mode which allows recovery from mid-print glitches instead of having to toss that half-formed Darth Vader head in the trash and begin another 4-hour print from the beginning. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ez3d/phoenix-3d-printer

EZ3D's Phoenix 3D printer
EZ3D's Phoenix features a screw-less Z-Axis drive which produces smoother extrusion layers.